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All-Star Western #17 – Review

ALL-STAR WESTERN #17

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

The Story: Catherine Wayne proves that no good deed goes unpunished.

The Review: I never read or review this series without a healthy dose of amazement—not so much at the quality of the work itself, but at the fact that I’m still reading it after a year and a half, when so many other titles have fallen by the wayside.  In fact, it’s even more amazing that this series has lasted long enough to give me a choice in whether to continue on.  Palmiotti-Gray clearly have something going for them, but I find it hard to say what it actually is.

There is something endearing about their total enthusiasm for the DCU.  You can’t deny they’ve lived up to the title of this series with their revolving door of interesting guest stars and plotlines.  But lately, that’s become the entire focus of All-Star Western, and this issue, featuring Vandal Savage, is no different.  Granted, we do get an interesting spin to DC’s oldest villain with the premise of Savage as disease-carrier and natural population thinner.  Sadly, Palmiotti-Gray have proven to be great at introducing a good premise, but not so great at developing it beyond that.

I mean, just think of All-Star Western itself as a concept: Jonah Hex in nineteenth-century Gotham, paired with Dr. Arkham, the whimpering Watson to a raging, gun-happy Sherlock.  Sounds great—at first.  But it’s been a while since Palmiotti-Gray have really worked on their original material.  The presence of Tallulah Black and the appearance of the Barbary Ghost initially signaled more new concepts to come, but their sudden departure from Gotham put a hold on that possibility.

This is another of my “Had I been editor” moments, but I would’ve never allowed them to let Tallulah go in the first place.  As fun as the dynamic between Hex and Arkham has been, there are limits to how much two characters can carry a title, and even if that wasn’t the case, an extra bit of chemistry never hurts any story.  By now, Arkham repressing his shrieks during a crisis as Hex shoves him out of harm’s way has gotten a bit old as a routine.

I also have to say that I’ve never enjoyed Palmiotti-Gray’s repeated attempts to make some comment on history.  I hate to pull out the “comic book writers aren’t scholars” card, but the fact is: they aren’t.  And stories are poorly used as direct commentary on the real world anyway, particularly if the storytellers have little more to say than the obvious.  I mean, is anyone likely to argue that America’s early immigrant masses didn’t suffer in the New World?  This kind of black-and-white mentality never fails to discredit Palmiotti-Gray when they get in their socio-political mode.

Moritat’s art has similarly reached a sort of respectable, but unremarkable plateau where it’s no longer noticeably evolving.  His strengths (e.g. tight close-ups, fraught with emotion and detail) remain as constant as his weaknesses (e.g. almost any type of action sequence, which usually comes across stiff and clumsy), and neither have changed one way or another in a while.  Atiyeh has done fine coloring for this title, but he, too, seems to be coasting.

For all that, the biggest drag on this title has always been the back-up features.  If they’re going to add a dollar to the price point, they better darn well be worth it, and they rarely, if ever, have.  Though excited to see the nineteenth-century Stormwatch, Palmiotti-Gray disappoint by starting the feature with a puff instead of a bang.  Jenny Steam, the Century Baby of that age, begins her story with—and I can’t understand what possessed Palmiotti-Gray to do this—a briefing of her power set: “I have abilities like any other.  I can control steam and light to varying degrees, and it is my charge to protect this century from the impossible.”  The rest of the issue is similarly bland and characterless, with Staz Johnson’s art (Rob Schwager on colors) doing little more than halfheartedly cashing in on the steampunk trend.

Conclusion: I had higher hopes for this series, given its premise, but it’s never really capitalized on its promise and it doesn’t look like it will do so anytime soon.  Dropped.

Grade: C

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - Here’s another question: whatever made Palmiotti-Gray decide to take on third-person narration, all of a sudden?  The repeated use of “dear reader” just feels a bit silly and forced.

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