So, to celebrate 10 solid issues of Hickman’s Image epic, East of West, I decided to go back and read the entirety of the series again in one go. Given the depth at which he operates, I think it’s generally good practice to do this with a Hickman run, and I was glad I committed the time to do so here. There are so many things you pick up on after seeing what has unraveled since, that Hickman’s holistic design becomes that much more apparent and impressive, and it was a great lead-in to yet another incredible turn from this creative team. Things get ugly - well, uglier - as the oracle continues her tête-à-tête with Death, with the latter setting out with the information she gives him, in exchange for one of his body parts. No, not that one! Jesus, get your mind out of the gutter! The oracle may be a poster child for tentacle porn, but I’ll have you know she’s a classy lady!
With said information in hand and an eye out of socket, Death heads to the land from whence his two monochromatic companions, Wolf and Crow, came - The Endless Nation - to confront a powerful member of the Horsekids of the Apocalypse’s so-called Chosen, with whom the two shapeshifting native witches share a tremulous bond.
The battle that follows is grand and monstrous, touching and deadly, and the unseen player who arrives at (and indeed causes) its conclusion bodes some truly badass things to come, given his fantastic appearance in the series a handful of issues ago.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (and by “ranch,” I mean the high-tech and hidden re-education facility belonging to humanity’s harbingers of extinction), The Beast for whom Death is looking may be playing a cleverer game than his years suggest he is capable, and the increasingly-cryptic Horsekids hatch the beginnings of a new plan which ... well, we don’t really have any idea what the hell they’re talking about, but knowing those testy little bastards like we do, it’s probably not going to be pleasant. For anyone.
No offense or anything, but if you’re not reading and thereby loving this series already, you’re kind of an idiot. Being that we’re a dime in, though, chances are, you’re digging this nigh-indefinable genre mash-up as much as I am, which is to say a lot. I think Hickman’s greatest achievement here is how he is baiting us all along in East of West, cleverly doling out the slightest nibbles of what we need to know each issue, but teasing enough to keep us both curious and a little bit confused.
Good, bad or downright apocalyptic, I’ve fallen in love with each and every character in East of West. Why? Because Hickman and Dragotta have worked so tirelessly and with such meticulousness to show us the different facets of their natures. Again, this is “outside-in” storytelling, and it has succeeded in making everything - from this fractious world, to the people who will live to see the end of it - substantial and satiating.
The two that get the bulk of the treatment this time are Wolf and Crow, and goddamn are these two the shit. I love their powerful and unwavering presence, their hinted-at yet still vague affection and connection to each other, and of course their appearance, which Dragotta expands on visually here in each one’s given transformation, both of which are mystifying.
Speaking of Dragotta, every time I think he has exceeded his own limitations in an issue of this book, he destroys them in the one that follows. Whether it’s Death riding a Dalí-esque robotic horse-canon across a desert sea of bones, the manifestation of magics both light and dark, or the visceral bifurcation of a gigantic man-demon, he absolutely kills it on each and every page with gaunt, seething and explosive art, without which this story just wouldn’t be the same.
Colorist Frank Martin continues to show why he too is a master of his craft, and I invite you not just to see the overall tones he whips us through in this issue, but to focus on something relatively smaller: an eye. The last panel on the first official page of this book shows the Oracle’s newly-pilfered eye, and it is so alive on the page, it’s fucking terrifying. His and Dragotta’s work together on the full-splash of Death’s face, too, is hypnotically disgusting; of course, you’ll have trouble looking away from anything in this book, even though sometimes you might want to.
I want to say this issue feels like it’s getting back on the main road of the East of West narrative, but I’m not sure there is one. Instead, Hickman is showing the creation of a story as it happens, by drawing in all of its little mercurial pools into what is becoming one torrential stream of insane and quite gorgeous death.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Colorist: Frank Martin Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 3/12/14