East Of West #41 // Review
The King of New Orleans makes good on his deal in East Of West #41, by writer Jonathan Hickman, artist Nick Dragotta, colorist Frank Martin, and letterer Rus Wooton. This one is a pretty standard issue of the book and while satisfying, it also highlights some of the book's flaws.
A flashback describes how Wolf and John Freeman, sons of the leaders of the Endless Nation and The Kingdom of New Orleans, met and began their friendship. In the present, the Vizier of the Endless Nation is able to save John from the Marshall's assassination attempt, but only by sacrificing one of John's many brothers. She takes John to a waiting ship, but is stopped by the King who seems to know more about what really happened than he let on. They escape b but she goes back to the Kingdom. Archibald Chamberlain prays for victory offering up the life of his niece Constance if God will allow him to win. John meets up with Wolf and they join forces. Archibald talks to his old friend Bel Solomon, who calls Archibald a coward, but Archibald doesn't care what anyone thinks as long as he wins.
This is a good issue, however, it's greatest strength is also this book's biggest weakness- the multiple interconnecting plots. For long time fans, these plots are the lifeblood of the book and the reason to care about it. The problem comes from this book's shipping schedule and Hickman's own writing style. Without re-reading multiple issues and having a wiki open, it can be very hard to remember who is and what their relationships are. For example, the Vizier of the Kingdom of New Orleans actual name isn't used once in the issue and if readers forget that her and John Freeman have a romantic relationship, her actions are kind of incomprehensible. Their relationship is established later on, but it still can be a bit confusing. The same thing happens later with Archibald's niece. She's been injured and is unconscious but her name is never given and her relationship to Archibald isn't ever made clear. East Of West has always had a steep learning curve, but sometimes it feels like Hickman does this sort of thing on purpose. This is definitely a book that would benefit from a recap page.
That said, it doesn’t take too much away from this installment. While Hickman fails to explain some things in the book, he gives the origin of John Freeman and Wolf's relationship and it pays off later when John needs a friend to turn to after his father betrayal. Archibald Chamberlain again steals the show, first with his prayer and then with his conversation with Solomon. Chamberlain is playing the long time and doesn't care what it takes as long as he wins. Chamberlain is a man with a plan and is shaping up to become one of the book's main villains, albeit an entertaining one.
Nick Dragotta's art is its usual brilliant. There aren't any big action pieces or sci-to landscapes, but his figure work and character acting are on point. He expertly captures the young John Freeman sense of wonder when he discovers how Wolf got his name. Dragotta has such a wide range of skills, but it's little things like this scene that illustrate why he's so great.
East Of West #41 is a strange bird. On the one hand, it's another brick in the wall of plot that Hickman is building and it succeeds admirably. On the other hand, the books steep learning curve harms things a bit. The thing about it is that even if the reader gets confused or can't remember what a character's name is, by the time they reach the end of the book, they'll feel extremely satisfied with what they've just read. Take the Vizier; even if one doesn't remember much about her character, her actions make perfect sense. The book's complicated nature and erratic shipping schedule don't hurt it enough to make this a bad book, just one with some flaws.