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

The Story: For once, Arkham tops Hex in the senseless violence department.

The Review: I don’t know how to say this without sounding a bit mean, but I always felt this title had an inevitable expiration date.  In the last year, All-Star Western hasn’t exactly made any breakthroughs with Gray-Palmiotti’s in-your-face style of writing.  Instead, it’s gotten by on sheer novelty alone for most of its run.  At some point, however, their plot would lose that veneer of originality, exposing the inherent flaws of the series.

I think we’ve reached that point in this issue.  The introduction of Hyde and the use of the Black Diamond initially promised interesting things for this arc, but here we realize that, as written, Hyde is just a well-spoken bruiser, and while the Black Diamond may be a necessary in the context of the story, it adds nothing special or new to the plot Gray-Palmiotti have chosen.

The Black Diamond illustrates a growing problem for All-Star Western.  At first, the title’s greater attachment to the DCU at large offered a wider range of stories for Hex to tackle with, but lately, the “crossovers” with other storylines only seems to hamper Gray-Palmiotti.  It’s the worst of both worlds; as tie-ins, these issues have no value since they don’t have any impact on the present-day action, and as standalones, the intrusion of other DC concepts feels unnecessary and foreign.

Anyway, even if you could overlook this point, you still have to confront the glaring blandness of this issue.  It really highlights that depravity, at the end of the day, is really a dull lifestyle.  The excitement of violence, sexual proclivity, or both just grows numbing after a while.  Hyde himself comments on that as he watches Arkham succumb to the effects of Jekyll’s formula.  So does it really surprise us when the good doctor’s craziness manifests as random stabbing and pervy behavior?  That he ends up in his own asylum just seems inevitable, given his character.

Meanwhile, the fight between Hex and Hyde also turns out rather boring, a repetitive series of Hex getting in one good hit before Hyde turns him inside out.  The sequence is only spiced up by our hero’s insatiable grit; you certainly can’t depend on the pointless, inert banter to help:

“Not a very gentlemanly attack, Hex!  Then again, you are American.  Such a young culture full of brash ideas, but lacking in any kind of refinement of historical perspectives.  Just a few steps up the food chain from you savage Indians.  Anyway, I’ve grown tired of our conversation, and would ask that you kindly die.”*

Moritat delivers fine work as always, but even here, it seems listless and dried out.  You have to wonder how he feels, working on a fairly conventional, unsophisticated sort of series after the artistic challenges of The Spirit.  Moritat is more of a style-driven artist than anything else; he can draw a decent action sequence, but he really shines with dynamic storytelling choices, and Gray-Palmiotti almost never give him that.  Atiyeh’s colors are similarly nondescript.

Here’s a good summation of why it’s impossible to have any investment in the “Tomahawk” back-up.  At one point, Tecumseh’s Prophet declares, “[H]istory will come to know the teachings of the Lenape prophets, Scattamek and Neolin, who saw the future, and in that vision the white invaders died and the land returned to all tribes.”  Really, now?  And how did that pan out, exactly?  Not that you don’t sympathize with the Indians’ plight, but from a hindsight perspective, their overconfidence is irritatingly blind.  No amount of Phil Winslade’s passable artwork can make up for that shortcoming.

Conclusion: Even by the lower standards by which a title like this gets reviewed by me, it’s barely scraping the bottom of mediocrity.  It’s entirely possible this is just a bump in the road for the otherwise decent series, but at $3.99, I’m not sure it can afford even that.

Grade: C-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Ah, European arrogance.  Must have been their way of coping with their increasingly obvious obsolescence during the Industrial Revolution.