Review by: harpier

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Story by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta

Size: 32 pages
Price: 3.50

The less you know about Hickman’s new apocalyptic sci-fi drama before reading, the better. He packs the opening issue of his new series so full of surprises–both modest and genuinely impressive–and mythological puzzles that knowing anything going in is sure to ruin some of the fun. Because I strongly recommend the issue, I suggest reading the review that follows only after having done so.

Structurally, there’s a lot of story-telling happening here. Even having re-read the issue a few times, I’m still somewhat unclear about the relative time between segments; fortunately, this disorientation only enhances the issue. Disentangling the order of events, the sequence of causes and effects that comprise the immediate story’s history is a significant part of the pleasure the series promises, a slow, deliberate, piecemeal reveal of the apocalypse. Born in a supernatural gateway standing in a desolate and haunting spacescape, three horsemen of the apocalypse–War, Famine, and Conquest, without their brother Death–cast lots to uncover the truth behind his disappearance. Displeased with but certain in their answer, the three vow destruction on both their absent sibling and the rest of the world in his wake.

Meanwhile, Death himself–though he remains unnamed, since his naming would necessitate an actual death–pursues his own agenda, seeking out his former hunters and, correspondingly, beginning to flesh out for the reader the necessary back-story for the current apocalyptic state of affairs. This personal mission culminates in a genuinely surprising and fulfilling final twist, which many series would postpone for several issues. However full and substantial East of West #1 is, it still feels like only the tip of a very large and rewarding iceberg, an iceberg suggested by, if nothing else, the description of the three-part composition of The Message by Elijah Longstreet, Standing Bear, and Mao Zedong. East of West has a long and layered history underpinning its events, a history which, no doubt, will not remain as distant as it currently seems.

Tonally, East of West has already mastered the quietly creepy. Perhaps nothing in the episode was more chilling than Death’s companion Crow’s parting declaration to the Atlas’s barkeep and Death’s former hunter: “I would have taken your eyes.” Unsettling enough on its own, but in its recollection of battlefield crows, it becomes downright sinister. Its tone, however, is not fixed, and Hickman shifts stylistic modes often enough to suggest more than one narrative voice for his epic. The intimate, if uninitiated, proximity to Death and his personal mission contrast strongly with the melodious and mythic tones of the aforementioned composition of The Message.

Dragotta’s artwork is a wonder, complemented by Martin’s subtle coloring, especially his dramatic contrast of orange and blue, and an overall elegance of design. It’s a beautiful book. Dragotta’s use of negative space and dramatic perspective is some of the best I can recall, and it’s particularly true for his distant space illustrations, which give a dark and foreboding gravity to their minimal narrative contribution. Likewise, Dragotta seamless merges the series’ competing generic styles. The futuristic western may be far from a new category, but visualizing its components often results in uneven edges and patchwork. Here, there are none. Although the issue’s carnage could border on the shockingly gratuitous, Dragotta lends a disturbingly beautiful aesthetic to the corpses. There’s a delicacy and pleasure there, as though seeing through the eyes of their apocalyptic killers.

Story: 5 - Excellent
Art: 5 - Excellent

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