Oliver Davis reviews East of West #9…
Another issue in Jonathan Hickman’s sprawling East of West, another new character to confuse things. With each installment, the series confounds its already-epic narrative with a new, superfluous thread. It’s like the frustrating latter books of George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ saga.
Issue 9 introduces the Crown Prince, John Freeman, as RATHER UNTRUSTWORTHY, A BIT OF A ROGUE, ERRATIC, AND…SOMETHING OF A SCOUNDREL in the series’ clunkiest piece of character exposition thus far. He is heir to one of the many Kingdoms civilisation split into after the Civil War, which seems to exclusively consist of black people. There is a hint that their race was once enslaved long ago, and was gifted the Gulf by the Republic to make amends. They reaped their riches in oil and now find themselves as one of Earth’s most prosperous regions. The slaves have now become the masters.
This is all alluded to in dialogue, and makes for a rather interesting concept. As does the sudden gunfight between Crown Prince John Freeman and John Freeman the Ninth, suggesting that succession of the throne can be sped up by fratricide. But as intriguing as all these ideas are, the comic is losing sight of something far more interesting: an inevitable battle between the physical embodiment of Death and its former Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse buddies. As satirical as the Eastern Kingdom calling in all their debts from the Western Kingdom is, it’s considerably slowing down the story’s central narrative.
To Death, the issue devotes five pages, which are by no coincidence the most electric of the book. Death makes a deal with the Oracle to find the whereabouts of his son. It’s a nice reversal of an old trope: people making deals with Death. The price is both shocking and satisfying, a rare feat, but devalued by having to wait a month for the following scene. Perhaps this will one day make a fine graphic novel, but as a monthly comic book series, it is increasingly frustrating.