Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I think hope will be the death of us."
I loved the lie.
The lie right at the end of the last book, discerned only if you interpret the visuals.
That's what comics at its brightest does best, and EAST OF WEST is amongst the brightest and the best of Image's creator-owned series, shot through with Jonathan Hickman's impeccable design sense.
Lo and behold, this volume kicks off with another Hickman flourish to remind you where we are, what's happening and what has gone before in the form of a beautiful, colour-coded timeline which could not be clearer taking you up to 2064AD when The Horsemen were reborn and the Apocalypse began.
The current status of each of the Seven Nations making up the divided States of America is detailed in a summary and stats from its government, language, population and GDP to its military might, economic strength, political stability and long term viability, all accompanied by a map. If that sounds dry, you haven't seen Hickman's design work!
And if you think a comic involving the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse has to look bleak, dark and dreary, then you haven't seen Nick Dragotta's lush line work glowing with Frank Martin's colours. Very much in the tradition of John Buscema and Lee Weeks in its smooth and solid forms, Dragotta's figure work is impeccable, his eyes are piercing and his own designs for the likes of the Endless Nation and the "blind" boy Babylon in his survival suit are sensational.
Here's my own summary:
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 Xiaolian Mao, now leader of the Mandarin-speaking People's Republic Of America on its West Coast, a woman who, he discovered, had born him a child and the hunt is now on for that son dubbed The Great Beast, Babylon.
The Child Horsemen want to kill Death's progeny; Death wants to save him.
Death wants to save the whole world.
It's that sort of a book, riddled with ironies, like the Endless Nation of Native Americans once so myth-based now being the technological champions of the modern world and, militarily, its mightiest: they have just conquered The United States of Texas. They export their technology to every trading nation which devours it hungrily, but there's a rumour that the Endless Nation is holding back.
Whereas relationship was once strained, the scenes between Mao and Death are so very tender that you'll feel hit by a brick at the punchline undercutting them. Yes, I know - Death, a romantic! He's has so far failed to locate their son and so fulfil his promise.
His son is the one currently being subjected to that lie.
Nurtured in isolation and secret deep underground by the greatest schemers of them all, perhaps, the boy has been raised to help bring about the Apocalypse. He is now roaming above ground for the first time, both led and misled by the sentient receptacle of knowledge he is still umbilically linked to, a silver sphere which hovers above him and to which he is beholden for all that he sees. That which he's shown is being filtered.
The sphere, for example, looks to the lad like a balloon with a reassuringly smiley face. There is much more for Babylon to be taught while he's still malleable because the boy who is supposed to bring about the Apocalypse is in danger of becoming a vegan.