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East of West #8 – Review

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

The Story: It cannot be easy to be the president of a country that is part of a world that is kind-of dying.

The Review: Jonathan Hickman’s book are never really simple, aren’t they? With a certain flair for non-linear storytelling and a certain talent for the symbolic and poetic, he is something that can be both cherished and despised in terms of writing, as you can always know how his approach to storytelling works. Big ideas, slow execution and lots of divergent subplots. To say that patience can be required when reading one of his book is an understatement.

Still, some of the books he writes play very well with his strengths, while others not necessarily so. East of West is definitely of the former category, with plenty of world-building and ominous prophecies that allow for a multitude of plot threads in such a large environment ripe with possibilities. Still, there must be always a certain progression or at the very least some important information in each issues, which is the challenge of creating a whole world from scratch. Does this issue provide enough materials for fans, though?

In this issue, Hickman focus a lot on the politics and on a specific city in his setting, with the spotlight being set on the newly placed president. Right when the issue starts, the story lose no time in putting an emphasis on her character and her methods, not only developing the character but also her methods and what kind of action she needs to take. With a certain external point-of-view on the conflict but with the knowledge of what is going on behind the political scene, the readers are then thrown with a very different outlook on how the presidency and the people in power work, creating a certain parallel to how politics work in our present era. It’s rather gripping stuff, as it expand the scope of this series while it does develop another character that might very well be interesting down the line.

Still, the president is not the only character receiving the spotlight in this issue, as we do get some more scenes with Death, one of the main characters in this huge narrative. His scenes, while rather impressive in terms of scope and mystery, don’t add up to much unfortunately. While the disparity in knowledge between Death and his followers is handled really well and the dialogue is poetic as can be, it only amounts to building up to a scene that may very well be presented in an issue or two. It is ominous, it is beautiful, but it ends up being more of an hint than an actual development.

Another thing that is beautiful, but ultimately a bit weird is the separation between several style of dialogue in this issue. While it makes a whole lot of sense for the common folks presented in this issue to speak in a concise and clear manner, it does become a bit strange to see it mixed with the much more lyrical and downright poetic dialogue of several in the cast. Death, his followers and the president ends up looking a bit too stylish when compared to other instances of dialogue in the issue, which becomes all too apparent when the president deals with rebels in the last few pages of this issue. It certainly isn’t issue-breaking and it doesn’t lessen the impact of several lines, yet it does become a bit strange in some scenes, as if some characters were simply incapable of speaking normally under any circumstances. It’s almost funny in a way.

Still, while there are occasional minor weaknesses here and there, the biggest strength of this issue is without a doubt Nick Dragotta. The way he draws the world, with its architecture, the multiple angles and how the characters are simple in their designs, yet ultimately very expressive is nothing short of gorgeous. The composition, the switch between filled-panels and the use of empty space create something that works very well with the pacing of the plot. The visual flow, the expansive panelling at times and the impossibly cinematic storytelling is beautiful, with a certain focus on the right elements without hurting anything else that is included in the same panels. The scope, the sense of depth, the sceneries and the backgrounds are all seemingly calculated, creating a breathing world in the pages. To put it simply, this series is currently the magnum opus of Nick Dragotta in terms of visuals and this issue is a very good example of why.

Frank Martin is also utterly excellent here, combining his trinity of colors technique with the scenes featuring Death to much simpler contrasts in some other pages. The cold blue colorization with the president, when faced with the orange and red warmth of the raging crowd is something that is utterly simple, yet striking nonetheless, pushing forth the ideology of the characters very aptly on the pages and panels. The heavy use of black, white and orange in some scenes is also very well placed, with a certain unity of vision for the colors that put the trinity technique to some very good use in some scenes with a good deal of diversity. Frank Martin is also doing some great work here, to the series credit.

The Conclusion
: There might be a scene that doesn’t amount to much and some minor elements strangely used, yet the strengths of the themes, of the artistic direction and the world and character-building still manage to make this issue really enjoyable and fully worth the time of readers.

Grade: A-

-Hugo Robberts Larivière

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3 Responses

  1. Hickman is taking an interestingly-Mad Men-esque approach here – sketching out individual key players in each issue, and letting it inform the overarching background of the series without directly returning to preceding issue’s plot.

  2. This is hands down my favorite read right now (not necessarily this issue), I love the depth and the mystery of the story telling. After being enamored with the first 2, I vowed to wait for the trades, because the story telling is so prodding in its development, and it sucks to have that pushed further by the need to wait 6 weeks between issues.

    My vow is broken every time I am in the shop, if there is a new issue I buy it and devour it on the train. Oh well.

    I’m curious what you think of the themes of this issue (and the series as a whole): mainly the concept of determinism. They nailed it with the Lady President, as she accepts the reality of leading the nation into the end of humanity, as if she had no real choice. I thought this was wonderfully juxtaposed with the “She’ll do/For now.” captions; that captured, for me, the subtlety of time, permanence and perspective.

    Keep up the good work Hugo, you have good insights into each issue, and I always stop by to see what you think.

    • Why, thank you very much.

      As for the determinism, I wouldn’t just see the Lady President as that. There is something more to her, just as there is always an hidden agenda for everybody in this series. I’d be highly surprised if the only role of this character would be to only do her job and that’s it.

      Mind you, I’m sure The Ranger might throw a wrench in her operations considering the mission he has been given, but that’s something I’m sure will develop in due time.

      As for the themes, I generally love the way desolation is brought up with each characters, as if they knew that something impossibly dreadfull has happened or will come. The way most important characters act make this general approach really interesting, which in some ways do play in some determinism. Death shall ever be Death, even if he thinks he’s more free than the other horsemen and so forth.

      With the message, there’s a certain air of fatality, of something that can never be really dodged or questionned. A dogma if you will, one that we do not know the entirety of just yet.

      All of this works in the amazing world-building this series has given us so far. With each issue, we learn the existence of something new, but more often than not we always manage to understand a lot more about what is going on. In turns, this is what makes the series so easy to invest into, as we want to know more of this wonderfully bleak world Hickman has created.

      That, and Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin are absolute beasts in this series. Their work is jaw-droppingly good in each issue.

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