Review: East of West #31 is a Topical Issue 4 Years in The Making
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta
Colors by Frank Martin
Letters by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
Fans may complain, but the truth is that all comics are political. Anything we say or create carries meaning about how we see the world or want it to be. It is an essential truth of art and stories. There's no avoiding that, so it's better to focus on how it can be done well, then pretend it can't or shouldn't be done. East of West #31 is a sterling example of offering a perspective that is relevant and modern, but also one that cooperates with the art to tell a great story.
So much of that balance is struck in how the comic decides it is not just about one thing. It does not handpick a single war, debate, or incident to address, but encompasses a broad scope of significant themes. Readers can and almost certainly will draw connections between what happens in this single heist story and what they see on the news. There's no point where Hickman writes a line that shouts "This is what we're referring to!" or where Dragotta draws an exact replica of something we will all notice. There are analogs, one of which is as striking as it is ballsy, but most of the issue trusts readers to interpret and understand what is happening.
East of West has always been a story about power. Every issue addresses that topic, but few do so with the concision of #31. While readers will recognize characters from the expansive cast, the plot focuses on a small set of new figures who might never appear again. They exist to tell the story of a single moment that will irrevocably shake the status quo. It's a delightful romp unto itself even if you leave the politics of the series and its commentary aside. Hickman and Dragotta set it up as a classic train heist, packed with propulsive imagery of showdowns with guards and men being cast from the sky. It's a great twist on one of the best concepts in the Western genre.
The heist is a means of embodying a generational conflict though. The robbers are the young and those they seek to steal from are the old power structure readers have come to know so well over 30 issues. With very few lines Hickman addresses both their passion and righteous fury, avoiding diatribe in favor of tone. Dragotta sells their belief better than any quips could with ragged smiles, open eyes, and clenched jaws. Whether you walk away looking at this crew as dangerous terrorists or righteous rebels, it's impossible to doubt their commitment.
Even after 4 years of comics, East of West is still able to surprise. It's difficult to guess how long this one issue has been planned, but it feels as though it could have been written just yesterday based on how well it reflects the most important ideas bubbling around us now. That has always been a strength of this story though, as it addresses issues of power, change, and political failure on a continental scale. From that mix has come a single issue that is both rollicking adventure and thoughtful consideration, blending them into a sci-fi epic that really has lost none of its steam from #1.