“East of West” takes a detour this month. Hickman scripts an effective issue designed to introduce us to a new antagonist. An intriguing and humanizing origin story with Dragotta’s fantastic art makes this another compelling but meandering chapter in the series.
“East of West” began with an overwhelming air of intrigue. Slowly said intrigue turned to confusion, and confusion gave birth to complexity. When you step back from this series it’s clear that this ambition seemingly lacks direction. The world is compelling, the characters are fantastic, and the art is top notch. Yet, the series seems constantly in search of an overarching motivation for everyone.
What results is a fractured sense of a complete world. Hickman treats us to several different characters reacting to the crisis of what Death is doing, but we’re still not entirely sure of anyone’s motivations other than Death. It makes everyone else hard to root for. So, taking an entire issue away from him was an incredibly smart decision.
As they are introduced in this issue “The Rangers” provide an interesting side story among all of the chaos. The thematic implications of justice in this world penetrate deep. It is clear that Hickman wants almost everyone in this book to be morally ambiguous and he more or less succeeds. The Ranger’s introduction was nothing short of fantastic due to some insightful voiceover from Hickman and a little bit of world building to boot. Piled on top of all that is an excellent line about the nature of having a star on your chest, and what that does to a man. What many will consider a throwaway line is possibly the most telling in the book.
Dragotta really gets to shine in this issue. Previous installments have been pretty lax on the action. Not this month. Dragotta’s excellent paneling comes back. His ability to articulate action scenes with an overwhelming amount of panels makes for a dynamic and fast paced read. Bel’s escape is intense. Dragotta makes sure to use wide shots to articulate the hopelessness of his escape. Then cuts to intense close ups of the monster chasing Bel. The whole thing reads with such intensity, that when he does finally escape you an finally exhale.
The issue shines in a courtroom moment. Hickman takes time to develop the world, and Dragotta follows suit. We get to see a pompous, obese judge sit in a visually stunning courtroom. He makes crooked calls on a case. This doesn’t last long. Things erupt into a wonderfully drawn bloodbath that creates a character and shows you what he’s capable of.
By taking the focus off of Death, “East of West” somehow regained it’s footing. The inconsistency of the narrative seems to be a result of the monthly delivery system. As a whole the story remains more imaginative and interesting than most other series. Wild focus aside, the book is still great. It just has some issues finding it’s voice.