Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Nick Dragotta (Artist), Frank Martin (Colorist)

The Story: As Death tries to make a deal with a certain lady, the other horsemen see that the keeper of the message has some kind of mess on his hand…

The Review: While universe-building is certainly something that is fun to see develop, there are always difficulties that permeates both the readers and the writer. A world, per se, is a specific setting in which a good deal of characters, be they important or not, in which they live and interact in. A good story does need a lead, a point-of-focus that can create change and opportunities, but it also need various other point-of-views to allow the scope of its event to be perceived in stimulating ways, thus other characters.

With the first five issues of East of West focusing mostly on Death, it was a nice touch that the latest issue pushed him away for a spell in order to focus on other characters. This issue, however, does thing a little bit differently as it mix the focus between Death and other characters, with the former getting a lesser amount of pages. Does this issue manage to be as satisfying as the last one, however?

For the most part, this is the same poetic, yet harsh world presented by Hickman as this issue deals a lot more with the other horsemen, characters that do need a bit more fleshing out. While there is one scene that shows what Death is up to, the rest is given to the horsemen, who becomes a bit more complex and interesting as a result. Showing their personality throughout scenes in the present and in the past, Hickman allows us to see something a bit more complex with these characters, with Conquest being a particular treat. Making a comparison to how they see worship, how they used to banter a bit with Death and their relation to the keeper of the message makes for some characterization that gives much more opportunities for these characters in the long run.

The juxtaposition of those flashback with the present also does something else that this title does very well, yet still do need: the world-building. Showing how blind faith, interpretation along with mysticism runs in this world, Hickman makes his world that much richer and grander, yet also somewhat dark in the process. Keeping with the tone that is set between light and dark, the setting is that much richer as new concepts gets presented, allowing new ways to envisions things. It does make the possibility to get invested rather more likely.

Where the issue suffers a bit more is the story progression. With all those character moments and those new ideas being thrown, the plot itself doesn’t move that much forward. With the Ranger being introduced prior to this issue and the council in betrayal due to one of its members decidedly not okay with the message, it’s a bit of a missed opportunity not to see anything related to that. The slow burn is easy to identify in terms of reasoning, yet it doesn’t make it that fun to deal with, as there are indeed many threads that could prove to be entertaining to follow. It’s a case of sacrificing some elements to strengthen others, with the plot being attached to the former.

What hasn’t been sacrificed, thankfully, is the wonderful artistic direction of Nick Dragotta, who continues to impress on this title. His squared and rather slick character designs, combined with the mix of horror, magic and science-fiction, makes for a rather memorable visual affair. His panel layout is also quite something, as he plays with the size of every panel in order to pinpoint the necessary elements, allowing enough space to woo the readers with their concepts and scopes. He also seems to have a good sense of perspective, with many pages dealing with large structures, some crowd alongside some weirder elements, like the lake in Death’s pages. The expressions as well are very strong, with the faces and the body language being neither too subtle nor too big, focusing on the essentials without putting other elements in the way. Dragotta knows that space is important in comics and he uses them well, which is certainly admirable.

Frank Martin is surely wary of the importance of colors as well, as he returns to his trinity of colors technique that made his direction so strong to begin with. There are many instances when three main colors are the focus in several panels and pages, with some other being featured in minor ways, like the Death pages with its black, white and light touch of blue, or the past sequence with is blue, orange and black. The use of a seemingly opaque filter on the flashback also complement this technique of his, creating a filter for the present and the past that is effective. It manages to enhance the art and the desired tone of the script, while giving the title an identity of its own in terms of colorization. It is quite something, with Frank Martin showing his talent in the most impressive of ways.

The Conclusion
: The story may have stopped for a spell, but the world-building, characterization along with the strong concepts and utterly impressive art certainly didn’t. Another strong effort from Hickman, Dragotta and Martin.

Grade: A-

-Hugo Robberts Larivière