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 stands to note that this issue’s structure exists to reinforce the idea of the new beginning it represents. Just like the book’s first issue, we begin with a short visit with our three horsemen in a new form- this time, they’re teenagers- before having a recap of some events we’ve missed from an unknown narrator. The horsemen continue to be some of East of West‘s most fun and distinctive characters, despite their naturally morbid nature and exploits. While the three of them seem to be aging appropriately considering how the apocalypse has escalated in recent months, they’re still the eager group of young entities we’ve come to know; Conquest’s response to finding the bodies of countless Texan dead is “How cool is that?” Their introduction in this year of the book also stands to make the thesis statement for the book’s coming year. The horsemen are not ones to think highly of humanity, and they reinstate that here when Famine points out that so much gore has gotten into the Republic’s rivers that its citizens will be drinking the remains of their fallen brethren. As War (who seems to be embracing adolescence with an incredibly punk mohawk) points out, most humans of the modern day would think themselves beyond such horrors, but the horsemen have seen otherwise. According to War, pacifism is useless; despite what the “apes” say, none of them are above fighting. It’s part of their nature, and none of them are better than the rest.
But if any of the people in this book seem to think they’re above conflict, it’s the Endless Nation. Yes, they did incite the war in the first place after Bel killed one of their shamans, but they don’t want to extend it in some glorious way; in fact, another shaman tells Xiaolian that the Nation wants an alliance with the PRA for the purposes of ending hostilities as soon as possible. The Nation seems to want to be the Roman type of conqueror, bringing in those it overthrows to its system of technological empowerment. “There is a place for each of you here. A purpose. A future,” the robotic stand-in for the Nation’s government tells a crowd, seemingly optimistic, but one cannot help but think that their words may be coated in lies, what with the bloody nature of their conquest, and the Nation’s declaration that taking over Texas is part of their own “manifest destiny.”
The scene that takes place in- in which The Ranger saves Bel from being hung with his trusty robot dog Red- is the issue’s set piece, and serves as a stunning show of the abilities of the ever talented Nick Dragotta. Along with being an amazingly kinetic artist (the action scenes in this issue fizzle in a way that the artists of superhero books would be jealous of), Dragotta is a master of paneling. Case in point, page fifteen, which shows things in motion and incrementally at once:
The page’s layout is absolutely genius: panels one, three, four, six, and nine stand on their own, but the rest of the page creates one clear image. Rather than keeping all those images into one panel, Dragotta also makes a wise choice to split that image to not only make the page easier to read but to convey the motion of Bel falling through the floor as The Ranger’s bullet hits the rope. This staging is absolutely genius, and something that makes East of West engaging to read even in the scenes that don’t have as much of Jonathan Hickman’s engrossing writing- and that’s not even going over Dragotta’s other touches, from character design (the Earthbound God-esque design of the Endless Nation’s robotic stand-in is amazing to look at) to his lifelike character expressions (check out Antonia’s face when Doma pulls out that severed head later in the issue). On top of that, colorist Frank Martin makes the book shine, from the glowing robots of the Nation to Cheveyo’s ghostly orange spectre, creating a world where every character and setting feels distinct and part of a larger whole. East of West owes so much of its tone and nature to its artwork, and watching as Bel is dragged out of the gallows is a prime example.
But just because Bel is alive for now doesn’t mean he’s safe. After all, as the ghost of Cheveyo (who’s been keeping him from any peace as of late) points out, Bel asked The Ranger to kill the Chosen- and that means Bel with the rest of them, eventually. But Bel seems a bit too tired to take up Cheveyo’s suggestion to kill The Ranger later, and The Ranger himself discusses their newfound status in wartime. As he says, “war clarifies”; Bel previously represented a country, but with it gone, he simply represents himself and the goal to stop the end of the world. That won’t be so easy. As Xiaolian, seeing her husband Death coming over the horizon, tells a Nation shaman, “I think hope will be the death of us.” East of West has a few characters that are more righteous than others; Bel, for all his faults, as been one of them. But as the apocalypse hurtles onward, some of this story’s biggest players may have to submit to the fact that these are the end times, and there is no avoiding one’s end.
- I like how the majority of the cast took the timeskip as an opportunity to become more fashionable. Except Bel, of course, who just looks terrible, though that’s the point. War and Famine’s new haircuts are especially nice.
- Speaking of fashion, my favorite part of the Antonia/Doma scene may have been their matching collared dresses. Uh, #twinning?
- The scene with Death arriving seemed like such a last page thing that I was excited to find the issue wasn’t over yet after, but then that just lead to me being sad when the issue did end.
- Major players we didn’t see this week: John, Ezra, Chamberlain, and- especially of note- Babylon and his Balloon. And it does stand to note the Death, the usual main character of the book, barely appears (and with him Crow and Wolf).
- The Ranger’s real name is Thomas. Good to know.
- “Why’d you save me, Thomas?” “Because your character arc isn’t over yet.”