Page 45 Review by Stephen
I love the lie.
The lie at the end, discerned only if you interpret the visuals. And that's what comics at its brightest does best.
This is comics at its best and I beg you to now come on board!
I wonder if the title doubles as there is no US; as in, there is no United States...? Because there isn't, you know: this is an America which has been divided between Seven Nations, representatives of whom sit on a secret council and conspire against each other, vying for power, even though their goal is the same: to bring about Armageddon. It is their sworn duty, for they are The Chosen who follow The Message, a sacred text heralding the end of the world.
Fighting the same nihilistic corner are the Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, resurrected in EAST OF WEST VOL 1 as children. Well, three of them were: War, Famine and Conquest. Death was conspicuously absent.
Why? Death, had stayed behind as a white-skinned, white-haired, white-clothed, gun-slinging adult because he'd fallen in love with a woman of stature who, he discovers, has born him a child and the hunt is now on for that son.
The Child Horsemen want to kill Death's progeny; Death wants to save him.
Death wants to save the whole world.
Whenever I write reviews of second, third of fourth volumes I'm actually trying to sell a series I love to completely new readers. Rarely, therefore, would I have given away so much of EAST OF WEST VOL 1, except that in this instance it will help you enjoy the first book which is written with such fierce intelligence and such scant hand-holding that I didn't grasp what was happening until I'd reached its last chapter. When the various parties and their interests finally fell into place, I was in awe.
As the series progressed and I began to comprehend how individualistically ruled were those nations, and the complexities of their allegiances and machinations, I was thrilled because I was reading something completely new, fully fleshed out, yet created from scratch.
Why do creators of science or speculative fiction get such a hard time from the crusty and entombed establishment that cultural cartoonist and satirist Tom Gauld can sum it up so succinctly as YOU'RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK?
That's a rhetorical question, obviously. Remember, one of Britain's greatest artists, Hogarth, used to be pilloried for his paintings (like The Rake's Progress which were, parenthetically, comics, telling a single coherent story in a sequential series of paintings which were then converted to line drawings, engraved, printed then sold as a portfolio set) simply because satire was considered too base a genre for the high and mighty Fine Art cognoscenti. And drama as a medium was once considered so infra dig that theatres in England were closed down.
Comics isn't the first medium to be sneered at by reactionary fuckwits like Tom Paulin (see our review of Chris Ware's ACME NOVELTY LIBRARY containing Paulin's condescending and culpable dismissal of the same creator's JIMMY CORRIGAN, winner of the Guardian First Book Prize). But the genre of science fiction like the medium of comics will win the day and we're now well on our way!
Straight, non-genre, contemporary fiction lauded by the establishment as What Is Best is far easier to write than speculative fiction in this regard at least: its authors don't have to invent its backdrop, its environment. Contemporary schools exist, as do traffic habits, current means of communication, things you buy at the shops and those shops themselves.
How much more difficult it is to create a world from nothing with brand-new methods of living, power structures, laws of nature, new rules of science and the appliance of each to a coherent, convincing whole! Yet that's what Jonathan Hickman has invented in EAST OF WEST and my hat's off to him.
My Stetson's also off to artist Nick Dragotta for the same level of visual invention is required. We've seen the Four Horsemen depicted so many times in their obvious, cadaverous, flying-steed iterations that this is quite the departure and they're even more unnerving for their relatively innocuous appearance and conversational calm.
He's erected edifices and monuments from nothing, a tag-team of Death's two closest companions out of nowhere, and transformed what could otherwise have been a daunting war of words into a slick and sleek, action-packed thrill-athon of noon-day duels at the far from O.K. Corral.
He's essentially made it personal, and his art and action has all the accessibility of Lee Weeks at his best.
Dragotta's rendition of the Endless Nation's representatives finally coming to The Chosen's table was arresting. Consider distilling Native American culture as you know it - its beliefs, its practices and its dignified deportment - then projecting where it might go logically next in a more technologically driven, grave new world.
Then consider America and its austere, almost vampiric Madame President rendered like Disney's Creulla de Vil. I don't fancy the population puppies' chances.
"Madame President. His name is Peter Graves. Graduated at the top of his class. Thirty years of public service. Beyond reproach, really. An excellent choice."
"Wonderful. He can carry the bags."