Inside the world of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s comic series
By Bailey Mount Managing Editor
This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a systematic internal destruction caused by those who lead it. All that stands between us and oblivion is Death.
This is the world presented in writer Jonathan Hickman and illustrator Nick Dragotta’s “East of West”.
Set in a dystopian future where the Civil War permanently separated the continental US into the Seven Nations of America, the ongoing monthly comic series blends both science fiction and western tropes in a heavy, but solid story.
The Seven Nations are led by the word of “The Message,” a cryptic prophecy meant to bring about the apocalypse. Believed to be inevitable and necessary, the leaders of these nations - known as the Chosen - work with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to ensure that the prophecy will pass. Unfortunately, the apocalypse has never been so hard to pull off.
It’s a lot to contend with. The heavy storyline makes the first issues of “East of West” expositional. Issue One follows Death, a character with a cowboy’s style and a god’s fury, seeking vengeance for the pre-series murder of his wife and son. At its conclusion, he realizes that they are both alive and have been hidden by his siblings and the Chosen to fulfill the Message.
Death’s son is believed to be the Beast of the apocalypse. The three remaining Horsemen believe he’s only an abomination. The Chosen don’t really believe in anything.
The personal often becomes political in “East of West”. Despite dedicating a few issues to nearly every member of the Chosen, one message remains clear - people seek to achieve their own ends through any means necessary. No one can be trusted and no one is safe, leaving readers guessing who will betray who and wondering who will die next. Oftentimes, it happens in the same panel.
With a tagline that says “the things that divide us are stronger than the things that unite us,” it’s clear that “East of West” isn’t for someone expecting a happy ending. It’s gory and cruel, but so is the world in which it is placed. Nothing is done without reason. Nothing happens out of circumstance. There is always a purpose and quite often, that purpose is influenced by one person. At times, however, it’s hard to remember who it was.
This can easily be the biggest, if not only, flaw in “East of West”.
There’s a lot going on all at once. Subplots can be easily forgotten and confusing when brought up again. The sheer amount of characters, each vital to the plot in one way or another, can become indistinguishable for a detached reader. “East of West” demands your undivided attention and spends your every second keeping it. The only problem is remembering what happened last issue.
Other than that, Dragotta and Hickman work together to create something beautiful. Dragotta’s visceral and sometimes highly stylized art adds a touch of realism to the already incredible setting. When the art threatens on distracting, Hickman’s writing grounds the series in reality. Similarly, the array of emotions present in “East of West” can sometimes only be captured through the character’s facial expressions or through the careful design of a single panel.
What is given to readers then is a complementary balance akin to something you would find in infamous past graphic novels like “V for Vendetta” or “The Sandman”. Although its setup is almost unbelievable, “East of West” gives readers a provocative story about rebellion in the face of obstacles - both big and small.
With only 31 issues under its belt so far and a second compilation of past issues coming out in late March, it’s clear that the series only has plans to keep excelling. And although the world inside “East of West” is ending, for many readers, the story is just beginning.