I often wonder if the greatest compliment you can pay Jonathan Hickman is to stand before him and say, “What just happened”? Don’t believe me? Then dig into East of West, Hickman’s latest creator-controlled project for Image Comics. East of West may have some of the trappings of classic science fiction - a dystopian future, a revenge theme, even the futuristic old west combination is not new - but outside of that, Hickman is taking the sci-fi world into the next stage.
From page one, Hickman proves how good he is. Balancing backstory with current plot arc, Hickman unfolds a world completely outside of our own. He doesn’t just hint about this world or assume we will accept this future - he explains it, plans out what’s happening to the very last detail. Once this world has been set up, Hickman unleashes the main story arc, which is both thrilling and confusing at the same time.
The general idea centers around the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When East of West #1 begins, the horsemen are being reborn from their latest death. Problem is, one of them has not returned. One of the horsemen is actually dead. Introduced as three children, the Four Horsemen story is split into two sections. Well, at least that’s what it seems to me. The first is the three children, who are bringing about the end of the world in the most violent and horrific way they can. The other half of the story concerns the adult horsemen, who are out for revenge.
In their adult future, the horsemen exist in a post-apocalyptic old west style world. They’re looking for the one who wronged them and their methods aren’t pretty. Hickman sets up an entire scene around an old west bar, which could be one of the best comic scenes so far this year. Not just in the delivery, but also the perspective. How the horsemen dispatch a bar filled with angry soldiers is so brutal that the tension instantly ratchets up several notches.
Hickman is a master of not telling us anything but keeping us interested. We know the three grown members of the four horsemen are out for revenge, but we don’t know why. We’re clueless how the fourth member died or what the President has to do with it. We also are left unclear what “The Message” is or why the three youth versions of the horsemen are bringing about such death and pestilence. Is this how the world falls and is split into the new territories? No idea, yet everything happening here is so undeniably and viscerally exciting that the next issue can’t come soon enough.
Hickman teams with his FF partner Nick Dragotta who knocks it out of the park. Dragotta mixes so many styles here. The baron and open desert scope of the four horsemen as children to the claustrophobic future world where they seek revenge as adults. Dragotta knows exactly when to fill the panel and when less is more. He’s got a cinematic flair with his art that serves East of West perfectly. Outside of settings and detail, Dragotta masterfully pencils and inks the characters. Each panel here is a stunning work of art. Frank Martin’s colors are also wonderful. He uses real grace with blending hues and brings Dragotta’s work right off the page.
East of West is astonishing. Something that may reset the bar by which all other comics are tested.