Fuck me, this is a good book! Sorry about that; while I tend to incorporate them quite liberally within my writing, I don’t usually begin my reviews with an expletive like that. But when it comes to describing East of West #7, strong language is kind of a must. Allow me to explain my exuberance...
Most of this issue follows the origin story, and resultant aftermath, of the character known as Ezra Orion, high priest and Keeper of The Message and son of Conflict ... so yeah, basically everything about this guy’s name and rank kicks ass.
Unfortunately for him, however, his current situation - being magically fused with a sadistic Lovecraftian demon from some or another kind of hell dimension called The Abyss after an attack backfires - kicks less ass. In fact, casual observers might call his current dilemma “something of a pickle.”
Flippant humor aside, I honestly found this issue’s narrative to be the most compelling and character-driven of its kind to date, with an uncommon depth in a series that has become renowned for it. So far, the Horsekids of the Apocalypse in East of West have shown little more than an all-consuming desire to end things, leaving little room for silly little things like compassion or love; but herein, that changes - even if infinitesimally.
Taking center stage is the blue-hued reincarnated form of Conquest, who shows - both visually and through his/her dialogue - an unusual sympathy in the concern for his/her “son,” and the fact that he’ll spend the rest of his days jerking off with a tentacle beast for a hand. [insert “I’ve seen enough Hentai...” quip here]
The story behind that relationship is one filled with bullets, blood, laser-neighing robot horses, unnatural and imposing mechanical obelisks, and of course, electric whips. But between all of this harshness and rebirth, bathed as it comes by the insides of things, there are some genuinely touching moments, stomach-churning though they may simultaneously be.
And therein lies the fearful symmetry (if I may) of this book, which elsewhere sees Death battle for love, and (ironically) the life he created, by traversing with his transformative chums a staircase that seemingly descends into hell itself: a sequence so grand and intriguing, I almost don’t mind that Hickman totally copped it from the “Cave of Wonders” scene in Disney’s Aladdin.
In its main thread, though, this is a book that shows tenderness, not of heart, but instead, that which accompanies the skin around a fresh sore or a new wound. As its name implies, East of West rends both its characters and readers in different directions, and its seventh issue draws and quarters you that much more impressively, dangling this sweet, maternal connection in front of you before flash-frying the placenta in a terrifyingly pragmatic approach to the apocalypse.
Along with Hickman’s ever-impressive yet sparing poetic lilt, I feel like Nick Dragotta has hit his artistic zenith this time around, and I hope he can maintain it going forward. More than in any issue previous (save possibly the first one), there is an attentive purpose employed in his visual direction here, showcasing a texture and definition that has been relatively lacking in issues previous.
In the entirety of his run so far, Dragotta has worked well with the writer to craft this amazingly distinct and alternative world, but in this issue especially, he has built a pastoral-meets-pop art-meets-dystopian technological wild west wasteland, and it’s legitimately terrifying how captivating it is.
With a setting that flashes back and forth not only in the varied appearance of the world and its players, but also tagged and distinguished tonally by Rus Wooton’s great use of color, East of West #7 is a beautifully mutilated portrait that is, for me, a credit to the series as a whole.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Colorist: Frank Martin Letterist: Rus Wooton Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 11/6/13