It says a lot about a book when it is, at its essence, a roundtable political argument, and yet can still be one of the best things in comics today. Such is the case with East of West #12, which continues this near-indescribable series about the end of the end of the world. The format of this issue is deceptively prosaic, seeing as it does the gathered heads of state in this pre-apocalyptic world meeting together during what could be best described as an emergency state of the “union,” with the bulk of the discussion (read: poorly-restrained aggression) bubbling up between the apocalypse pawn, The Union, and the recently forcibly-freed Republic, which is now being lorded over by the bitter former paramour of Death himself, and People’s Republic premier, the Good Lady Xiaolian.
Accusations fly thick and fierce between these rivals before spreading like diseased afterbirth against the quivering legs of the assembled throng, before descending into all-out political bedlam. In calling out the president of the Union for being a hapless lackey of the “Horsekids of the Apocalypse,” Xiaolian pushes into practice the tremulous tensions that exist between the nations that run this slice of an alternate world.
Leaders die ... horribly, foreboding prophesies are spat with digital vitriol from soon-dead lips, the possessed hands of “good” men are turned to explosively evil deeds, and we are left to wonder just who set the charge that would act as the final dinner bell to war. And you know what? Despite its continually measured yet pulsating hemorrhage and almost frustrating flirtation with all-out conflagration, East of West shows why Hickman is the comic world’s current king.
Not only is he, as a storyteller, one of the most dynamic wielders of the trade in the sheer diversity of his chosen stories, but he is a master-craftsman of the tease in both character and plot. Having fleshed-out his players and their environment so intricately over the series’ preceding issues, it only stands to reason that he would be so meticulous in their combined flaying.
Don’t get me wrong, there are truly shocking moments that you wouldn’t immediately assume would so quickly rear their ugly heads, but in his purposeful and calculated obfuscation - both in prose and plot - he is offering in East of West a tutorial on how to properly bleed a story. And indeed, this stuck pig continues to kick in the most grotesque, yet satisfying way; such that even its smallest twitch (a single panel of one character pointing a silent, yet haunting accusatory finger at her enemy) can stir as much as this issue’s explosive double-assassination.
Of course, equal praise must also go to series artist Nick Dragotta, whose perhaps more rhythmic presentation this time (in a majority 9-panel page march to the end) belies the scrawling and blood-stained undercurrent that thrums menacingly from each page. Hickman’s story simply would not work the way it does without Dragotta’s own visual treatment of Character and Place, and I am constantly impressed by not just his designs, but the way he is able to make them haunt his pages, whether it’s in the stoic intimidation of the so-called Endless Nation or in the way the issue opens, with perhaps the most disconcerting bit of BDSM I have seen in a comic book in recent memory - not to mention how the same will affect the story’s eventual outcome.
I’ll concede the point that East of West seems comfortable in always pushing the “big event” until next time, and thus could be misconstrued as an unnecessary drawing-out of its story, but once you realize how poised this tense bubble has been set to pop, there’s no denying the infectiousness of its tension, and I am absolutely hooked, like a pathetic junkie looking for his next fix. It is the most satisfying cocktease in the business today, and I continue to tap my vein each month for another hit.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 5/21/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital