Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing East of West 10, originally released March 12th, 2014.
Taylor: Anyone who’s been reading the news lately has been spoiled by a surprising amount of entertaining stories. The mystery of the vanished Malaysian airliner has captivated the world since each day new and more confounding information is released about its fateful voyage. Then there’s the ongoing political crisis in Crimea. Vladimir Putin’s bizarre quest to take back a former Russian province has set the Western world afire. With stories such as these making the news one would wonder why we need to read fiction since the real world seems capable of delivering enough entertainment on its own. As if in answer to this question, East of West 10 tells us why fiction and comics are important. This issue seems to hold a mirror up to the world and the reflection, while twisted, is all too recognizable as belonging to nothing but humanity.
Death has finally found the answer to where his son is located…sort of. After taking his eye, the Oracle tells him he must go see Wolf’s father in the Sea of Bones. There, Death and his compadres meet Wolf’s father, who doesn’t tell them where Death’s son is until they beat him up in the spirit world. Just as he is about to reveal the location of Death’s estranged child, he is killed by a ranger, thereby further confounding Death’s efforts. Meanwhile, the other three Horseman visit the Lair of the Beast and express doubts about whether he truly is the Beast spoken of in the Message. All around, the plot thickens.
So much of what I appreciate about this title is the atmosphere. While writer Jonathan Hickman certainly should be given credit for his ideas, it’s artist Nick Dragotta that brings this world to life. I’ve mentioned previously that this series takes a lot of its visual cues from Westerns but I’ve never really thought about how Dragotta achieves that feeling. In this issue we get a prime example of how this is done, and in particular when Death and company make their way to Heetse’isi’. As Wolf explains, this place exists half in the living world and half in the dead, so naturally it needs to feel stark and spooky.
Dragotta gives the reader a sense of this feeling in a couple neat ways. The image of a lone, dead tree does much to imbue the scene with a sense of barrenness. That it’s washed out in a dead tan color only makes the image more effective. However, what I particularly appreciate is how Dragotta stages the scene with his paneling. I love how he intersperses the dialogue of the scene with close-up drawings of the bones hanging from the dead tree. It gives the scene a wonderful sense of foreboding and death. It also serves as a device for ramping up the suspense in the issue, given that the bones are a clear illusion to death. It makes you wonder if our heroes (if we can call them that) are actually going to achieve their goal.
Speaking of our hero, Death is on a roll in this issue. After a long hiatus from the spotlight, Death steps back into center stage in this issue and the result is wonderful. He’s angry, cursing, and generally creating a ruckus the entire time. It’s a nice reminder that this is the character upon which the fate of the world hangs and this reminder mostly takes shape in the way he dominates the dialogue in this issue. When Death defeats Cheveyo in undead combat, he has a few choice words for his defeated rival.
I always appreciate a good insult and in this case Death just lets the words flow from his tongue like molten lava. This is the way you expect Death to talk to the people he interacts with and it’s so fun to hear him talk using his old-timey accent and aphorisms. I don’t recall Death having such a striking character earlier in the series but it’s a welcome addition to it sense it gives the reader something to latch onto.
Death’s quest for his child reminds me of Putin’s quest for Crimea: just balls out and maybe a little crazy. Similarly, the intrigue of the beast reminds me of missing airplanes. Throw in a Star Trek reference from the fourth movie and I’m pretty pleased with this issue.
Drew: You know, I’ve often heard people express that fact is stranger than fiction, but I’m always quick to point out that fiction is basically a reflection of reality plus mutant adolescent turtles who study ninjutsu, so I tend to give the weirdness edge to fiction. In all seriousness, though, I think you’re right to search for the reality in these scenarios. Sure, there are gun-dogs and wolf-men and all sorts of bizarre mystical and sci-fi affectations, but this story is ultimately about warring factions angling to get what they want out of an incredibly complicated situation. In that way, this series is just as much a taught political thriller as it is a sci-fi-infused alternate history.
Death’s motives may be the easiest to understand — dude just wants to find his son — but I have to admit to being way more interested in what’s going on with The Beast. The other horsemen aren’t convinced that this is The Beast (or, at least, that The Beast really is off-limits), so after their reconnaissance at his lair, decide to look into killing him. That seems like bad news for The Beast, only the entire scene Taylor posted was actually a performance for the benefit of the horsemen. He knew they were there, and now knows what they are planning.
The scope of what that actually means is staggering. That his curricula has heretofore entirely focused on “the theoretical” makes the switch here to “the practical” (with only one guaranteed month to cover it all) feel like an afterthought. Of course he’d be able to master than whenever the time came, so why bore him with it before now? Also, at what level of power is knowledge of “the world’s current geopolitical alliances” and “schematics for all related and relevant weaponry” considered “practical”? This kid is preparing for machinations on a global scale — the kind of thing Putin couldn’t even dream of.
That’s enough to make Death’s struggles to track his son down seem like small potatoes — except for the fact that it’s setting up what promises to be one insanely heavy-hitting fight. We’ve already established exactly how dangerous both the Rangers and Death (and Wolf and Crow) can be (and you need look no further than this issue for proof of the latter), so the thought of them going toe-to-toe is particularly exciting. Hell, I don’t even know what that fight would look like — I wasn’t anticipating the presence of multi-mile sniper rifles until this issue’s conclusion — but I know it’s going to look awesome.
Much of that faith is owed to Dragotta, who Taylor rightly credits for setting this series’ pre-post-apocalyptic mood, but I think the real hero of this issue is colorist Frank Martin. This series has long distinguished its characters by their distinctive color, but Martin carries that a step further here, giving each scene a unique palette, which emphasizes both who is in the scene and how they are feeling about it. I was particularly impressed with the way the dusty desolation of Heetse’isi’ (seen in the first image Taylor posted) gives way to blood red as Cheveyo attacks.
By the end of that battle, red and black are virtually the only colors left (and, as The Beast so helpfully points out earlier in the issue, black is not a color). It creates a very distinct mood that comes to an abrupt end when Cheveyo’s head explodes, and all of the color comes rushing back, revealing the Ranger’s distance by ensconcing him in green all the way at the other end of the spectrum.
It’s a great issue. The pacing is deliberate, as ever, but I’m always thrilled to spend a little time in this world Hickman and Dragotta are crafting. Maybe it’s not as distant an escape from reality as we might like, but I’ll certainly take it.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?