Among the comics I read on a monthly basis is All-Star Western, featuring Jonah Hex and Dr. Amadeus Arkham. The two form an unlikely crime-fighting duo in 1880s Gotham. I've been reading the series since it was first launched in November 2011 as part of the New 52 by DC. In addition to a main feature involving the adventures of Hex and Arkham, each issue also provides a backup feature that involves different characters, some whom will sometimes find their way into the Hex and Arkham storyline. The series is written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray with art by Moritat.
Since All-Star Western 13, the series has dealt with a storyline featuring the popular Dr. Jeckyl/Mr. Hyde and which also incorporates the Black Diamond Probability arc. At the start of the storyline, we learn that someone has stolen the elixir from Jeckyl's lab in England and it has made its way to Gotham. When consumed, the elixir causes a person's most debased and deviant behavior to surface. An associate of Dr. Jeckyl's (Reggie) has hired Hex and Arkham to help find the missing elixir before it can create major problems throughout the city. Later in the story, we also learn learn that the black diamond is being used as the missing element of the elixir so that whomever consumes it will still have their intelligence, rather than simply acting as a mindless monster.
In issue 15, we find that Hyde has taken total control of Jeckyl's body. He's killed and eaten Reggie, forced Dr. Arkham to drink the elixir and then has an epic fight with Hex. by the end of the issue, Arkham has been committed to an asylum, Hex has been beaten to the point of near death, and Hyde is still on the loose.
Issue 16 - "It's a Madhouse"
At the start of issue 16, we find that nearly a month has passed since the events that transpired in the last issue. Arkham is still committed, and Hex has been staying at Arkham's mansion, still recovering from the injuries (including a broken leg) he sustained in his fight with Mr. Hyde. In addition, we find that he has been drinking heavily and has slipped into a severe bout depression as he remains confined to a wheelchair while his leg heals. A nurse (Constance) has been assigned to care for him, although he doesn't really want any help from her whatsoever, except for providing him with more whiskey.
Tension between Hex and Constance come to a head when he learns she will not give him anymore whiskey, and we find him in the garden having desperate thoughts.
In issue 16 we also finally see Arkham's mentally ill mother for the first time. She lives upstairs in the mansion with Arkham. In past issues we've seen that she is highly dependent on him, calling out for him at all times during the day and night. However, until issue 16, the reader has yet to see what she looks like. In the scene where we finally does appear, it is only after she continues calling for her son (unaware is not in the home). Hex, having not had a drink for the entire day, finally becomes aware of the insufferable cries and heads upstairs to confront the woman.
The first half of the issue deals with Hex's relationship with Constance and Arkham's mother. It is only into the second half of the story where Mr. Hyde makes an appearance and the subsequent action that transpires is well worth the wait.
The backup feature of the issue was the conclusion of the Tomahawk story, which has also been underway since issue 13.
This book had everything I've come to expect in an issue of All-Star Western - it had humor, interesting dialogue, grit, and, of course, action. It was nice to see the main feature focus entirely on Hex (with Arkham still being committed in the Asylum, he is only mentioned in this issue but does not make an appearance - a first since the series got underway).
I also liked how Palmiotti and Gray focused on Hex's intelligence. We know Hex has extraordinary fighting ability and physical strength and the authors could easily stay focused on these attributes. However, they rarely let an opportunity pass to remind us of Hex's sharp intellect. In this issue, there is a seen where we learn Hex read a (well-known Victorian era) novel in one sitting and Constance is surprised upon learning this (she also doesn't miss out on an opportunity to have some fun at Hex's expense after finding out what the book's relation to the delicate mental state of Arkham's mother).
The relationship between Hex and Constance is also developed well throughout the issue. Constance shows she is not the least bit afraid of Hex and his rough exterior, and even puts him in his place when necessary. If Hex wasn't such a loner, I would almost think that something more serious between the two would develop in later issues. I hope this isn't the case, as I think she is the perfect foil to Hex's rough-and-tumble character.
I also enjoyed the final confrontation and subsequent battle between Hex and Mr. Hyde. With Hex still nursing his injuries from the last encounter, it was quickly obvious he was no match for Hyde and I was wondering how he'd escape what appeared to be certain death at the hands of Hyde.
As for the Artwork, I think this was Moritat's best issue by far. He did a great job capturing the various mental and emotional states of the characters. Several of the panel layouts were also superb, especially during the climax of the Hex-Hyde battle.
There was also a teaser in this issue for the next upcoming backup feature story, which will involve Stormwatch (circa 1880s). I am anxious to read this one, especially since I wasn't impressed with the Tomahawk backup feature in this issue and recent past issues.
I'll just say the ending of this storyline wasn't quite how I had thought it would wrap up. Not to say I didn't like it, I just thought it was a abrupt and also a little weak. Also, if an entire month has transpired since the last encounter, it would have been nice to know what Hyde has been up to in Gotham since that time. Perhaps we'll know more in issue 17, but based on the conclusion of this issue, it seemed like the authors are content to wrap up the Hyde storyline - loose ends be damned.
I didn't like the backup "Tomahawk" feature very much and the only good thing about it is that it concludes in this issue.
In my opinion the Jeckyl-Hyde four-issue storyline was the best yet from the new All-Star Western series. As I noted, I thought the conclusion (this issue) was a little weak and had a few loose ends. However, with the ending that we were given, we know this probably wont be the last time we encounter Dr. Jeckyl (and his violent alter ego, Mr. Hyde). I am looking forward to their return to this series.