Review: East of West #8

The first time I heard the found word flowetry, it was used to describe a particular practitioner of hip hop; or “rapper,” if you will. I immediately fell in love with this fun bit of left-handed vocabulary arcana as a great way to describe the moment when an artist achieves perfect syncopation in meter and message. So when you ask me why East of West #8 by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta is the best thing you’ll read this week, I would explain that it has reached that sweet-spot pitch of artistic equilibrium: comic book flowetry.

I came to this conclusion within the first five pages of this issue’s reading, or if I’m honest, in the first two. Hickman at this point has a lot of stylistic tells. Amidst all the graphs and inherent complexity, also infamous are his image-less pages punctuated by what could be seen as portentous text. It’s something he’s done quite liberally in East of West thus far, but perhaps never before has it been so fluid and resonant as it is here.

In under ten words, the ominous introduction of this book bleeds into its first image quietly in a sober explosion, a stance it continues to take throughout as an exploration into one of the book’s myriad and impressively well-crafted characters. This time, it primarily charts the rise and tenuous grasp of newly-“crowned” President of what serves as the pale echo of the United States in this world, and lackey of the Apocalypse, Antonia LeVay.

eastwest08_coverWe follow on as she looks out from her (literal) ivory tower onto a city that (also literally) burns with neglect, and trail along as she, with stiff-lipped, anything-goes abandon, begrudgingly rallies to raise the heaving masses from the muck of their proletariat discontent, only to ready them for their deepest fall.

As an aside of sorts, one of the best things about this book is that most of its story is still taking place in its dark periphery, which allows it to cut away to other corners to strengthen its build. For example, this issue, while focusing mostly on the contentedly hopeless LeVay, also treats us to a quick peek into the quest of Death and his monochrome menagerie, as they seek assistance in finding his stolen son.

As all of these stories ebb, flow and eventually coalesce, it provides an insanely unique way to create a story and helps to establish a still amorphous, but I think, in the end, rock-solid narrative whole.

In fact, this book has had some of the most compelling and ornate examples of universe building I’ve ever seen; but in its treatment here of LeVay, it has never been so deeply insidious, flowing with the smooth disdain that Antonia might employ in her active disregard for the future of Life-As-We-Know-It.

In so doing, East of West #8 continues to be a fascinating insight into not just one character or group of characters, but the sociopolitical constructs they inhabit or, in this case, rule over with an iron fist (blessed as it is by biblical harbingers of doom).

Hickman writes LeVay here with the most terrifying villain voice of all in my opinion; not with the maniacal laugh of the psychotic, but the straight-laced, steady-handed tyranny of those with a crystal clear mission and the requisite apathetic demeanor to go along with it.

In turn, Dragotta matches Hickman’s lyrical portrayal of LeVay as quiet, patient predator beautifully, painting her as an unflappable vulture, with unnerving restraint ever brewing behind her otherwise cold eyes. This, too, is where the flowetry of this issue exists.

Along with clearly calculated colors of Frank Martin, whose perhaps greatest feat here is transforming one specific page into the warped reflection of a Warhol piece, Hickman and Dragotta have synthesized an ideal symbiosis, born often by direct contrast on the page, be it in the calm of manicured political speak framed in the riotous rhyme of the unheard or LeVay’s horrifyingly justified and sickeningly measured explanation of her murderous actions to a newly-fearful detractor. This is how comic books should work, resounding in a sometimes disparate, yet somehow always complementary union: Flowetry.

The composition of this book - and this issue especially - is astounding, conducted by Hickman in a modulated cadence, with a narrative painted from the outside-in and a visual direction that is lithe in style yet sodden in atmosphere. Sure it’s an intriguingly in-depth look into a new idea of “The Western,” but it’s also more than that. East of West #8 is solid gold comic book flowetry, boys and girls, and much like the inevitable apocalypse itself, it cannot be avoided.

Score: 5/5

Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Colorist: Frank Martin Letterist: Rus Wooton Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 12/18/13