"East of West" is the sort of series that it's easy to take for granted now that the initial buzz has subsided. Kicking off the eventual fifth collected edition of the series, "East of West" #20 is a reminder that readers should be paying attention. Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta's series elevates a minor character into a potential major player as the newest ambassador to the Endless Nation learns what a Widowmaker is.
Here's one of the great things about "East of West" #20: you could come into this series cold and still walk away from this issue understanding a lot of its impact. Hickman lays out everything you need to know about the overall setup of this world for the purposes of this comic, and it's chilling to watch Doma shift from aide to ambassador in a situation with almost certain death on the line. Hickman accomplishes that in two ways. First, the conversation between Doma and President LeVay establishes Doma's personality well. Hearing the two discuss the woes of each of the ambassadors sent to the Endless Nation gives you a feel for Doma, both how she views the world and also her place in it. When that's upended by realizing that she's just been thrown away, her shock and terror is perfectly conveyed to the reader.
Second, Hickman's pacing is quite strong this issue. For example, the narration explains the concept of a Widowmaker during Doma's journey to the Endless Nation, drawing out the suspense of Doma's fate even as it lays important groundwork for the rest of the issue. Doma's attempt to keep from being killed is also perfectly paced; it's not so short that she ends up ineffectual, but not so long or full of resistance that you ever get the impression that Doma will somehow buck the odds and manage to survive. As Doma's ultimate fate plays out, Hickman has served up Doma's story wonderfully, shifting her from a minor background character to someone whose moment in the center stage will have serious consequences in the issues to come.
Dragotta's art is clean and distinctive here. He and Frank Martin work well together; I love the stark black-and-white look that Doma has always had, but it's that much strong here when you see her next to the colorful members of the Endless Nation. It's not just Martin's vivid colors either; Dragotta puts patterns and icons on the Endless Nation characters, a perfect contrast to the singularly plain clothing that Doma wears. The fight between Doma and her executioner also sells those pages; not only is the action clear and easy to follow from one panel to the next (with a whopping 13 panels on one of those pages), but Doma's reactions and expressions as she fights the faceless killer is heart-wrenching to watch as she quickly learns how outmatched she is even as she tries to put some false bravado on her face.
"East of West" #20 is a warning shot fired over the proverbial bow: ignore this comic at your own peril. If you haven't been reading it or if you'd merely drifted away to catch back up later, well, here's your chance to step back on board. "East of West" #20 is a book that comic fans should be talking about every time a new issue is released.