Jonathan Hickman brings The Apocalypse in volume one of "East of West"
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Publisher: Image Comics
Format: Trade Paperback
Year Published: 2013
Aside from a book here and there (mostly the famous band of merry mutants), I had long ago written off Marvel and DC as a viable source of entertainment. From DC’s “Infinite” number of reboots and Marvel’s “dead, not dead, dead, not dead, etc.” pattern and stale storylines, I just wasn’t interested. That changed (at least a little) after I read the first volume of Ultimate Comics: Ultimates by Jonathan Hickman for free from my local library. There we meet “The Maker”, a character created a few years earlier in the pages of Ultimate Fantastic Four, but honed into one of the most compelling new villains in decades by Hickman and his epic storytelling. From there I would follow him to his Avengers run in the regular Marvel universe, and I was thoroughly hooked.
A year or so later, after his “Ultimate” run, he would start a creator-owned book for Image called East of West, a post-apocalyptic western done in Hickman’s far-reaching, ambitious style. For the book, he reunited with his partner from Marvel's regular Fantastic Four series, under-appreciated artist, Nick Dragotta. When asked to describe the new book, he had this to say, "The things that divide us are stronger than the things that unite us. The end times are imminent and we all hate each other too much to come together and solve our problems. Our final destination is imminent, and it is the Apocalypse. And then, in the face of all that despair and gloom, somehow there is still hope”. That hope comes in the form of one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Death.
That’s right, everyone’s inevitable “friend” Death is the protagonist in this first story arc entitled “The Promise”. Death is a Clint Eastwood-like character who is roaming the Earth, looking for vengeance for his lover Xiaolian, who he believes to be, well, dead. “Xia” and he had a son, who is believed to be “The Beast” by a group called “The Chosen” or “Keepers of the Message”. That message being a four-part prophecy, foretelling the end of the world as we know it (cue R.E.M.) and you would think that would be a priority for Death, right? But now he is being pursued by not only The Chosen, but the three other members of the Horseman; War, Famine, and Conquest. As a side note: I always thought the fourth member was “Pestilence”, not Conquest. Apparently Conquest brings about said pestilence in the book of Revelation. *shrug*
That synopsis is barely breaching the surface of this story and even that sounds very… involved. And it is, but because of Jonathan Hickman’s intricate storytelling ability, due to his insane attention to detail and apparent diligence of mapping out the entire story beforehand, the first story arc of “East of West” never gets bogged down with too much exposition. He is the master of having a half dozen individual pieces that will eventually fit together to make one grand overall narrative puzzle. The one negative that I can even come up with is that this book has been out since 2013 and I never picked it up because of the minimalist cover, just like the covers for his series The Manhattan Projects. It just looks boring and uninteresting. I guess the old saying is true; “You can’t judge a Jonathan Hickman book by its cover”.