Jonathan Hickman is a master world builder. He’s proved as much with his insanely awesome work at Marvel, and continues to do so with “East of West.” So much so, that each issue doesn’t exactly move forward so much as it moves outward. The result can be somewhat dizzying, but this month proves to be absolutely fascinating.
Stories usually take place in isolated pockets of the world where they abide by their own rules. Jonathan Hickman doesn’t seem content with such things. He isn’t interested in small stories. Instead the world of “East of West” further expands and gives yet another group to worry about amidst this global conflict.
This expansion is steeped in history. The type that always proves fascinating because it informs the future. We’re treated to a new character that finds himself lost within a vast hierarchy of prospective leaders. Within that, he quickly establishes his dominance and Hickman wastes no time showing how different characters interpret The Prince. He’s just the type of formidable rogue this book needs.
The issue is largely self-contained within this new slice of the world. Nick Dragotta brings The Kingdom to life in all its sprawling glory. Showing off a futuristic metropolis informed by ancient Egyptian architecture brought to life by Frank Martin’s pastel coloring like only he can.
However, it is far removed from the sprawling metropolises this month that Dragotta finds his groove. Death’s encounter with the oracle is absolutely chilling. The snake-like creature coils through the pages. Her “exchange” with Death is sure to stop your heart.
As I often cite, the scope of this book makes single issues an extremely difficult thing to judge. The pacing of “East of West” isn’t so much erratic as it is leisurely. It revels in seemingly small beats for several issues. Hickman takes his time with the storytelling and chooses to enrich his world instead of pushing as much plot into the pages that he can.
For some this just won’t do. For those of you intrigued by global conflict with a supernatural threat and the politics of a western story in a science fiction setting than this is the epic adventure you’ve been searching for. Just don’t be turned off by the slower pace.
Which is decidedly brave in a world where attention spans are short. Issues like this renew my faith in the method. “East of West” doesn’t function like your typical comic and it doesn’t have to. Instead it makes its own rules and builds its own massive world. The characters play this impossibly insane game of jenga carefully moving pieces into place. Their motivations are clear. At any given moment one of them is going to make the wrong move and when they do the whole thing is going to come crashing down. For now, they’re still cool, calm, and collected.
“East of West” strives to do something different by slowly building one of the most complex and interesting narratives that comics has ever seen.
Rating: 4/5 Skulls.