According to the writers of DC's new critical darling All-Star Western, readers of Batman should also be reading All-Star.
Of course, it probably doesn't hurt that Batman is one of the best selling titles at DC. But co-writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti told Newsarama there's an All-Star event coming up in 2012 that has "huge ties" to Batman.
All-Star Western, the New 52 comic that stars Jonah Hex and a growing cast of DC's historical characters, has been exploring the history of Gotham City in a newly relaunched DC Universe that technically has no history yet. Created by Gray, Palmiotti and ongoing series artist Moritat, All-Star Western has surprised readers with the story seeds its planting among the ancestors of today's DC heroes.
This week, the comic introduces a new character to the DCU: the Barbary Ghost. Set in historical San Francisco, the Barbary Ghost story is the latest in an ongoing series of back-up tales featured in All-Star.In March, the whole setting shifts to New Orleans and introduces a couple more characters to the relaunched DC Universe: Cinnamon and Nighthawk.
Newsarama talked with Palmiotti and Gray to find out more about this week's new characters and what else is coming in the title.
Newsarama: Jimmy and Justin, you've been writing the character of Jonah Hex for awhile now, but this new title has offered you the chance to really immerse him in the past of the DCU, and particularly Gotham City. What's it been like to explore the history of the Batman universe? Did you guys do a lot of research into what's been written about Gotham's past as you put these early issues together, and are you working with the current writers?
Jimmy Palmiotti: We are always researching and talking to the editors and other writers of the Batman books to see what's going on and how we can interact and plant seeds in the past to make the whole picture make more sense. Currently, you'll be seeing things in All-Star that have everything to do with what's happening in the Batman titles right now.
Justin Gray: The good thing about it is that we’re working with the idea that Gotham existed long before Batman and it has a rich history to be developed and explored. Like Jimmy said, we’ve been working with Mike Marts and Scott on making sure there are elements from the past that tie directly into Batman’s time.
Nrama: What made you pick these elements of that history in particular, like the Crime Bible and Amadeus Arkham?
Gray: The Crime Bible was an obvious and instinctive choice because it allows us to show that crime is a cellular part of Gotham City. When you look back at Chicago and New York, you’ll see the gangs and criminal empires helped shape those cities.
Palmiotti: With All-Star, we all decided to make Gotham’s history and historical characters part of the overall stories and Amadeus seemed the perfect odd couple pairing to stick Jonah Hex with, since they represent totally different perspectives of crime and criminal activity. The crime bible just seems like a good natural choice as well. Trust me when I tell you we have a lot more super cool things that will be showing up right away that will make the Batman fans very happy.
Nrama: It looks like Hex is traveling in future issues. Are we going to see more of the Old West of the DCnU?
Palmiotti: It's a big country and there are many cities in the DCU that we can explore. They just might not be only Jonah Hex stories, since we are covering a wide range of the western characters throughout the title.
Gray: The idea was to build out the rest of the DC Universe in the 1800’s in a way that made sense and brought a lot of excitement to the series. That’s why we’re taking both Hex and Arkham to New Orleans, where they meet Nighthawk and Cinnamon, while at the same time the back up stories for that arc spotlight Nighthawk and Cinnamon. We go deep into their origins in ways no one has seen before. You definitely don’t want to miss it.
Nrama: Anything you can tell us about what Hex is going to encounter in 2012 stories?
Gray: A new arc starts today that literally explores the underground of Gotham, as Hex and Arkham are forced to reunite to solve a mystery. With issue 6 we begin the three-issue arc where Nighthawk and Cinnamon guest star in a story that pits the four of them against Steampunk anarchists in New Orleans. Following that arc is an epic struggle for power in Gotham involving elements from the Bat Family of books and a certain surly woman in black.
Palmiotti: We will be revisiting a couple of established characters very soon, introducing new ones and tying in Gotham to the current batman titles a bit more as well. We are really excited that there are so many cool opportunities available to us at this point and we live to give the readers what they want. With 28 pages of story each issue, we are really going to dig in and give the readers the ride of a lifetime.
