The latest installment of EAST OF WEST features an incisive and powerful critique of the political systems of Hickman' and Dragotta's world; there's a vibe reminiscent of V FOR VENDETTA as Madame President's unwavering plan to suppress and control her people is revealed. She's one of The Chosen, so we know she's marked for death, but before we bid her adieu, we're going to see just how cold and lethal she is. It's an excellent spotlight on a character that we've seen before in a relatively background-relegated role, and the President is brilliantly cruel and dispassionate.
Death, too, gets a moment in this issue; still on his quest to find his son, he ventures into a tower prison rendered in spectacular form by Nick Dragotta. I cannot say enough wonderful things about the art in these particular sequences; it's consistently top-notch throughout the book, but especially here, when Dragotta makes excellent use of heavy blacks (and Martin comes in with strategic glows), the dramatic effect on the page is stunning.
While light on high action, this issue delivers a fantastic examination of the-way-things-are, perfectly teeing up for impending chaos. The Horsemen have a plan, Death is on a mission, and everything is about to converge, so Hickman and Dragotta drag us further into our investment in this world by showing just how everything functions at street-level and behind the curtains. It works; I can't wait to see if the cattle stay suppressed, what happens when the Ranger comes for Madame President, and how Death might throw a wrench in all of it.
This issue suffers from just a bit of "solicit let-down." I expected to learn more about the three Horsemen and their grand plans, and got little more than a solid allegiance from the President and a desire to keep the population sedate; the endgame is barely hinted at, and we aren't fully sure why the Horsemen are doing what they're doing. I didn't hate the spotlight on Madame President; I'm just left hanging a bit on what her apocalyptic bosses are up to.
Hickman and Dragotta are master craftsmen, building a world that gets more and more robust and wonderful with every passing issue. Learning about the history and politics of their grand dystopia is a pleasure every month; Dragotta's pages are striking and beautiful, and Hickman's narrative increases in both scope and detail as the series progresses. It's a book worth re-reading, just to find every nuance, every carefully crafted piece of the environment. There might not be an appropriate string of genres to apply to EAST OF WEST (I think the best I can come up with is "pre-apocalyptic Biblical-infused alt-history with sci-fi and fantasy notes and a Western motif"), but the series is interesting and well-crafted, and deserving of a spot on many readers' pull lists.