Book Review: All-Star Western Vol. 1 (graphic novel)

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Jonah Hex, DC Comics’ most popular bounty hunter is back with a vengeance in All-Star Western #1, (2011) by Justin Gray, illustrated by Jimmy Palmiotti Moritat, with additional material by Phil Winsldae and Jordi Bernet.

In a genius bit of mash-up, Hex leaves his preferred open country for the sprawling 19th century Gotham City, where he takes on a criminal conspiracy, an underground child-stealing ring, and more. Despite his monstrously disfigured face, there’s nothing supernatural about Jonah Hex. The truly “weird western” part of the story kicks in when he and temporary partner Dr. Arkham (prior to building his infamous asylum) stumble upon an underground cavern that has an ancient race of subterranean humans and a gigantic bat. Right. Jonah Hex discovered the Bat Cave and subsequently meets the wealthy Wayne family who lives in a mansion directly above.

The story is action-packed, and though Hex pretends to be cold-hearted, he’s a relentless defender and avenger on behalf of the innocent. Arkham is a bit of a weenie, which annoys the loner Hex no end and to fun dramatic effect.

The volume also includes short adventures of El Diablo (fighting zombies) and also The Barbary Ghost (taking revenge on a Chinese criminal overlord).

The stories are excellent and fast-paced, and the illustrations are outstanding. Fans of the original Jonah Hex comics will enjoy these, though the blood factor has been ramped up considerably.

Book Review: Ghost Towns

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Ghost Towns is an anthology of short stories by classic and contemporary western writers. Not all the stories are Weird Western stories, with elements of the fantastic or supernatural, but all feature abandoned and decrepit towns or villages from the Old West, and the beings, alive or dead, that haunt them.

There are fifteen stories in all, and several are sure to strike your fancy. Boom towns gone bust, abandoned oases of civilization returning to the elements, eerie landscapes. It’s all here. The stories deal with revenge from beyond the grave, righting ancient wrongs, the hunting habits of unnatural creatures and beasts, or people taking refuge in aabandoned, isolated, or dangerous places.

Editors Martin H. Greenberg and Russell Davis offer a foreword that discusses the enduring appeal of ghost towns. Traditional westerns have typically steered clear of the supernatural, but the farther we roam from the Old West, the more the stories of a bygone era forge a kinship with fantasy.

I flew through the 352 pages of this book and enjoyed it whether it was daytime or night time. If you have a hankering for stories about literal or metaphorical ghosts and the deserted towns they haunt, check out Ghost Towns.