“East of West” is a strange series, and I mean that in a good way. In a universe where history took a decidedly different turn at the end of the American Civil War, this version of the United States that splintered into seven countries has prophecies about the end of the world, and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse moving about its boundaries. “East of West” #8 has Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta continue to follow our protagonist of Death as he struggles to find his missing son, but in some ways even more interesting is getting to see what living in the United States now is like.
With Death being a little less central the past two issues, those who want to read more about him and his quest will certainly enjoy “East of West” #8, as Death goes to one of the few sources that could tell him where his kidnapped son is being hidden. It’s not an action-oriented sequence, but it doesn’t need to be; instead what we’re getting here is world-building, as we see more about how the realm of “East of West” functions, and all of the strange creations and places that litter it.
That’s important, because in many ways it’s the world of “East of West” that is the biggest star of the title. Hickman and Dragotta’s creation of this strange alternate-history is intriguing, the sort of world that you can’t pull yourself away from. Each issue gives us a bit more of a look into how the societies on the planet function, and “East of West” #8 is no exception to that rule. Getting a strong focus on the Union that the new president rules from her White Tower this month is a great addition to the overall series. Up until now most of the focus in “East of West” has been on the big movers and shakers, those who either rule or threaten to topple those positions of power. This month we’re seeing just what it’s like to live in the Union, and the glimpses of everyday life show how everything is certainly less than rosy. The President’s choices on how to deal with the uprising is ultimately chilling, even as her decision on what to do with an escapee shows her political savvy playing out.
Dragotta’s art accentuates that story, with a lot of detail being placed onto locations this month. The city around the White Tower, the strange facility that Death has taken Crow and Wolf into, all of these places could feel very generic in the wrong hands. But while all of the specific elements are familiar (large buildings, stone bridges, video screens the size of billboards) I like how each location ultimately has its own look and feel. The high-tech as the White Tower area balances out the low-tech crypt, for instance, and the people who inhabit them are all wonderfully distinct. The long, drawn out form of the President in particular is eye-catching this month; her angular face and disdainful glances at the people she rules just radiate ice and coldness, but also danger. It’s a great character design, one which at first feels understated but every month gets more and more chilling.
“East of West” #8 is another strong installment in a series that deserves even more attention than it’s already received. Hickman as a writer is someone who loves to create huge, intricate backstories to his plots. In some company-owned titles, it ends up being slightly at odds with what everyone else has already added to the shared world setting. In “East of West,” Hickman and Dragotta are free to create whatever they can think up, and the end result is riveting.