East of West #01
Out of the Wasteland
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Colorist: Frank Martin
Letterer: Rus Wooton
You have to admire the meticulous crafting that goes into each new Jonathan Hickman comic. From the theme that will govern the cover layouts throughout the book's life, right down to the texture of the paper stock, you can tell that each element was a conscious choice made between Hickman and his artists as to how best to create a holistic product that would enhance the story they intended to tell. That level of care and forethought is indicative of just how much Hickman loves this medium, and how invested he is in his books.
East of West is a sci-fi western set in the dystopian future of an alternate universe United States that seems to have diverged from our reality around the time of the Civil War. The story follows three of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as they embark out across the dusty wasteland looking for vengeance. Their first target? The President of what remains of the United States.
True to form, Hickman keeps his cards very close to the vest. He gives the reader a taste of the world's political climate, the dynamic between his protagonist, and hints about their nature. But by the end of the issue I'd be hard pressed to tell you anything we concretely learned aside from the tone and themes that this series will deal with. Even the identity of the protagonists is established more subtly than one would expect for such a high concept series. Their identities are only suggested through recurring motifs, symbols, and side comments. In fact only once does a character outright call one of them by name, and in the context of that scene, the reveal could easily have been dismissed as metaphor or hyperbolic boasting.
While the plot does move along at a fast clip and there is a major status quo change by issue's end, this might be an unsatisfying debut issue for readers looking for answers, unfamiliar with how Hickman plots his stories. But if you do fall in that category, know that Hickman writes for the long game, and that the pay off is coming (albeit probably much much farther down the line). As with most of Hickman's work I don't know where this is going, but I'm intrigued. Very intrigued.
Nick Dragotta's art is radically different from his last collaboration with Hickman on FF. Dragotta's heavier use of inks and shading combined with the thicker paper stock really sells the rough, gritty and dark world this comic is set in. Dragotta's character designs are striking, and he continues to excel at depicting emotion, whether it is seething anger, abject terror, or childlike glee (that last one, disturbingly set against the background of piles of corpses).
Dragotta makes the especially smart choice to hide most of the violence in this comic, conveying it's horror through reactions of character's and scenes of the aftermath. From the looks of it, this is going to be a very, very violent comic, and leaving the actual physical acts of carnage to the reader's imagination, showing only what the bodies look like after all is said and done will help keep these scenes fresh and disturbing.
Frank Martin elevates the art of this book to a whole new level, concentrating his color pallette on black, white, orange, and teal. Martin oscillates between extremes in how vibrant or muted these colors are present on the page, so much so that you may not notice at first that there really are just four colors at play here. The sharp contrasts make each page visually striking, and gives this book a real cinematic feel. More and more I am coming of the opinion that the difference between a good comic and a great comic is color work, and Frank Martin's work on this issue may just be my favorite element of an already impressive package.
East of West isn't for everyone. You won't find many answers in these pages. And while the main characters do achieve several of their goals within these pages, the lack of context makes it difficult to judge how this will affect the story going forward. If you like the concept of the sci-fi western, you should definitely give it a shot. And if you're ok just sitting back and enjoying the journey, I definitely recommend giving this book a chance, as I know just how satisfying Hickman's long game can be. But ultimately, you should give this comic a shot for no other reason than these are creators who really, really care about their craft, and if you're a fan of the medium or an aspiring creator yourself, you should take note of and be inspired by the level of attention to detail that went into this comic.
Tags: East of West