And now we turn to the last available volume for East of West. War is on the horizon for the Seven Nations of America and the apocalypse almost seems inevitable at this point. What will be happening in this new collection? Let’s find out together. Is it good?
East of West Vol. 3: There Is No Us (Image Comics)
Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Drawn by: Nick Dragotta
Tensions are increasing even more between the Seven Nations as Xiaolin calls for a meeting between the leaders of each nation. She is beginning to make her move towards her goal of… possibly starting a war or weeding out the members of the Chosen (it’s hard to say). Though what is known is that some members and leaders want to avoid war, or at least start it themselves. Meanwhile, Death and the Ranger have a bit of a skirmish between one another and the Three Horsemen are starting to have some doubts.
And so, with this volume, it feels like the main event that has been brewing and cooking in the background is finally happening: the war between nations and the end of the world. As such, the comic feels like it got back on track and started moving forward. Besides the coming war, the buildup to it was very strong and well handled in the first two issues of the book, the continuation of several various plotlines were nice (like the Horsemen and their frustration with Death’s kid and what Wolf did with his father’s remains) and most lead to rather interesting results, and the finale of the book was quite intriguing. The story feels stronger than before; both exciting and nerve-wracking.
That being said, there are some problems with the narrative and choices made here. Some plot points honestly feel like they came out of nowhere, like Bel being possessed by the spirit of something (Cheveyo I think), Doma’s plan, and the whole situation with what Wolf did to his father. They are potentially interesting, but we don’t have much buildup or even subtle hints to these things earlier. It still feels like we don’t have much establishment or idea for how the world completely works yet, so some of these areas feel sketchy. The same goes with some characters’ goals and alliances, like the Horsemen who suddenly start questioning and not wanting to follow The Message that much for some reason. Hell, some characters even make some rather dumb decisions that don’t make much sense, like Bel attending the meeting with all of the leaders, despite the fact that several of them just tried having him killed only a few issues ago. While the story and the developments were good, some of the choices and decisions made feel questionable and not built up well.
Except for you sir. Could you please take your balloon outside and leave it there?
Unfortunately, in regards to the characters, this volume felt like a step backwards. The comic felt skimpy in some areas when it came to the characterization and development. Don’t get me wrong, there were still some going on and a bit of it was intriguing, but it felt weak in this area. Death himself really doesn’t get to do much this issue besides wail on the Ranger a bit. He doesn’t advance or develop as character, barely having any page time besides #13, and even that’s sort of forgettable. For a character that got a lot of focus in the first volume, he sort has been fading into the background a lot these past two volumes. His friends, the Wolf and Crow, don’t fare much better either. To Wolf’s credit, he gets a bit of focus in #13 as well as he tries to save his father’s soul (again, there wasn’t much build up or relationship seen between the two to buy into this devotion) and it’s interesting. As for Crow, who is on the front cover, she’s barely in the book. She’s just off on the sidelines and doesn’t even really get to do anything of worth, and we still don’t even learn a single thing about her.
The leaders of the Seven Nations and the villains surprisingly don’t get that much development or focus either. Xiaolin probably gets the most attention, since she calls for the meeting between leaders in the first place and is very forward with her statements toward each person. However, her motivations seem a bit foggy in areas and she spends most of the time making speeches. She never feels like a chessmaster or even someone who is all that smart in the end; she just sort of lucks into situations that benefit her at this point. Bel Solomon and Doma Lux get some focus in the issue as well, but Bel is mostly just a plot device and Doma’s motivation feel incredibly unclear (especially when it seems like the President doesn’t even seem aware of them). Ezra is kind of the same way as Solomon, just sort of a plot device this time around (though there at least seems to be an interesting development with him) and doesn’t get much in the way characters, besides one admittedly very solid moment.
The characters who probably had the most development (or at least characterization) were Chamberlin, Conquest, Death’s son, and Balloon. Chamberlin didn’t exactly grow or develop in any way this volume, but his motivations and actions felt very natural for him. Due to how well he was built up and shown previously, he’s still the most fascinating and understandable character. You get the reason behind every decision he makes and it’s incredible how he manipulates everyone. Conquest, one of the four Horsemen, gets minor development in how he/she reacts to the situation with Ezra and how he/she feels about the character. It’s the most believable and emotional scene in the entire series, where you can feel the pain going through everyone. If other relationships or connections were built up at least as good as this, a lot more scenes in the series could be very effective.
