My, my... bless my well-powdered nethers, that was a good issue. That opening is cribbed from the ever quotable Archibald chamberlain, spoken in greeting to the president of the free world as he languidly smokes a cigar in the presence of a demon--it's just that sort of an issue. Recently there's been a change in momentum for East of West. After three or so arcs of groundwork, the book has hit critical mass with a large cast of characters each with distinct motivations, appearances, and morals. Hickman seems to be getting a good deal of joy at knocking the characters together and watching the sparks fly, like a child with a group pre-apocalyptic, vaguely religious action figures. Nowhere has this free-for-all new style been more apparent than in East of West #26 where well over half the issue is spent letting the members of the summoned Chosen simply react to each other. Archibald snipes cheerfully at Antonia Levay, John Freeman celebrates a reunion with his dearest of friends, and weapons are pointed all around. It's a fun structure that borders on the comedic a little too hard (it's easy to imagine Ezra's cave a sitcom sound-stage as the characters enter and exit with too convenient timing). I would imagine the main problem here is one of scale: the exchanges between characters are as sharp as ever, but for such a momentous event in the comic's mythos, things seem a little small and contained. East of West has, however, always read better as a novel than a serial, and I expect this issue will work better as a prelude to what's sure to be an exciting, and likely blood-spattered, meeting.
Working to this issue's advantage is the b-story which, to myself and many longtime readers' delight, is a Death story. In world where every comic and film brims with quiet, angrily, ultra-masculine action heroes like Frank Castle, Mad Max, Jason Bourne, Bruce Wayne, and Judge Dredd, it can be easy to take Hickman's Death for granted. But I think there's a soulfulness with the white clad cowboy that only the best versions of those characters are granted. Death isn't a cold figure, he's an emotional one, cut from the same cloth as the hardened but sensitive western heroes of John Wayne. This issue has Death pursuing a reunion with his son, with the help of an increasingly shady bartender. Also highlighted here is the faintly (but never overpoweringly) ridiculous nature of Death's overblown steely bravado. While I love his skill with a six-shooter, I am equally in love with the ridiculous image of Death leveling it a pink, slimy, talking eyeball.
At this point in the series, we've had a lot of buildup punctuated by occasional brief bouts of over-the-top violence. This pace has, for the most part, worked very well, but Hickman appears to be winding up to speed things up some, and I am excited to see the excrement hit the rotating-bladed cool-air blower (it seemed classier than 'shit hit the fan'). After all, in the style of the series, we've got a beautifully written and drawn world all laid out in stunning, careful detail--it's high time to blow it up.
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East of West #26 Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 5/25/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital