East Of West Volume 1 – The 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Jonathan Hickman (Part 2)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Jonathan Hickman has found plenty of success in his creator owned titles like Pax Romana, Nightly News and Manhattan Projects. Teaming with Nick Dragotta, Hickman brought the world East Of West, a Sci-Fi Western about the End Times. The pairing originally collaborated on Hickman’s Marvel Comics book FF before deciding to work on the series. Together, the two men have found tremendous success and critical acclaim for a series that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
East Of West Volume 1
Set in a time period where an alternate take on the Civil War resulted in massive changes to the world’s social, economic, and political structures, East Of West follows Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as he tries to do right by the people he’s wronged, seek revenge against those who’ve wronged him and prevent the End Times from occurring. The other three remaining Horsemen, War, Famine, and Conquest, all seek to bring about the End Times through The Chosen, a group of people who believe deeply in a prophetic passage known as The Message. Death, with his compatriots Wolf and Raven, travel all across the dystopian future-scape that is America as they try to stop the other Horsemen and The Chosen while also fulfilling their personal agendas.
East Of West is an usual style of story. To put it bluntly, if you’re not paying attention you will get left behind completely. It’s a story that takes no liberties in trying to explain every excruciating detail to you, choosing instead to inform you in bits and pieces and hope you pick up on the rest of it laid out through subtext. It’s a bit of a cruel way to write the story for someone who isn’t willing to invest themselves fully into the narrative. With that said, even without picking up on all of what Hickman is laying down, East Of West is still a stellar comic book that everyone should be reading. At worst it’s a Sci-Fi Western and at best it’s an immersive tale that strives to tell a story unlike anything before it.
I guess now is as good as any time to fess up about how bias this review might be on my behalf. I’m basically the world’s biggest East Of West fan. Like “signed copies of East Of West #1, multiple copies and printing of East Of West #1 and buy the single issues and the trade paperbacks” type of fan. So, obviously, going forward I’m going to absolutely gush about how much I adore the world, character and story. Although I already highlighted what’s wrong with the plot for people who don’t stick with the series, now feels as good a time as any to talk about why the plot works well in this manner. Hickman basically drops readers into what I’d like to believe is the second act of the story, never shying away from the fact that plenty happened before this story began. In doing so, Hickman does leave an incredibly rich history to be discovered and mined for future plot developments. As you progress through Volume 1, there are allusions to the past as well as incredibly brief glimpses of it. You’re teased with what happened before and given just enough to piece it all together without actually having to be shown it. It’s the type of writing that makes you think and also gives Hickman some breathing room to potential tell these stories in full down the road if he so chooses. You’re lead to believe East Of West is simply a tale of revenge but the further you get into the story the more you realize it’s actually a love story. The story of East Of West snaked and turns in so many unexpected ways that it’s impossible to predict where the story will go next.
Characters and their development is a huge part of East Of West. The cast is simply huge and seemingly never stops expanding. Death is the primary protagonist with his two allies, Wolf and Crow, who travel along with him in his quest for revenge. Clint Eastwood-esque is the perfect way to describe Death with his hardened exterior and show no mercy style of attitude. Even still, the man can be stirred but only by one person, the one woman who tamed Death. For antagonists, there’s a rather large pool to draw from. One could argue that the primary antagonists in this one are War, Famine, and Conquest, the other three Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In this volume it certainly feels that way although they seemingly only take minimal steps to prevent the goals of Death. Upon further examination one can see that the cast of antagonists is much larger as it encompasses the members of The Chosen, agents of the end times who believe in The Message. The Chosen is a core group of seven different people, all vastly different and represent one of the Seven Nations. There isn’t much development on the behalves of many of these members but certain ones, like Archibald Chamberlain or Antonia LeVay, get a few scenes to shine. Archibald is a truly fascinating member of The Chosen as he has an air of indifference towards The Chosen’s common goal and only seems out for himself. Something something something about each character having an agenda of their own. As the tagline of the series states “The things that divide us are strong than those that unite us”.
East Of West does an exquisite job of world building. In the opening stretch of the first issue, Hickman hurls some exposition your way to form a kind of walkway, guiding the reader along to inform them what happened to make the world change is such a drastic way. In doing an alternate take on the Civil War, everything changes and Hickman formulates a distinct world with so many different aspects to it. The Seven Nations are a result of this alternate timeline and are what make up new territorial borders for America. These nations are all wildly different from each other, whether you look at a place like the techno-elite Endless Nation or somewhere imperialistic like the PRA or even a place built on justice like the Republic of Texas, there are plenty examples of excellent world building that make East Of West one of the most entertaining comics on the stands right now.
Collects: East Of West #1-5
Best Character: Death
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “If you find Hell lonely…WAIT! Company is comin’ soon” – Death
Best Scene/Moment: Death pays a visit to The President – Issue 1
Best Issue: Issue 4. Issue 4 serves as the climax to this first arc of East Of West. It’s basically one long running sequence of “balls-to-the-walls” action. You see Death and his compatriots storm New Shanghai to take on the Emperor and watch as turmoil that has been bubbling since the first issue pays off huge here. This issue is hands down the most action packed issue of East Of West but it still tells a strong story that builds up other narrative threads.
Why You Should Read It: In my mind, East Of West is one of the finest comics I’ve ever read when it comes to two elements; character development and world building. It’s an incredible, slow burning story that takes its time to build an environment that’s incredibly immersive as well as giving you characters you can truly invest yourself in. East Of West is the Breaking Bad of comics.