Just like with the other issues of this second East Of West story arc, Jonathan Hickman uses this issue to explore another aspect of this world and give us more information about a character who so far has barely been scratched beneath the surface.
In this case it’s the turn of John Freeman, the Crown Prince of ‘The Kingdom’ and a firm believer in ‘The Message’. We’ve seen him be a bad-ass before, but now we get to learn a lot more about who he is, what The Kingdom is like and what challenges it faces. The issue begins with John in bed and pondering whether or not to help out the Union President in dealing with her financial crisis. His girlfriend conveys what the common belief about John is, that he’s a bit of an unreliable rogue, but is that true? Or can he counted on? When next we see John, he’s in a Jazz Club trying to work out what to do, when he is confronted by one of his 14 brothers, all of whom are called John. This John, The Ninth, wants to kill his big brother so he can rise up in the Succession and get that bit closer to eventually being King. It’s a bit like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, but not treated as a joke. John steps outside, and in another display of bad-assery, he kills his brother’s goons before chopping off The Ninth’s leg. Yeah, John is pretty awesome.
After this, we see John in a meeting with his dad, the King, which not only serves to give us a bit of back-story on The Kingdom, but also set up some very cool stuff for the future. We find out that The Kingdom was formed in the aftermath of the Civil War and the mysterious cataclysmic event that created Armistice, by the various former slaves and freedmen, and because they were owed money, they were able to push for their own country for the black people to have as their own. Today, thanks to their ownership of The Gulf and all the Oil that followed, the Kingdom is very rich indeed and that’s why The Union is coming to John for help. It turns out that the King knows about the message John was watching at the start, and, while he objects to John’s involvement in the weird religion that is tied to The Message, he and John decide that they will give The Union money, in order for that whole country to be in their debt when the inevitable war comes. We also find out that the reason The Union is having a financial crisis is because of XioLian subtly calling in some loans, which is the first shot in that upcoming war. This series is moving slowly towards something very big indeed, but in the meantime, it’s just fascinating to dig deeper into the characters and countries of this world. Each issue is like a new treasure-trove of information.
Also in this issue is a little more of Death’s chat with The Oracle, as they strike a deal for her to tell him the whereabouts of his son. This short scene also gives us a nice bit of back-story, as we see how The Oracle was captured by the Four Horsemen and what they did to her. In return for the information asked for, The Oracle takes… one of Death’s eyes, in a wonderfully creepy moment, made all the better thanks to Nick Dragotta. Dragotta’s art is brilliant throughout, this series looks amazing, and part of what makes the world feel so fully realised is the art, and the backgrounds.
I am just loving this series, even if the main plot has stalled, it’s just such a rich world of characters and mysteries.