EAST OF WEST writer Jonathan Hickman made a name for himself writing FANTASTIC FOUR and AVENGERS comics for Marvel. But it’s his work at Image that has garnered the most love from critics, at least from this one.
EAST OF WEST is yet another alternate history science fiction tale, much like Hickman’s Image series, THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS, which supposes that the real-life titular government project was in fact a front for other, sometimes more sinister and esoteric, science projects. PROJECTS is fun and quirky and features familiar names and faces in fantastical situations, and artist Nick Pitarra must have a blast drawing it all.
PROJECTS, along with fellow Image hit PETER PANZERFAUST, seem to prove that even in the world of indie comics, name recognition equals sales. Kurtis J. Wiebe’s rough-and-tumble re-imagining of the Peter Pan story is still a retelling of the Peter Pan story, and PROJECTS is still a book where you recognize most of the character names. They’re not AVENGERS, but they’re banking, literally, on name recognition. That being said, it’s nice to see quality books from Image go into third and fourth printings. And if Hickman’s gonna drop names, it might as well be heavy hitters like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Fortunately, there’s a lot more to EAST OF WEST than what you already know about those names.
Whereas THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS branches from accepted history after World War II, Hickman reaches back to the end of the Civil War for EAST OF WEST. America moves from a war with itself into a much larger period of conflict with other interested parties in North America, and eventually splits into 7 nations after a comet (never actually called Wormwood, oddly) impacts earth in the middle of the continent.
Enter the apocalypse, and with it, the Four Horsemen and a host of other prophetic figures. Our story is set in 2064, and features a mishmash of futuristic technology and Reconstruction-era affectations. EAST OF WEST commits the all-too-common and ultimately forgivable sin of assuming that the Christian Book of Revelation, ostensibly written by a Jew under Roman rule, was talking about good ol’ ’Merica two millennia later. That Death appears as a pale, six-shooter-slinging cowboy is just icing on the cake.
But again, to summarize what this book borrows from the Good Book is to ignore the deeper narrative that Hickman is (hopefully) building. Hickman’s character Death is a bully, yes, but he’s been denied something and wants it back. And the other three horsemen are not his riding buddies in this story. Rather, they are out to stop him. And also to destroy the world. Maybe.
I didn’t know artist Nick Dragotta’s work before picking up EAST OF WEST. He’s also been mostly a Marvel guy, but I’m glad to know him now. His work on EoW is sharp yet fluid, and he’s clearly committed to giving each character an identity all their own. His blacks are expertly apportioned, and colorist Frank Martin makes every panel pop.
With the exception of a few lettering gaffs, the overall presentation of EAST OF WEST is astounding. It’s the kind of book you feel almost compelled to pick up off the shelf and flip through.
Three issues in, EAST OF WEST is a book I’ve started expecting great things from. The art is top-notch, and the story is interesting and weird. Hickman and Dragotta have the cardinal virtue of keeping me thinking about their story even after I’ve put the book down. And dammit, there are far too many post-apocalyptic stories out there, so it’s refreshing to see someone actually show us the damn apocalypse.