Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing East of West 30, originally released December 27th, 2016. As always, this article contains SPOILERS!
Taylor: The other day I was reminiscing with a colleague about the James Bond marathons that we used to watch on TV when we were young. We agreed that what we most remembered about these “Bondathons” was that it really didn’t matter when you tuned into a particular movie because every Bond movie is basically the same. Bond is always going to use cool gadgets, meet beautiful women, get in fights, and of course battle some enemy who threatens the free world. This last aspect of Bond movies is perhaps what makes them all so similar and is also why I don’t find the movies that entertaining any more. When antagonists become a rotating cast all trying to do the same thing, the formula for these movies gets old. The same goes for East of West, where so many people are vying to destroy the world that the formula for the series is beginning to get a little stale.
It’s a new year for East of West but that doesn’t mean anything has changed. The Four Horseman (minus Death of course) are still trying to end the world. So too are the acolytes of the Message who are now moving to destroy the Endless Nation. As is always the case in this series, it seems all hell is about to literally break loose, but it doesn’t.
There isn’t a whole lot that happens in issue 30 if this series except for the reveal that Wolf defeated Orion and his army by eating the former when he dared stray to close to the latter’s jaws. While this saves Wolf, it has the unintended consequence of making him the bearer of the Message since he ate the last one. Apparently order of succession for the Message is gastrolineal.
Even though Wolf is ostensibly against the apocalypse, he now finds himself in charge of seeing it enacted. For unexplained reasons Wolf sees this a duty he has no choice to follow. Sure, he says the prophecy dictates that the Message (aka the apocalypse) will happen, but it’s unclear why he believes he has to play a part in it or why he can’t actively work against it. This maddening and perplexing behavior of Wolf’s highlights the extent to which the whole idea of “the prophecy” and “the Message” are confusing and ambiguous even after thirty issues.
That Wolf chooses to blindly follow the the Message is indicative of a shortcoming that is becoming more and more apparent as East of West progresses. That the apocalypse seems inevitable renders many of the events in the series as either repetitive or uncompelling because it is well-known how the series will end. With Wolf’s pro-apocalypse turn, he becomes just another name among many who want to see the world burn. Because of this, there’s hardly any emotion to be felt even when he expresses remorse for the path he must now follow. In other words, even though the leader of the Message has changed, its aims stay the same. Like so many Bond movies and villains, it appears who leads the apocalypse doesn’t matter to the story so much as it damn well happens.
But Wolf isn’t the only character who it threatening to bring about the end of the world. The three horseman Conquest, War, and Famine are newly hatched and out about causing trouble once more. What exactly this trouble is though is hard to tell, as is illustrated when they meet a dying soldier on the battlefield.
Their response to the soldier’s pleas for help illuminate the things they can’t or won’t do – namely anything good or merciful. However, this still leaves it unclear what exactly they can or will do. Being three of the four Horseman of the Apocalypse it would be reasonable to assume they would be busy ensuring the destruction of the planet, but they’re not. Instead of following in Wolf’s shadow they are somewhere else torturing a poor soldier for god knows what reason. That this action only reinforces their previous behavior makes their addition to this series all the more perplexing. To date it hasn’t been made clear how these three hope to bring about the apocalypse or even what their broader role in the series is. Issue 30 highlights their continued and perplexing existence in this series.
The complaints I have with this issue highlight broader issues that are becoming more apparent as this series progresses. After a moving and intriguing issue where Death finally finds his son Babylon, issue 30 halts all momentum and reshuffles characters in a way that changes some thing but effectively leaves the broad action of the series untouched. This being considered, it seems like Jonathan Hickman and East of West is at its best when it focuses on a few characters and smaller tales instead of broad, planet shaking epics. When the series focuses on big events, like those in issue 30, things tend to stagnate and action loses its importance, just like watching a random Bond movie on a Saturday afternoon.
Patrick, I’m struggling to find anything I especially positive about this issue. By no means is it bad, just… boring. Did find any redeeming qualities?
Patrick: This might sound counter-intuitive, but I do think that some of that boredom is built into the DNA of this series. Hickman isn’t so much focused on the banality of evil — his evil characters are straight-up maniacal — but the banality of the apocalypse. I think the appearance of the horsemen at the beginning of this issue are the biggest signifier that the recursive nature of this series is totally intentional. Remember, Year Two started with them appearing to drink in the ravages of the battlefield. If you take a look back at our write-up of that issue, you’ll see that I was already starting to feel burnt out on the persistent slog through the end-times. It is also interesting to note that that was almost exactly two years ago — one year in apocalypse time plays out over the course of 15 issues and two real years.
Comparing these two issues is fascinating. Both contain little snippets of the Horsemen being awful (if sorta negligent in their duty to bring about endtimes) while the actual conflict plays out elsewhere. In issue 16, Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta ferry the reader around to all kinds of explosive conflict sparked by ideological leaders, but issue 30 is marked by all the frustrating inaction that Taylor describes above. There are entire pages set at the Endless Nation’s conference room table! The thing is: there obviously are HUGE developments playing out in the world of East of West, but the perspective Hickman keeps us locked in to is intentionally ignorant of that fact. Narsimha sits in his technological wonder of a city, calmly making plans for war while hoping diplomacy will win the day, and ignoring the pleas from his council to just fucking act already.
There’s a certain situational blindness that Hickman has on display here, and I think it speaks to an uncomfortable theme of political apathy. Narsimha conceptually knows that the followers of the Message are out there, but there’s such a great, safe distance between him and the conflict that it’s more theory than anything else. Dragotta elegantly demonstrates this in the first page of Narsimha’s story:
The camera stays wide-as-fuck, giving a macro view of the siege of the city. Even as it swings around to give us a clear view of the Message, Dragotta’s camera finds little detail from such a low, faraway angle. And the third panel drives this all home: Narsimha and the council are viewing this on screens. The immediacy of the apocalypse is nullified by the fact that still feels so far away.
Which, of course, it isn’t. The solicitation for this issue says “The final year of the apocalypse begins!” All it takes for the Horsemen to actually see and participate in the war is for them to turn around and fucking face it. That seems like an apt metaphor for the world we currently live in, where the line between apathy and activism is all in our heads. The Horsemen are literally looking at a tranquil green field, convinced (even disappointed) that there’s no war to relish. Dragotta and colorist Frank Martin sell that lush beauty for all its worth.
I guess the difference between East of West and a Bond movie marathon is that James Bond never asks to you consider your role in the a similar story. Bond has the spy-thing covered, but you and I have to choose our own level of involvement as the world we live in faces the various challenges it does. Wolf did the same, and he ended up the leader of a movement. We may not understand that at the moment, but there is something narratively engaging about him picking a side and fighting for 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?