With this month's glimpse into the moves of The Chosen, Jonathan Hickman cascades a series of risky decisions, each accompanied by an attempted shift in power dynamic. Leading in with a dramatic sequence between Death and the Oracle, following with a lighter, swifter turn between two of The Kingdom's princes, and building to a bold, final move, he plays narrative chess and sets The Kingdom's position before the next great confrontation erupts amidst The Chosen. If the first volume of EAST OF WEST was about building a world, this one is about setting its key players up for a dramatic turn as that world hurls towards its end.
The power struggles in this issue feel so purposeful; the dialogues that precede each are laced with hints of prescience (or is it just confidence?). Whether it's the Oracle's pontificating wander through Death's potential outcomes or the King's warnings of war, every conversation is steering us towards the storm that is inevitably brewing, and fueling the winds of change.
Nick Dragotta, as always, stuns on the artistic front. He's equally adept at crafting imaginative futurescapes (those floating pyramids in The Kingdom? Splendid.) and visceral violence, and this issue is packed with prime samples of both. I'm really enjoying Frank Martin's colors as well, and while glows can sometimes be used to poor effect, I'm charmed by the pale, electronic blues reflecting from John Freeman's video screen/holographic communicator.
While it was a fun glimpse at the royal family's interpersonal dynamic and unique naming practices, perhaps the least interesting of the subplots in this issue is the fight between the Crown Prince and his eighth brother. Given the gutting scene that occurs just prior, it feels somewhat lackluster (to be fair, most things would).
The penultimate issue of EAST OF WEST's second volume marks another engaging stop on the (end of the) world tour, layering the gains and losses of history against the risk held by potential futures. The Kingdom seems to be populated by characters who are generally less odious or cruel than some of the other nations seen so far, but John Freeman has emerged from this issue as a shrewd and powerful player. What will become of him -- and, of course, the freshly-blinded Death -- is a captivating hook.