I don't know what kind of end game Hickman and Dragotta are building to, but I'm convinced that it will be Biblical in scale. This issue feels longer than its page count suggests, and the series feels longer than only five issues in -- in the best way. I am stunned each month by how much emotion and history every issue conveys, and cannot describe the series any more accurately than "a perfectly paced Western," particularly after this issue.
The back-and-forth between Xiao and Death is flawless. Every aspect of it -- the dialogue, the looks, their postures -- is deliberate, dripping with years of history and scores of heartache, and it's edged with katana-sharp tension. Truly, they're the greatest and most tragic lovers this world has ever known; they've both laid it all on the line, and are both uniquely poised to lose bigger than any other soul alive (or dead). It's been ages since I've seen a bittersweet conversation this impeccably scripted, and the characters on the page aren't just posed, they're acting. Scratch that. They're feeling.
And yet there's so much more to the issue, even after what could easily be a breakpoint ten pages in. I'd have been satisfied with the first part of their conversation alone, but this isn't the kind of book that allows complacency. After our heartstrings are primed for the tear, we get the biggest reveal, that the child of Xiao and Death is still alive. If any part of that was predictable, it certainly wasn't the condition that child is kept in, and if that wasn't a reminder of the alt-future setting (towers and ray guns and odd almost-horses aside), I'm not sure what is. Game. Changer.
In short, we've got a story with a slow but incredibly powerful emotional build that's on the verge of bubbling over, just enough context to think we know whose side we're on, and a few emotional bombs of world-changing severity. All after only five issues. Well played, EAST OF WEST.
I long for a soundtrack to go with this series, even if it's not conventional to the medium. Dragotta's panels look downright cinematic as it is; I think a killer score would make the work even more powerful.
EAST OF WEST continues to escalate in both tension and scale; there are no compromises in this book, and we know that someone is going to lose big at the end. The stage has been set for Death and Xiao to fight it out in a grand war against The Chosen and their allies, but will the final standoff be their own, or will there be additional twists thrown in? My money's on the twists.