East of West 3, by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta
I hesitate to say that this book is Jonathan Hickman doing epic manga, but… I do feel something of the spirit of Katsuhiro Otomo in it. Hickman’s story of apocalyptic children emerging from a mysterious super-scientific lab to impact world politics could, in fact, be a summary of Otomo’s Akira. The similarities end there, of course; East of West has more of a blockbuster feel to it than Akira, which is more grounded and philosophical.
That’s because Hickman’s going big from the get-go on this book, immediately plunging the reader into a complex web of relationships and plots that quite literally make the Earth shake. Rather than making the larger action relatable through very human characters, he’s giving the larger-than-life actors understandable human motivations. So we get Death…
…motivated by love, and by his desire for revenge on those who conspired to kill him. That’s an adventure cliché, of course, which is pretty much par for the course for this book. You’ve got the wronged hero on the vengeance trail against the rich and powerful, you’ve got the agents of those powerful people standing in opposition to him, and you’ve got the ghosts of his past hot on his trail. We’ve seen all that before, and we’ll see it again (and again, and again).
The thing that makes East of West worth reading and talking about is the way the clichés are presented. Hickman is creating an intriguing world here, an alternate history that can simultaneously handle Old West trappings, political sci-fi, family drama, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And by dropping us face-first into all that, he’s developing mystery, keeping us guessing just enough that we (or I, at least) can’t be too bothered by the fact that we’ve seen the basics of it before.
Series artist Nick Dragotta does his fair share of distraction, too, turning in some damn fine artwork, stylish and effective stuff that dazzles the eye. This issue’s opening flashback sequence, for instance, is differentiated from the present-day action both by its more pastel color palette and the absence of panel borders:
Click to embiggen that page, and you’ll see the rough edges of the panels, as if each is brush-painted, or maybe torn from individual pieces of canvas. It’s a nice effect.
But really, the thing that best sums up this issue’s distracting cool factor, the inventive thing that keeps me coming back for more… Is the talking eyeball.