“To the fall of empires and the illusion of republic” – Hickman’s East of West is a brutal, relevant peak at a fractured America

03-27-2013-072657PM-2Early 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.

eastofwest2-726x248We’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.

East-of-West-Three-HorsemenWhile 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.

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4 thoughts on ““To the fall of empires and the illusion of republic” – Hickman’s East of West is a brutal, relevant peak at a fractured America

  1. I may like East of West, because I’m an avid reader of western novels. You may think they are boredom at its purest form, but I ensure you that, generally speaking, they have a very intriguing plot. For example, “Night Passage” by Norman A. Fox, “Night of the Gunmen” by Steven C. Lawrence and “The Hard Men” by Theodore V. Olsen definitely are among the most thrilling novels I’ve ever read. But, if you ever decide to read a western novel, the ideal starting point would be “From Where the Sun Now Stands” by Will Henry. It is one of my favorite novels, along with “The Power of the Dog” by Don Winslow.
    Another Image series I do suggest you to try is Witchblade. It faced a sort of reboot from issue # 151, and it’s been pure awesomeness each month since then.

    • Y’know, I’ve heard that Witchblade has gotten a lot better since the dark times of ’90s Image comics but I haven’t gotten into it. It’s one I might have to explore later. I’ll admit, most of my appreciation for Westerns is in film, particularly the Eastwood films. I was a huge fan of Nick Cave’s awesome “The Proposition” from a couple years ago and “3:10 to Yuma” was a pretty great modern take on the genre. I’m glad to see the Western brought back in a really ambitious way between East of West and DC’s All Star Western.”

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