By: Jonathan Hickman (writer), Nick Dragotta (art), Frank Martin (colors) & Rus Wooton (letters)
The Story: Don’t like the Electoral College? How about having the Four Horsemen choose the next President?
Review (with SPOILERS): This was another really strong issue for East of West. Some little mysteries are explained, but more is left vague–and left vague in a good way. The ultimate effect is to leave me wanting the next issue immediately! This comic just has “IT”. It reminds me of that old Simpsons‘ episode where Bart gets hired over Lisa to do local news because Bart has “zazz”.
The story set-up in this issue has a lot of nifty little elements and clarified some of the confusion I had relating to the Four Horsemen. Last issue, I wasn’t quite sure if we were seeing adult versions of the Horsemen (or at least 3 of them) in the present day and then seeing the juvenile forms from some flash-back to the past; both sets of characters had two males and a female. But, there were some obvious problems with that theory. How had Famine had gone from a gaunt little girl to a sexy and slinky adult woman? Famine didn’t get hips like that without eating something, you know… Based on what we learn in this issue, it actually appears that Death emerged early for some reason. Death has been around for awhile and the leaders of the seven nations have history with him. Now the other three Horsemen have emerged (as children) as part of some apocalypse and they wonder where Death is. Maybe this was clear to some readers after the first issue, but it wasn’t obvious to me at all.
This issue also grants some insight into the humans, with it becoming clear that there is some quasi-approved plot to bring about the end of the world. It would seem that only “believers” in The Message are permitted to lead the various nations. Hm…
My brain swells with the questions this story spurs. I’m also in full admiration of the ambition, confidence and charisma of this effort. There are so many storytellers out there who are trying to say something deep or trying to weave an intricate story, and they just fall on their face because their stories lack that bit of charisma that makes readers not only “stay tuned”, but actively yearn for the next issue. I mean, there are a LOT of confusing aspects of East of West; it would be very easy for my reaction to be “WTF? This is confusing as hell. Nothing makes sense. That Hickman guy needs to get over himself.” [Note: For an example of me reacting that way, see this.] Yet, I don’t feel that way. I want the next chapter and it’s all because of nuanced bits of charisma in the writing and art.
The other impressive part of this story is Hickman’s confidence to even attempt such a confusing story. Hickman probably didn’t know that readers’ reaction to East of West would be this positive; he might have had some confidence, but he couldn’t have been certain and he certainly didn’t know how Nick Dragotta would bring the story to life. Still….he just barged in and told a confusing story with more questions than answers. That takes a lot of confidence and it tells me that Hickman isn’t afraid to fail. He’s just not worried about losing his place in comics by telling a mediocre story (i.e. The Red Wing). You probably can’t be excellent until you have the self-confidence to weather failure.
The art is (again) stellar. Just flipping through the comic, it’s hard to even pick a particular scene to highlight because they are all really good, but let’s go with the opening scene where the Junior Horsemen “elect” a new American President. What I love about this scene is how Dragotta is able to make the kids seem menacing. He understands that isn’t an easy thing to do. Any watcher of Japanese and Korean horror films knows that kids can be creepy and off-putting, but actual physical menace is hard because kids are small. So, Dragotta makes the Vice President kneel. Now these tykes are taller than the Vice President and can actually seem big and scary. It also makes the scene easier to draw because he doesn’t have to fit a tall man and small children into a single panel. Then later in the scene, Dragotta is able to sell how the Junior Horsemen slaughter their way through the Presidential order of succession without it seeming too exploitative. That’s eight dead bodies and it could have been gross if depicted differently. You can imagine some artists who would have spilled entrails all over the place. Throughout it all, Dragotta is able to convince us that these adult politicians know who these kids are and fear them. Very well done.
Conclusion: A strong second issue. A few things start to make sense, but there is a lot more to wonder about. It’s rare to see a comic book with this much charisma.
– Dean Stell
Questions: They don’t really seem germane to the review, but here are the questions I want answers to: Why did Death emerge early? What bargain did the leaders of the nations have with Death? How did they betray Death? Who are Death’s companions if they’re not the other Horsemen? Not to get all Sunday School on people, but Death is traditionally thought of as the last horseman to emerge and he rides a pale horse, why did this Death come out first and ride a black mechanize horse/bike? Where are the other horses? Is The Message related to the Native American leader who (perhaps) summoned the comet in issue #1? Why is a Native American prophecy related to the Biblical story of the end of the world? Why do the humans seem complicit in ending the world? How do the leaders know the Junior Horsemen? Are the Junior Horsemen in conflict with Death? Will the Junior Horsemen “grow up” too the longer they are on Earth?