By: Too many to list—check out the review.

The Story: Well, if you’re going for a name change, “Scarface” is nothing if not apt.

The Review: You don’t get too much genuine historical fiction in comics unless some time-traveling weirdness is involved.  Even then, writers don’t do much more with the period other than use it as an excuse to put their characters in costume and maybe throw in some anachronistic gags—most of which involve utterances of modern curse words, to the shock or confusion of the antiquated people around them.

All-Star Western provides an opportunity for Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti to land in a period and stick with it for a while, exploring all the issues it has to offer.  We got some child laborers in the last story arc, and a brief foray into early Chinese-American life with the “Barbary Ghost” feature, but so far, these plotlines have only scratched the surface of the post-Reconstruction era, which by all accounts was a very volatile time for the (re)United States.

By taking Hex to New Orleans and introducing him right off the bat to the plight of immigrants under siege by Southern xenophobes, Gray-Palmiotti may be making their first, genuine attempt to deliver a more historically sophisticated tale.  That said, they don’t go much further than having the heroes express pity for innocent victims (“These people killed children!”) and the bad guys dabble in metaphor-laden bigotry (“…the human filth hits our shores with the vigor of an invading army.”).  But these are comics, after all, not socio-political treatises.

That distinction is made crystal clear once you enter the underground fight club sponsored by some steampunk-tainted well-to-do, pitting the foreigners against All-Americans as much of a kind of symbolic exercise as for profit.  A fun idea, and at the very least we should get some bloody entertainment from watching Hex match up against an opponent who specializes in bigger, fists-first roughnecks.

Now that he’s back in Dixie, Hex reveals a completely different side to himself, echoes of the Confederate soldier he used to be.  He actually engages in a bit of undercover play-acting here, exchanging his usual blunt, crass blurbs for a smoother kind of talk.  When he says, “That is kindly of ya, Mr. Coy, but ah must insist on payin’ muh way as any Southern gentleman would,” the lilt in his voice is practically audible from the text.  And incidentally, his calling himself a “gentleman” is solid gold for humor.

Moritat continues to grow more subtle in his work, as all the women in this issue, from Cinnamon to Mrs. Coy to Z.C. Branke all sport distinctive, recognizable features.  His strength at architectural detail gets spotlighted quite a bit as our heroes move through the burgeoning New Orleans, and with Gabriel Bautista’s deep, lush colors, it all looks superbly, romantically moody.

Nighthawk and Cinnamon don’t establish much personality despite getting a whole feature of their own, but they are kind of remarkable in being retroactively counted among the first costumed heroes—and in the fact that Hex doesn’t intimidate them at all.  The back-up, by the way, focuses more on Nighthawk’s background, and aside from Patrick Scherberger’s solid art (with inkers Dan Green and Terry Austin, and Mike Atiyeh on colors), doesn’t grab you in any way other than a proto-Batman origin story involving a murder of a father figure in an alley.

Conclusion: Whatever else you have to say about this series, you have to admit it’s unlike any other title out there, which would be virtue in itself enough.  Luckily, we’re also getting some fairly decent story and art out of it, though it hasn’t quite found its stride just yet.

Grade: B-

-Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Cinnamon: “You tellin’ me Gotham City doesn’t have any masked vigilantes?”  Arkham: “Certainly not, and I don’t believe we will have the need of one.”  Not much I have to add to that, can I?