When I finished reading this latest issue of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s Image series, East of West, I decided then and there that it was high time I stop reviewing it. Now, this is not because I don’t love it, because I really, really do; maybe even more than I should, like a tall glass of scotch or that RealDoll I ... bought for a friend ... seven years ago. But despite the writhing narrative twists this book continues to take on the monthly, I feel like I’m running out of ways to express how good it is, and wondering whether I’m just shouting into a well, metaphorically speaking. And yet, I have heard more and more cries of discontent over this book echo back recently, stating things like Hickman is attempting too much, or that he’s somehow written himself into a hole, corner or any other unenviable position. No, not anal. What’s wrong with you? Look, as much as I respect the woefully incorrect opinions of those misguided individuals, it is they that are keeping me going with this review, because East of West is one of the best, most intricate slow burns on the stands today, and issue 14 shows exactly why that is.
Like so many before it, this issue had a lot going on, starting with a revelatory character piece on Secretary Chamberlain, whose southern gentlemanliness once again belies his inner ambition in the most delightful way, and spliced with intermittent dalliances with this world’s hyper-futuristic, almost surgically cold Native American society, the Endless Nation, along the way.
However, the bulk of this issue sees the return of one of my most oddly-favorite characters, the adoptive son of the Apocalypse: Ezra Orion, who here has been almost completely swallowed by the metastasized demonic infection that besieged him in issue seven, leaving him as little more than the flapping skin around a living wound. I absolutely love what Hickman has done with this twisted family dynamic, because it is surprisingly one of this story’s most touching subplots: a child born to become a living message, eaten alive by his inherited faith, and the way it bleeds guilt from one of the series’ otherwise most stone-faced antagonists is that special kind of sick.
Whether in the dialogue of the familiar yet pervertedly skewed family spat that ensues or the warring grandstanding of a devastating military force or even the Machiavellian machinations of a bloodthirsty politician, Hickman brings this series a voice unlike any other. Sure, it’s often labyrinthian, but getting through it and seeing hints about how all of it will eventually weave together is simply next-level storytelling. In that, perhaps unlike any time in the past, Hickman has found an idea visual cohort in Nick Dragotta.
With spectacular tonal support from colorist Frank Martin, Dragotta never ceases to amaze me with his work on East of West. His art makes me think of an alien autopsy: this otherwise clinical, almost sterile room splattered in the offal of other worlds. That range is shown in full force here, with Ezra’s further consummation within (and later divorce from) his tumorous appendage, set against the clean, sharp and worst of all calm terror of the Endless Nation’s attack on the White Tower. He is clean and willowy in one panel, and in the next, blistering, viscous and deranged: just like this story.
To those who don’t like this book because they don’t know what’s going on, I say this: wait. Think of East of West as some great Lovecraftian creature. So far, we’ve been caught in the tangled tendrils as they slither over and against each other, but as is shown at the end of this issue, we’re getting pulled closer than ever to its gaping maw.
This is fantastic, high-concept comic bookery at its very best, but if you still don’t “get” East of West, come back to Comic Bastards next month; I’m pretty sure I’ll be waiting to convince you all over again.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Colors: Frank Martin Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 7/30/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital