East of West is the only comic that Image Comics is releasing today. It’s an appropriate choice, considering what the issue deals with- on the cusp of the new year, here we see the new year in another world, one with the rare distinction of seeming as defined as our own. It’s 2065, the second year of the apocalypse, and things have changed in the world rapidly hurtling towards the end of days. Particularly, it’s different for the Republic of Texas, which has been taken over by the Endless Nation; while we deal with a large amount of cast members in this issue, our appropriately placed focus lies on the now dethroned Governor Bel Solomon and the last of The Rangers, on the run.
It’s always been clear that the Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson/Cowles team do an excellent job pandering to the world’s current generation of teenagers. From the internet-speak to Young Avengers‘s “Yamblr” recap pages, there seems to be no better creators in comics to embrace an excited audience of the youngest Millennials. So much of WicDiv has been a love letter to those kids, presenting every relatable situation from celebrity worship to depression, and in that sense so much of this issue is incredibly satisfying. There’s something special about reading a book where a girl talks about how many followers she has in her poster-filled room and it not feeling fake, forced or used insultingly.
When I covered Southern Bastards #5 last month, I reacted to the opening scene where a teenage Euless Boss was being beaten on the high school football field by saying “in another story- a story where he grew up into a more decent person- we’d be cheering for him when he got back up and kept practicing.” In a surprising move, this month’s issue of Jasons Aaron and Latour’s southern crime epic removes the ambiguity presented there, by focusing almost completely on Boss’s past and explaining further why he turned out the way he is. It’s hard not to feel for his young self by the end of the issue, and see the good in him, which simply leaves us to wonder: how did Euless Boss become a known and obvious murderer?
East of West is one of those books that has the unique place of being completely unlabelable. The story goes that it’s supposed to be a sci-fi/western, but it’s also firmly rooted in fantasy, biblical and various Native American mythologies, alternative histories and revenge stories. Part of what has made its enormously complicated story so immersive is its vast universe, which started as just a simple map in the back of the first issue and has since sprawled out to create a massively populated and ridiculously well-defined world. East of West: The World calls itself a “Sourcebook/Atlas/Encyclopedia/Timelines/Apocrypha”, and that’s a bit of an overstatement- it’s only 39 pages, not hundreds, as this book would probably need- but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun, interesting and crafted lovingly.
To celebrate its release, we’re going to dissect the eight sections of this one-shot a bit. While not all of the information we gain here appears to be especially important or new, we do learn a lot, even in very small bits. It seems that there’s a bit of a timeskip between the point of the story this one-shot describes and when we last left East of West, too, and that makes this a great appetizer for East of West‘s second year when it starts on New Year’s Eve.
Gotham Academy has established itself firmly in its three issues as a comic that leans heavily on the past. From the story of Millie Jane Cobblepot to what happened to Olive and her mother over the summer, everything runs on rumors and history. It’s a great exaggeration of the way gossip tends to work in high school, from distributing old stories you heard about teachers to who’s currently dating who. For our Olive Silverlock, the environment of Gotham Academy has come with benefits (the friendship of Maps, for example) and downsides (the constant questions about why she’s changed, among other things). It makes sense that she’d devote herself to uncovering the mystery of the North Hall’s ghost and its possible connection with Millie Jane, who in her adolescent brain is one of the few humans she feels she can relate to.
There are crushes and there are crushes, you know? There are the people whose butts you stare at in class and think are cute, and then there are the people you’d throw yourself in front of a bus for. The crushes in The Woods that we’ve dealt with heavily have been the latter, and this issue takes it to new heights, with Isaac quite literally held at knife-point in an effort to protect Adrian. Isaac and Adrian’s relationship is more than a crush, though- they’re also seemingly each other’s only friend, an anchor in their chaotic teenage lives, and if they hadn’t known each other, Isaac would never be in these woods (and neither would Ben, probably, now that I think about it). That’s what makes the conclusion of this issue incredibly depressing, as we find the lengths Isaac will go to for someone he loves aren’t reciprocated in the least.
A word in advance: Comixology originally released this issue with eleven pages missing, including that entire gatefold, but they’ve since updated. If you’re like me, you may not have noticed anything was gone until today (I figured the gatefold must be a print exclusive thing), so you should go get on that- you’ll miss a lot, including background context and the ending.
Before I should start I need to tell a story. Nearly a year ago, discussing the concept of this book with a friend, we both found we were worried about the “genderflipped” part of the concept. Gender swapping narratives, for all potential benefits, tend to simplify things in such a sweeping matter that they seem to not only forget transgender and non-binary people exist in general but often their spirit stomps on those people as well. My friend took a plunge and sent Matt Fraction a message about this- specifically asking if there were any non-binary characters in general. Here was Fraction’s response:
hey, that is a really great note. i suppose i should say it’s not exactly a strict swapping, but the idea of voiding the binary entirely honestly hadn’t occurred to me (the proper writing hasn’t started so, y’know, fucking nothing has really occurred to me yet). that said, thank you for occurring this at me? to me? thanks. yes. there will be. and that’s because of you. i’d like to believe i’d have considered it once the typing started but i’d also like to believe that i am and have always been a sophisticated, evolved, and empathetic person with understanding and consideration for all people everywhere.
This, alas, is not the case, and everything is a process of growing. Right? Right.
so thank you. yes.
That’s a large part of why I’ve been excited for ODY-C. Odyssey in space, good; Odyssey in space starring almost completely ladies and non-binary folk, better.