Review: East of West Vol. 5

I've read all of the issues contained in East of West Volume Five and reviewed more than a few of them already. But something special happens to the chapters of Jonathan Hickman's western epic when you stitch them together into a volume. Issues that were, for my money, already outstanding start playing off of the tone and momentum of those that follow and precede them, and the story starts to flow in a way that it's never able to before. Much has been made of comics moving towards decompressed storytelling that is often maddening for readers of the individual floppies, but East of West Volume Five perfectly encapsulates the upshot: a propulsive, satisfying read that will look beautiful when you put it on your shelf next to the other four. Now, I am going to assume that if you're reading a review for volume five, you're already a fan of the book. In which case, my job is pretty easy: you already know how good this stuff is and I can relax and talk about other things. How about that political race, huh? Plus, did you see those nude photos of that one celebrity that leaked online, what a shocker! But no, I'll do you one better (and not just because my boss might read this, hi Dustin!) and actually talk about what makes this, to me, a special volume.

One might accuse East of West of being too much buildup with not enough resolution (though any reader of last Hickman's Secret Wars will tell you the resolution will likely be worth the wait).  I would say instead, that East of West has been a workshop in careful pacing. Each issue ladles out a little bit more of the gothic, dusty, creepy world teetering on the edge of the apocalypse meaning that while things may move slowly, each chapter feels necessary and important to seeing the big picture.

East-of-West-VolVolume five, aptly titled 'The Last Supper', sees the various factions react to the fall of Texas and the firing of the first shots in a much larger war. Driven to desperation by a hostile Endless Nation, President Lavay sends her trusted aide as a lamb to slaughter, not realizing that a third party is involved.  Meanwhile the endless nation itself prepares for war as it struggles to come to find common ground between technology and magic. Chamberlain makes his first major misstep in a failed assassination attempt (which encompasses a truly perfect silent issue). And friends old and new are invited to a meeting brokered by a monstrous enemy.

I love Hickman's choice to maintain a giant cast by dividing chapters into insular chunks focused on specific characters (another touch that feels nicely like a novel when the issues are collected in a volume).  There are too many themes at play to touch on them all, but I love the interplay of inevitability and surprise, as the reader continues to be shocked while the characters themselves feel more and more trapped by their various situations.  Buildup is problematic when it feels like it's disposable filler delaying the arrival of the story, but in the case of East of West, the buildup is the story.  Throughout volume five, we see the choices each character has made come back to effect their lives for both good an ill.

The most apparent element of East of West in volume five is probably also its best:  pure stylishness. I don't often emotionally connect with the characters, but they are always fascinating complex figures that I enjoy spending time with. Similarly, while I will admit that pieces of Hickman's avowedly dense and philosophical dialogue loses me, it always has a rhythm and a power that keeps me reading. And Nick Dragotta continues to find new ways to tells the story, working with crazy lettering, silhouettes, and action lines to make a book that looks like no other, even when it's not dealing directly with the insane costumes and monsters he excels at drawing.  And fear not, his designs are as good as ever, somehow marrying Jack Kirby style eccentricities with a cool languid style all Dragotta's own.

Stories are often talked about in terms of how emotionally affecting they are--how much they make you feel. But sometimes it's nice to read a book that is simply a stunning example of comics craft taken to its logical extreme, with scripts and images that are less interested in connecting with you than they are in wowing you. Twenty-five issues in, no book on the stands is more successful at this than East of West.

[button btn_url="" btn_color="primary" btn_size="large" btn_style="default" btn_outlined="no" link_target="self" link_rel="" icon_left="" icon_right=""]Score: 5/5[/button]

East of West Vol. 5 Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Dragotta Publisher: Image Comics Price: $9.99 Release Date: 3/30/15 Format: TPB; Print/Digital