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

The Story: So close to getting away with just one crazy scar, yet so far.

The Review: I must say, the timing of this review seems a bit unfortunate, given how I came just shy of calling Gray-Palmiotti mediocre just yesterday.  But All-Star Western happens to be one of those titles where I feel their specific talents flourish, where they feel so at home with the material that they can produce a #0 issue superior even to that written by Scott Snyder’s pupil himself.  It just happens to be a happy union between certain creators and certain characters.

Of course, I won’t attribute the success of this issue entirely to the writing.  Hex has the benefit of a very involved, very interesting origin story, one with some famous elements: fighting for the Confederates, adoption by the Injuns (Apache, specifically), and the inevitable scarring moment.  Gray-Palmiotti run briskly through them all, which helps out any new readers, but old fans can find some value in the way the issue clears up the chronology of Hex’s life events.

Even with all that, the whole point of the issue is basically that Hex has plenty of good reason to be the messed up scarface he is today.  Obviously, his environmental encounters play a big part in his problems, but as the early scenes with his dad show, some of his more offensive habits (e.g. independent streak, bluntness of language, ease of killing) may be genetic.  The flipside is the issue also shows Hex consistently displaying, no matter how narrow, some sense of right and wrong.  And it’s worth mentioning that Hex has real prejudices where father-son relationships are concerned.

Interesting this may all be, but it doesn’t quite mesh well with the storyline already running on this series.  I think it would’ve been perfectly satisfactory if Gray-Palmiotti treated this as a standalone issue, but trying to shoehorn Hex’s past into the current plot feels awkward and out of place.  Even drunk, you can’t really imagine Hex loosening up to reveal that much of his personal history, especially with such intimate detail—and especially with a stranger present.  Then again, you can’t imagine any circumstance that would encourage Hex to spill his guts out in a sentimental manner; maybe doing it this offhandedly is just keeping in character.

Anyway, you’ll be happy to know Gray-Palmiotti are very eager to move on to the next arc, which involves the intersection of two rather interesting plot threads.  First, we have the illegal distribution of Jekyll’s formula in the Gotham market—as if Gotham really needs extra help in bringing out the bad in people.  Then we also have the appearance of a certain Asian woman at the end, whose role in the coming arc you have to wonder at.  Could this be the Barbary Ghost from earlier back-ups?  If so, then Gray-Palmiotti may have intended the second features to be more important than I gave them credit for.

Moritat provides his usual dependable work and especially impresses with a complicated fight sequence between Hex and his adoptive Apache brother (and a couple of tomahawks).  We’re not really talking about J.H. Williams-esque type work here; Moritat is neither that sophisticated nor foresighted.  But he definitely goes above and beyond your usual panel layouts and still manages to tell a clear story despite the complexities.  I wonder at the last three pages of the issue, though.  The style is distinctly not Moritat’s, yet the credits don’t give any clear indication that another artist work on this issue.  Given the snafu on Mind the Gap #5 this week, I’m a little more reluctant to say Moritat can change his artwork that radically.

Conclusion: A fascinating yarn that offers a bit of insight into a compelling character, but without much reason for telling it.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I imagine Mitt Romney supporters won’t be thrilled with the Mormon-hunting that goes on in this issue.

– It would’ve been nice, if Hex’s Apache “father” had been saved by his white-man son, for us to actually see that scene.