East of West is the sort of story that generates its own gravity. It proposes an alternate reality of the United States with seven distinct nations, each with multiple leadership roles and internal struggles, all set against a massive conspiracy and apocalyptic prophecy complete with supernatural beings. Like a white dwarf star, it composes an incredible mass of storytelling in a relatively small space and, like that same sort of star, threatens to collapse in upon itself due to the sheer density of its aims. This is what makes East of West #39 such an impressive installment. As the series enters its endgame with so many storylines and characters converging, what was great to begin with remains, and new revelations emerge. To put it simply, this is how you construct an epic comics experience.
As the series' title suggests, this is a story built on contradictions and dichotomies. The opening sequence, one regularly presented in a fashion much like a television cold open, reframes this perspective in reflecting on an early gathering of the conspirators who would make the apocalypse a reality. There are differing points of view and discussions of translation, the malleability of words that allow for more scholarly members to wax poetic. This approach examines the nature of perception upon a story, and it is cast against a much more entertaining source of tension. As characters who take themselves as seriously as possible, many now deceased in embarrassing fashions, make grand statements, they are called by the blunt speech of their peers who bring laughter and anger to their austere surroundings. This flashback provides valuable details and reminders for what is to come. More importantly, it frames the entire issue to come, and focuses the eye on conflicts of tone, perspective, and understanding.
This sort of narrative plays out within all of the scenes in East of West #39. A conversation between Wolf and Crow cuts down the eloquence of the former's words with the latter's friendly chiding. Even in the midst of arriving armies and terrible strife, it provides a valuable reminder of the humanity shaped within these individuals across the past 38 issues. Wolf is still the person readers met in East of West #1, even after his mind has been wrapped in prophecy made flesh. That style of dialogue plays out again and again, with father and son or horsemen of the apocalypse. Words provide the truth that each individual is still an individual with all of the flaws and personality that entails.
Dragotta offers nuance and emotion to these exchanges, an increasingly difficult task as the scenarios become more tense and every actor resists showing a smile or revealing their dismay. What is every bit as impressive is how an issue so focused on rising action manages to still read with the tension of an ongoing war. The mere vision of a marching army through binoculars will make some invested reader's stomachs drop. When violence does erupt, it is with the cutting line work and densely plotted panels that have always made it an uncomfortable joy to witness in this series. Like everything else in this return to the series after a six-month hiatus, Dragotta's artwork is every bit as excellent as precedent suggests.
As East of West begins to write its ending, with only seven issues remaining, it is clear that the series is as strong as it ever was. Even after so many years of intensive worldbuilding and overlapping webs of characters, the story has never lost track of the style and approach that made it great from the start. The confidence in each maneuver, small or large, is apparent and there is never a wasted page. From grin-inducing banner to cataclysmic confrontations, every piece of this puzzle is falling into place. It almost reads like prophecy that what comes next will be a truly epic experience.
Published by Image Comics
On October 17, 2018
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta
Colors by Frank Martin
Letters by Rus Wooton