East of West #8: Darkening Oppression


It’s interesting how two different approaches can effect the outcome of my thinking on a project. Image Comics has released two sci-fi epics this week. The first is issue #2 of Rick Remender’s Black Science. The other, the eighth issue in Jonathan Hickman’s East of West series. Both are built on sci-fi clichés, both are strapped with excellent artwork, but while I find Remender’s Black Science an enjoyable read, I have become increasingly disappointed with East of West.

Part of it is the tone, with Black Science being more of an action movie and East of West being much darker and more cerebral. Another part of it  has to do with how much more I expect from Hickman. He’s one of the five best writers in comic books today, so why is he allowing East of West to get away from him? Issue #8 deals with the rising tide of rebellion in this dystopian world. Those who lead are ones who have heard “The Message.”

In the White Tower, a lanky, older woman who bears a striking resemblance to Cruella DeVille, is being informed of the state of unrest. The peasants she leads have reached their fill of injustice and poverty. They want the rulers brought to their knees, which the first lady of The White Tower cannot have. Meanwhile, Death, who has begun a quest to find his son, is moving slowly through a white brick tower of alternating mazes. Finally, when finding his quarry named the Oracle, he asks her how to find his child. Unbeknownst to Death, his child is the instrument of those who believe the Message.

The rest of issue #8 is the woman from the White Tower letting her subjects know that things are only going to get worse. When a small rebellion strikes, she kills them mercilessly, allowing one to escape to “spread the word.” Everything involving this woman, including her lengthy conversation with three of the Four Horsemen, is hollow and lacking of any gut punch. The problem isn’t the story, which is rooted in solid ideas, but more the fact that it’s being allowed to drag out without a point to it.

Hickman has decided not to draw any lines in the sand. An admirable concept, but one that makes East of West pointless. Everybody involved here sucks, everyone is inhumanly cruel and sadistic. Who can you root for? Nobody. Reading about a future where everything is awful isn’t my idea of a good time. Page after page, the only emotion I can muster is for Hickman to get to the point. Give us somebody, anybody, to care about, and I’ll be back on board.

While the story might be lacking, the art for East of West continues to be striking. Dragotta is having a blast creating this dark world. His line work constantly feels as though it is moving. The characters have three-dimensional life in a two-dimensional setting. Dragotta also leaves the details to a minimum. He might really go to work on a cityscape scene, but everything else is encapsulated with basic pencils. It gives the world he’s creating a otherworldly vibe.

East of West, with its combination of excellent script and wonderful visuals, would be an unstoppable force if readers were afforded one protagonist to get behind.

(4 Art, 2.5 Story)