Inside of the Game of Throne style apocalyptic ensemble piece which I like, East of West houses a more intimate family drama which I love. For all that I have enjoyed the wars, political machinations, double-crosses, and ever-growing stakes, my favorite part of the book is Death's journey to reach his son and hopefully find some form of hope amidst his vengeance. As such, Issue 28 which is devoted to checking in on Death, Babylon, and a few unsavory characters on their periphery, is one of my favorite comic issues of the year. It's a funny, scary, weird little adventure that uses its ability to mix the western and sci-fi genres to its advantage. When we last left Babylon, he was at a moral crossroads, being asked for the to take a life of an innocent piglet, a needless bloody action which Balloon hopes would send him on the path to becoming the Beast . As it turns out Babylon chose the moral option, raising the pig as a pet and beginning to demonstrate a sense of right and wrong that Balloon finds alarming. As Babylon continues to make his way in the world (while cheerfully still planning its destruction), he is tailed by four bounty hunters hired to kill him. But, to complicate things just a little more, Death with the help (but mostly hindrance) of the eyeball is closing in as well, intent on saving his son from the hunters.
This set-up is fairly straight forward but is elevated by three sets of well-realized characters. Death dealing with a rhyming, sneaky talking eyeball is, as it turns out, a buddy cop movie I would like to see more of. As I have noted before, Death's overblown machismo works best paired with a little humor, and a nice balance is struck as death resorts to some painful techniques to extract information from his troublesome squishy partner. Babylon and Balloon similarly have a familiar rapport at this point in the series and it's fun to see the power dynamic begin to tip in the favor of Babylon who, while still fundamentally manipulated, shows a sharpness his father would be proud of.
But special mention needs to be made of the four hunters who, despite being new characters, made an immediate impression. Each is unhinged and strange in their own way, giving the group an air of insanity that suitably increases the stakes (we don't know what they are capable of doing to Babylon). Each has a gimmick of sorts, one of which is so creepy and morbid that I don't want to spoil it here. Visually speaking, they are yet another example of Dragotta's ability to create new and wonderful oddities in the style of his already established world. The characters have robot talons and futuristic guns which manage to look like analogues of classic western feathers and six-shooters, styling them as cyberpunk cowboys of sorts. Suffice it to say, giving them enough focus and identity to make them be believable threats to main characters pays off nicely in a rising sense of tension throughout the issue.
I almost didn't write a review for East of West #28 as I thought a break might make me come back to the series in a month with some new insight and enthusiasm. But as books go on, despite their consistency in quality, attention drops away from them to focus on new debut issues and rising stars in the industry, and frankly, this isn't fair. A book that can deliver as excellent an issue as East of West does this week deserves more than a little attention. Hickman and Dragotta have hit their stride and are barreling towards the final act of their story, and I remain on board for every second of it.
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East of West #28 Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Colorist: Frank Martin Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital