East of West #29 marks the third issue in a row which I had planned not to review and then, upon reading it, found I had a lot to say. Exactly when any long running series in the most danger of getting stagnant, Hickman and Dragotta have hit their stride, telling weird, gripping, action-filled stories of a very strange western world. The 29th chapter of East of West serves as the finale of year two, bringing one major plot point to a head while setting up the book's third act. Let's get the big event of the issue out of the way up front: Death and Babylon have been united, which has been built to since the end of the first arc. Their union (I hesitate to call it a reunion since, as is a plot point in the issue, neither knows the other) brings out the softer side of death which to me makes him such an interesting character. After dispatching his son's would-be killer, Death has no bravado or anger left in him. Suddenly he's reserved and gentle, almost shy around the boy who kicked off this whole story. The fascinating contradiction at the center of Death is that he is, by nature, unable to form attachments being a spirit of pure destruction and yet he loves his family with the passion and dedication of any father and husband.
Babylon for his part doesn't know how to react to the 'Mythological: Artificial: Reanimate: Apocrypha: Horseman' who is suddenly hugging him. While Babylon's humanity has been emphasized over the last arc, but Death recognizes, as his son cheerfully describes how he'll end the world, that there's work to do on him. How Death's new relationship will play out with the ever manipulative Balloon, remains to be seen, but it's interesting territory that should allow both Babylon and Death to become richer characters. That along with an insane two-page final sequence serve as quite a hook for the Apocalypse year three.
All that being said, the issue contains a lot of material that is less concerned with the overall plot and is more simply, a lot o fun. We have a crazy action sequence that subverts more than a few expectations of how Babylon's fight with the bounty hunters will go down. We then are given a fascinating (if unimportant) look at the history of Psalm 137 who frankly is interesting enough to have his own series (if Death is Dirty Harry and The Ranger is Judge Dredd, then Psalm 137 is Robocop). All of this is brought to life by the ever imaginative pencils of Nick Dragotta. Part of the reason I keep meaning to skip these reviews is that I am running out of ways to say how good the art, but it would be a crime not to mention it.
East of West #29 ends with a callback to one of the first lines of the series, as we are once again reminded that "The dream is dead." It's a sharp, powerful little moment that propels us forward into a signaturely uncertain future. It also, along with the entire preceding issue, serves to remind me that another dream that East of West will continue its high level of quality through a fifty issue run is very much alive.
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East of West #29 Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Colorist: Frank Martin Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital