East of West 16

east of west 16Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing East of West 16, originally released December 31st, 2014.

It only ends once. Everything else that happens is just progress.

Jacob, LOST “The Incident”

Patrick: What’s so appealing about the concept of the End of the World? There have been a couple of studies and polls conducted that collect this information, but around 45% of American adults believe that we are living in the end times. There’s something comforting about that idea — if the world ends, then we end together, and existence need never be without me. The much more likely truth is that the world is not ending and humanity will persevere for countless centuries. This has always been at the heart of East of West, apocalypse be damned. Issue 16 launches “The Apocalypse: Year Two,” and any ending seems achingly far away. That’s where the real horror sets in: the realization that this nightmarescape isn’t the end of the world, it’s just progress.

The Endless Nation has waged frighteningly effective war against the Republic of Texas, blasting the population down to near-extinction levels. Evidently, the Nation isn’t totally content with the thoroughness of their mechano-war, and have also begun publicly executing leaders of the Republic. Next up: Bel Solomon’s neck in a noose. He’s rescued by a sharp-sniping Thomas and his amazing robot dog. The details of Solomon’s rescue are delightfully raw: from the harsh way the dog’s butt-claw drags Solomon to safety to the purple splatter of brains as Thomas wings a bullet through the executioner’s head. Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta broadcast this desperation by literally making the dog crap out its only defense.
woofThis massive victory isn’t the end of the problems for Thomas and Solomon, for the Republic of Texas, or for the Endless Nation. Indeed, Hickman seems eager to show us how the Occupation of Texas affects the other interested parties in the world of East of West. (Incidentally, I am using East of West: The World as a handy guide right now, so I take back all the half-nasty things I said about it last month.) Rather than caving to the Nation’s superiority, everyone is trying to determine how they fit into this new world. The President of the Union loses the head of one of her ambassadors trying to forge an alliance with the Nation, while impotently trying to pacify her own rebellious population. The PRA, on the other hand, are almost forced into an alliance with the Nation, who needs the money and manpower to maintain their occupation.

For as much as everyone was attempting to bring about the end of the world (and this is a full year into the apocalypse, mind you), it’s remarkable how much new shit there is to deal with. Pointedly — and this is a point Hickman seems to be making over and over — just because we don’t have an end in sight doesn’t mean there’s anything even remotely close to order in our characters’ futures. Xiaolian Mao has the most depressing little soliloquy about the nature of “hope” in this world.
hope will be the death of usThat is some interesting juxtaposition, however. The implication being that if “hope is the death of us” then hope and death are one and the same. Or, to get some mileage out of meaningfully capitalizing worlds, hope and Death are one and the same. I know so much of this series has veered away from Death’s journey, but I still consider him the main character of this series. He’s scarcely present in this issue, other than his wordless appearance here. Still, he couldn’t be much more bad-ass, could he? Whatever it is he comes to represent will be a forced to be reckoned with.

We close on the sentiment that “war’s all we got,” which I guess hammers home the super-depressing milieu of the thirty previous pages. It’s a dark, hopeless issue, even for this series. In fact, this might be the first time I’ve ever felt fatigued by the bleakness of a Jonathan Hickman book. Everything’s just so singularly focused on continued survival, and how unpleasant and unmanageable that must be. It’s possible that I’m missing the forest (that beautiful, beautiful forest) for the ugly, depressing trees, but the harsh realities of East of West might be catching up with me. Drew, are you seeing something a little more uplifting or insightful in this issue? Or are we discussing a dour-fest (albeit, a compelling one)?
Drew: Actually, I did feel like I was catching glimpses of the forest here (perhaps for the first time), but heads up: it’s no more uplifting than the trees. Seeing the Endless Nation and the PRA potentially aligning against Texas, I was struck for the first time by the racial element of this series. I’ve always read this world as the future of an alternate history, so while race obviously influenced the past of these nations, they felt more like old scars than active concerns. Here, however, I saw a powerful parallel to modern race relations in the US.

Consider: a white authority figure shot and killed an unarmed, non-white man. That narrative has become all too familiar in the last few months, as have the at times perplexing reactions to it. The Endless Nation want justice. A well-meaning white person, here represented by the President of the Union, suggests that violence isn’t the answer, completely missing what the outrage is actually about. I mean, sure, war is bad, but white people have being going to war over exactly that kind of shit for millennia.

In a decidedly grotesque symbolic flourish, Hickman has the rivers literally flowing with the blood of fallen Texans, and those rivers eventually flow to the now occupied cities of Texas. Here’s War’s response when asked if they should tell the humans that they’re consuming the blood of their kin/conquered:
Blood bathWe’d rather be ignorant of the corpses we stand on than confront our own violent history. We claim to want peace while benefiting every day from our past wars. Indeed, while the systematic eradication and subjugation of the Republic of Texas may seem disproportionate, it’s really just a reflection of what actually happened to the Native Americans — the only way Hickman could make it more explicit is if he left the remaining Texans with small reservations where they could preserve their culture.

But what does that make this issue? A bleeding heart manifesto? A bizarre Twilight Zone exercise in wish fulfilment? It features a lot of elements that seem to sympathize with Ferguson protestors, but as Patrick pointed out, progress is a bit of a myth when the apocalypse looms in the near future. In that way, Hickman doesn’t seem to be asserting that anyone’s actions are better or moral — it’s really just arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Kill your neighbor or don’t — you’re all going to be dead soon, anyway.

Whew. I might have actually come up with a reading that was more dour than the one you suggested, Patrick. I think living in that discomfort and pessimism might actually be key to putting us in the shoes of whichever group is meant to represent the subjugated now (the racial allegories break down again when ported to the real world). It’s no fun, but it might be important.
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?

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