EAST OF WEST #12
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta
Published by Image Comics
Release Date: May 21, 2014
Just when you didn’t think things could get any more complicated, KA-BOOM. East of West #12 ups the ante after a too-long hiatus with a political summit that probably couldn’t be shown on C-SPAN. Conventional wisdom would tell you that people talking around a table for an entire issue is boring, but that wisdom is wrong. The tension between these characters is so taught I actually jumped at the climax. Definitely a down-beat, this issue sets up at least a half-dozen new loose ends and takes us deeper into the increasingly doomed world of the 7 Nations.
If I have one complaint about Hickman’s writing, it’s that he can handle more plot lines than my brain can follow. I almost wish each issue opened with a little roll call page, or at least a recap. The disconnect in the story seemed worse this issue, but that might just be because of the length of time since #11 came out. A little bit of refresher research was well worth it, though, for all the layers of byzantine machination we got to peel back this go around. Because we as readers were introduced to them early on and have spent a fair amount of time with them, it’s easy to forget that The Chosen are not necessarily in charge of their respective Nations. Some of them are, and most of them are in some position of prominence, but most people still don’t know they exist. If you assumed the Chosen were the ones doing all the behind-the-scenes manipulating, well, you were wrong. There is no single game-master, and no one’s intentions are truly clear (except President LeVay and Xiaolian).
At least two parties want war between the Nations sooner rather than later. The Chosen would rather hold off, until the timing is right per their bosses. Xiaolian wants revenge for herself, her son, and generally everything that has happened. It’s almost like she wants to start a big fight that might draw out War himself, the Horseman who was cruelest to her in days gone by…But what does Doma Lux want? What are the odds of two conspiracies coming to fruition in one meeting? Where will the Kingdom land in all this? Who else forgot Bel Solomon was possessed by a piece of Cheveyo?
I actually broke down and made a character list today, because we got to know some new players. The greatest treat in this issue, for me, was meeting the leaders of the Endless Nation at last. Wolf and Crow, Death’s traveling companions, are of the Nation, and we met Wolf’s father Cheveyo out in the dead lands a few issues back, but the leaders of the Nation made their grand entrance on the last page of #11. The look of them, like so much else in East of West, is wonderfully unique and precise. Even better was the techno-mysticism they practiced. Hickman and Dragotta are fantastic at mashing up old and new in this story, from haircuts to fashion to weaponry. Even more impressive is that it all feels of Earth, of America, of a future we could expect to see far enough down the line.
Dragotta’s art also shines on a particularly wonderful, violent splash page; his usual, seemingly effortless combination of sleek, simple images and bold arrangements jars you out of the board-room setting and back into the chaos. He also draws some pretty intense gore, so don’t read this one over lunch. Frank Martin’s colors highlight the rapidly shifting tone so well, particularly the frenetic unraveling of the summit towards the end of the book. I’m also a huge fan of Rus Wooton’s lettering work. The small-font whispers force you to lean in like Chamberlain is telling you the secret, and the sound effects amplified each action beat.
Stunning looks and political intrigue aside, I do miss Death and I’m itching to see what those obnoxious siblings of his are up to, so I hope they’ll be featured prominently next issue. This is a story that definitely takes effort on the part of the reader, and the reward often entails more effort down the road. However, each time it comes out it’s at the top of my stack and I’m left on the edge of my seat until the next issue, so I won’t complain too loudly.
The Verdict: 8.0/10