All-Star Western #11: Court of Owls v. Crime Bible

There's only room enough for ONE secret society of criminals in this here Gotham town.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

All Star Western #11

As early as All-Star Western #2, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti established a deep-rooted secret criminal cabal in the Gotham City of the 1800s – a society of jerks with skull-rings who were known as followers of the Crime Bible. Since then, Scott Snyder's Court of Owls madness hit and hit big over in Batman, and thus my assumption was that J&J's Crime Bible notion would've been folded right in with them. That has turned out not to be the case, and now they get to run with a Court of Owls vs. Crime Bible war. We can't be sure if this was planned from the outset or if J&J are just rolling with Snyder's lead, but this is gonna be fun.

All-Star Western #11 has both Jonah Hex and Tallulah Black still in Gotham City. It's going to take a deep, entrenched war against two ingrained underground evildoer organizations to keep them in Gotham for a considerable length of time without having us start to wonder why the hell they aren't leaving the city they hate so much and heading back… well… west. This is the most easternly western book ever, come to think of it, but judging by all of Palmiotti's comments at Comic-Con, the hook of the book is the Gotham CIty setting, so they likely won't be going to the fronteir anytime soon.

Black is hunting down Lucius Bennet, a rich jerk she believes is responsible for the murder of her family, and given her long and, uh, extremely familiar history with Hex, it's no suprise that he's lending her a hand in the pursuit. Once they track him down, though, their revenge play is interrupted by the arrival of the Talon we met during the Night of the Owls crossover, who absconds with Bennet and kills him herself – thus starting the war, since Bennet was the Lord of Extortion for the Followers of the Crime Bible. These folks are a bit more colorful than the creepy Court of Owls, and since we pretty much know who will come out on top in this war, it's kinda fun to root for these people to at least make their mark. I mean, one of them is "Charlotte the Harlot, Lord of Prostitution."  And it's worth noting that the Lord of Thieves is a woman named Lorna Kyle. Coincidence of Catwoman? You decide. Helping the case, though, is that the Lord of Terror Stephen Kaoss looks strikingly like Hugo Strange.

The Crime Bible people are under the impression that Hex killed Bennet, however, and thus they promptly start to flex their manipulative muscles, getting Hex, Black and their erstwhile intellectual companion Amadeus Arkham arrested by crooked cops. They're taken to a boiler room featuring a "steam-powered death machine," and things don't look good for them… except for the fact that Tallulah Black is awesome.

I only wish that artist Moritat's rendering of Tallulah didn't always make her look like she's sixteen at the most. It doesn't seem to be the case with the other women in this book (although it's possible the copious cleavage helps with that), but maybe he just assumes that he has to balance out all her facial scars or something. Sure, Black is supposed to be younger than Hex – and her energetic volatility is a great complement to Hex's grizzled steel – but this little-girl look of hers just detracts from all the cool things she does and says. It doesn't feel like the character is being served, and you bet your ass she's a character worth serving well.

Thankfully, Scott Kolins comes on for the art of the backup story introducing Dr. Terrence Thirteen, which is an interesting New 52 reinvention of an old character  – we haven't really seen someone revamped so much that they now exist a century and a half earlier.  He still seems to have the same mission statement, though – investigate the supernatural and prove them to be hoaxes. In this case, it's a spectral Highwayman which has the townsfolk of means afright, and Dr. 13 takes the case with amusing intellectual bombast, especially in the face of simpletons who insist on the spiritual interpretation. After he gets done explaining to a police officer that this Highwayman is just a fancy crook, Detective Foster still blurts "You expect me to catch a ghost?" Thus, all that condescension of Dr. 13s is immediately validated, and he instantly becomes a character we want to see a lot more of. Seeing as how he apparently knows Dr. Arkham, we might just get our wish in future issues.

All-Star Western #11 is a pretty cool issue of a pretty cool book. I'm very pleased that Gray and Palmiotti seem to get free reign over the Old West of the DC universe, and it's a consistently entertaining read.