Nrama: What have the back-up stories in All-Star Western offered to you both as creators?
Palmiotti: The cool thing about the back-up stories is that we can experiment with new characters, reintroduce established ones to new readers and also tie the community of characters together in one title without ever feeling like the book has become a team book.
Gray: We’re way ahead on both the main feature and the back-ups, which is great because we can tie them together in ways that we feel fans will appreciate. The idea is that these backup stories aren’t filler, they’re different and exciting introductions to other lesser known and even new characters as we see in this month’s issue.
Nrama: What can you tell us about the Barbary Ghost, this new character who is appearing for the first time in today's issue?
Palmiotti: Her story is told over three issues where we establish the setting, get to know the main characters and then rock their world and watch the creation of a brand new western hero in the DCU. The Barbary Ghost is about a Chinese girl and her family who move to San Francisco to start a new life and the problems they deal with. We get to, over the three issues, watch her deal with the murder of loved ones and her step up and take the situation into her own hands with the help of her grandfather.
Nrama: The historical era of San Francisco isn't one we see often in comic books. Why did you pick the Barbary Ghost as a focus and this era and setting specifically? Why did it interest you, and did you learn anything in particular as you researched it?
Palmiotti: Diversity. We wanted to do something different, set a story in a place that isn't covered much in comics and introduce a new character at the same time. I have family and friends that live in the San Francisco area and the history of the city and it's surroundings is so interesting and exciting that not telling a story set at this time would be a crime. We looked at the history of the area and the news headlines of the time and worked them into the story where it made sense. Along the way, we learned all about the gang wars, about how untamed the city was and also how difficult it was for ethnic groups trying to start a new life in the States.
Nrama: The story of Barbary Ghost is drawn by Phil Winslade. What does he bring to the story?
Palmiotti: A brilliant eye for detail and classic storytelling that is missing from a lot of today’s work. He is a master draftsman and everything we all do together instantly becomes our favorite work. Phil brought this character to life and hit every single emotional beat we presented. The story is heartbreaking, exciting and modern in it's own way, all because of Phil.
Gray: Phil is a phenomenal storyteller with an almost manic sense of detail. The realism that he offsets with camerawork is something we’ve long be fans of. Plus he’s a great guy.
Nrama: Do you think we'll see the Barbary Ghost again in the DCU anytime soon?
Jimmy: Depends how the public embraces the character. We have plans for her for sure within the title, but whenever you work on something like this, you are looking for the character to step out of the book into their own title. That is always our hope.
Nrama: What else is coming up in the back-up features?
Gray: Nighthawk and Cinnamon are featured after the Barbary Ghost. We wrote an eight-page story featuring Bat Lash that is everything you’d want to see in a Bat Lash tale.
Nrama: For Jonah Hex, you had different artists for different issues, but now you're working with one artist. What's it been like working with Moritat?
Palmiotti: A dream. He understands the character and the world around him and we are never disappointed. Our hope is we all stay together as a team for a very long time.
Gray: Moritat brings a flavor and style that helps All-Star stand out from every other book. There’s a mood and a sense of foreboding beautifully rendered, which is exactly what we need for the time period and the storylines. He gives Gotham a familiar yet unique appearance, kind of the mythical memory of what Gotham might have been in the 1880’s.
Nrama: What other artists are taking on characters in future issues of All-Star Western?
Gray: Right now Patrick Scherberger is handling the backup story for issues #7, #8 and #9. We asked a lot of him in terms of set design and he’s delivering gorgeous pages full of action.
Nrama: Then to finish up, Jimmy and Justin, is there anything else you want to tell fans about All-Star Western?
Palmiotti: I will say if you are a fan of the Batman books, you should probably be checking the book out. And if you are a fan of classic comic storytelling by some of the best artists in the field, this book is for you.
Gray: There’s a war coming to Gotham later in 2012 that has huge ties to modern Gotham city and the storyline that is currently taking place in Batman. How’s that for a hint?Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!