Why you should read it: East of West
“Doesn’t your kind have plenty of experience with men selling their souls to breathe just one more breath? Honor gets buried deep with the body… I wanna live.”
You’ve probably heard Jonathan Hickman’s name if you’ve stuck by comics for a while – all I knew about East of West is that it had cowboys in it, the author’s name was attached to some of Marvel’s most iconic heroes, and that its artwork is breathtaking in that minimalist way (courtesy of Nick Dragotta, whose art really ties the whole narrative together.) Recognizing the names of both creators before going in, I was more than pleasantly surprised that their reputations held true.
Hickman’s work is often complicated to keep up with when reading, to say the least. He has a reputation of truly starting a story in the very middle, and then grounding his audience by introducing bits and pieces of knowledge through revelations and flashbacks. Nothing chronological. Honestly, this isn’t an approach that always works, and might even throw some off, so is it worth the read?
I ask you, how do you feel about cowboys fighting the government, who are in turn fighting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? It’s set in a sci-fi/country dystopia (Westworld, look out!) where the United States split into seven nations after the union lost the Civil War. Sound interesting?
The reader is quickly introduced to three characters, all of them children, and they’re kind of endearing in a frightening and uncanny way. As they wake up in what looks to be some desecrate lonely planet, they realize they’re missing one person who should be there with them and can’t seem to figure out why. To discover the truth, they collect objects that they find around them and “roll” in the way one would dice – except the objects are an eyeball, a feather, a bullet, and a bone. From that, they are able to discern that they need to kill “him,” their fourth missing member.
From there, the series takes us backward? Forwards? To the setting of the United States. From the start, we’re thrown into a world very unlike that of which we know. The Civil War causes a twenty-year fallout that only comes to an end thanks to divine intervention – a comet. Folks from the war are reincarnated, and many come back as prophets sent to deliver “The Message,” and it is not complete until Mao Zedong is on his deathbed. He’s also conquered San Francisco, but that’s not important yet. The Message is brought to a complete stop and warns its followers of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
So, we’re about four pages in, and a loop has already come to a close – typical of Hickman’s writing. The beginning foreshadows the wild ride that the reader is in for – Hickman uses religion riddled in with his own personal mythology to lead us through the rest of the comic. After The Message is relayed to the reader, we’re taken to a bar where a strange man in a white suit leads his posse of three ambiguously American looking fellows, and toasts to “the fall of empires, and the illusion of republic.”
This white-clad character is later revealed to be the fourth horseman, Death. He’s ironically come back to life to stake out the people who have wronged him (including, for whatever reason, the president of the United States) – and all of a sudden Death is a sympathetic Clint Eastwood reminiscent antihero on the search for his missing son.
One problem though. The other three horsemen I mentioned, all reincarnated into little kids, are hot on his trail.
East of West, just like House of X, is not your traditional comic book narrative. Hickman’s convoluted writing style is filled to the brim with religious allusions, and Nick Dragotta’s art adds an extra layer of nuance to the world. It would likely take a few reads to get through Year One and truly understand everything that happened, but that, to me, only adds to its appeal. There are no identifiable heroes or villains, it exists as a narrative about survival in an enormously messed up world, and the struggles of feeling powerless during an incoming apocalypse, an apocalypse that was always meant to come.
Overall, I’d say this book is something to check out if you’re looking for something different.
The Good? The art, for one, Dragotta’s compositions leave the audience wanting more. Every loop and problem that’s introduced in the story comes to a satisfying close.
The Bad? This comic is written in a way that’s meant to leave the reader a bit mind boggled.
And the ugly? To be honest, I can’t quite think of anything.