Jonathan Hickman really loves his alternate histories. Whether it’s exploring the effects of time travel in Pax Romana, showing the impact superpowers have on historical figures in SHIELD, or turning a group of super-scientists into…well super-scientists in Manhattan Projects, many of Hickman’s projects are about cultivating wild new worlds caused by deviations from recorded history. East of West, Hickman’s newest Image ongoing with artist Nick Dragotta, features yet another of Hickman’s alternate histories, this one framed by an impending apocalypse of biblical proportions.
Like Hickman’s other work, the premise isn’t an easy one to describe. The book is set fifty years into the future and is set in a fractured America in which Union wars against the Confederacy and a united Indian nation were summarily ended by a comet strike. The comet strike not only solidified a divided America, it also heralded a second book of Revelations penned by a Confederate preacher, an Indian chief and Mao Zedong, which foretold the coming of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Still with me? Good, because all that is set up in two pages. The rest of the book features presidential assassination attempts, child horsemen of the Apocalypse, weird cricket motorcycles and a wild gunslinger with a vendetta. In a world in which major comic book companies peddle fluff event comics that take multiple issues to set up the basic premise, Hickman and Dragotta jump right into the action and hooks readers from the start.
East of West is everything that a modern comic should be. Smart, deep and unconventional, the book mixes stunning visuals with a multilayered plot. It also feels like a Hickman book; Hickman’s love of symbology and seeding for future plotlines are on full display throughout the issue and Dragotta’s art is flawless.
If there’s one weakness to the series is that in amid all the world-building and setup, there’s drastically little characterization. Death, the main character of the series, seems like your typical angry future space cowboy. The only characters that are given any depth at all are the child Horsemen, who will probably be the breakout characters of the book. Still, there’s only so many pages that Hickman can stuff into one comic, and I’m confident he’ll flesh out his characters in future installments.
If you’re a fan of high concept science fiction, East of West is the book for you. Hickman and Dragotta have once again delivered a book unlike anything else on the market.