by Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Nick Dragotta (Artist), Frank Martin (Colorist)
The Story: Life is harsh when you’re a prince that believes in the message. Meanwhile, Death deals for something he is looking for.
The Review: To say I’m a fan of this series would be superfluous at this point. As part of the recent wave of excellent creator-owned titles from Image, East of West has been a tour-de-force when it comes to world-building as well as setting up mysteries slowly without them becoming too vague or ambiguous. While there have been moments when patience was certainly a requirement, the creative team of Hickman, Dragotta and Martin always delivered on multiple fronts to make the world and story as interesting as possible. However, excellence is never really a standard, as anything that is absolutely great is bound to have a few missteps along the way.
To say this issue is a misstep would certainly be an exaggeration on my part, but it isn’t nearly as well done as previous ones. While the ideas of an alternate America and how some few deviations might have turned this country differently makes for a rather intriguing read, there is something amiss in this issue. The magic, technology and general state, be it political or social, is a bit amiss here, sacrificed for the most part in service of other aspects, some of them which aren’t as dynamic or interesting as other parts.
Make no mistake, though, as the introduction of John Freeman, prince of a division of America in which slaves grew to become rich and prosperous, is actually phenomenally interesting. The way Hickman presents him as being a philosopher, a believer and a bit of a rogue makes for something that ensure he is already interesting as he explains himself through actions and speeches. The way the culture of his kingdom works, how many brothers he has and the way he deals with his father makes for some very potent opening for what is sure to be a powerful player in the ongoing narrative that is East of West.
Where it starts to become a bit more tedious, though, is in the fact that while many new elements are introduced in ways that make them appealing, there isn’t that much happening here. While Death deals with the oracle and make sure he gives the right payment, which makes for something fittingly ominous considering the character and the concept he represents, this particular subplot does not advance in any real way. It’s shocking, it does present something that could turn out to be rather interesting down the line, but on the immediate of this issue it does not do much.
Another scene which ends up in the same way is the latter one with John Freeman and his father, the king. While it does present a good deal of elements, like the history of their nation and the general education of John, it ends up being a lot of exposition and dialogue that does not advance the story in ways that counts in the immediate. It’s also a lot of setup that might turn into something captivating down the line, but it ends up being rather dull in the narrative of this single issue.
Thankfully, the visual side of the equation is as potent as ever, with Nick Dragotta still rocking it with his expansive visuals and his fluid and potent storytelling. Playing very well with progression from panel to panel and with the illusion of movement, Dragotta is able to make some of the action and the dialogue between characters work, setting up simple movements with a change of angle, close-ups and many other simple techniques. He has some troubles with the scene with John Freeman and his father, due to a certain lack of diversity in terms of environment, but he does his best with this with the aforementioned techniques. Still, something else he is also very good at doing is conveying emotions, presenting them flawlessly in concordance with the sense of progression, showing a rather impressive range through minimal changes from panel to panel, without getting exuberant or too subtle for the characters to be expressive. Like in most things, there is a certain economy of details that makes what is a bit unseen that richer-looking, marking some of the strengths of the artist in the process.
The colors are also rather splendid, with Frank Martin being his usual talented self. Using two different styles for the different scenes, Martin is able to aptly divide the issue. With the trinity of colors that is frequent in this series, the scenes with Death are that more potent, using the very simple approach to the character in tandem with a minimalist approach to the backgrounds and elements that allows for them all to sing in tandem with the heavy shadows, proposing depth and scope in a superb manner. For the other scenes with John Freeman, there is a duality between excess and simplicity, with the action scenes providing a chaotic, yet utterly controlled precision to the colors, being psychedelic yet violent at the same time. For the scenes with the king, Martin use an overly obvious, yet effective manner in which to pinpoint other colors, subjugating them to a white, yet bright background to help some smaller details become more precise. Through all that, Frank Martin shows his talent and it is a magnificent sight to behold.
The Conclusion: The excellent art and colorization is still present as well as the always interesting world-building, yet there are a couple of slower moments combined with a certain lack of bigger developments that makes this issue not of the same caliber as the previous ones. It’s a good read, but not as good as it has been previously.
-Hugo Robberts Larivière