I am an unabashed sucker for a Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse* tale. I will defend the Darksiders series to its death, and there have been several novels over the years that have piqued my interest because of the subject matter. Jonathan Hickman’s East of West is easily one of my favorite series dealing with said subject matter. In Hickman fashion, the series is heavy, complex, and ripe with commentary. Between Hickman’s writing and Dagotta’s brilliant art, East of West is a must-read series.
The premise to East of West is deceptively simple: The Horsemen are reborn, in new forms, in semi-regular cycles. Last cycle, Death fell in love with a human woman and had a child. His child was taken from him and he was trapped in his previous form. He is now freed and hunting for his child. Seems straight-forward, right? In the hands of a lesser writer, it might be, but this is Hickman.
Death’s world — the world of the near future — has segregated into a handful of sovereign nations. The nations, most of which enjoy unprecedented technological advances and wonders, are all fighting the same fight for resources and land. In short, the world’s population is nearing death, and while leaders of the nations come together to attempt to work together, some differences simply can’t be overcome. Couple this with the Horsemen appearing, to help usher in said death, and things get exceptionally political.
Not political in the sense that most authors attempt, in which they boil down all of the worlds’ politics into overly simplistic, liberals vs. conservatives, terms. Hickman’s politics are every bit as complex and nuanced as our world’s, making the struggles of the future nations depressingly recognizable and relatable. Even when faced with both a slow death by lack of resources, or death at the hands of the Horsemen, people still seem content to bicker of ancient feuds and disagreements.
The Horsemen, themselves, are equally nuanced and interesting. Death is still trapped in his previous form, that of an Old West gunslinger, while the other three have been born anew as adolescents. The horrors they perpetrate are made a little more terrible simply by their youthful appearance. But it’s not just a form of sight-gag, the Horsemen are all of them as as complex as Death.
Much as The Godfather is a family drama that just happens to be about gangsters (as opposed to a gangster movie with familial drama), East of West‘s pre-apocalypse, political drama often takes a back seat to familial drama. To the point that when asked about the series, I almost always describe it as a familial drama first.
Part of the family drama is between Death, his bride and their child. It would be criminal to reveal too much about this particular point, but needless to say, the relationship between Death and his bride is strained, and Death is almost singular in his purpose, to the point that he has foresaken his job as a Horseman.
This, of course, doesn’t settle well with his siblings, creating a family drama between the Horsemen. One of the Horsemen, Conquest, has her/his own family ties, as well, which play heavily into the narrative. In a previous cycle, Conquest was female, but in this cycle Conquest appears as a male. In the female state, she adopted and raised a son, who wishes only to please his mother.
Dragotta’s art is also fantastic throughout the series, and color plays a huge role in the story. Each of the Horsemen embody a color (Conquest is blue, War is red, Famine is green and Death is white), and the use of color is every bit as nuanced and cerebral as is the written story.
This is one series that, while I recommend it wholeheartedly, I do suggest buying volume 1 and dipping your toes in, before diving headfirst into the series (i.e. buying multiple volumes). Hickman can be, on occasion, a very difficult, dense read for some. But if the series clicks with you, I guarantee it’ll be one of your favorites, too.
*The sole exception to this is the X-Men character Apocalypse and every single story (comic, animated and movie) involving him or his horsemen. That shit is bananas and can die in a fire.
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