Patrick: In our write-up of East of West 16, over two years ago, Drew made the observation that this series “is no fun, but it might be important.” I have long considered “no fun” to be one of the more damning criticisms of this series. For all of its interesting, impactful ideas and harsh truths about human nature and the corrupting influences of power, greed and faith, East of West seldom has an enjoyable narrative to buoy its grim headiness. I now believe this to be the point. With pages and pages of static boardroom scenes, we are meant to feel the excruciatingly dull banality of evil. Writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta only allow their creation to be truly exciting when the good guys actively resist the powers oppressing them. Continue reading
Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing East of West 18, originally released March 12th, 2015.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Depending on how maudlin the teacher, these may or may not be accompanied by a picture of two paths in a forest, to really drive the point home. Most of us take these words as offering a message of support — your life choices are good and you can sleep comfortably at night knowing you made the right choice. But what if these words held a deeper, darker meaning? East of West 18 asks this question, and in doing so once again calls into question the nature of our own perception of the world.
Continue reading →
Today, Drew and Taylor are discussing East of West 17, originally released February 4th, 2015.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Drew: Myths are almost all told from a third person omniscient perspective in the past tense; not only do we get a glimpse into the separate actions of both the Tortoise and the Hare, we understand that this race already happened. That second part is natural to storytelling in general — everything from personal anecdotes to the high-flyingest science fiction is told as if the events already happened. Curiously, both tense and narrative mode tend to disappear when working in a visual medium — the illusion that these actions are actually playing out in front of us is strong enough to override any confusion about who is telling this story, and when. To give visual storytelling a mythic quality requires making the past tense nature and omniscient narrator explicit, perhaps with a framing device a la The Princess Bride, or perhaps just with that innocuous introduction I included above. East of West 17 finds writer Jonathan Hickman slipping his narrator in, lending the proceedings the mythic qualities they rightly deserve. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing East of West 15, originally released September 10th, 2014.
Taylor: Some of the oldest and most enduring philosophical questions ever asked have to do with the nature of reality. Actually, maybe that’s basically a working definition of the subject in general. The question of what is reality is one that spans the world. The Taoist philosophers of Ancient China believe that what we perceive is actually an illusion. Likewise, in the West, the Ancient Greeks believe that reality is but a shadow of some ideal world crafted in our minds. That two such disparate cultures should come to similar conclusions shouldn’t be surprising. After all, it’s long been known that we can’t trust our senses to accurately inform our world view. Given the ubiquity of this idea, it’s not surprising to see it spring up in the latest issue of East of West. The series is nothing if not philosophical and the question of reality seemed like a matter of ‘if’ not ‘when’. While this doesn’t surprise in issue 15, what does is just how destructive this question might prove to the world of the Seven Nations.
Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing East of West 13, originally released July 2nd, 2014.
Shelby: It’s no secret ’round these parts how much I dislike the trope of “Two Heroes Meet For The First Time And Punch Each Other.” It’s such a transparent trick to introduce conflict to an issue, and is so often completely avoidable. I just feel like shaking these characters sometimes, and telling them if they just took two seconds to talk it out, the fake conflict would be gone and we could get back to the story. It’s rare for that sort of conflict to play out in a way that makes sense in the context of the issue; so rare, in fact, that when Jonathan Hickman uses it in the latest issue of East of West I didn’t even realize it.
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.
Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing East of West 9, originally released January 29th, 2013.
Taylor: When successfully writing a story about a fictional world, there is one thing the author must do if they want their work to be believable. It’s not necessarily high-flown concepts or a strong thesis, though those certainly help. Instead, it’s important for the author to create a world that follows its own rules and mythologies. The author must not break away from these or else the world he or she so deliberately built will come crashing down. In the land of comics where fantasy worlds become reality on a regular basis, Jonathan Hickman has established himself as a skilled observer of this rule with such titles as The Manhattan Project and of course East of West. In the latter, Hickman has created a bleak landscape where death roams the world, both literally and figuratively. The world Death inhabits, along with its inhabitants, is fascinating and dark, and learning more about it is part of the joy of reading East of West. Issue 9, like issue 8 before it, indulges the reader with world building which is both a delight and a little frustrating at the same time. Continue reading →
Today, Shelby and Taylor are discussing East of West 8, originally released December18th, 2013.
Shelby: The occasionally tempestuous relationship between the church and the state has a longer relationship than one might realize. In ancient times, being a ruler often came with the title of deity; your word was law because it was divine. Martin Luther was one of the first to begin to call for a separation of the two, and by the time the First Amendment of the United States was drawn up, Thomas Jefferson was speaking of “a wall of separation between the church and state,” in order to guarantee religious freedom. Personally, I believe very strongly in the idea of the separation of the two, namely because there are many religions in the world, and I see no point in a government forcing someone to follow a set of beliefs. That is not genuine worship. In East of West, however, Jonathan Hickman presents a trickier situation; there is no religion, there is no government, there is only The Message, and if the Message demands political leaders keep the populace dumb and under control to prep them for the four horseman of the apocalypse, the politicians hasten to obey.
We would tell you to pray, but it wouldn’t do any good. You have earned what is coming to you.
-East of West
Shelby: What is it about stories of the apocalypse that we love so very much? It’s the end of everything, the last story, turn off the lights and lock the door on your way out; it’s scary and oppressive and anxiety-inducing. Will everyone die? What happens when you die, really? Can this be stopped? Do we really want to stop it? What is it that, despite those soul-searching questions, drives us to these grim stories? I know I eat them up; I love me a good apocalypse. Maybe it’s the chance for redemption, or the hope that this will be the moment that will bring people together, that everyone will finally unite against the end and bring about change. Considering the character I’m rooting for the most in Jonathan Hickman’s East of West is the horseman Death, I suspect this won’t be that kind of story.