Throughout my ongoing relationship with Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s incredibly unique pre-apocalyptic mash-up book, East of West, I’ve gone on - at great length - about how much I’ve enjoyed the build around its story’s periphery. In issue 11, however, those claws are finally beginning to curl inward. That’s not to say that East of West #11 doesn’t continue the series’ great tradition of being a book written from the skin-in, it’s just that the scope is perhaps more outward-reaching here than in issues most recently previous; as such, we get a quick but progressive round-up of all points in this splintered world. As expected, it’s pretty damn great.
The plot follows the leaders and/or people-of-interest from the independent nations that now occupy what is, in our world, the United States. These include the Union in the northeast, the Kingdom of New Orleans, the Confederacy in the southeast, the Texas Republic and the People’s Republic on the left coast - all of which have been fleshed beautifully-well leading up to this ... barring one. More on that in a hot minute.
These nations converge on Armistice, the central meeting site around which the boundaries for this variant version of “America” were drawn. More specifically, the meeting happens at a place called The Wall, which is considered neutral territory, having been designated as the site at which the peace treaty was originally signed.
Each head of state or duly-appointed representative heads to Armistice to take part in one of their regular meetings to maintain a tentative peace, though their own ends are vastly different, not to mention fueled by varying flavors of hatred. At the same time, as is more than implied in the first few pages of this book, that peace may be more tenuous than ever, and this issue seemingly shows the last few vestiges of it.
The last straggler nation that appears at the book’s end is one that I can’t wait to get the same Hickman/Dragotta treatment from which the others have benefitted. The Endless Nation - that country established and governed by Native Americans - has really only been whispered about in East of West, with its characters being placed as focal to the story, but without much explanation as to what they or their nation stands for; this, however, is the beginning of the end of that ... and based on their foreboding and imposing arrival here, I cannot fucking wait to see more about them, hopefully next time.
While neither Death and his friends nor the Horsekids of the Apocalypse are anywhere to be seen this time, the perhaps more-restrained and hasty seasoning of other equally-enthralling members of the cast is more than enough to satisfy this story’s amazing build. It does feel quite quick, and thick with rising action without much climax, but the little revelations offered up this issue do a great job of expanding this universe even further, and it’s going to be great to see how all of these people and the forces they represent finally collide.
Amongst all of these individual characters, I am falling increasingly hard for Archibald Chamberlain of the Confederacy, who is far-and-away one of the most intriguing characters in a series crowded with them. Conniving, inscrutable, possibly amoral and self-serving, he may also end up being one of this series’ greatest heroes ... as strange as I know that sounds. Hickman clearly has a ball writing this guy, and I’ll be shocked as hell if he doesn’t have a significant role to play in the looming apocalypse, and if that position is undertaken on the side of the angels.
Dragotta’s stuff here wavers very, very slightly, and some of the pages - particularly the scene in the People’s Republic starring the House of Mao and that which takes place en route from The Kingdom - feel rushed. Elsewhere, however, his work is as arresting as ever. Once again, though this time more visually, Chamberlain steals the show. Of course, Bel Solomon’s disgusting struggle with possession may beg to differ. Those three pages are incredible.
East of West is not a book you should be reading. It is a book you need to be reading, especially now that its shit is inching ever closer to its fan.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Date: 4/9/14 Format: Ongoing - Print/Digital