When you consecutively review as many issues as we do here at Comic Bastards, you sometimes find yourself a bit bereft. Why, even the swarthiest of wordsmiths can at times fall prey to simply running out of things to say about a series. And you know what? That’s okay. Much like the immortal Kenny Rogers once famously warbled, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away ... from a comic book run. That’s a direct quote, guys. Google it. Luckily, at least as regards this review and my current interest in captaining its continuation, Image Comics’ sci-fi western apocalypse, East of West, does not apply to the above. This is a book that continues to swirl evermore menacingly around itself, in the process churning up the borders of its story with the kind of rich narrative opacity that may make more murky its waters, but never fails to keep things interesting, fresh and perpetually more and more elaborate.
East of West continues to be universe-building at its absolute finest, especially in its current arc; the second of the series as a whole. In it, Hickman has done an award-worthy job of touching on every corner of his sawdust, black magic and laser beam-riddled realm, and issue nine is no exception, once again offering a fascinating new perspective into part of a world that its readers never knew existed.
That’s why I doubt I’ll give up on this book anytime soon; each time I crack it open, it feels like the start of something new and exciting. Each issue is a unique exploration of stones unturned. In a word, East of West’s biggest credit is being unerringly dynamic. I’m not sure you can say anything better of the episodic.
In terms of issue nine’s plot, apart from a scene wherein Death makes a very Old Testament deal with the ocularly-challenged Oracle in exchange for information on the whereabouts of his son, it follows a rather pivotal day in the life of new character, John Freeman. As crown-prince of an area known only as “The Kingdom” (i.e., that section of this world’s America that has been carved out as an oil-rich enclave for the victorious freed slaves after the American Civil War), it is his solemn task not just to meet the challenges of (and best in battle) the thirteen other brothers that vie for his position, but also prepare for the day when he will inevitably succeed his father, The King.
The bulk of this issue, then, exists as a political conversation between father and son, and as prosaic as that may sound, it does a superb job of that fibrous story bulwarking I was talking about earlier, without the tedium you might expect. Whereas it has been known to waver slightly in his other books, Hickman’s command of dialogue here is as gripping as ever, allowing both a great, introspective look into the character of John Freeman, as well as a more holistic view of the world he will one day, perhaps reluctantly, inherit. Not only that, but at its end, it sets up beautifully the next leg in this world’s race toward the apocalypse by chiseling yet another geopolitical facet into East of West’s fabric, and immediately setting it against that which has already been established.
Nick Dragotta’s art, while mostly being relegated to the aforementioned confab at the end of the book, continues to impress in tumultuous yet mostly tidy line work. He’s at his best this issue in its early pages shared between Death, Oracle and their shared memories.
Not that it suffers to any noticeable extent later in the book, but this encounter felt especially focused, possibly since I think he works best when set to the more arcane. At the same time, Frank Martin’s colors do an enviable job of setting the many different tones that amble throughout this book, without being either too morose or flashy.
Altogether, I’d call East of West #9 another fantastically illuminating detour on its dusty trail, and so long as Hickman, Dragotta and Martin continue to firm its story from the outside in - like a slowly-closing bear trap - I’ll be here to get snagged.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Colorist: Frank Martin Letterer: Rus Wooton Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 1/29/14