52 Catch Up is a series devoted to looking at issues from DC’s New 52 and seeing how they’re faring now that they’re underway, why they’re worth reading (or not), and places we hope they will go in time.
The DC universe is set in the 1880s and principally follows the characters of bounty hunter Jonah Hex and psychologist Amadeus Arkham as they track down criminals in Gotham City, but also features stories about other characters of the era.
Previously on All-Star Western: Covering Issues #1-#6
Jonah Hex & Amadeus Arkham (Issues #1–Ongoing): Jonah Hex is in Gotham City to find the Trapp Brothers, a band of outlaws, but he is sidetracked with an offer from Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) Chief Cromwell to help track down the Gotham Butcher, a serial killer targeting prostitutes. Also hired to assist on the case is Amadeus Arkham, a local physician and student of the criminal mind. Arkham accompanies Hex to the local saloon where Hex manages to get himself into a bar fight on his way to talk to Belle, one of the prostitutes who works there. Belle informs him that the girl who was killed most recently was invited into a carriage by a man with a silver ring shaped like a skull.
The next morning, Belle has been killed and hung with a message warning Hex to leave Gotham. Hex continues his investigations, leading him to later accompany Arkham to a charity event where they believe the killer will be present, but they notice every prominent attendee is wearing a silver skull ring. Back at Arkham manor, the doctor locates a connection between the rings and the Religion of Crime, a sect worshiping the Crime Bible and the teachings of Cain. The followers of Cain send several men to kill Hex and Arkham but are soon dispatched by Hex. Meanwhile, Chief Cromwell is asked to join the Religion of Crime, but, when he refuses, he is to be made their latest sacrifice. Hex and Arkham arrive just in time to save Cromwell from being skinned. Those associated with the followers of Cain are arrested and the Butcher of Gotham is laid to rest; however, the very next day, a group of men kill Cromwell and one of his detectives and nearly take Hex and Arkham with them. Despite resistance from Arkham, Hex refuses to stick around and does not pursue the murder of Cromwell any further.
Hex tracks down the Trapp family and soon deals with them. As he’s ready to depart town, a man named Thurston Moody offers him $50,000 to locate his missing son. Hex quickly agrees and runs into Arkham again at St. Jude’s Orphanage, where Arkham was tending to a boy who had been missing for three years. Hex none-too-gently questions the boy and his family, getting information that leads the pair into the sewers of Gotham, where they find dozens of missing children being put to work mining. A fight with the foreman and the slavers goes poorly, and Hex and Arkham are thrown into a system of caves. Hex leads them past natives of the caves and slays a giant bat before finding their back to the surface and in front of Wayne Manor.
After gathering members of the GCPD, they conduct a raid on the slavers and get the children back safely; however, Moody’s son is not to be found and the foreman implicates Moody as the creator of the slave operation. Moody’s son was kidnapped by one of the lower class families whose son had gone missing, knowing that doing so would ensure Moody would hire someone to look for him and that it would lead back to the other children. When the GCPD arrive to arrest Moody, they learn he has fled to New Orleans. Though their jurisdiction doesn’t go that far, Hex can pursue him as a bounty hunter and intends to do so in the interest of revenge.
El Diablo (Issues #2-#3): The first side story follows a character named Lazarus Lane who shares his body with a spirit known as El Diablo thanks to an Indian curse. Lane travels to a remote town and is beset upon by zombies, the former townspeople. Some of the surviving locals manage to get him to safety but end up trapping themselves inside a building. With no other options, Lane has the local sheriff knock him out to release El Diablo, which appears as a man wearing a Zorro-esque costume. El Diablo starts slaying the zombified townspeople but encounters resistance in the form of Black River, the mad Indian shaman who cursed the town. When Black River hurts El Diablo, Lane’s body mimics the injuries. El Diablo manages to hold Black River off long enough for the sun to rise and break the curse before treating back into Lane’s body.
The Barbary Ghost (Issues #4-#6): San Francisco, 1878. Yanmei Tsen’s family was murdered by the crime lord, Bo Long, after her father refused to give in to his racketeering, and now she seeks vengeance upon Long under the guise of the Barbary Ghost. Over the course of several months, Yanmei keeps picking off Long’s criminal dealings and striking fear into the heart of Long’s men. Her first actual attempt on Long’s life fails but not without scaring Long into fleeing town. While he sits in the dining car of his train, Yanmei comes to him disguised as just another passenger and joins his table. Yanmei then reveals her identity to Long, and then, Han Solo style, draws a gun beneath the table and shoots him, killing him, and then making her escape off the train as chaos begins to ensue.
“Ah Hate Gotham”: For these early issues of All-Star Western, getting to see the Gotham of the 1880s was a real treat. The city is both familiar and new in its early form. Hex and Arkham visit notable locations like Wayne Manor and the site that will one day serve as the Batcave, while others, such as Arkham Asylum, are only now being considered for construction. From another perspective, putting Hex in a city places him at just as much of a disadvantage as Arkham, given Hex’s social graces or lack thereof, even if he doesn’t appear to realize his need for help.
Unlikely Partners: Hex and Arkham are basically in a buddy cop film minus the cops or the film bit. The two keep being paired together despite neither really understanding or terribly liking the other. While Hex’s skillset has been more valuable in these early issues, the two do compliment one another well, with Hex being more the detective and warrior and Arkham the researcher and diplomat.
Another Taste of the West: All-Star Western‘s side stories give readers a chance to see some of the denizens of the DCnU in the 19th Century and revisit older characters from earlier All-Star Western iterations, like El Diablo. The one weakness of these side stories is that there are only 8 or so pages devoted to them in each issue, meaning the progression on these stories is slower than desired.
Loose Ends: The switch from the Gotham Butcher case to the missing children one was rather sudden. This fact is even acknowledged by Arkham when Hex insists on just going about his business, but it is a little jarring. Throughout Issues #4-#6, the question of “What about the Religion of Crime?” keeps coming to mind, though I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities to revisit the followers of Cain or even connect them to the other conspiracies in Gotham.
Formulaic: By the end of All-Star Western‘s second case, things are already becoming a little stale. The first two cases follow a pattern where Hex and Arkham are thrown together, Hex investigates in a crude fashion, the pair find themselves in over their heads, followed by a political situation Arkham’s better suited for, followed by one final showdown with their antagonists. Case solved. The series does seem to be aware of its need to diversify with the end of Issue #6 pointing towards travel to New Orleans, which will both give opportunity to tell stories during their journey and to vary things once there.
Court of Owls: There have been a lot of hints of a connection to Scott Snyder’s Batman and the Court of Owls plot. Thurston Moody had an unusual number of stuffed owls in his household and some promotional images (see right) make a tie in pretty obvious. As will be covered in a future 52 Catch Up, the Batman Court of Owls plot is fantastic, and I look forward to it seeing it tie into the old west and seeing first hand the connection to the Wayne family.
19th Century Hero: With Nighthawk & Cinnamon shown at the end of Issue #6, it looks like All-Star is going to get more colorful heroes added to its roster in the near future. Batlash, Pow-Wow Smith, and more All-Star alumni are bound to make an appearance down the road as either part of the main plot or featured in their own side stories.
“Yer useful, Arkham”: Amadeus Arkham has been more a pain in Hex’s a$$ than useful. Hex has threatened to kill him on several occasions if Arkham doesn’t leave him alone. Besides not being terribly good in a fight, Arkham is otherwise a wonderful character, and his narration helps to add depth to the series. I, for one, am looking forward to the day where Hex has to acknowledge that Arkham has his uses.