Friday 23 May 2014

East of West, Vol. 1 and 2

Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta, 2013-2014
(May 2014)

After dabbling with a couple of more venerable members of the comic book canon I’m taking the plunge with an ongoing series, which means I’m going to have to do some adult stuff like go slow and show some patience. Interesting times ahead, my friends.

East of West is a far-future mash-up of alternate history, cyberpunk, spaghetti westerns, and biblical apocrypha: Revelations as re-imagined by Sergio Leone and Philip K. Dick. There’s a lot going on here and while no one aspect is particularly original in and of itself, the various parts appear to be coalescing into pleasingly novel whole.

I say ‘appear to’ because this is one of those stories where you need to place a fair bit of faith in the writer; you get lots of hints of what has been and what is to come, but very little in the way of concrete answers. You just have to enjoy the ride for what it is and trust that it’ll all come good in the end. And what it is is very good indeed. The four horsemen of the apocalypse have (for reasons as yet unexplained) been reborn in as fractured future USA which is anything but united. War, Famine, and Conquest (not Pestilence, for reasons as yet unexplained) manifest as a trio of sociopathic tweenies, hell-bent on tracking down Death and extracting their revenge (for reasons as yet unexplained). Meanwhile Death himself appears as an albino Man With No Name gunslinger and rolls about the disunited states, checking names off his own hit-list (for slights as yet unexplained) while accompanied by a couple of witches (for reasons as yet unexplained) going by the names of, or perhaps just being, Wolf and Crow. I think I’m a little bit in love lust with Crow, btw.

There’s more. There’s a whole lot more, like Death’s wife and their child and sightless oracles and a prophecy and a conspiracy and sororicide and patricide and dissent and rebellion and so on and so forth. And yet it doesn’t, thus far, feel gratuitous. Bad things happen, sure, and yeah, it’s an archetypal crapsack world, but it doesn’t feel shitty just for the sake of it; shocking stuff happens, but never just for shock value. You do, slowly (possibly too slowly) start to care about some of the characters and what may happen (or may have happened) to them and you always get the sense that the writer knows where this is going.

That last point is key, I think. It’s all very well throwing a ton of cool tropes into the mixer and seeing what emerges, but without a sense of overall direction, or at the very least the sense that somebody, somewhere, knows where it is all meant to be heading, then it’ll never coalesce into more than the sum of its parts. For what it’s worth, at this early stage my money’s on a Lord of Light style ‘indistinguishable from magic’ extraterrestrial intervention, but then half the fun with stuff like this is seeing what you thought was right proved wrong. All in good time…

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