We want our comics to sing. “East of West” sings to us. With this latest issue, wrapping up content for the first trade paperback, we get a greater sense of what lies ahead. The pace mellows out a bit so that we can better understand the chemistry between Death and Xiaolian. That helps us to see how the pieces to this story may fall into place and everything, including the title of the comic gains greater significance. It’s an essential issue in what is certainly adding up to be an essential comic.
Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta are in this to win. We’ve been given a lot to work with in terms of background and plot which is hardly a bad thing. The more the better. You know why? Because what is of highest priority for the story will rise and what is secondary or tertiary will fall where it needs to go. Those are the building blocks to solid storytelling. Given ample room to work and the right circumstances, a writer of the caliber of Mr. Hickman is going to do right by you. Add to that what an artist of the level of Mr. Dragotta is bringing to this, and you’ve got it made. What’s happening now in this issue is laying down one last big slab of foundation to keep you going for a long time to come. If you wondered what exactly Death and Xiaolian were about, this issue clears that up nicely.
You also get a better look at the world-at-large in this story: What’s at stake? Who or what is going to gain or lose if this or that happens? You get some interesting exchanges between other players in this game. It feels like a beautiful elaborate fable that’s unfolding. The world hangs in the balance, right? Love. War. Death. Yes, it can seem like an overwhelming concoction. You have Death on his mission guided by The Message. You have the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse in pursuit of Death. You have The Chosen plotting the course of world events. But the story is agile and can easily go from macro to micro, from world events to detailed interaction between characters.
If you take a look at the other celebrated Hickman title at Image Comics, “Manhattan Projects,” with artist Nick Pitarra, that gives you some sense of how “East of West” will shape up. That comic is also deep in the throes of possible world annihilation. It’s had some time to settle in and yet it continues to tease out new scenarios.
For now, we know that Death is sweet on Xiaolian. And we learn how it is that Xiaolian can even come close to taking on Death on a equal footing. We don’t know yet why Death comes across as a lonesome ole Texan but we’re sure to find out.
“East of West #5” is available as of August 14. Visit our friends at Image Comics.