Saturday, 1 October 2011

52 New Beginnings - The Edge

All-Star Western
reviewed by Ben Fardon

Poor Jonah Hex. Never a particularly famous character in the DCU, but he does have his fans and the ongoing series of the last few years was critically praised.

Then came last year's movie and any hope of Hex finding a wider audience disappeared in flames. Chances are you haven't seen it. Probably because you read the reviews! I had the chance to watch it in the hotel in the Big Apple during the New York ComicCon and I can confirm that it was truly awful.

So, come the 52 reboot it makes perfect sense that DC would decide to quietly shelf the eponymous title, in favour of something similar, a return to All Star Western, the title in which Hex debuted back in 1972.

Thankfully DC have kept the same writers and Gray and Palmiotti have taken the shrewd move of relocating Jonah Hex to the Old West version of Gotham City, recently established in the successful Batman Gates Of Gotham miniseries. This immediately gives the title some appeal to the huge Batman fanbase, which the cynical part of me questions as mere stunt, but the pragmatist in me can't help but grudgingly approve.

The cover says it all really. Jonah Hex + Gotham = hopeful success? What we essentially have here is a 19th Century criminal investigation as the much maligned Doctor Amadeus Arkham teams up with the infamous bounty hunter Jonah Hex. The juxtaposition of an educated but ridiculed psychiatrist with a sickening yet respected loner is a good mix, a collision of the verbose and the stoic. It keeps character interaction at the heart of a story that could otherwise slide into cliché, especially with murdered prostitutes and a serial killer daubing bloody messages onto walls. Throw in a clandestine cabal of wealthy businessmen, some carousing in a saloon and the DC New 52 staple of a fancy dinner party and you really could have a mess of stereotypes akin to this month's DC Universe Presents.

Thankfully, not unlike the modern day Sherlock that Steven Moffat recently treated us to, All Star Western rises above such concerns by allowing the characters to inhabit the story. It's also great to see returning faces from Gates Of Gotham such as Mayor Theodore Cobblepot and doubtless we will see more of these founding fathers. The world of 19th Century Gotham City is a rich playground and Jonah Hex will have a lot fun there. This title is definitely worth a look for fans of the aforementioned Batman miniseries.

One word of warning. The artwork does not dazzle or inspire. It's sparse on detail and the colours are flat and muted, which whilst it does fit the gritty Western genre, I found myself longing for the sparkle of an indie book like Lady Mechanika. Which is a shame because with better artwork this could have been one of the real breakout hits of the new 52. Instead, it's simply quite good.

reviewed by D Kai Wilson-Viola

Once again, I’m coming into a franchise blind, except, for once, I recognise two of the names on the front. Mike Costa does IDW's G.I. Joe comics and the storyline is very reminiscent of that style - as is some of the artwork - which was a bit of a surprise. There’s a specific character or two on the front that I looked at and thought ‘hah, familiar’. And I love Graham Nolan’s artwork – his Phantom wasn’t a great comic story wise, but the artwork definitely left an impression on me. Normally, I’m kinda oblivious, so this one’s a winner.

Blackhawks is a good comic – I thought the storyline was awesome, but I did think a couple of the panels seemed to be out of order – I’m not sure if they were or if I just got really confused, but that didn’t really interrupt much at all. The atmosphere, style and underlying concepts were good, and the cliffhanger at the end is actually almost as strong as the best comics I’ve reviewed this month.

My only complaint? Other than page four being out of order (she asks if he’s a biter at the top, then gets bitten, though it could just be a worse bite the second time) – nothing. I liked the colour balance, which was a range for once, but more subtle in areas than I was expecting .

As I actually know something about the writer and one of the artists, I think I was instantly endeared. I know Mike Costa only started being published in 2009, and this is a very nicely developed strong storyline, without being overpowering. For once I actually feel like I’m at the same place as everyone else. I’m intrigued enough to be interested, and would be quite comfortable letting my teenage son read this one – though whether that continues remains to be seen.

reviewed by Kate Townshend

I’m torn. On the one hand, at least Voodoo is a comic with some awareness of the male gaze. Voodoo herself gets a full facial shot (if you’ll excuse the expression) on the front cover, and there’s a marvellous series of frames where we see her strip show through the lens of a leering male detective’s sunglasses. Even the other strippers in the story get a fair shot at some dialogue and characterisation although it does tend to fall into the ‘single Mom saving for college’ dramatic stereotypes. So maybe I’m not so torn actually... despite its subject matter Voodoo doesn’t send me into a blind feminist rage which is already a point in its favour.

On top of this, it’s another comic that seems to narrow the lens in order to focus on the emotional struggles and motivations of characters, and it’s this intimacy that makes it interesting. The strip club interrogation scene is a bit of a cliché but Voodoo’s transformation is genuinely startling, and at the point where she loses it, she’s already built up some sympathetic collateral with the reader. She might look like another misogynist vision of a ‘bad’ girl, but there are at least hints here that she’s merely a frightened misfit, trying to get along and fit in, much like everyone else.

Equally heartening, is the portrayal of the female detective on Voodoo’s tail, who spends much of this first issue refusing to put up with her partner’s brand of renegade sexism and kicking the asses of a bunch of wannabe Eminem Neanderthals. I really hope that having set her up as a character in her own right, we’ll be seeing more of her as the series unfolds.

By now you’re probably picking up on the tone of mild surprise running through this review. I didn’t expect to like Voodoo. But, actually, I kind of do.

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