"Welcome to the Atlas, the world out there is dry and dusty but I can make it better". With that line, delivered by an absent-minded saloon keep over a dusty bar, East of West makes a powerful return to its humble beginnings. Repeating a location from the beginning of the series is a smart move to kick off the new East of West arc as it both shows how much progress has been made in the 24 intervening issues and also lets the audience know that despite the ever sprawling larger scope, there is still a central story the has continued uninterrupted from issue one. And as Death predictably and gleefully works his way through a new horde of mooks while spouting some high caliber one-liners, one can't help but be happy that there's much more of East of West to come. We'll come back to that bar brawl in a moment, but the issue starts in the Endless Nation as Chief Narsimha is called to the Sea of Bones by a terrifying dream. There he meets Wolf, his nephew, who asks him to join in the final meeting of the chosen. Narsimha is a fairly new character, but his importance going forward is emphasized here by Wolf's unprecedented rendezvous with a member of the Endless Nation. The conversation between the uncle and nephew is clever in how it slowly transitions from the bombastic, dense statements Hickman is so fond of to a simpler, personal message as Wolf asks for help to save their people. In a book so defined by darkness and cynicism, it's a pleasant reminder that there are heroes here, albeit violent, frightening ones.
Which naturally brings us to Death himself, returning to the Atlas bar to request (i.e. demand at gunpoint) a favor from the much beleaguered barkeep/tracker. There's not a lot to this section, and we are no, as of yet, told exactly what the favor is beyond that it involves tracking someone down (my money's on Babylon), but I will never cease to be entertained by Death bloodying his enemies before delivering lines dripping with calculated machismo. He's a lethal cross between Clint Eastwood and Martin Riggs, and borders at times on loving pastiche of American action heroes in general yet never tips fully into parody. In other words, he's a great character, and while the events of this issue don't progress his plot a ton, it's still hugely enjoyable.
I've stopped talking about Nick Dragotta's art in every review because his work is uniformly excellent, but it was interesting, in comparing notes on the afore-mentioned bar scene with its issue one counterpart, just how much his art has changed over the last couple of years. Dragotta's work has become starker, with sharper angles and fewer details, emphasizing motion silhouette. In some ways I miss the more refined, beautiful style of his earlier work, but it's hard to argue against the effectiveness of his images. The issue ends on a single panel of seven character who all look so delightfully strange and specific, that a new reader could likely believe any one was the main character of the book (who is, in fact, not in the image at all).
I always intend to talk about some of the heady ideas in play in each issue of East of West, but I never seem to get around to it. Suffice it to say, when parsed out, the afore-mentioned bombastic dialogue have some extremely interesting socio-political, and in this issue, religious underpinnings. I'd like to see some of these ideas resolve themselves in a bigger grander theme going forwards, but with as much going on as there is, that may be unlikely. That said, issue 25 makes a strong case that, regardless of larger theme, the continuing story of East of West will make for exciting, creative comics.
[su_box title="Score: 3/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]
East of West #25 Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 4/20/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital