Simply put, East of West is incredible. Writer Jonathan Hickman has built a vast dystopian world with intriguing characters, multiple layers of deception, and an underlying code of honor laid out during times where corruption is commonplace. East of West #34 focuses on two characters: Mao and Archibald – two leaders maintaining pretenses while trying to gain power with keen negotiations and assassination attempts.
Artist Nick Dragotta illustrates East of West, easily depicting grand scale scenery and intense moments and facial expressions. Varying sized panels and closeup shots help to enhance the flow of the story, while maintaining its intensity as characters realize important information or consequences. The story begins this way with a flashback and a naked Mao standing over the dead bodies of those sent to kill her – blood covering her body and the two swords she wields. It is dramatic – Mao’s fearlessness does not waver for a second, while two remaining assassins must decide their fate: “Die here…or die running.” Colorist Frank Martin uses softer tones to give the flashback sequence a more vintage feel, ultimately giving this opening sequence a classic showdown effect, while reiterating how tough Mao is and how important she seems to be to the overall plot.
Plot – that’s Archibald’s game. It is unclear if anyone is craftier, as his schemes are either two steps ahead or buried beneath the surface, waiting to be uncovered at the perfect time, even if a calculated risk, to upend his enemies, or allies. One encounter highlights not only gruesome decapitations, but Archibald’s skills as a gunslinger. This moment also provides the reader with great dialogue, capturing – like Mao – his confidence and lack of fear. There are bold reds and oranges countering against a dark, dimly lit aircraft hangar, setting the stage for what’s lurking in the shadows and how he’ll respond to deadly threats.
Hickman is able to quickly turn around a character’s position in a world where there’s a constant struggle for control. This truly allows a reader to see how an individual will respond to incredible, and sometimes excruciating, adversity, which makes the story and its host of characters dynamic, leaving readers ready to come back for more. The series started over four years ago in March of 2013 and is scheduled to release Volume Seven, collecting issues 30 through 34 on September 20, 2017, which means you have plenty of time to catch up on the past four years. By the time you’re done, I’m guessing you’ll be hoping for four more.