Every issue of Hickman and Dragotta’s East of West reads like a succinct philosophical statement filled with ultra-violence and futuristic craziness. Every collection reads like a new chapter in a bible being written in blood and political backstabbing and computerized religion. It’s a perfect machine, and issue 21 is no different. The last few issues of East of West have been much more encapsulated than the beginning of the series; with each expanding plotline, Hickman is giving separate stories the time to breathe, and sometimes that ends up as an entire issue. This issue, we catch up with Doma, the newest Widowmaker for Mao, as she continues to experience the Endless Nation. The elders of the Endless try to decide whether they will continue their stubborn path to war or if they are willing to sacrifice a little dignity for a larger victory down the line.
East of West is a strange book, for me. I caught up to the singles early after the first trade came out, and since then, I’ve been reading monthly as well as picking up the trades and re-reading periodically. The structure of the book is byzantine--there must be a wall or a room in the Hickman house that’s just notecards connected with strings on dozens of corkboards mapping out the story of this world. And I love it. I love that Hickman, even this far in, refuses to simplify what he’s trying to do to appease readers, and he trusts his audience to be able to keep up with him. It’s definitely work on our part; I have to re-read the series fairly often to keep myself up to date, and even on the fourth or fifth re-read, it’s still fresh. The tension keeps ramping up, and as the series pushes onward to war, it remains one of the best reads I pick up every month.
And Nick Dragotta’s art. Holy living hell. I don’t know how often he and Frank Martin worked together before this book, but they have such a deft sense of each others’ work and what makes it shine that I hope they work together forever. Dragotta’s imagination is expansive and hasn’t even reached the upper limits yet--dig the giant base of the Endless Nation, the enormous head with a headdress that’s dozens of stories tall and looks like a crashed spaceship; dig the land of bones in this issue, and how expressive he manages to make a robotic horse. And then, realize how much moodier Martin’s colors make the whole affair, and how his use of shadow and muted palettes are the things that sell this world. Meanwhile, Wooton’s lettering is dramatic without being obtrusive--he has a style all his own that you can recognize immediately, but only if you’re looking. He never gets in the way of the panels, and he makes complex things (like two characters tapping out messages to each other) into easily digestible parts of the story.
I shouldn’t have to tell you at this point that East of West is the best work Hickman’s ever done, and he’s bringing out the best in all his collaborators. He’s creating a nightmare America almost from whole cloth, and even though it’s only been going on for a little over three years, it feels like it could go on forever. Catch up with the trades, buy last month’s issue--read this book.
East of West #21 Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Colorist: Frank Martin Letterer: Rus Wooton Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 10/14/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital