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All Star Western Volume Two: War Of Lords And Owls
posted April 8, 2013

imageCreators: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Moritat
Publishing Information: DC Comics, softcover, 192 pages, March 2013, $16.99
Ordering Numbers: 1401238513 (ISBN10), 9781401238513 (ISBN13)

This is a softcover volume collecting several issues of All Star Western, one of the few DC New 52 comics not fully immersed in superhero tropes and one to which I had paid little attention in serial form. The dialogue is reasonably punchy if not terribly distinctive speaker to speaker, the narratives bounce along, and the artist Moritat draws everything with the kind of baseline authority that one counted on when one was a kid in order to be transported to these comic-book worlds. Our protagonist, Jonah Hex, walks through each story with the easy confidence of one of those middle-aged wrestlers who knows they will still be popular with the crowd win, lose or draw. That's a way to make good use of DC's consistent focus on underlining the awesomeness of their characters over and over again: a character in on the joke. The stories here evoke that sense that old-time entertainment sometimes indulged that there were only about 20 people in the entire world, and they were all strident goofballs in part because each one was standing in for so many others: all the world's a stage, and all its men and women ego-starved neurotics. This is a reduction to essentials that genre comic books do better than just about any other marriage of medium and format. I could probably spend 17 hours reading an endless pile of these comics were such a thing plopped next to the hammock on a breezy, summer day. It's been said before, but these are the kinds of comics best suited for a wicker basket, and not thought about too deeply.

All Star Western Volume Two follows our heroes into New Orleans and then back -- I think back -- into Gotham City as they track down some sort of intertwined pair of 19th century crime conspiracies. I couldn't tell you the difference between the two hidden groups except one seems to be organic to the comic and the other, the one with the birds, seems plopped on top of it in some fort of editorial-fiat fashion. If that doesn't sound very western-like, well, I think that's sort of a problem. It's not the locale simply isn't Arizona or New Mexico or whatever, it's that the genre signposts being utilized seem hopelessly generic, a kind of uneasy mix between superheroes, victorian crime and more traditional westerns that is definitely not greater than the sum of its parts. There's so much going on that the individual strands of what's happening are in primary colors, leaning towards beige. It feels like a CrossGen effort, one of those things where you can see the seams where things are sewn together. The self-referential nature is more of a giggle than anything else. I don't mind trading the traditional strengths of the western for a different set of strengths; I just don't think that seeing people named "Arkham" and "Cobblepot" is in and of itself a thrill. The overall feel here is similar to one of those sitcoms where, say, the whole cast of Blossom acts out a old letter from Grandma set during World War 2. I kept on waiting for Jonah Hex to take a long look around and set to shooting himself out.