“The dream is over.”
These words, superimposed over an image of four scorched red pillars, reaching above a desert floating in space. Stars fill most of the frame, reminding me a bit of those paintings done by sidewalk artists in Mexico and other hot tourist locations. You know the kind, where the artist uses a few cans, a knife and some spray paint and in a few moments has created a pretty stunning landscape in space. Most of them appear to pose the hypothetical question: what if the Mayans had cracked light speed technology and populated alien planets, erecting temples and hip-ball stadiums? That is not to say that the first page of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s new series, East of West, looks like it was painted in ten minutes on some street corner. In fact, the art is spot on, tasteful and never has the appearance of being overly digitized (which drives me crazy in comics, almost as much as CGI blood used in TV or movies, it just looks so cheap and fake). In fact, it was the art that really struck me upon first reading. I found myself staring at pages for minutes on end, taking in the starry, bleak landscapes and the shifts in tone and color. Not to mention the hefty size of the comic was quite appealing, and I will admit that was what drove me to it initially. Any single issue that sports over thirty pages is worth a buy in my opinion, the usual twenty three to twenty seven pages is never enough to get yourself fully invested and tide you over for a month (or more) while you wait for the next issue. That’s not to say go out and buy every giant issue you see on the shelves, one must discriminate unless you want to end up underneath a life crushing stack of Archie comics. But intuition served me well in this case.
East of West is set in the near and distant future, in a world perpetually on the brink of disaster. The four horseman of the apocalypse are one short of their full crew, leaving War, Famine and Conquest to duke it out on their own, all while trapped in the bodies of children, much to their chagrin.
The issue is structured in such a way that one gets the impression of a miniseries or a movie beginning. Following the brief prologue there is a page that boasts:
“The things that divide us are stronger than the things that unite us.”
Turn the page again, and the title of the comic is introduced across a full two page spread. Something in the familiarity of that aesthetic choice got me really pumped to continue reading. It planted the seed in my mind to view this story as if it were on a big screen, an idea that lent itself extraordinarily well to the story, and got me on the right track right from the outset.
Earth as it exists within the story consists of seven separate nations, trapped in a never ending civil war where racism and a steady dose of fear keep everyone with their hands resting on their gun belts, ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Hickman and Dragotta effortlessly use those themes–the rampant disregard for law and order–and adapt the style of the comic to be representative of the times this world lives in. The characters set in the present are all gunslingers, frequenting futuristic saloons while maintaining the aesthetic of the Wild West, and yet still managing to convey that we are most certainly in the future. While the idea of “now” is a bit obscure, the cited first year apocalypse is set in 2064 which places a large portion of the story in some vague spot after an extended civil right, in between the end of the 20th century and the year 2064.
The issue, as I said, is super sized so we are afforded a lot of preliminary information that is setting up a complex story consisting of multiple timelines, characters and possibly planets. We see a soldier of the civil war turned preacher, a peaceful Native American turned soldier, and a powerful Asian leader, all united by a cryptic prophecy known as “The Message,” forebodings of the coming apocalypse. We see a lone gunslinger with a dark past, pursuing a bloody quest. We see corrupt politicians, betrayals, genocides, receive prophecies, and ill omens.
It’s great to see a new series come about that feels so fleshed out with just the first issue. I feel similarly about Brubaker and Phillips’ series, Fatale, except I feel that at times Fatale can be so muddled in its context and timeline that it becomes difficult to follow. East of West boasts promises of epic proportions, setting us up for a cataclysmic adventure where you are not sure who to root for, because the lines between good and evil seem not to exist anymore, hell even the soldiers of the Union are racist in this world.
What is to come next for this series is very hard to predict, but I feel very confident in saying that whatever does happen, it is bound to be kick ass!
So head down to your local comic store now and pick up a copy, because the first printings are going fast! Or else head here to Comixology and get a digital copy and read it on your phone computer pad device thingy!