East of West #19

by Kalem Lalonde on May 12, 2015

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragotta

East of West had an amazing first year and holds a special place in my heart. It was the first comic I reviewed for comicsthegathering.com and the first indie title I ever read. There’s something about Hickman’s writing that clicks with me. His imagination, his wisdom, his characterizations and his high-scale drama all seem to mesh into stories that instantly compel me. In 2015, Dying and the Dead has been my favourite Hickman comic but East of West still remains his most creative story and my personal favourite. East of West #19 is a unique issue for this series that focuses on Babylon working with his character in veritably haunting ways. I was not expecting this type of issue going into East of West #19 and that’s why it works so well.

A great aspect of East of West’s second year has been the surprising amount of focus. Hickman used the first issue to establish the grand scale of the ongoing war and later issues focused on character. The last two issues have been centred on Babylon and the fact that Hickman has been taking so much time to develop his character is incredible. The Game of Thrones way of following a bunch of different characters is great at conveying the epicness and diversity of this series but Hickman shines when he focuses on characters that he writes so well, like Babylon.

This issue is, in essence, the beginning of Babylon’s road to becoming the great beast he’s been build up to be. Babylon has always been a bit of an unsettling character, in concept and execution. He’s portrayed as an innocent child that is going to become a great destroyer and when he shows his animalistic characteristics, he can be downright frightening. This issue emphasizes that as his balloon has been installed with a new program that instructs him to challenge Babylon in various ways. This issue’s challenge is about survival and the way that Hickman develops this subject through the eyes of this innocent boy is flabbergasting and even a tad depressing. This is the type of character work that East of West needs more of.  

Nick Dragotta has taken a large role in the quality of this comic and continues to do so. He always conveys the grand scale of Hickman’s scripts with ease but this issue proves that he can also incredibly handle the smaller content. Dragotta perfectly captures the essence of the character Babylon by finding a perfect balance between innocence and ferocity in his design and expressions. However, where Dragotta shines most is the most shocking scene of this issue. The scene would’ve been amazing on its own but Dragotta unique take on it made brought it to new heights. This issue is an artistic high for East of West and that’s hard for a series that has upheld such astounding quality.

East of West is a comic of epic proportions told through a diverse and vast cast of characters. The beauty of this issue is that, on its own, it’s a relatively small and unsettling story about the brainwashing of an innocent boy. But it simultaneously adds so much to the scale of Hickman’s ongoing narrative as well. East of West #19 is the beginning of a curious and endearing boy’s unnerving descend into sadism that will frighten you with its compelling and thoughtful character development. Hickman may be slowing the story down, but if we continue to get issues such as these, I’ll welcome the pacing with open arms. 

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