Jonathan Hickman’s latest creator-owned project is a science fiction Western with an Eastern twist.
East Of West, Volume 1: The Promise
Creators: Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Frank Martin
Publisher: Image Comics
DEATH has been portrayed in many different ways in comics. Neil Gaiman imagined her as a cute, spunky, and surprisingly cheery Goth chick in his Sandman series. Marvel’s version is a rather bloodthirsty lady, courted by none other than the world-razing Thanos.
Collecting the first five issues of the Image Comics series, East of West, Volume 1 introduces us to scribe Jonathan Hickman’s version of Death – a pale-skinned gunslinging cowboy dressed completely in white, riding a mechanical horse that has a cannon for a head.
Described as a “sci-fi Western”, East Of West is set in a dystopian America (or rather, Seven Nations of America), in which the heads of state, called the Chosen, believe in a prophecy called The Message, which predicts the end of the world at the hands of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
True to Hickman’s style, the story takes its time to unfold, with the first chapter largely dedicated to setting up the premise, establishing our knowledge of this alternate world and, of course, introducing us to the main character himself.
This is Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta’s first creator-owned collaboration (the two had previously worked together on a stellar run of Fantastic Four), and it’s good to see that the partnership is still pretty solid. Dragotta’s clear lines and atmospheric panels perfectly complement Hickman’s brooding script, and his rendition of Death makes the character especially menacing.
Special mention also goes to colourist Frank Martin, whose relatively simple palette of red, blue, white and black results in Death standing out prominently in every panel he is in, thus making the character’s presence even more imposing.
Death here is spectacular. A striking blend of old-school Western and new-fangled technological badass-ery, this version of Death is a snarling, cocky, dangerous man that resembles a combination of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, Judge Dredd and Kaneda from Akira.
Speaking of Akira, one of the reborn Horsemen (War, to be exact) is the spitting image of Kaneda, and the conclusion to the first story arc in this first volume bears more than a passing resemblance to what happens to Tetsuo in the iconic manga.
While the “West” part of the series is clear, the “East” part comes in a little later in the book, as Death heads to New Shanghai to reclaim something he lost. It is here that the story really starts to expand beyond being just a “sci-fi Western”, and other aspects of Death’s personality come into play.
It’s not all about Death though. The other three Horsemen also roam the land, and Famine, Conquest and War have their own mission – seek out their lost brother and eliminate him. Hickman also plays up the internal tension within The Chosen, how each of the members copes with the idea of Death coming for them.
Compared to Hickman’s other creator-owned book – the merry mad-scientist yarn The Manhattan Projects (also published by Image Comics) – East of West is a much more sombre and ominous series.
After reading this first volume, I got the sense that this story arc is merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of Hickman’s story. The world he has created certainly warrants further exploration, and as usual, he raises a lot more questions than he offers answers here, giving us tantalising titbits of what happened to Death in the past and what The Message really means, without really giving the whole game away.
Like his sprawling Marvel Infinity crossover event, it’s a long game that Hickman is playing here. Here’s hoping that he manages to finish the series, and that East Of West doesn’t eventually go South in the end.
East Of West, Volume 1: The Promise is available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133/e-mail ebd3 firstname.lastname@example.org/visit kinokuniya.my.