East of West #36 review
East of West #36, by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, and Frank Martin, continues chronicling the end of the world as another nation falls. What will rise up to replace it?
Most of the issue is concerned with the Endless Nation and their conquering of the Union. Although already crippled by a savage civil war, The White Tower is protected by old shamanic magic, but Chief of Chiefs Wolf is able to break the spell. The Endless Nation takes the city and begins re-ordering it. The surviving citizens are told to forget their own war and embrace the Nation and its goals or they would treat them the way Union long ago treated the Native Americans that would become the Nation. Wolf relinquishes his Chief of Chiefs status and heads to Armistice to take up his other role as Prophet of the End. The Three Horsemen are still hunting Death and his son, Babylon, who are on their way to Babylon’s mother and her Maoist armies. Wolf arrives at Armistice, ready to prepare for its role in the end.
As always, East of West is a daunting yet engrossing read. The main problem with this book has nothing to do with the storytelling, but with its schedule. The book could use a recap page up front, like other Image books have. The cast of characters and affiliations is so vast that jumping into an issue three to four months after reading the last issue can be confusing at first. However, the book is so well written that you are able to catch up within a few pages. It’s one of the strengths of the book and it says a lot about Hickman that he’s able to pull this off.
In the last few issues, Hickman has been moving his pieces around the board, positioning them for an inevitable confrontation. So much has been happening in every issue, but the pace never suffers. Hickman and Dragotta work together masterfully and it shows in the way they are able to deliver exposition while Wolf is breaking the spell that guards the White Tower. Wolf is able to explain how he breaks the spell without getting too technical about it, while the panels show his words in effect. It’s a moment of pure comic storytelling brilliance, using the medium to show and tell the reader what is happening in a way that engages both the eyes and the mind. The pair are so good at little things like this, that it almost feels like they are showing off and it makes East of West one of the best comic reading experiences on the market.
On top of all of that, Hickman is also able to give the reader a feel for the characters and who they are in a pitch perfect way. Wolf has absorbed The Message, the end time prophecy that spurs the events of the book forward, and just by his actions you can tell that he not only believes it wholeheartedly, but understands the depth of responsibility it puts upon him. Bodaway, a member of the Endless Nation’s tribal council, comes across as a shrewd player multiple times this issue. For any other writer, this character would have been a bit player, there to move the plot ahead in a few places and little more, but Hickman’s words and Dragotta’s art are able to flesh out the character, allowing the readers to understand who he is, even if they’ve forgotten his past appearances. Even with all the bombast of falling nations and doomsday prophecies, Hickman is able to sell a simple scene where Babylon asks Death about his mother perfectly. Death’s simple description of her and what she’s done for him illustrates how he feels in an efficient and touching fashion.
Nick Dragotta is simply one of the best artists working right now. His style is reminiscent of Joe and Adam Kubert but his design aesthetic is completely different. His mixes the Old West with futuristic technology seamlessly, while also adding a nice helping of the supernatural. He’s equally adept at showing a futuristic city under siege by sci-fi Native Americans as he is at showing the Chief of Chiefs riding into said city on a talking demon mount. His characters are expressive, allowing Hickman to concentrate on the plans and intricate plots that drive the story along.
East of West #36 is a masterclass in comic storytelling. There are few books on the market that can match it sheer scope and the audacity of its storytelling. Hickman and Dragotta are slowly unfurling an apocalyptic masterpiece that delivers the powerful moments and action such a thing needs while also finding way to connect emotionally with readers. It’s complex and rewarding book that would be served better by a more regular publishing schedule or at a least recap page, but when it comes out, it’s one of the best books, bar none. It’s a rare treat.