PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Staying on "Message": "East of West #2"

J. C. Maçek III

The Old West, crossed with scifi, crossed with the Apocalypse, crossed a tale of supernatural revenge… Hickman and Dragotta offer a seductive and beguiling blend of genres inside a strong, tight story…

East of West #2

Publisher: Image
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2013-06

The debut of Image's East of West is nothing if not timely with the similar-in-theme video game Bioshock Infinite. So precisely-timed, the videogame released one day before the first issue. Both stories involve a bygone era (at least on the surface) combined with impossible technologies and ultra-violence. Fans of that strange mix of the archaic and the futuristic (à la Cowboys & Aliens, for example) will find a lot to like in this weird and wild new ongoing series.

East of West #1 spent much of its time in both specific and vague exposition. We know the story takes place in a futuristic United States around the year of 2064 and that the primary historical divergence from our own timeline happened just after the Civil War when a comet struck the United States, causing the Native Nations, the remains of the Confederacy and the Union to sue for peace for the sake of survival. We also know that three newly reborn Horsemen of the Apocalypse (War, Famine and Conquest) are running around in children's bodies coldly murdering people by the hundreds while the still-adult fourth Horseman (Death) wanders the great plains in full-on Desperado regalia looking for payback. Virtually everything else in this evolving story remains a mystery with only the tiniest hints of this universe's past, present and future offered.

The second issue removes all pretense of setup and dives right into this still-unbelievable world. While Death continues his Wild West quest seemingly for the sake of revenge only, the other Horsemen are busy culling the Government of the United States until an appropriate “candidate” is found to become President. That candidate must believe in “The Message” (always capitalized, always in bold type). The Message, though not fully spelled out, involves the end of the world and the cabal of world leaders who have come together to lay the groundwork for making their jobs, by definition, superfluous.

The influences of Westerns, alternate history works (like Harry Turtledove's Civil War novels) and, obviously, the Book of Revelations is written all over this book, especially in the second issue. However, the creative team of Jonathan Hickman (story) and Nick Dragotta (art) go beyond their work on FF and construct an entirely new world that grew out of our own. This future Earth is divided up like the future world of Grendel Prime in Matt Wagner's future Earth stories. The People's Republic (implicitly “of China”) is still around in this world but so is the Endless Nation (implicitly Native Americans), the Kingdom of New Orleans, the Republic of Texas and the nation of the Black Towers (implicitly the Confederacy, judging from its counter-balance to the US' White Tower).

The world is rich and goes far beyond merely merging antique clothing with science fiction gadgets. Dragotta's art does make great use of this merging of eras and cultures, creating a United States capitol that looks like it belongs on Star Wars' Coruscant and handling a scene by a campfire with Native Americans with equal aplomb. Dragotta also shows a bit of a Katsuhiro Otomo influence in the resurrected child versions of the Horsemen. These characters (with no revision) would look well at home in Akira, as might Dragotta's technological skyscrapers and land craft.

A manga influence is also seen in the motion lines of the violent scenes, of which there are incredibly many. Decapitations, fountains of blood, piles of bodies. This is not a book for those weaned on Little Lulu or Richie Rich (even the more "edgy" Casper or Spooky issues).

But is this violence merely gratuitous and is there enough story to counterbalance such gratuities? The East of West world is very well realized and the art is fittingly fantastic, sure, but there is a sense that there may be more style than substance in this burgeoning saga. There are enough enticing hints to suggest that the creators have a solid plan for the future of the series. However, the series is also overwrought (so far) with often disparate stories, seemingly borrowed from other sources. With violent and vague plot points connecting these, the evolving elements may clarify and solidify the saga or the entire shebang could collapse under its own weight.

What is important to note, regardless, is with these hints and promises, not to mention cliffhangers and (so far) well-told stories, there is enough potential in both substance and style to give East of West a shot... with both barrels. While it may have many elements of other stories and may be a timely entry in the continuing revised history and mixed-era science fiction sub-sub-genre, the planted seeds of a storyarc set this one aside from the pack. Whether that is ahead of or behind the pack remains to be seen, but with that said, there isn't another comicbook on the racks quite like this one. In more ways than one, the answer all comes down to "The Message".


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.