This month has been, oddly enough, a Hickman-centric month. With Manhattan Projects, Infinity, and East of West, plus the Avengers books, Hickman’s monthly output seems pretty staggering. Plus, we’re finally supposed to be getting Secret #3 on the 28th, after a year-long delay or so. Even with all of this staggeringly large amount of output, none of it has really dipped or diminished in quality (in my opinion – also, any scores I may have given to previous books of his are totally arbitrary and represent little to nothing). It’s a great time to be a Hickman fan.
The thing I find myself comparing East of West to the most is (and not just because I’m on my fifth viewing of the series) Firefly, the seminal Joss Whedon classic that created a legion of fan boys and inspired many others (directly or indirectly). Think about; both of them are essentially sci-fi westerns set in the future with some not so vague East Asian overtones. Both series have strong leading characters with seedy pasts (in this case our protagonist was literally one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) and both of them love a woman who doesn’t exactly want to be with them for one reason or another. The similarities are uncanny but if you’re going to share similarities (intentional or unintentional) it might as well be something great like Firefly, right?
East of West, only five issues in, is something great. It deals with many ideas and concepts, such as making the aforementioned Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (well three of them) actual persons that are agents of something evil and are not averse to causing mass destruction. It turns a lot of idea, both biblical and scientific, into one interweaving apocalyptic sci-fi western story with an intricate, compelling tale to tell. Issue number five continues the trend of providing these compelling plots whilst subverting expectations of what’s going to happen. Last issue a massacre occurred and I honestly expected more of the same but I should’ve known better. Instead, we get a lot of talking and a lot of plot progression. Hickman seems to really be throwing me for a loop here.
Speaking of loops, a lot of what East of West and in a way specifically, #5 deals with is the cyclical nature of life, death and rebirth. Death was “killed” and “reborn” a new man after conceiving a child with Xiaolian. Xiaolian was reborn after the death of her father last issue as the new ruler of an empire. East of West sells the idea that we as people can even be killed, reborn and brought to life as we’re alive. Reincarnation exists at all points, and is convergent in nature. The issue itself deals with rebirths via exposition and flashback. Along with that, we learn new facets of each involved character. As a single issue, it does what it does extremely well, even if what it does is a bit prototypical.
All of this is stunningly conveyed by top-tier artist Nick Dragotta. Dragotta has a penchant for detailed environments and set-pieces as well as silky smooth, realistic facial expressions that convey a singularly large amount of emotion even without the dialogue to help out. You can tell exactly what emotions are being felt by the characters just on faces alone, and that’s an amazing feat. Each of the environments here also has a distinct presence, with each piece of background scenery indicating elements of location and heritage within the world Hickman and Dragotta have set up. Dragotta mixes the quasi-futuristic overtones with visualizations of previous centuries like the old west and old Asia. Hickman always manages to get these amazing artists. And Dragotta is the next one in line.
This truly has been a very Hickman-related month for me, and it doesn’t stop here. As mentioned earlier, in two weeks from now on the 28th, Secret #3 comes out. The Hickman train never stops rolling. East of West #5 is another in a long line of his books coming out on a monthly basis, and like the rest of them, continues to be amazing until it reaches its foregone conclusion.