by Jonathan Hickman (Writer), Nick Dragotta (Artist), Frank Martin (Colorist)
The Story: It’s never a good idea to get in the way of someone whose eye just got pulled out of its socket. Doubly so if it’s Death itself.
The Review: To read different books is to allow for our expectations to be adapted. A Geoff Johns book will have a particularly different focus than one written by Peter Milligan and so forth. With each writers having a particular approach toward building worlds, characters and stories, it would be silly to expect them all to be alike in their themes and their methods. It is a part of the game, yet it can be sometimes a bit frustrating if anyone forgets some specificity about some creators.
Case in point, Jonathan Hickman has always possessed a particular style that do not always makes for the most satisfying of issues. The monthly grind, in its own way, does not do a major service to the kind of stories the writer is trying to tell. With a mind set on expansive ideas, building worlds and setting up a unique mythology, the creative process behind East of West is certainly a fascinating one, yet it also suffers a bit from quite a bit of setup and not enough payoff. While the world itself was fascinating enough and the art always splendid, could this issue provide a crack in the plans of the book which might provide some sort of lesser form of enjoyment that this book could deliver before?
The actual answer is more complicated than that, as while the previous issue did seem to spin its wheels a good deal instead of actually progressing with some of the more fascinating elements, this one does so yet in a less obvious and unsatisfying manner. Without actually spoiling anything, the actual lack of payoff in this issue is part of the point, a rather brilliant one in fact, yet one that does still leave readers wanting more.
With the issue focusing heavily on Death and his search for his son, there is a certain emotional angle rarely shown that makes the emphasis on action and some of the actual development quite intriguing on their own. With Death having to deal with a growing impatience and his anger, the very approach he has toward destiny, a force even he has no control over, makes his overarching arc that much more captivating to follow. For all his power and his mystique, the entity/man is but another part of the whole, despite his bigger place atop the very hierarchy of importance. The way he deals with his problems, with his followers and his goals makes this issue something rather intriguing, setting a bit more intrigue in this world that has so much already.
Despite all of this, Hickman does not do a disservice to the world he has built, presenting some more elements in the narrative while clarifying some and revealing others. With this fractured America being a living and always evolving place, the players themselves gets more and more interesting as their stakes and positions gets clearer. The other horsemen, Death’s son, the Ranger, Wolf and other such players are revealed to have either some connections or does action that indicate a radical change in how things might actually fold out. This, in its own right, is perhaps one of the biggest strength of this book.
It is also unfortunately also one of its weakness, a double-edged sword that can push away the impatients or those looking for more clarity and less mysticism in their book. While the indication of the message, the way things may be presented and the many players can certainly push forth an air of uncertainty that can be curiously refreshing, it can be also especially easy to lose the very point of the book in the process. With this issue being no different, one might ask why the other horsemen knows about Death’s son, or why exactly Cheveyo knew of the boy’s location. Mysteries are only alluring if one can keep track of them, which is why the current approach may turn off some away from this book.
Still, despite this, one of the greatest assets of this book is without a doubt Nick Dragotta, who shows an immense affinity for symbolism even through action. Allowing for gigantism to reach the very motions put on the page as Death fights Cheveyo, the artist does not restrain himself in his panelling, allowing for whole pages to be dedicated to the battle. Never letting go of his strengths despite a certainly different focus, the emotions, the illusion of motion and the very progression between panels is still as magnificent as ever, with Dragotta making it so the repercussions are instantly recognizable due to their very size.
Where he excels, however, is with the atmosphere. Playing with the themes and the tone of each moments, the very angle covered as well as the switch between closer and wider presentations of panels and pages makes many of the scenes simply stand out. The last few pages are especially amazing in that aspect, with an expansive look that finalize in an almost claustrophobic, yet also huge focus on a character, cementing what just happened.
Still, Dragotta shouldn’t get all the credit, as Frank Martin is also very excellent here. His dedication to black and white alongside a certain attention to basic yet powerful moments of warmth and cold makes this issue another knockout in terms of colorization. With each scenes possessing a very clear identity in terms of colors, the focalization on cold with the oracle and Death’s son makes for a sharp contrast when balanced against the action-oriented moment with Death facing Cheveyo. With a very bleak approach to details and an immensely tiny attention to shading, Martin’s work almost comes off as monochromatic, which helps the identity of this series quite a lot.
The Conclusion: While the constant world-building and the more mysterious approach may prove tiresome for some readers, the superb artistic direction, the surprises and the very interesting approach to the characters and setting makes for a very rewarding read. It might test your patience at times, but issues like this one proves that the effort is worth it.
Hugo Robberts Larivière