East Of West #45 Review

by Jay Hill on December 26, 2019

Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Art by: Nick Dragotta
Colors by: Frank Martin
Lettered by: Rus Wooton
Published by: Image Comics

It’s the end of the world as we know it. It took over 6 years to get here, but here we are. To view this culminating issue for its full worth, we must first look back. From issue #1 when the Horsemen broke from beneath the earth and Death first embarked on his journey, the path was leading them to this. The will of the three versus the will of the one. Whoever is the last to survive will decide the course of all life on Earth. Around those four, a cast of players tried to help and/or hinder their plans. Nations rose and fell for forty issues, but it was this last arc where all chips were on the table and it was clear the true end was near.

In this issue, #45, the sun sets on the story of East of West. All the elements wrap around to create an issue full of payoff. The two showdowns, acts 1 & 2 of this double-sized comic, have been brewing for years. The first is a gunslinger duel between two characters that are almost complete opposites. One is a symbol of upstanding and unbiased justice, the other has been the catalyst for chaos since the beginning of the series and has shown he is an immoral man of cunning, cruelty, and cowardice. Johnathan Hickman uses this scene to encapsulate the "war of ideologies" theme that this series has used. Hickman has utilized these scenes to write some of the best dialogue to ever find its way into a comic. In earlier issues, scenes have depicted Nation versus Nation, the Chosen versus the nonbelievers, and the powerful versus the powerless. In this scene, it is distilled to man versus man. One of them, the greatest politician alive, with the bloodiest hands and the other with a sworn vow to bring righteousness wherever he finds injustice. No need for tumbleweeds or whistling wind to make the tension clear. There was no doubt that one of them had to die. 

Nick Dragotta draws the opening page with a detailed and expressive shot showing their face-off while Frank Martin's colors capture the falling dusk. The next page, a full-page scene, shows the brilliant cinematography shown by Dragotta throughout the series; this issue is filled with some of the best full-page shots of the series. The next series of pages have a great layout to play up Hickman’s dialogue. There are exceptional close-ups by Dragotta and backgrounds by Martin. Rus Wooton’s excellence at lettering is also on display on these pages; he positions the word bubbles perfectly to obscure as little of the art as possible while keeping it intuitively readable and clear. As the scene reaches its climactic shoot-out, the use of words like “pow” and (a classic/staple of EoW) “blam” drive home the impact of the altercation. The last panel of the loser of the dual has some fantastic coloring and expressive illustrating to drive home the humanity of this character that has acted so invincible throughout the series. When the fighting’s finished and the last “blam” covers the page, we get the first glimpse of the overarching feeling of finality in this issue. But that finality, as we’ll see more of later, has a ring of hope.

Act 2 is another showdown of finality. The Horsemen meet in the Valley of the Gods where it once ended, to end it once more. Dragotta & Martin open it with a breathtaking full-page of Death on his mount, the Oracle behind him, and a great landscape in the distance. Hickman writes this scene with a feeling of vengeance, but also one of redemption. All four Horsemen want revenge, but Death also wants to be redeemed. If he saves his son, he saves the world, fulfills his promise to his wife, and atones for his sins. Like the first dual in this issue, it feels like a Western; a lone gunfighter with a checkered past, trying to save the kid, and do one last good deed. But it has another filmic connection, if you change his gun into a sword he becomes the lone samurai. And, like a samurai sword fight, this battle is executed with quick bursts of action. This is a blood feud. It isn’t just about the action, it’s about the emotional and thematic significance. When the Horsemen rage, it is felt because of their history. Dragotta draws each Horseman, at least once, with their emotions blaring. Martin colors the bodies with a palpable depth. And, Hickman writes it with dialogue operating on operatic levels. It's filled with moments to make you inhale deep in anxiety and exhale with a sense of relief. I’ve called this latest arc “symphonic” before, but this is the crescendo. This is when, in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the cannons would be firing.

The third and final part of this issue shows what is left after the dust settles. It is framed by Mao, the motherly heart of the story. We see her after she was in a battle where she fought that heart out and walked away with, literally, only her life. Her speech about "losing everything" is a feeling shared by many other characters, alive and dead. But, in this scene, we are shown that the sun always sets to rise again. We see the remaining leaders of the remaining Nations gathering after the world as we know it has ended. This is where the issue may subvert the expectations of the “end”. We see the end of one character, in a poetic scene that shows time passing as a way to express the grief of loss and the act of having to move on. Just like Mao’s speech spoke for multiple others, this one character losing a loved one shows how the entire world of East of West will have to deal with the beginning after the end. The close of the issue, and series, is a reunion where it’s shown that it is time to open our eyes and see the hope in the world. With these two characters and the Nations united, maybe they'll finally be able to put the world back together.

“This is the world. It’s not the one we were supposed to have, but it’s the one we made.” When those words first appeared on the cover of an East of West comic, they seemed to condemn the living hell the inhabitants of the comic had found themselves in. And, throughout the 6 years of the comic's run, it seemed that those words were getting closer to becoming a prophecy of our own reality. But, like it’s shown by the close of this issue, and like I believe in real life: It’s always darkest before the dawn, and the dawn eventually comes. This issue isn’t just a perfect closer to an outstanding series, it’s the perfect opener for the next decade. It has all the style you could want from a comic and even more substance. East of West #45 is the last chapter of a comic book world and it makes that world anew. Beautiful and enriching, if I could give this an 11/10, I would.

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