East of West #5: The Beast Incarnate
I suppose it was bound to happen. When you’re writing Avengers and New Avengers, plus the Infinity series and East of West, something must give. Sadly, this time, it had to be East of West. While not a bad issue, East of West #5 stumbles, mostly by settling into a formulaic plot line. Until now, writer Jonathan Hickman had created something excitingly fresh with East of West, a story that was never easy to figure out or peg down. Now, things have gotten a little less inventive.
East of West #5 starts out with Death finally confronting his estranged wife Xiaolian. His quest to find her has brought him to New Shanghai, where the warrior princess sits in control of her land and people. Never one to believe in “The Message,” Xiaolian is preparing for war – a war she wages for revenge and to rid the world of “The Message” once and for all. Hickman spends a lot of time setting up just how badass Xiaolian is, and how she managed to steal Death’s heart.
This is where East of West becomes a lot less innovative. It turns out that Xiaolian, the ultimate in human capability, and Death, had a child. Xiaolian believes this child to be dead, and blames Death for it. As she chastises Death for not being around to protect her and, more importantly, their child, Death announces that their son is not dead. Instead, the political leaders who believe in The Message, have surgically attached him to multiple machines. They figure this boy to be the beast of the apocalypse, and will use him to bring about the end of the world. Enraged, Xiaiolian decides to bring about her war as a ruse, one to distract the varied nations until Death can free their son.
After four issues that set East of West aside from standard sci-fi fare, issue #5 puts it right back in. We’ve all seen the child as either the beast of the apocalypse or the supposed messiah of some movement. It’s a pretty standard plot device, same as the lone gunman who attempts to rise up for the woman he loves. Even the random succession of one of the nations looking to stop the end of the world feels trivial. Hickman is taking archetypical ideas for western and sci-fi folklore, and cramming them into his dystopian future. His writing has been so crisp and original thus far that East of West #5 feels like a cop out.
Nick Dragotta’s art is solid, though much it is just penciling Death and Xiaolian. By the third or forth page, he begins to repeat himself in their expressions. He does outdo himself with the shot of the imprisoned child. It’s unnerving, and lets you understand just how evil the nations following “The Message” are. The real champion of East of West is colorist Frank Martin, his work here is outstanding.
While I'm still a fan of East of West, issue #5 fell short of expectations.
(3.5 Story/3 Art)