Hickman and Dragota’s Image vehicle, East of West, continues its classic Hickman-esque build into action-packed, gravity-laden oddity. We’re still just pecking at the surface of this story so far, with many of its mysteries - such as what led to the split between the horsemen of the apocalypse - continuing to wait in the wings of the narrative. However, being the keen observer of pace that he is, Hickman throws the reader a big, bloody bone to gnaw at and play with in issue four. Death has indeed come to New Shanghai, and with him, a hell of a lot of action has trailed East of West. Using “math,” I would guesstimate that approximately 96.7% of East of West #4 involves “balls-out action,” to use a scientific term. If you crave a gloriously gory story about three supernatural beings waging war against a heavily militaristic Chinese province in an alternate-reality America - and I think you do - then you might want to pick up this book.
This issue seriously has something for everyone: bullets blaze from death-gripped silver six-shooters while rocket horses transform into large, energy-belching monsters; shadowy squaws fracture into swarming murders of crows and ivory native warriors melt into wispily ethereal packs of hungry ghost wolves, all while an elderly Chinese gentleman learns what a real headache parenting can be.
This is less the grand, methodical establishment of world as seen in the first three issues, than it is the effective glimmer of its destruction. East of West #4 is the kind of sexy, raucous wallop you get from an amazing movie trailer or music video; it’s the badass fight scene in that flick you keep skipping back to watch, built around the chaotic slaughter that ensues any time the technology of man challenges the power of gods. It’s bright, bold, bloody fun, peppered with more THOOMS, KASHOOMS and BLAMS than you could possibly stand.
At the same time, this is Hickman, and while he is known for his viscous verbosity, he can also wield text like a surgical knife, and that’s exactly his handle here. Throughout the killbox massacre that blooms like a rash within the walled city of New Shanghai, we are treated to a glimpse into the imaginative pseudo-history of this world - tracing briefly the modern lineage of the American Mao dynasty, and charting therein, not necessarily its downfall, but definitely its next evolution; this is delivered via precise editorial application that doesn’t mince words or fall deeply into unneeded exposition.
This story is tight yet teasing, elucidating without being completely revelatory. After the dust settles at the end of this book, we are still met with more questions, not to mention an intriguing (political) turn of events that will make the promisingly larger conflict before the story’s resolution that much more enticing. We also finally get a taste of the real power at the disposal of Death and his monochrome chums, rather than just seeing them standing there amongst their felled enemies - and it’s impressive.
The art, while impressing overall, does waver at the outset of this issue. It just feels like some of Dragota’s stuff here feels rushed, with many of the somewhat barren backgrounds taking the brunt of what seems like a hurry to reach sexier panels. Saying that, while some of his pages do feel sparse and without the definition of which Dragota is clearly capable, others are achingly kinetic and cool.
The scene of Emperor Mao III addressing his military throng of followers may be lacking in clarity, for example, but the wet, crunchy consumption by a wolf of a New Shanghainaman’s face is nothing short of fangorious, which technically isn’t even a word ... that’s how awesome it looks. Meanwhile, Martin’s colors are suitable impressive for the most part casting a muted pallor with fiery flashes where necessary.
Even as the forces of darkness converge against each other and we are left to wonder if there is any real good in this world, I continue to thoroughly enjoy where East of West is going. I’m not sure if I would yet call it one of Hickman’s best, but it is at least a good indicator of his style and setup, and that’s always a great journey to take, regardless of which direction this book finally takes.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragota
Colorist: Frank Martin
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 7/10/13