East of West has now been running long enough for one trade to be issued and another one to be close at hand. So, with that in mind, now’s as good a time as any to delve into the intriguing world that writer Jonathan Hickman has crafted in his most recent creator-owned series.
East of West opens in ritual and rebirth as we find three eerie child-like creatures return to the world pondering the absence of their fourth.
We learn soon enough that they are three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and that the one missing is Death. Like the denizens of Discworld in Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music they seem to have misplaced him, but that comparison is not to suggest that the tone here is light one. This is not Discworld and unlike the whimsical creatures that inhabit that place, the intent of War, Conquest and Famine is solemn and murderous.
This all adds up to what should be a very violent and somber book, but this isn’t simply an excuse for gore. Hickman draws the reader into the Seven Nations of America, a vivid alternate United States derived from a fictional annotated history. In this alternate reality a prophecy, borne of three separate visionaries, has given rise to the notion that the world will be ended by the Four Horsemen and the story is centralized around the various factions looking to bring that about. Drawing stylistic inspiration from Joss Whedon’s much-loved Firefly, it plumbs the Sci-Fi Western genre for all it’s worth, splicing it with the Orient, and coming out with an impressive narrative with all the twists and turns that your heart could desire.
There is an impressive level of depth here, from the specifics of the prophecy, simply referred to as The Message, to the political maneuvering of The Chosen; the adherents to the word. Every character has his or her own unique voice and Hickman writes each one with love, whether it be the languid southern gentleman Mister Chamberlain, or the proud, righteous warrior princess Xiaolian of The House of Mao. The inherently fragile balance between greed, political power and dogmatic law sows ground fertile for so much exploration, and that is part of what is so appealing about the series. Though thoroughly compelling and entertaining, the core storyline is very straightforward, bordering on predictable. However, the setup is so well executed, the universe these wonderful characters inhabit is so interesting, it gives room for a myriad of possibilities. It’s this depth that gives the book a large level of pleasure in repeat readings which is something that is to be cherished in a format where much time is spent waiting for the next piece of the puzzle.
Finally, the greatest and most pleasant surprise of all is that this is a love story.
The central romance between unlikely protagonists and the carnage and destruction that this single-minded obsession reaps serve to endear the reader to otherwise inexcusable actions. It’s a classic ‘star-crossed lovers’ type affair with all the family conflict and bloodshed that goes with it. What this romance means for the Seven Nations, The Chosen and the Horsemen remains to be seen but if the first volume is anything to go by it will be bloody, and the following I can say with certainty. If Hickman’s glorious world really is coming to an end, if Death is to reunite with his brothers and sisters and the Beast of the Apocalypse is to rise, nothing will keep me from a front row ticket.