So I’m a big fan of tattoos. I’m no aficionado, mind you, but I wear my fair share of ink; a trend that I only see growing, much to my wife’s pretty vocal chagrin. Two of my first tattoos (which I randomly got in Turkey one time - long story) run along my forearms, and are quotes from one of my favorite modernist poets, T.S. Eliot, specifically from his famous little ditty, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Obviously, as it will forever enjoy prime, potentially job-sacrificing real estate on my skin, I tend to think about that poem a lot. So it’s probably no surprise that the line preceding those that I have indelibly place upon my person would often pop into my noggin, even when reading one of my new favorite comic books, East of West, and in general, thinking about the style of its writer, Jonathan Hickman.
The lines I’m thinking of go thusly: “Politic, cautious, and meticulous; / Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse.” I have yet to think of any way better to describe the writing in this book; with its high concept and connivingly staggered pace, it has a tendency to feel a little slow on the uptake, but when indeed its “high sentence” comes to a conflagration with its action, it’s poetry. That’s exactly what happens - for the most part - in East of West #13.
This issue jumps between two very different conflicts. In the first, Death, who in issue #10 was just about to get some intel on his captive hellspawn (read: son) from Cheveyo (father of Death’s cohort Wolf and now ex-shaman of the Endless Nation), until The Ranger (one of this series’ rare altruistic characters) sniped his head clean off his shoulders like a damn badass with his robotic dog-cannon companion. Taking some issue with that, Death flings himself into battle with The Ranger and they both settle it like gentlemen; i.e., with fisticuffs!
As I said, The Ranger is one of East of West’s protagonists - an honorable man wronged in the death of his family by the very law he protects (issue #6) - but Death, I think, is this world’s ironic “hero,” for perhaps lack of a better word. Their throw-down this issue, such as it is, does have some of that classic mistaken-conflict-before-team-up feel to it (replete with “don’t just sing it, bring it” cliché), but it also reminded me of the fight in TV’s best-written drama, Deadwood, especially in the classic donnybrook between Swearengen and Bullock in season two ... and hot damn, it’s great.
Their righteous indignation at each other affords some fantastic banter and testosteroney posturing full of high sentence but spoken in the true language of the obtuse, and it’s truly great to see two characters of this caliber (pun intended) squaring off. Of course, that’s as much a credit (if not more so) to Dragotta’s art as it is Hickman’s writing. Visually, this fight is as furious and stunning as you’ve come to expect from this series, especially as the two rush each other in the skewed and split splash page that heralds their rumble, and it never really lets up until the end.
The second fight is a bit more metaphysical and in-line with the overall conflict of this book. Wolf must come to terms with his estranged father’s death, which came somewhat at Wolf’s hands, cleaving as he did his father’s Beast Mode form in twine. Being that Cheveyo was apparently a sort of human adaptor governing the energies that flow between this life and the next, Wolf must step into his father’s place and arrange a new agreement, offering his own daddy’s dead body as what will inevitably be a fleeting recompense to The Dead.
Instead of knuckle-on-chin action, Wolf’s battle with the netherworld is filled with magic explosions and laser feathers, but it’s no less visceral for it. As usual, Hickman complicates things with tantalizingly cryptic explanations that may or may not be explained later, while Dragotta follows suit with a more otherworldly action that pivots well against the very “human” conflict between Death and The Ranger. Colorist Frank Martin shows his usual breathtaking talents here, infecting its pages with an electric red tide that sets both a bloody and explosive tone.
Both conflicts are soon dwarfed by the looming shadow of another quite literally on the horizon - fallout of the assassination and violent political grandstanding last issue - and as always, I can’t wait to see how all of these different elements converge on top of each other; maybe more than ever.
East of West #13 was a much more character-based affair than last issue, which was burdened (though not unpleasantly so) with world-building. At the same time, however, it was just a great comic book with beautiful action and Hickman philosophizing: high sentence, but a bit obtuse. Just how I like it.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 7/2/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital