Taking a break from Death's drama this month, the story shifts focus to The Chosen, and those among their ranks who might stir up a bit of trouble. Trouble, of course, being a relative term, because this whole situation is rife with tension.
Hickman's grand world-building shines in this issue, as we see glimpses of the corrupt nature of the future, along with a spectacular meta-story about judges and politicians. It's great to see the world as it exists for others besides the Horsemen or Xiao, not just because it's a palate cleanser, but because the central story gains context through the narrative surrounding it.
Though we don't see many of the familiar cast members from previous issues (with the exception of The Chosen), Xiao's "gift" of her sister's hands brings us right back into the heart of the conflict -- Xiao/Death vs. Everyone Else, namely that scheming conclave of leaders. Trouble in the ranks of The Chosen is predictable for a group of politicians, yet no less dramatically impactful -- the "snake who catches the rat" concept is an absurdly brilliant way to blur the lines regarding whose side we're supposed to be on. Everyone's a bad guy, but some might have room for redemption.
Justice and mercy are, of course, pivotal to this story, and Bel's introduction to the Rangers is an explosive dissection of those concepts. I'm getting a bit of a V (as in Vendetta) vibe from the Ranger (with some hints of Dredd), and that makes the story-to-come even more exciting. I'm delighted by his coming-out-of-retirement story, partly because his reasons for retirement were so honorable and self-aware -- and because I know he's going to inflict some serious damage now that he's put the hat back on.
I'm now more confused than ever about how The Message works -- I think I was under the assumption that it was a single story or text, but now I'm not sure. I secretly hope that we'll get to see the contents of The Message before the series concludes, but it could also be an incredibly smart MacGuffin.
I initially flipped through this issue, didn't see Death or Xiao wreaking world-ending havoc, and wondered if it would be lackluster. Spoiler alert: it wasn't. Though the focus is shifted, it's a strong issue that builds towards the central narrative, and we get to see some world-building on a historical and emotional level. EAST OF WEST is a must-pull, and the recently-released trade paperback of Issues #1-5 makes catching up on this series a breeze.