Jonathan Hickman has a need to juggle many balls in the air. It is a dazzling thing to behold going back to “Transhumans,” “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” as far as it got, “The Manhattan Projects” and, of course, his run on “Fantastic Four” at Marvel Comics. With “East of West,” for Image Comics, he unites with his “FF” artist, Nick Dragotta, and gives us quite a show.
So far in the story, we are in for a dystopian treat with an alternate America cut up like a wedding cake. One big hunk goes to Texas, just because. The North and South get their shares, this being the only way to resolve the Civil War. The cajuns get a bigger slice than they already had. The Indian Nations get a piece big enough to settle many scores. The Chinese end up with a big hunk. And there’s a spot in the epicenter, perhaps a demilitarized zone. Well, that’s where the comet crashed, right in the middle of the North American continent during the American Civil War, but more on that later.
This scenario alone would be plenty to work with for any story. But, no, Hickman throws in the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse! Now we’re cookin’! They’re really what “East of West” is about after all. Nothing is going to result in a world, as we know it, in this story and that could be a good thing–but probably not. Getting back to that comet. It was pretty hefty. It was such a game changer it ended the Civil War and brought about the creation of the Seven Nations of America. Will we learn more about this comet? Is there more to this–like more of Earth beyond this new America? Hmm, lots of balls in the air which is good insofar as adding texture and probably a whole lot more. So, yeah, whether Hickman ever gets back to explaining any of this comet blast stuff or not, that’s our starting point and then we fast forward the clock to the year 2064 and we see that, while peace may have broken out after the comet blast, it has eroded back to civil war. Conquest, War, and Famine have returned in the form of children and with a no-show, Death. The Three Horsemen, as it were, are ready to bring on the Apocalypse but where’s Death?
Through the years, legend has spread about an answer to the world’s ills in the form of The Message. Those who have read it, know what to do. Death has read The Message and appears to be on a killing spree involving The Chosen and world leaders. Death begins by making short work of the President of the North. He keeps killing down the chain of command until he settles on the Secretary of the Interior. This choice fits in with his plans which turn out to be more than mere killing. He’s setting up a whole new world leadership. However, Conquest, War, and Famine have other plans, like finding Death, for starters. Maybe his “wife” can help? That’s where we come in with this third issue.
While Hickman follows comic book tropes pretty faithfully, as in ending with a surprise, his surprises are all the more surprising, you know, given his skill to spin a tale. For Issue Three, he has us get to know this mystery woman in Death’s life. Could she really be his wife? We learn that she’s the daughter of the Chinese leader and that would put her father right in Death’s crosshairs. Of course, Death don’t need no stinkin’ crosshairs, but you know what I mean. Anyway, this issue is another killer in visuals. Nick Dragotta does a beautiful job of brining to life the mystery lady. Lush color by Frank Martin. And spot on lettering by Rus Wooton, too. All shout outs here essential.
The woman in question is young and brash, excels at martial arts, is something of a mystic, enjoys walks on the beach, and wishes to be left the hell alone. Her name is Xiaolian. Can you see Death dating her? One thing is for sure, Death, like taxes, is a certain thing. Death means business and it doesn’t look like an intriguing young woman is going to hold much, if any, sway in his decision-making. However, and there are always “howevers” to deal with, maybe love will find a way. As kooky as it sounds, yeah, maybe love will find a way. That’s what Death’s entourage, made up of two ethereal and spooky characters, known as Crow and Wolf, think. Yeah, Crow and Wolf believe in love! It’s a testament to confident storytelling to take this detour, by gum! And, we all know there’s more going on.
Some comic books are just barely holding up a plot while others stand out as something special. “East of West” aspires to be the next big thing and so far so good. The story has plenty of leg room and could go in all sorts of directions. There’s a lot of thought put into this and could easily be developed into a prose book or series of books. Of course, comic book investors hope to see this become the next “Walking Dead.” For now, appreciate the comic because the comic alone could indeed keep growing and exceed anyone’s wildest dreams.
“East of West #3” is currently available and Issue Four is on sale as of July 10. Visit our friends at Image Comics.