By: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti (story), Moritat (art), Mike Atiyeh (colors)

The Story: Real women speak with their fists—and guns.

The Review: All-Star Western is yet another one of those titles you’d think I’d have abandoned by now, and yet here we are.  Considering that the western is hardly the barnburner of a genre it used to be, it’s even more remarkable this title has lasted this long on my pull list.  But maybe it’s precisely the rarity and specialized nature of westerns that has protected it from a more rigorous standard of judgment.

Then, too, Gray-Palmiotti have delivered some fairly original material on this series.  Hex in industrial Gotham would’ve been good times enough, but with the addition of Dr. Arkham as sidekick, as well as mixing it up with lineage villains like the followers of the Crime Bible or the Court of Owls, we’ve gotten a pretty lively title on our hands.  Gray-Palmiotti may not have done anything worth alerting the presses about, but they’ve got the guts to try new, interesting things on a consistent basis (Dr. Jekyll as Hex’s next client?  I’m game.).

Sometimes this results in moments that actually surprise you, and we’ve got two major ones in this issue.  The one that really stands out is Arkham’s semi-rabid rant against his captors and would-be killers even as he faces down death.  I don’t know if he’s had this kind of spirit all along, or if so many danger situations with Hex has built up his backbone, but you can’t help coming away from the scene impressed.  Arkham states even the most intelligent, rationalized villains are still just sick in the head, and that really gets to the heart of things, doesn’t it?

Another moment that may give you some pause is Hex going out of his way to meet with Alan Wayne and having a kind of heart-to-heart with him.  Of course, Gray-Palmiotti make sure that he stays within character and never comes anywhere close to anything approaching sentiment.  That does not diminish the fact that Hex basically pulled the ol’ Ben Parker—the “With great power comes great responsibility” bit—starting the Waynes’ tradition of civic virtue.  I think I’d have appreciated a clearer idea of how Hex reaches point of actual activism, but considering how disgusted he’s grown with Gotham over the last dozen issues, maybe that’s enough.

Tallulah does absolutely nothing out of character in this issue, but it hardly matters.  She just entertains no matter what she does, so taking on an entire squadron of cops by herself, along with two heads of the Crime Bible, definitely makes fun reading.  Besides that, her unpredictable temperament makes her an exciting member of the cast (and I hope permanency status is in the works for her).  She can go from challenging to affectionate in a second, and she’s surprisingly cute when she does: “Ooh, a libation.  Ah feel like a regular belle of the ball!”

Moritat demonstrates both his strengths and weaknesses in this issue.  In terms of weak spots, he just falters when the panels grow too small or the action gets too complicated.  Moments like those, like when the Lord of Thieves leaps from a window, daggers in both hands, appear more like rough sketches than a finished product.  But then you also get amazing close-up panels where you can see every crag and line in Hex’s face, and you tend to forget about momentary slips like that.

And now for an obligatory update with All-Star’s unnecessary back-up feature.  There’s a moment of interest when Dr. Thirteen seems shaken and in denial over the consequences of his confrontation with his “ghost,” but since the story ends so quickly, we have no reason to get too invested in his feelings.  He certainly doesn’t.  Scott Kolins provides appropriate support on art, but every serious scene gets undermined by his cartoony figures.

Conclusion: As always, I find myself a bit surprised that I enjoy this series as much as I do.  But I’d enjoy it a heckuva lot more if it wasn’t always saddled with a back-up I can’t really care about.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Must’ve been nice to be a scientist way back in the day, when your knowledge of simple chemistry and physics made you a wizard among men.