Then there is Death’s son and Balloon, who have probably the most bizarre relationship between characters. It’s hard to get a good read on either of their personalities and motivations. The son is pretty much a blank slate, constantly having to ask Balloon for help and not really able to make more decisions without its guidance. Because of that, Balloon feels more like the individual in the driver’s seat and calling all of the shots, despite essentially being a computer A.I. The thing with Balloon though is that it’s hard to really know what it’s up to. Does it care about the son, does it have its own end goals, is it still just an AI intent on making the kid the Beast of the Apocalypse, or maybe something else? Either way, the dynamic between the two is weird, but fascinating despite both of them only appearing in three whole issues.
The writing on the book is definitely getting much better as time goes on, with fewer problems and issues. The pacing feels a bit tighter in areas, always keeping the story going and developing interesting directions. The story structure, transitions, and flow are all pretty good and don’t have any real problems to them. Some of the minor and more subtle details with the world building was nicely handled, like the clothing and appearance of each of the nations’ leaders, advisors, and bodyguards and even in the small scene where Chamberlin describes the other nations to the President of the Confederacy. These small details help paint a better picture of the kind of nations the characters are from and their perception of others without having to cram it into the comic unnaturally. The setup and order of issues do seem slightly weird to me, since the previous volume’s issue ended with the Ranger shooting one of the Chosen and that’s a huge deal. Then this volume’s first two issues deal with discussion and political debate between politicians and leaders with no sign of Death or the Ranger anywhere. It’s not huge or anything, but it sort of effects the momentum of the story a bit.
One area of the writing that feels like it is slowly getting better is the dialogue and narration. Yes, there are still quite a few problems with it as always. The overly dramatic and flowery interactions between characters, some stilted dialogue and exchanges between characters, and the fact that it can be really dry and boring at points (while it makes sense given the character, this dryness is most noticeable with Balloon). However, there are definite areas where the dialogue is pretty dang solid and quite engaging. Most of the scenes with all of the politicians talking amongst themselves, the entire sequence with Chamberlin at the funeral where the dramatic nature of the dialogue actually fits, and even one part where Conquest is talking a bit about Ezra and how genuine it feels. This really shows that Hickman can write some solid dialogue scenes or portions and if he could tone it down slightly, this book could become even better than what it already is.
Umm sir? Are you okay? You look a little… silly today.
The art side of things is where things really feel off for me. I noticed it during the second volume in areas, but it wasn’t really as noticeable until this volume. Dragotta’s artwork feels a tad on the weak side as time goes on. The art feels less refined or smooth in areas, becoming sketchier, or even less detailed in areas. It’s most noticeable in #13 during the action and intense sequences. It could be said that the artist is just making the book slightly more stylized to convey movement or brutality differently, but it doesn’t match up with previous bits of action and intensity in this and previous volumes. The inking feels very off as well, with much smoother and thinner lines in some areas, while thicker and messy lines are in others. There was even an art flub with the book, where Chamberlin somehow stabs the President of the Confederacy with a poison needle on the right of the guy, though he’s clearly on the left every single time during the meeting and doesn’t have time to move around. This decrease in attention is even more bizarre when in other portions of the book, the artwork is quite impressive and on the level of skill from the first volume. Perhaps Dragotta was rushed at points with trying to get an issue out, but the results here are disappointing honestly.
Ignoring the negatives, the rest of the artwork for the comic isn’t all that bad. The designs, look, and uniqueness of each character is good overall and helps with differentiating the characters from one another. The emotion and mood conveyed through the characters’ expressions and body language are still pretty great, though there are still problems. Due to the art being off, some of the previous issues I took with the art seem bigger here. There are still a lot of expressions and facial reactions that look derpy and wonky in areas, especially during #13, a lot of characters have the same face (noticeable when Xiaolin’s servants dress her), and some body proportions are way off in areas. The layouts are perfectly fine and flow well, but there are certainly a few areas that lack backgrounds and the detail feels minuscule in areas where there should be. The action is fine, but comes off as stiff and almost goofy at points. For instance, when the Ranger grapples Death to the ground, he is clearly putting his arm around the guy’s shoulder, but the way the art is drawn, it looks like his hand is actually phasing through Death’s entire arm. The coloring though is still good though, so there is that.
Is It Good?
East of West Vol. 3 feels like a few steps forward, but some steps backwards.
The story is heading off in an exciting direction, lots of interesting storylines are happening, and the writing feels much better. However, some of the choices made with the story feel questionable while the artwork feels like it isn’t firing on all cylinders for some reason. I don’t know what exactly is happening with the book, but I hope these problems are sorted out as the comic approaches its next story arc. I would hate to see it start slipping up now.