This Christmas, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta bring their apocalyptic comic East of West to its climactic conclusion. After 44 issues published by Image Comics, all of those story threads are finally woven together but the main question is, can anyone survive the end of days?
East of West #1 came out in March 2013 and introduced a dystopian future that was on a one way journey to the end of the world. From the very beginning, with the introduction of The Message, the majority of the main characters were working towards one goal: the destruction of the world as foretold in their pseudo-religious cult.
Throughout the series, each member of the cast has been forced to face their beliefs and choose a path to follow. There has been death and destruction along the way, with switching allegiances and complex political manoeuvrings. As the final year of the apocalypse played out it became apparent that no-one was safe and everything was to play for.
Hickman has garnered a reputation for detailed planning and long term plotting, something which is evident in East of West. There were moments throughout the series where a speech would appear and, as a reader, you would realise that elements of that speech had been quoted before in the opening issues. Scenes hinted at in the beginning, played out in full later down the line. And each character’s motivation slowly unravelled month after month, year after year.
East of West has been a mammoth undertaking with an exceptional story line and some of the best art and design work in any comic published in the last 7 years. As individual issues it has been amazing, as a collection it is breathtaking. So, how do you end something of this calibre? With a number of other popular genre series ending this year with mixed success, see The Walking Dead comic or the Game of Thrones TV series, does Hickman deliver a finale fitting the series as a whole?
The End, Of Our Elaborate Plans..
With a series that has been running for 7 years and 44 issues, the one thing that you think would go without saying is that this final issue is not new reader friendly. All the story has been set up and played out with very little left but the clear up. But that’s not entirely true of East of West. There is something familiar about the style and themes that the comic embraces that even at this late stage the general thrust of the comic can be picked up from this single issue. The characters may have motivations that aren’t clear and present but the overall narrative is one that anyone can understand and relate to.
The opening scene of this issue if a classic western scene, plain and simple. For the second time this month I’m impressed by a clever take on The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Hickman has a lot to cover in this issue, it is the End of Days after all and there is a massive cast to take care of, but at no point is the narrative rushed. The opening scene plays out with as much drama and suspense as the Sergio Leone movie. Those first few pages generate a sense of an epic western all by themselves.
There is a great deal of pressure on this single issue to provide a more than satisfying climax for a host of characters and story-lines. Luckily, Hickman knows what he is doing and, as has been mentioned, the story has been planned from the beginning. Each narrative thread drops into place like a piece of a jigsaw with the overall image becoming clearer and clearer with each turn of the page. Characters meet the end of their story in satisfying ways, even if it is not how you would have expected. The larger plans conclude with the same exciting drama that they were built on.
In essence Hickman knows exactly what he is doing and you are pulled through this issue from page to page, witnessing a majestic ending to a beautiful series. Character arcs are fulfilled, prophecies alluded to early make sense, and in the end we get what we deserve: an Ending.
Can you picture what will be..
Everything that has made this series good is on display in this final issue. Nick Dragotta’s artwork perfectly blends the energetic Manga style with classic Western sensibilities. If there is one thing you will take away from this comic it is the energy burning up the page. The characters appear to move with amazing speed and have unlimited force behind them. Their presence on the page is larger than life, reflecting the narrative theme of the series.
But there are also touching moments: small, intimate exchanges between characters. And it is in these emotional scenes where the real power of this comic comes from. The larger than life violence is entertaining and definitely page turning but the ability to switch from that to brief, introspective and emotional moments is true genius.
The coloring within East of West has often set the tone and differentiated settings, something which continues through this final issue. Frank Martin drowns the violence in blood red washes and throws a frontier orange hue over the confrontations. He continues to pick out characters by allocating them their own color, a technique he started with the first issue, making the action easy to follow for even the newest of readers.
If you come looking for a weakness you’ll not find one. Not in the dynamic composition work or the pace setting speech. The placement of the balloons lead you into and out of the action, accentuating the panels and the dramatic punches of the narrative. Rus Wooton adapts the style of speech balloon to fit the character, sometimes subtly and sometimes more noticeably. Just like the coloring, the borders of the balloons and the coloring within relate directly to the speaker while the text inside informs the tone and emphasis.
This comic’s main problem is that you will be so wrapped up in the brilliance of everything that you’ll not have time to appreciate the exceptional work that has gone into producing it. At least not until the second or third read through.
Like everything in this final issue, there are breaks to the norm; flashes of a brighter future portrayed through cut panels with blue skies. And therein lays the real surprise. After 44 issues of impending doom, often inspired by the breakdown of real world politics, the ending here is not steeped in despair. The main take away from the narrative and the art is a strong impression of Hope. Hope for the future; a future not yet written.
If you have been reading East of West for the last 7 years there’s not a chance you are going to miss this issue. It is by far one of the best endings of the year and does justice to the previous issues. The entire creative team have produced their best work, month after month, and this issue is the icing on the spectacular cake. It is A grade work from cover to cover.
Allow yourself a moment to take a breath, because this is The End.