East of West: The Promise, Volume #1 Review

by Etienne Paul, CMRO Contributing Writer

East of West: The Promise

Volume #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman, Art by Nick Dragotta

Published: September 2013

When I was sent this trade for review I was very excited because I have never read a Western comic. All the titles I read are superheroes, gods, devils, angels, sci-fi and magic. So I was a little bit bemused when I opened this comic to three adolescents being ‘birthed’ from inside a magic circle. Fortunately only a few pages in it became apparent that I had the wrong impression all the time as this is an almost steam punk style western set in an equivalent but different modern day. This is the beauty of blind reviews as I have no preconceived ideas of what the comic will be about and therefore I can give a truly unbiased opinion.

I have to hand it to the writer, normally reading speech bubbles with ‘accents’ written in gets really old really quickly, however there is just the right amount of inflection to really make me hear that accent, without making it hard to read. I would love to be able to name the accent, but being from Old Blighty I would probably just embarrass myself. However if it comes through strongly with me, I expect anyone who is very used to hearing that accent would read it even more clearly than I do.

I do not know how many people will notice this, I suppose it depends on how broad your reading is within comics, but there is clearly a link between this and the Infinity series. Hickman is writing both, but he clearly has more input than merely as the script writer because there is a commonality in the pacing and more importantly, in the white pages. In every Infinity comic there are blank white pages with pale writing on between chapters, and it is exactly the same trick employed in this trade. It is really effective, but I am not sure if it will remain so if it ends up in everything that he writes. Films are often known for fading to black, but this comic does the opposite and flashes to white. With the lead role of the comic being a character all in white it is an effective tie in to the main story, it reminds me of the ‘near death’ experiences people describe when they say it all goes white and peaceful. It is rather fitting between the fairly graphic violence in the comic especially when you consider what that protagonist represents.

It is very hard to review a trade without giving away some spoilers. I have discovered that with individual issues you tend to be able to go up to about page 7 or 8 without spoiling the comic as up to that point was already spoiled by the teasers or the cover. With a trade such as this which evolves and grows throughout, never quite giving you all the information you need to understand the story it is hard to give any form of plot without ruining half the book. At its core this story breaks down to the idea of the four Horsemen, given bodies, in a world slightly in the future of ours where slightly different events took place than did on our world. The United States is not merely the USA, it is the entire world, ruled over by seven individuals. At some point they conspired to separate Death from the other horsemen and now those rejuvenated children seek their former partner to bring final apocalypse to the world.

There is some wonderful borrowed iconography in this book. The Black Tower is clearly reminiscent of Star Wars and the moment where Palpatine’s shuttle docks with the Death Star. The White Tower, while looking like a massive trigger button, also has a very Fifth Element/Star Wars feel about it with the rows of flying cars around it. I am certain if my knowledge of Western films extended beyond brief moments of my mother watching them on Saturday afternoons then I would see them in the moments around the campfires. It is a really clever use of homage that does not make the comic feel too much of a copy of other ideas, but at the same time draws upon our knowledge of them to remove the necessity to explain things further.

I am really annoyed that this trade ended where it did. There is so much build up in the story that you feel if they had moved the pace along a bit faster they could have resolved it in these 5 issues. I suppose that is the sign of a good story, that it leaves you wanting more, but in this trade it also feels like they are purposefully drawing it out. It really gives the impression that the writer had a long term plan in mind, and while the series makes you feel that time is very much limited, they also wanted to leave the comic open if it received enough good press to draw it out as long as necessary.

I really hope that the second part of this trade comes up as a review issue for me, or else I will be forced to seek it out for myself. It is one of those stories that asks so many questions that you feel compelled to find answers for them. There is also a small part of me that does not want to read the conclusion because many stories that seek to describe the end of the world do so in such a way that any resolution always feels hollow and empty; it asks questions to which we do not have all the answers, and any answers we are given are never as informative as we hope. So perhaps the ‘hero’ riding off into the sunset is the best way to end this as it leaves you wanting more when the ‘more’ might not be as satisfying as this.

Disclaimer: This book was received for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.