I love post-apocalyptic fiction, all kinds. Examined, it’s not the healthiest obsession, but I seem to share it with a good portion of the population. Stories of the end of the world, the cataclysm (all kinds) and after, are everywhere. The New York Times Bestseller list, at the movies, on TV and in the hands of children. A recent browse of the YA shelf at the library showed a serious bend toward dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction. Vampires still get a look in, but their uglier cousins, the zombies, are having their day.
Our fascination with the end of the world goes a long way back, so it’s hardly surprising gruesome tales of our end continue to capture the imagination, or that some of the most enduring stories continue to be reworked. One of the best known and popular tales of the apocalypse is found in the bible. Revelations. The Four Horseman and the Beast. It’s terrifying stuff! I remember being convinced as a child that the Horsemen would ride in my life time. I may have just watched The Omen when I came to this conclusion. Unfortunately for my parents, I got a hold of a bible and read Revelations to my younger sister. I wasn’t allowed to baby sit for some time after that.
Anyway, I want to share my thoughts on another retelling of the apocalypse. East of West Volume 1: The Promise gathers together the first five issues of the comic East of West. Distilled, the story follows the Four Horsemen on their quest to end the world. And that’s about all it has in common with Revelations. Oh, except the Beast. There is a Beast.
The divergence from the source material is what makes this comic graphic novel great. Volume 1 comprises 150 pages. I read it in about an hour and a half. Couldn’t put it down. Not sure what everyone else did that Saturday morning, I was utterly absorbed. (I should send it to my sister, eh?)
The first challenge facing the Horsemen is the disappearance of one of their number. They arrive somewhere in time, in a world that is not ours—it already looks wasted; a future western setting—and realise Death is missing. Death is busy. Riding a mechanical horse-cannon (it’s really, really cool), Death has business to take care of before he joins his brethren. He’s on a different mission, one that doesn’t seem to mean the end of the word, despite the rapidly increasing body count.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the seven nations (seven seals?) that rose out of the ashes of a previous apocalypse are bent on a different agenda. They follow something called The Message. It’s unclear at this point what that message is, exactly. But it also seems to be about the end of the world.
But first, they have business with Death, too.
Comic books are a very visual experience, obviously, for the artist, writer and the reader. So when reviewing them, I like to comment on the art, the colours and the manner in which the pictures represent the story.
First thing to strike me here is the art. I like it. I love the composition of the first few ‘stills’ and the colour work. The shading works well for faces, it’s almost like a watercolour bleed. The blend of the colours, the way the characters match the background, yet manage to stand out, is also really nice. I also like that the Horsemen each has their own colour. The layout is very cleanly done. East of West has a slick, professional feel. Finally, the story pauses now and again for grey and white pages that showcase the artist’s fantastic line art. The boy riding the devil bike is my favourite.
The writing is equally impressive. The characters are varied and easy to distinguish from one another. The two I’ll be keeping my eye on are Xiaolain and Chamberlain, two of the seven leaders. I’m sure as the story progresses, I’ll develop a keen interest in the others.
Chamberlain, in particular, is really well-conceived. I think it’s hard to write a character who is utterly lacking in sympathy and compassion, and still comes off as human, and therefore, relatable. Xiaolian is just kick-ass. She has hands of metal or stone. She’s interesting and clever.
East of West is written by Jonathan Hickman and illustrated by Nick Dragotta. They first collaborated on The Fantastic Four for Marvel. Both have a long and colourful history with comics. East of West is available as a series of comics, the first five of which have been collected in the volume I just reviewed. Issue #6 is due for release on September 25. Issue #7 a month after that.
Nick Dragotta’s tumblr has a lot of images from the comics. Definitely worth a visit if you want to check out the awesome art!
Written for and originally posted at SFCrowsnest.