Early Saturday morning, I hauled myself out of bed, tossed back a handful of generic aspirin and drove myself to a story. A group of motorcyclists were going to the biggest man-made cross in Illinois to have their bikes blessed before the summer riding season. I was shooting photos, one of the parts of my job I like the best, and it’s the sort of opportunity most smalltime reporters love; a potent image juxtaposing the the holy and the unholy, rebellion and contemplation.
I live in what most Illinois and American citizens would call the middle of shit nowhere. In all honesty, it’s God’s country, one of the most conservative areas of one of the most liberal states in the country, a place where every once in a while, you’ll see a license plate damning abortion, a place where coworkers readily and happily blame women as willing victims of sexual and domestic abuse, a city where I once received gruesome hate mail for supporting the state’s marriage equality bill.
We’re a nation constantly divided by extremes. Even in areas which seem unanimous in their voice, there’s often dissension. Jonathan Hickman is tapping into that dissension in his second Image series, the apocalyptic western “East of West.” With only one issue under Hickman and former “FF” super-star Nick Dragotta’s belt, the team has already crafted a compelling tale of vengeance, cultural hate and ideologies that never die.
Hickman’s clearly playing a long, dangerous game in his first issue. After an introduction that wisely leaves its faith in the reader, we’re brought into Death’s inner circle. A hardened, bitter badass that’s two parts Jonah Hex and one part pure unadulterated rage, Death’s one of the most compelling parts of a book that begs to be deciphered. His quest, which seems to be half vengeance and half Arthurian quest for the Grail, is intriguing and pairing it against the other three Horsemen of the Apocalypse’s brutal, childish rebirth is bizarre and awesome.
While Hickman’s holding readers at arm’s length and trusting them to hold on for the ride, the art is compelling, welcoming and fascinating. Dragotta’s apocalyptic imagery as well as his attention to detail in the Civil War flashbacks is impressive and recalls Jerome Opeña’s down and dirty looks at flawed men and women but he admirably gives the child Horsemen an appropriate and unnerving youth that drives home the horror of the things they say and do.
In a book that features such iconic images as three children slaughtering a wounded man and Death kneecapping and murdering the president, the most striking visual is Hickman’s map of the new America, one fractured into seven nations, each bordering up on each other and given passive aggressive, grandstanding names, each with a name trying to declare themselves the real America. It’s a fractured nation, one with a never ending Cold Civil War and one that recalls our own country at it’s pessimistic, deadlocked worst.