In a reality where the American Civil War had a very different outcome, several powerful men of the world prophesied parts of a message that combined spelled out the end of all things. Centuries later in a future of frontiers-metropoli, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypses turn out to be a very literal concept, but Death, for reasons of his own, has decided he likes things just the way they are, and so rebels against the prophecy and his apocalyptic peers. Still years later, driven by mysterious circumstances, Death is on a revenge mission, dogged by child versions of his one time allies.
Writer, Jonathan Hickman, has certainly made a name for himself over the last few years. Catching the eye of people in the know with some of his output from Image Comics, not so many years ago, Hickman was taken under the wing of Brian Bendis and hurriedly put to work on a number of books including the underrated Secret Warriors and S.H.I.E.L.D, two books that turned out to be vastly different from anything Marvel had ever produced.
Noticing the potential, Marvel had Hickman follow none other than Mark Millar on Fantastic Four. His was a long, well planned run and contained more fantastic sci-fi concepts in every issue than a full year’s worth of comics by any other creator outside of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. His Fantastic Four spin-off book, FF (Future Foundation) wasn’t too shabby either.
The honchos at Marvel must have thought so anyway, because next he was given the big show, Marvel’s biggest books, The Avengers and The New Avengers, two stagnating titles that he is once again rejuvenating with original and high concepts at a rate rarely seen.
He’s no slouch though and besides this big-time success, Hickman is still putting out creator owned projects through Image, more recently with the insanely entertaining and eccentric The Manhattan Projects, and most recently with the vastly original East of West.
Now, East of West, as the story description suggests, is a complex concept to navigate, and even more so when all the mystery thrown into the story is taken into account, but Hickman’s talent, like Alan Moore before him, lies in relaying complicated set-ups and scenarios in a manner that has you instantly understanding them with the minimal of effort. Indeed, though we might not exactly know what the story of East of West is by the tenth page, a seamless two-page rundown has clued us in on the entire back-story of this alternative reality, creating a suspension of disbelief for the futuristic frontier that the story takes place in while simultaneously supplying us with vital story points under the radar.
This is masterfully accomplished and has you hooked on the mystery from part one. The mash-up of easily understood genre tropes doesn’t hurt, an original combination of religion, sci-fi and western creating mental shortcuts to the kind of story you’re in for.
It IS a western, and the gunman seeking revenge is the actual incarnation of Death; sometimes he’s in vast futuristic cityscapes, sometimes he’s in the desert, often riding a headless mechanised horse-type-creature that fires pulse blasts from its glowing neck stump… and who can beat Death in a gunfight? No bugger.
Badass isn’t even the word, yet amongst this display of manliness, plots are being thwarted by betrayals in the efforts, by other leading players, to survive while keeping their secrets. It’s all very smart and told by characters with very different voices.
The main complaint this reviewer hears about Hickman’s work is that his original concepts and dense plotting override any sense of characterisation, but this simply isn’t the case, his characters have very distinct personalities and characterisation is ever present in the different ways that they present themselves and deal with situations, the lack of soap operatics is intentional, one can assume, because it is often trifling and would break the flow of a story that unfolds at such a rapid pace.
Supplying the art is Hickman’s partner from FF, Nick Dragotta. His previous work, though often very simple, was clear, emotive and dynamic, but his work has never looked better than it does on this book, and it’s largely thanks to the wonderful colour work of Frank Martin, who’s richly painted style fits the tone of the book and Dragotta’s drawing as if it was all done as a singular piece. As With Hickman’s writing, Dragotta’s draftsmanship slickly conveys complex situations with camouflaged ease.
Like Saga, one of Image’s other trailblazing books, East of West manages to be one of the most deceptively original outings in all of the entertainment mediums, despite its adherence to an insane mash-up of well-worn genres, and with all that it’s entertaining as hell. Highly recommended and worth sticking with.
A grade – for originality
A- grade – for storytelling
B grade – for artwork
B+ grade – for pacing
Overall grade – A-