Review | East of West

Jonathan Hickman puts his own spin on the apocalypse, and readers would do well to tag along.
East of West #1 cover
East of West #1 cover

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.

East of West #2 page 2
East of West #2 page 2
East of West #2 page 3
East of West #2 page 3

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.

East of West #2 page 6
East of West #2 page 6

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.

East of West #2 cover
East of West #2 cover
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Andy Zeigert

Andy Zeigert is an infographics artist for a regional American newspaper and a freelance comics opinionator.

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  1. I started reading EoW recently, along with SEX. They are both interesting enough but after 3 issues, the storyline is still being set up. Although I’m intrigued enough to keep reading, there’s not enough for me to recommend these titles yet. Both feel familiar to me… EoW reminds me of Akira, at least in tone… and SEX seems like it’s being set up as an exploration of Batman/Catwoman with undertones of Watchmen. I find the Batman/Catwoman relationship not very original… almost cliche. If the creative team is unable to introduce anything new, I’ll most likely drop this book. Another title I recently stumbled upon was the Activity… now up to 13 issues I believe. I love the art in this series but I haven’t started buying or reading it yet. Any chance you can do a review on it before I commit and seek out all 13 issues?

    As a fellow designer… of info-graphics in particular… I thought you’d might appreciate this. The layout is not so great but it’s a nice retrospective:

    Very nice write up Andy, as usual. Your thoughts are very well organized.

  2. That graphic is cool. Reminds me of Mark Waid’s BIRTHRIGHT book in which in turned out the S wasn’t really an S on Krypton.

    I haven’t picked up SEX for one reason or another. Honestly the concept didn’t appeal to me at first blush. Perhaps if I run out of other things to read, I’ll give it a try.

    EAST OF WEST definitely has some work to do to make it stand out from the ocean of apocalyptic titles out there, but so far it’s keeping me coming back.

    THE ACTIVITY, on the other hand, is great. It’s like a modernized version of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE with a Call of Duty/Bourne thing going on. Also, the writer, Nathan Edmondson, is one of my favorites working today. I’ll pick up almost anything he writes, but particular favorites are THE LIGHT and WHO IS JAKE ELLIS. I wrote about another one of his books, DANCER, on this site, too:

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