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All-Star Western #16 – Review

ALL-STAR WESTERN #16

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

The Story: Hex is nonplussed to learn that he makes the perfect Byronic hero.

The Review: You can find a lot of derogatory things to say about Jonah Hex, but one thing you’ll never think to call him is a quitter.  In fact, we’ve seen plenty of instances where Hex prevails over a much smarter, bigger, better opponent just by virtue of never taking it lying down.  We’ve seen him in several crises that would be the death of any other men, yet he’s always managed to see them through.  So what does it take to send Hex to the brink of despair?

The answer, apparently, is stagnation.  Hex made his distaste for the city pretty obvious even from the title’s first issue, and his irritation can only get worse taking lodging in giant, empty house populated by the infirm and the mad.  His only companion in the city is an uptight pansy of a man and even he’s been institutionalized.  Now, with no horse, indeed, with not even two good legs to stand on, rather yet ride with, I suppose even Hex has cause for depression.

It’s always been hard to notice before, given Hex’s prickly personality, but underneath those bristles is a rather melancholy character.  Given his grim back-history and his aimless lifestyle, Hex doesn’t actually have much to live for.  He actually channels a bit of Forrest Gump’s Lt. Dan in this issue, someone who, without a mission or distraction, begins to dwell in angst.  Maybe we should be surprised he hasn’t stuck a gun to his own head long before this.

Thankfully, Hex finds a new distraction to take his mind off offing himself.  In a most surprising and rather delightful development, Hex finds it in Dr. Arkham’s sadly deluded mother and the novel that’s become the foundation of her life.  A lot of All-Star Western’s entertainment value comes from its “duck out of water” scenes with the characters, and having Hex read through Jane Eyre and gamely (if begrudgingly) playing Rochester to Ms. Arkham’s Jane is both funny and poignant, if somewhat contrived.

In the background, Gray-Palmiotti also develop the contours of Constance, nurse to Arkham’s doctor.  Though prim and prissy, she is someone highly versed in the bloody work of medicine, so there’s no squeamishness about her.  This allows her to take a stand with Hex in ways that few others would dare, even going so far as to poke fun at Hex’s apparent fondness for the works of Brontë: “Oh, I’ve read [Jane Eyre] several times, Mr. Hex.  Just never in one sitting.”

“Go ta hell!” he sputters.

As for the Hyde arc, it ends with a scene that proves both climactic and anticlimactic at the same time.  It feels right that he would seek out Hex and try to put a finish to the man he crippled, but it’s rather underwhelming to see Hyde brought down by—spoiler alert—a single bullet.  We’ve seen Eclipso possessees shrug off whole barrages of shots, so why should Hyde (who must’ve had prior experience with police and guns at some point) be taken so by surprise by the one?

With a mostly talking heads issue, Moritat makes it engaging by bringing so much personality to the characters.  Cartoony as they appear at times, he can get across subtle flickers of expression in their generally stoic faces: crinkles of amusement in Constance’s eyes, twinges of embarrassment on Hex’s rugged cheeks.  I get a bit tired of the dank and dark palette of the series at times—much as someone with Seasonal Affective Disorder might feel after a few weeks of a Midwestern winter—but Atiyeh gives the issue the proper, downbeat tone by doing so.

At this point, I have completely lost any interest in Tomahawk, either as a character or a story.  Though he wins the battle (as he must), we know he’s already lost the war.  Even his final declaration that the Indians will go down fighting is exposed to us as pure boasting; history tells us that the doom of Indians in the U.S. is painfully slow and resigned, not spirited.  Phil Winslade gives a bit of flair to his otherwise unremarkable art by filling the panels with the glow of flames, but otherwise, the back-up looks as bland as it reads.

Conclusion: Once again, Gray-Palmiotti manage to surprise you with certain storytelling choices, redeeming the series for another month, especially with the promise of the 19th-Century Stormwatch appearing next issue.

Grade: B-

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - I remember reading Venus in Furs, by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, in college, when I took an ill-chosen women’s studies class.  The nice thing about the novel is that no one could figure out if it was supposed to be misogynistic or feminist.  My take is: why choose?  Nothing stops feminists from hating women; in fact, if Jezebel.com is any indication, there are some feminists who hate women better than anyone else.

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