Reeling from the actions undertaken by Death and his crew two issues ago, which led to the overthrow of The People’s Republic, the accumulated leaders of the other carved up sections of this Old West-meets-Hi-Tech, parallel America meet on the neutral ground of Armistice to talk traitors, dead allies, new enemies and of course, the end of the world. As they do, a decisive rift is formed, and this council - made up by the apostles of a still-mysterious apocrypha known only as “The Message” - turns on itself, outing their so-called traitor. Now, the next little bit may contain spoilers, so if you’re not caught up with this book yet, AVERT YOUR EYES. Oh, and shame on you, by the way.
The disenfranchised member of the council is, of course, the wizard-looking former man of the law (but not in the way you think), Mister Bel Solomon. What follows in his flee is a story that may not include any of the major players introduced thus far, like Death, his now-empress (ex?) wife and the three horsekids of the apocalypse, but one that further develops the boundaries of this world quite nicely.
In fact, in East of West #5, Hickman and Dragotta are doing some serious mythos building, particularly by introducing the origins of its band of vengeful (yet just) lawmen called (big shocker here) Rangers, who, after a very personal instance of political corruption, take the law into their own hands. Unfortunately for the corrupt, those hands are already filled with guns!
I love the motivations of this group - or rather, its leader, who takes point in its origin tale. He may be the only truly “righteous” character we’ve seen thus far in this book, which puts him at odds within a world of villainy. So beholden is he to his moral code, in fact, that no evil or unjust thing is safe, including the messenger of the apocalypse: a man who once tried to save his life, but became swallowed by injustice along the way.
Once again, Hickman’s stamp is all over this book, and I love how he is always able to create from the outside in, all the while erecting these ornate narrative pillars (in this case, the Rangers) to give the whole structure a firmer foundation. We also get a keen glimpse into the politics of at least one sliver of this fractured world, shaped as it is in the Wild West framework.
This, of course, comes in direct and stark contrast with the “New China” verve we’ve been getting previously, and shows just how rich East of West truly is. In that way, it’s a lot like seminal Jackie Chan vehicle, Shanghai Knights ... but actually entertaining.
Dragotta’s art here continues to be an uncomplicated treat. At times poppy, and at others monstrous, this issue’s visual direction sees even more fantastically weird character designs. There isn’t much of any background art to speak of, which is a shame knowing what he’s capable of, but what we see up-front is great: gnarly black magic, atomic-powered and adorable robot pig-dog things, metal mustache/red visor combos; it’s got it all! The look and feel of this world is dusty, gritty, dark and fallow. Completely grim and entirely beautiful.
East of West continues to be a great, pulsating vein of a story, even when it splits and bends in other directions. Hickman and Dragotta have revealed a wicked new facet in this world of theirs and I for one am all-in for mining its depths further.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Colorist: Frank Martin Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 09/25/13