There's a point, near the middle of East of West #27, where an issue that looks like it will entirely exposition and talking heads is interrupted abruptly by a cowboy shooting a pistol and spouting the rare religion-themed one-liner. Up until that point, I had felt like both the script and the art were feeling a little tired: Hickman was doing his wordy, pseudo philosophy rant thing and Dragotta's art was a little more contained than usual. But all in a sudden I was reminded just how much control these creators have over their story as that contained, inevitable quality of the book's first half is turned to their advantage by making the latter half that much more surprising and propulsive. It's frankly hard to read 27 issues of a book, even one I like as much as East of West, without feeling a little fatigue, but Hickman and Dragotta are anxious to remind you that things are only just getting interesting. Eschewing the book's segmented approach, issue 27 presents, in its entirety, the meeting of the new chosen. The ever crazier prophet Orion lays out his plans (i.e. demands) to the gathered fighters, politicians, and royalty, using hundreds of violent religious pilgrims as a threat should things not turn his way. Ezra is convinced that he knows not only what the future holds but what each gathered individual's place is in it, and he expects, as he puts it, that they worship him and "fall in line." But over the last twenty some issues, we've gotten to see the lives of these characters develop and be fleshed out to an extent that we know instinctively, that the prophet is overplaying his hand. No matter where the group falls politically or ideologically, each individual has motivations and loyalties that go far beyond what Orion can control.
The external forces of the end times may be bigger than any one character, but Ezra's message of bowing to the darkness and taking your fated place is not what anyone wants. As Chamberlain puts it "I am many things, but one of them is not being a foregone conclusion." It remains to be seen what the series thesis on hope and inevitability will be, but for the moment, it's clear that things are not going to be simple or predictable. As I mentioned above, some unexpected violence propels the story into an action scene that is surprising and thoroughly engrossing. As Ezra calls his true believers to attack like a horde of Amish-themed zombies, we get what is the best on screen action scene since the fifth issue. Dragotta is as ever at the top of his game when he's drawing fights and the individual action beats of the extended battle are thrilling. Credit also to Hickman for coming up with action beats that function as extensions of each person's character and style.
The lead criticism with East of West has been a lack of forward momentum, which is a fair but not very nuanced view. Each issue has set things up and gotten pieces into place at a careful measured pace. There have, however, been places where the story has dragged a little, needing some big event to mark where the story is heading. This issue ends with just such a moment as a longtime character faces death in what is a stunning piece of spectacle and storytelling (I don't want to spoil it, but the final three pages by Dragotta are some of his most indelible work to date). To put it simply, I'm not worried about East of West anymore, it's in good hands.
[su_box title="Score: 4/5" style="glass" box_color="#8955ab" radius="6"]