It’s almost a disservice to describe Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s “East of West” #1 as a story about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, if only because it tonally feels so different from most attempts to create something from that imagery. Instead, this is a comic that’s as much alternate-history as it is adventure, and the end result is something truly enthralling.
Hickman’s always been a good one to write the alternate timelines, and he doesn’t disappoint here as he shows us how we get from the Civil War to 2064, and what would become the Seven Nations of America. In most hands, I think this would feel like an information dump, but Hickman’s narration is gentle and inviting, and it instead feels interesting and keeps your attention grabbed from start to finish.
When it’s not telling us what happened up until this point, “East of West” #1 shows us where the Four Horsemen are (or rather, the Three Horsemen and the other one). Hickman introduces them all in a way that’s appealing and eases you into the world at the same time; the mixture of high-technology and folklore keeps any of it from being too familiar, even while each piece is still recognizable. It’s a good backdrop for these characters, none of whom are the sort of people you’d want to meet, even though they’re all ones that are enthralling in their own right. There’s a lot of barging into rooms in “East of West” #1 that results in massacres, but to Hickman’s credit, it never feels tired or repetitious. Each scene is approached slightly differently thanks to the mix of personalities, and by the end of the comic, I felt like I’d gotten well more than my money’s worth.
Hickman worked with Dragotta on “FF” and it’s nice to see them together again. From the arrival of the Horsemen back on Earth to the body count strewn across the hallway at the end of the first issue, every scene is given special care to look different and unique. I love the mixture of old time West iconography along with the future technology of this world; it’s a nice blending between the two, most notably in the form of Death. Death’s companions are also especially striking, with Martin’s use of a limited palette of just whites and blacks causing them to stand out on the page from the rest of the world around them. It’s a neat end product, and it makes you sit up and pay attention every time they walk onto the page. This is definitely a comic that would benefit from a beautiful, oversized hardcover collected edition; you want to see every last little hint of art.
What’s especially nice about “East of West” #1 is that it’s very clear by the end of this first issue that this isn’t a thin story. There’s an untold background hinted at, a hidden conspiracy that set everything in motion and of course the world-building that’s going on to get us from our timeline to this one. Hickman and Dragotta are clearly telling an epic story, and it feels so rich and textured that it’s hard to not want to see more. The comic is off to an extremely strong start, and it’s a big victory for Hickman, Dragotta, and Image Comics. I’m definitely coming back for more.