Having just put The Chosen on notice for their eventual (and imminent) ends, Hickman and Dragotta shift back to lore mode as they reveal how history and The Horsemen brought one of The Chosen to his current state of agony. This month's EAST OF WEST features three intercutting tales; two in the present (accounting for all four of The Horsemen) and one in the past (building out backstory and illuminating Ezra Orion's destiny).
Casting the Horsemen and others about the world on various missions provides ample opportunity to make the story world richer and deeper, while remaining on-point with the direction of the current arc (in this case, giving us more information about The Chosen, who have been established as antagonists/prey to The Ranger). Death and his companions show us a new, mystical location, and the other Horsemen bring us from 0 to Tower at Armistice. It's amazing how much expanse is covered in a single issue; geographically and historically, we took in a lot of information this month.
As always, there are layers to be discovered and savored, and there are thought-provoking constructs embedded in the narrative. The child of Conquest, conquered. The burden of service rendered as a painful and literal burden. The pervasive notion of prices and payment -- for Pilgrims, for Death, and for Ezra Orion. Reading EAST OF WEST comes with the distinctive sense of reading something more literary than usually encountered in comics, and it's the sprinkling of smart little motifs throughout that generates that feeling.
Nothing is throwaway in EAST OF WEST. Every character is important (Ezra certainly isn't just an anonymous Chosen now!), and every little detail seeded into the book is there for a reason. The issue's title -- and the way it echoes the beginning and end of Ezra Orion -- is thoughtful and unaccidental. The spire at Armistice isn't just a spire. Conquest's repetition isn't just a mantra. Even the Beast's single speech balloon feels carefully chosen for its nature (I'll let you look up the Latin translation on your own; it's not a family-friendly phrase). If nothing else, this book is decisive and planned.
Death's escapades in The Mirrors aren't as immediately interesting as the other two stories; if he's not using the lakes for their scrying talents, and they're "just a way through," there are an awful lot of panels spent on a fancy detour. I'm hoping for some payoff in the next issue; the Lady has potential to make this vignette feel more purposeful than a check-in on Death.
Never. Stop. Worldbuilding. The team behind EAST OF WEST continues to enrich their world's history, environments, and magic, issue after issue. No stone is left unturned, and no beast is left without character, and it maintains the immersive quality that fans have come to expect. Catching glimpses of the epic history that brought both The Horsemen and The Chosen (some in lock step) to their current positions is a fantastic way to generate interest in the doomed agents of the end times and move this arc forward.