Group Review: East of West #3

Just to forewarn you readers, this is the last group review for East of West though I’m sure that will make some readers and definitely some writers sad. If you’re unfamiliar with the group review format here’s the deal: The writers/reviews of Comic Bastards come together to share their individual thoughts on the issue and the give is a score. The scores are as followed:Buy, Borrow or Pass. Now before the opinions start, here’s what Image has to say about the issue which I found to be terribly inaccurate for the most part. "THE DRAGON" - Death's reign of terror over THOSE WHO RULE continues, as the forces of the END TIMES continue to work to bring about the Apocalypse. It's the END OF THE WORLD: Someone dies, someone lives, and someone falls in love.

Steve: Buy aka 4/5

What is it about Jonathan Hickman? Seriously, for a dude who just kind of stumbled into the comic book business, with no small amount of luck mind you, this guy has proven himself, time and time again, to be an inimitable master of its editorial arts. I love not just his concepts, but the circuitous way he administers them to the story, never relying on outright explanation, but rather his ability to elicit discovery. Reading Hickman isn’t always easy, but if you stick with it long enough, it’s usually pretty damn gratifying. Such will be the case, I think, with East of West - particularly when it comes out in trade format.

The world-building Hickman has instituted so far in this book continues to impress in issue three, as we mine more deeply its story’s tangential American history. In this case, though, there is a particular focus on Death’s secretly still-alive ladyfriend, Xiaolian. Turning out to be 10 pounds of Chun-Li in a five pound bag, Xiaolian gives us a taste of what led to her imprisonment at the hands of her sister Hu, her father Mao V and a previous incarnation of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, at the same time showing the spark that most likely inspired Death to take a holiday and fall in love with her.

Again, Hickman tells this story sparingly, combining one big splash of action with a blank page of six incendiary words and a little Hickman graphic. There follows the continued convergence of the personification of Death and his erstwhile brethren: the Horsekids of the Apocalypse ... who I fucking love, by the way. Their puerile brand of evil is sickly innocent, yet as ancient and brooding as their forms bely. Cast against a weird, mashed-up world which sees the Great American West as a futuristic backdrop where the Chinese empire, the united tribal nations and the white man vie for dominance, their shadow looms larger than their diminutive size suggests as they close their collective grip around their brother with the help of a cowardly human operative. Meanwhile, we get the beginnings of another kind of conflict, as Death and his monochrome henchmen declare war on New Shanghai, the epicenter of the American Chinese Empire.

Now, I’ll admit that this issue does meander somewhat, feeling a bit like it’s treading over ground it’s already trodden, but the setup behind Death’s woman, his forthcoming battle and (I imagine) dismemberment of the Chinese nation and the eventual big bad brouhaha he’ll have with his siblings continues to keenly grasp my attention. The art from Dragotta continues to be sparse when it needs to be, fitful when it wants to be and ominous because it has to be. Color is, as ever, integral to a Hickman book and it remains so here, with greatly evocative contributions from Frank Martin. Altogether, this is the kind of greatness I’ve come to expect and admire in Hickman’s stuff, and while this issue is more laborious than the others have been, it’s still one of my top choices for ones to watch as its story progresses.


Samantha: Buy

You know a comic is good when it slaps you, the reader, in the face and you can’t help but fall more in love with it. Telling us that she lasted longer than we will is brilliant. It is abusive but brilliant. It makes me feel involved with the comic. It acknowledges its readers and that is important to keep a fan base. Not that this comic needs any help.

We learn more about Death’s wife and his pursuit for love. It flips everything you ever thought about death and turns you on your ass. You start to feel sympatric to this Death guy and wonder what his wife is like. We see little bits of her but nothing major. She seems like a hard-ass though, which should fit Death’s personality perfectly.  I don’t know what she did to deserve the wrath from her father and sister but she seems like the hero in this comic. As far as the story goes, this issue doesn’t have much development. I think you could pass on this issue and still know what is happening in the next one, but why would you want to? There is magic happening in this comic even if I have to accept Death to pursue it.

Jordan: Buy aka 4/5

Things grow ever stranger in East of West. To be completely honest, there are moments where I simply am not sure what’s happening at all, but here’s the magic of that phenomenon in these stories-- it only makes me want to know more. When a man’s eyeball climbs out of his head and betrays him, when a frogman wielding dual katanas appears on the scene for no conceivable reason; my response is not to scoff at what the f$#k at the backlit text on my computer screen, it is to remark, internally of course, “wow, what’s this thing I don`t know about yet? I’m excited to find out more about it.”

No book, but maybe Saga itself manages to pull off such original and layered fiction. And the more we see the more epic the tale grows. Try not to smile when the corrupt Premiere Mao V lord over all of China(?) sends out a messenger offering peace and Death’s companions swiftly turn it down to which the messenger responds with his plan B, give up or the greatest nation on earth will blitzkrieg your ass. To which Death calmly retorts, “The great wall is coming down, and my judgment will follow shortly”. Whens the last time the protagonist in one of your hero books bumped chests with an entire country? Unadulterated bad-ass-itude.

The story itself is great, like I’ve said before I feel as if Jonathan Hickman has archives and archives of lore backing this thing up; it just feels that lived in. But for all the greatness there, it cannot be said that Nick Dragotte’s art doesn’t hold its own. Stuff just looks plain cool in this comic, there’s just no way around it. From Death’s metallic horse to the designs of his two companions everything feels like it was designed by a guy who could just as easily craft worlds that appear via your Xbox. I will still say that some close-up face work looks occasionally goofy but that’s a truly minimal complaint.

East of West is not 100 % perfect, but with every step forward it becomes more compelling, more kick ass and more well realized. Jump on this train.


Dustin: Buy

I enjoyed this issue more than the previous two. The thing about this series is its very Hickman, which I enjoy, but after a while the formula becomes apparent and this series showed its hand very quickly. That said though, I liked several aspects of this story. The talking eyeball and the Tracker system was a hell of an addition and added yet another layer to the world. The love story and Death’s wife was also very interesting and I can’t wait to see how that plays out more. My favorite characters of the series are by far Death’s companions and I really hope there is some kind of back story for them in the future.

The things that I didn’t like were the constant mentioning of the mysteries of the series. “He’s looking for what we stole from him” which is super annoying because everyone in the story knows what was stolen. Realistically they would name the object rather than tip-toe around it. I’m fine with the mysterious, but you don’t need to remind us every issue when you have no intention of telling us yet. My guess is that it’s his son or daughter that was stolen, but we’ll see. It’s a good series that’s teetering on great, so you should definitely check it out.

Score: Buy It All Around!

Writer: Jonathan Hickman

Artist: Nick Dragotta

Publisher: Image Comics

Price: $3.50

Release Date: 6/5/13