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Ecce liber cum pictura: East of West #1

03-27-2013 07;26;57PM (2)

The question is: If you can read a comic in which Jonathan Hickman does everything he does in his Marvel comics, but because he owns the characters, he can go further with them, why wouldn’t you?

EastofWest1

03-27-2013 07;24;13PMAmong the many excellent comics that came out this week, Jonathan Hickman’s latest Image book, East of West, showed up, and it made me think of Hickman’s Avengers #1. That was a perfectly fine superhero comic, and Hickman has brought the ambition from his early Image work over to Marvel, which is great, but at the end of the day, there’s something missing from Hickman’s Marvel work, because even with the best superhero comics, there’s always a sense that everything will be undone. That’s not a problem with creator-owned comics, of course. East of West is more dangerous than anything Hickman has written for Marvel, because the possibilities are endless. It feels like it could have been a Marvel (or DC, of course) superhero comic if the PTB at those companies would really allow their creators to cut loose. There’s a thrilling pulse in East of West that, even in Hickman’s best Marvel work, is more muted.

03-27-2013 07;26;57PM

Nick Dragotta, Frank Martin, and Rus Wooton round out the creative team on East of West, giving us 32 fairly dense pages for $3.50. Hickman gives us a typical post-apocalyptic landscape – the book is set in 2064 – with his typical counterfactual history that he used to good effect in Pax Romana. At the beginning of the book, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are reborn as children, but one of them is missing. Then Hickman gets us caught up on the “history” of the world in his comic, as we discover that the Confederacy was able to survive the Civil War because the western Indians united to pose a threat to the Union. 03-27-2013 07;29;34PMThere’s some babble about a prophecy which I’m sure will be important down the line, and then Hickman launches us into the main story, which is about the Fourth Horseman, Death. We don’t know for sure it’s him until the end of the issue, but we have a good sense that it is. He’s on a quest to find someone, and if that means hunting down the President, that’s just what he’ll do. He has two companions, the Wolf and the Crow, who are fairly stereotypical Indians, although the fact that they’re archetypes is probably important. All of them, not surprisingly, are pretty nasty.

Hickman’s ambitions are always on the page, and this is obviously yet another one of those. Death is seeking something, and it appears the leaders of the six nations into which the United States has been divided are involved, as they took something from him years earlier. Meanwhile, the other Three Horsemen are doing something that has to do with the logo of the book – the triangle within the triangle that you see on the cover up there. It’s all very mysterious, which is to be expected in a first issue, but more than that, it feels epic in a way that “bad guy throwing Captain America at the Earth” in Avengers #1 didn’t. When I say that East of West feels more dangerous than Hickman’s Marvel comics, I don’t mean because he can kill characters and not worry about them coming back to life. I mean that it feels more consequential, like absolutely anything could happen. We don’t know the characters well yet, so there’s a sense that they could go on any tangent and it would make sense. 03-27-2013 07;32;35PMThat’s why it’s so thrilling. Plus, this is possibly the funniest Hickman comic I’ve ever read, so the humor keeps things from getting too dark.

Dragotta has been evolving from the guy you call when Mike Allred can’t hit his deadline to a superb artist, and this book is spectacular-looking. Martin tends to over-render art a bit – there’s a lot of soft creases and orange in this issue – but he does complement Dragotta’s work nicely. The artists nail the epic beginning, as the Three Horseman rise from the Earth and discover that the Fourth is missing, ending with a full-page drawing of the circle of power into which they’ve been reborn. There’s a tremendous page where the Wolf and the Crow kill everyone at a bar, but we see very little of it – Dragotta focuses on Death talking to the bartender, who reacts with horror to what’s happening over Death’s shoulder. Dragotta’s cartooning skills come in handy here, as the bartender slowly turns into a terrified puddle as he watches what’s going on. When Death confronts the President, Dragotta almost turns him into Jules Winfield, and it’s a good choice as we haven’t seen Death freak out until that moment, and we can tell he’s not happy. Dragotta’s strong, cartoony style keeps Martin’s colors from overwhelming the work, much like Kev Walker’s did on Thunderbolts when Martin was coloring that book. The book might not work if Martin were coloring at more “realistic” artist – Dragotta’s style makes the craziness a bit more palatable, while Martin’s aggressive rendering helps make the few flashbacks a bit more gauzy and the desert setting a bit more dusty. It’s a good combination.

03-27-2013 07;34;49PM

Hickman is always in it for the long haul, and his books do tend to start sliding behind schedule, either because his artists can’t keep up or Hickman keeps editing himself (I don’t know the reason; it seems like it’s a combination of both), so who knows how many issues of this book we’ll get in the next year or so. I don’t know how long this story is supposed to be, either, so it might be a while before Hickman brings it to fruition. But this is a stellar first issue, full of power and myth, wonderfully written and beautifully drawn. Hickman usually sets the bar high, and occasionally he’s even been able to clear it! I look forward to seeing him try with this new series.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

03-27-2013 07;38;25PM

7 Comments

I have no problems with the sense that everything will be undone; it is part of reading mainstream comic books, this notion that change is temporary. My problem with Hickman is that he takes so long to get to what he wants to show us. The payoff has never been worth the slow pacing, vague explanations and insistence on making everything a “dramatic” moment. So that’s why I won’t be picking up his creator-owned work.

The other thing about this one:

It’s the most I’ve seen HAPPEN in a Hickman book. We get world set up, the Horsemen kids, Death facing down 2 of the guys who wronged him. It’s great stuff, and it’s well worth picking up.

But Burgas, how can we miss you if you won’t go away? ;)

deron: I don’t have a problem with it if the writer doesn’t try to pretend that things will change. If Marvel is going to let Hickman (and others) go so nuts with these things, they shouldn’t force the writers to put stuff back in the box when they’re done. I do have to disagree with you about his creator-owned work, though – all of the ones he’s finished (mini-series, sure, but still) are usually paced quite well. If your problem is with the way his Marvel work pays off, perhaps his creator-owned work is something for you to check out!

Travis: I think Hickman does tend to start his series (especially the stuff for Image) with big bangs. Maybe they slow down a bit in later issues, but they do tend to get off to fast starts. I think you’re right, though – this might have the most happen in a Hickman first issue, but I don’t think it’s too much of an outlier.

I never said I was going anywhere! :) I’ll probably pick a book a week – maybe two – and do something like this. Won’t that be fun!

This issue was AWESOME! I just recently started getting back into comics with the return of Valiant and by far this has been the big gem of a read for me. Where Valiant has had some of the writing be (my opinion) lacking in some respects. Hickman has shown that you can draw people into a story without having way too much jargon and trying to fit every possible innuendo or trying to throw alot of backstory into it. I have picked up alot of the new Marvel Now books, especially all of the Hickman Avengers and he has me hooked. This guy knows how to write and he knows how to tell a compelling story.

I love East of West and I plan on getting the whole run.

I’ve read so many reviews on this book because I really wanna understand it. It wasn’t easy to follow for me and I normally love Hickman’s work. I figured that the three Horsemen at the beginning were the three people at the bar, someone help me out here!

Nic: The three people at the bar were Death and two other spirits, not the three Horsemen who are reborn. We don’t know much about the other two spirits yet, but the three Horsemen are the kids, and they appear confused as to why Death isn’t with them.

Hickman has quickly become one of my favorite writers in comics. I’ve been reading the hindquarters of his FF run, and it’s truly astounding work.

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