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Although I am a big fan of Jonathan Hickman, this is my first time experiencing his longtime series East of West. And boy was I missing out. Set in a dystopian future with a sci-fi western feel, the story follows a number of disparate groups who jostle for power in a failing planet. Hickman is a master world-builder. That said, getting into the full backstory of planetary civil war, the coming of the Four Horseman, the mystery of “the Message,” and who works for who is too big a task for one review.
So I won’t try to provide the entire history. Rather, we’ll explore how stepping in for one issue can immediately enthrall a reader with the intensity of this comic. Written by Hickman with art by Nick Dragotta and colors from Frank Martin, East of West is a sprawling epic of bold storytelling and unapologetic art.
Details reign supreme in the art of East of West. Finely separated panels move each bit of action and splash pages appear as grand portraits. Dragotta’s line-work is reminiscent of old school anime films like Akira without being derivative. The rage of an oligarch realizing her subjects are revolting, an uplifting speech to rally said troops; all these moments maintain a cinematic clarity which rewards each story beat.
Furthermore, Frank Martin’s colors have a very honed and deliberate sense to them. The rebels who storm the evil Union’s White Tower appear as a monolithic military-fatigue brown. A lone rider in bold red storms into battle to rescue her forbidden lover. Each moment carries the weight of the action in addition to ratcheting up the tension of the narrative.
For an art team to so seamlessly welcome a reader into such a complex world is an impressive feat, to the point I’ll eagerly pick up back issues of East of West soon.
East of West is an ongoing series from way back in 2013, but my only prior experience with Hickman falls, unsurprisingly, within his run at Marvel (FF, Avengers, and more). I’m happy to find that all the great traits he carries as a writer appear in this series. The scope of the narrative is apparent, even after reading just one issue. We also get great glimpses into character motivations with just a few lines of dialogue.
And what dialogue! I always admire how a sparse exchange can carry great emotional weight, at which Hickman excels. We don’t get long overwrought exposition in this book – only what we need to know for the action at hand. The rousing speech just before storming the White Tower is the longest stretch of speech-bubble we get, but it’s a damn good one that sets the stakes of the ensuing battle.
At the start of this issue, we see a funeral for a chief of the Endless Nation, an amalgamation of all Native Americans. As a younger member asks Wolf (seemingly a leader in the tribe) why they burn their leaders, he gives two reasons: one, because they’re great chiefs and a fire puts the mark of their greatness on the land.
Later, when the White Tower gets overrun, Madame President’s one loyal guard is rescued from the mayhem and leaves her boss behind. This brings the issue full circle. As the president is immolated for the oppression of an entire nation, Wolf chillingly extols the second reason they burn their leaders: “because they had it coming.”
This is just the sort of bad-ass, us or them type of conflict to make for a very exciting series. East of West is already deep into its run, but any fan of Hickman’s work should head to Downtown Comics right away to get in on the action.