Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s futuristic, apocalyptic, science-fiction western opus makes its way into a second volume and it continues to break new ground much like the first volume did. It is just one of many books today that are starting to make science-fiction the go-to genre for a number of creators and East of West stands among them as one of the best.
The second arc picks right up with a meeting between the Chosen and the revelation that there is a traitor among them. Bel Solomon is called out by Chamberlain, who is of course simply looking out for himself, as the man among them who is the betrayer, even though the two of them are in it together. Solomon escapes, and makes his way to safety and looks to hire the Rangers, or at least their leader and what follows is an origin story about them. We are also treated to the origins of Armistace, the building first seen in the book, the origin of the Kingdom, one of the Seven Nations, some background on Wolf and his father and some background on Ezra, who is the caretaker, for lack of a better word, of Armistace. Meanwhile, the Horseman do a lot of pondering and scheming and Death continues the search for his son.
Hickman weaves layer upon layer of intrigue in the book as every person has their own agenda, whether they are working with the Horsemen or not, and a plan to accomplish that goal. The Horsemen, obviously, are present to bring about the end times. How they will accomplish that without Death remains to be seen, but so far they are on course and seem to be doing fine. They are a little worried about The Beast, Death’s son whom they have under lock and key. Though they trust in the Word, it can be interpreted in different ways, and though they have not been wrong too often, in their own words, Death and his wife are an anomaly that throws everything into question.
The Chosen who are focused upon more in this volume than the previous, are present to help usher in these end times, but as shown in the last volume, Chamberlain has plans of his own. For one, he does not want to die. He enjoys his life and he does not want the rest of the world to perish either, for what is the sense of being the only living person? Another member of the Chosen, Prince John Freeman, seems to be leaning that way as well, though unspoken. But if he is to start making alliances and ‘buying a kingdom,’ why do so if it is not going to last, unless it leads to furthering the Chosen’s cause.
Death does not care a thing about the Word or the Message at the moment. He just wants to be with his son and he is going to do anything he has to do, to make that happen. With Wolf and Crow by his side they ride, not for death, for that will always follow in his wake, but for life and for whatever good or ill that might bring.
That one-mindedness is also present in the Ranger. He cares about justice, his job is to deliver it and when Bel Solomon tasks him with taking out the Chosen, he agrees to do so, but not without promising to kill Solomon as well. He is a man who has known pain and who wants nothing more than justice. After having delivered it to the country, he had retired, but to be called back, to find out that his work is not done, is annoying to say the least.
An interesting part of the book that Hickman continues to reference through the characters are the Word and the Message. The devotion and fanaticism that many of these people devote to it resemble that of the Bible, or versions thereof, and how even in this book, everyone interprets it differently to suit their cause. Words have power, and should those words have more than one meaning, they can be twisted to gain more of said power. Another thought-provoking idea in the book are the Chosen, who almost resemble the fabled Illuminati, at least in the ways of their actions and how they supposedly control the fates of man and nation. Bringing these ideas together creates some wonderful opportunities for storylines of which Hickman only seems to be on the tip of exploring.
This book would not even be half as good without Nick Dragotta on art, aided as well by Frank Martin doing colours. His use of facial expressions alone tells half the tale and really emphasizes Hickman’s words to their fullest potential. The look on Ezra’s face tells you more about the pain and suffering he is going through more than any words could describe as a demon attaches itself to his arm. The weariness etched in the lines of Chevayo’s features, and his acceptance of his predicament tells you everything you need to know about what he is thinking while being questioned by Death. Dragotta nails every situation in the book to a T and makes for an incredibly beautiful reading experience.
One scene in the book is quite disturbing and that is the appearance of the Oracle. Unlike the gore of Crossed or other such books, when the Oracle is first revealed it is a terrible image that brings to mind the worst things that humanity is able to conjure and inflict upon other beings. It is chilling and even a little frightening, but because it can make you feel all of those things, it is also one of the best illustrations to appear in modern comics. Art should make you feel something, it should move you and Dragotta, who is normally quite adept at illustrating, outdoes himself in this instance.
One could talk about this book, discuss and disseminate each page for days in trying to figure out just where Hickman is going with it. It challenges your preconceived ideas on what comics can do, on what they should be about and just how far away from the capes and tights genre it can possibly get. Each issue is packed with information, both in the words and the pictures and have meanings both obvious and hidden. It is month in and month out, one of the best titles to come out from any publisher and a title that is daring in conception and execution.