East of West joins an elite club in American comics today. There are few original series that manage to survive for 40 or more issues telling a story filled with original characters and concepts. There are even fewer that manage to end that same story in a satisfactory manner. Reflecting on the robust offerings from Image Comics that made East of West feel like part of a greater moment in the direct market near the start of this decade, the majority of its cohort have concluded early, fell face first across the finish line, or entered seemingly indefinite hiatuses. East of West #45 presents an exception to the rule of muddling or failure, and delivers a finale that is every bit as satisfying as the series’ origins. It is a tremendous accomplishment both as the conceit on a tale exploring modernity and humanity’s greatest flaws, and the rare, satisfying completion of a long-term publication.
The series has spent most of 2019 preparing and delivering its final cycle, counting down the issues, and delivering them on an irregular schedule. That planning on the narrative side and willingness to forego anything resembling a regular schedule sets up the final moments of the series neatly. East of West #45 essentially plays out over four distinct sequences, each addressing at least one essential storyline or idea in need of resolution. Perhaps what’s most surprising is how much it focuses on the personal—showdowns and meetings with only a few characters—over the grandiose. Much of the past year have been filled with epic battles and concerns over what “apocalypse” meant for this alternative vision of America. Yet only one sequence in the finale addresses the sprawling scope of conspiracy-laden nations at war, while the rest is far more concerned with families and individuals.
That focus on individual relationships is purposeful. Even the grandest assembly of characters emphasizes how much these survivors have changed and grown, both individually and together. There is no single uniting ideology that assembles them, but the desperate need to continue working towards a shared future, one defined both by past mistakes and many ideas of what that future could hold. So it only makes sense that the centerpiece of East of West #45 is about the family that seemed irreparably broken in the pages of East of West #1. There are no clear answers on how to assemble society, but people and their bonds can be understood and made accessible, even when wrapped in apocalyptic prophecies and bizarre sci-fi inventions.
More focused character moments provide the thematic core of this conclusion, but they don’t forego the body horror, propulsive action, and genre-filled style that have made East of West a fun read as well as a smart one. Nick Dragotta delivers some of the best splash panels and showdowns of the entire series in these pages, with colorist Frank Martin pushing reds and blacks to make the most violent sequences pop. There’s a shootout that reads as though it was lifted directly from the best of spaghetti westerns and a horrifying battle which might make even John Carpenter cringe. These moments of action offer a necessary counterweight to the gentle notes that end the issue, capturing the intensity that has defined much of the series and making this issue feel every bit as climactic even after the war has ended.
East of West #45 secures the series place in a pantheon of excellent original comics epics. It fulfills the promises of the very first issue, offering readers both a vision of apocalypse and unexpected rays of hope. It is released in a very different period than where it began, but feels all the more essential today, especially as the 2020 presidential race looms large. East of West was a multi-faceted saga and it continues to engage readers on a variety of levels in its finale—providing both tremendous action sequences and consequential reveries on how a fractured society may move forward. At the heart of its complexity, it remains a story about family and the precious bonds formed in the midst of chaos. The dedication, care, and understanding displayed regarding these purposes is clear in each of its final moments and ensure that this series still has a long life ahead of it, long after it provides a deeply satisfying conclusion.
Published by Image Comics
On December 26, 2019
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta
Colors by Frank Martin0comments
Letters by Rus Wooton
Cover by Nick Dragotta