Mark Allen reviews East of West #27…
East of West has had pacing issues for a while now, and issue #27 exemplifies them perfectly. Many of the lead characters are missing (contrary to the synopsis above, Death doesn’t actually feature in this issue whatsoever) and those who do show up spend half the issue talking before the plot explodes into barely-motivated ultraviolence.
This chapter picks up where the last left off, on a Mexican stand-off between many of the regional leaders of America’s remnants. If you don’t know the series by now, naming them wouldn’t do you much good as there are many faces with intricate, convoluted relationships and backstories. Suffice it to say that they are all there at the behest of a deranged prophet and his lopped off arm-turned-Lovecraftian hellbeast, and they all face a choice: join his end of the world cult or welcome the apocalypse with open arms.
Does that sound a little complicated? If you haven’t read East of West, you don’t know the half of it. The series divides its time between a dozen or so characters or groups and presents a blend of science fiction, political thriller and western tropes with a dollop of mythology thrown in for good measure. Only these shifts in tone usually take place between issues, meaning that one month might bring a bar-room brawl and a chase across a sea of bones and the next a dry, twenty-page boardroom meeting about national boundaries and flashback revelations about supporting characters’ allegiances.
Issue #27 is closer to being a mix of the above than usual, though the shift is stark and jarring; there is much talking and then much fighting. As can be the way with long-running creator-owned series, the lack of editorial reins and the series’ success appear to have inflated writer Jonathan Hickman’s sense of his own abilities, and as a result his work has taken a sharp plunge into indulgence. He gives characters prose so purple a sixth-form literature student might blush, and has them repeat and rephrase themselves so much that it becomes difficult to recall what they were talking about in the first place. Everyone talks in existential cowboy drawls, aphorisms or threats, and while that style might have worked when the comic presented more in its images than its text, it quickly becomes tedious when there are 3-4 word balloons per panel.
Poor Nick Dragotta: he must be sick of drawing the same ten faces sitting around tables talking each other to death. While there isn’t a lot of variation in panels or structure in the first half – other than Frank Martin’s steadily reddening colour palette, which works nicely, if not subtly, to capture the rising fervor of the story – he at least gets to draw a balls-out action scene towards the end, creating one of the most striking images of the last few images that ends up being is all too brief. That such an artist, kinetic and manga-esque in his expression of rapid movement, is restrained to such a degree is a real shame, particularly when it looks like he’ll stay on East of West to the bitter end and Hickman apparently has no intention of curbing his bad habits.