Oliver Davis reviews East of West #5…
“Hear the good word, hear the MESSAGE. In this issue of East of West we find out the contents of the apocrypha that predicts the end of the world. Or does it? The most exciting new book of the year, EAST OF WEST continues in THE LOST WORDS.”
And just like that, Death became a pushover.
That’s what happens when you reunite with the woman you love. One issue you’re slaughtering armies with a pair of magical Indians. The next, you’re whining like a child (“DON’T WANNA LEAVE”) or making teenage come-ons (“TAKE MY BREATH AWAY”). The revolution is always more romantic than the aftermath, and now Death has his lady, he doesn’t seem so badass anymore.
The previous issue saw Death tear down the Eastern Empire to reunite with his former squeeze, the Emperor’s daughter, Xiaolian. Now that particular battle is over, writer Jonathan Hickman uses #5 to explore the odd-couple’s relationship, jumping back and forth between the past and the present. Artist Nick Dragotta and colourist Frank Martin differentiate the two with a subtle fading and fraying of the panels, as though they’ve been rediscovered on parchment, or projected from decaying Super-8 film. It’s so quaint, and fitting of the comic’s Western setting, that it’s almost a shame to return to the bold inking of the present day.
Still, the two’s mythical romance, as foretold by an ancient prophecy, is engrossing. The idea that Death only noticed Xiaolian when she was about to kill her 100th man that day, for her to hold her sword at the last one just to taunt him, makes for some wonderfully perverse flirting. What their relationship means to reality as a whole is finally explained, too, and a shattering plot point is revealed.
The [shattering plot point] is exposed with a breathtaking full-page spread, looking like something out of Akira, but the [shattering plot point’s] setup is lacking. If the [shattering plot point] were teased from the very first issue, simply by saying the [shattering plot point] no longer existed, the payoff here would be immense. How’s that for seamless spoiler avoiding?
East of West remains, however, a very readable book. Few other titles out there have such a rich tapestry of context and backstory. Unfortunately, like your third tiramisu in a row, it can sometimes be a little too rich and daunting.