As the first blog post solely on the store’s website, I thought I’d post about something I haven’t really touched on over the past year: even though Imaginary Wars is a comic and games store, I have yet to mention comics in a blog post.
So that’s what I’m doing today.
I was originally going to title today’s blog post “The Stories That Really Matter” –a nod to Sam Gamgee in Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers movie. But when it comes to comics books that inspire me, I tend to choose the books that don’t quite hit the limelight. Not that a comic’s legitimacy should be measured by its mass appeal, but still …I feel like I could be courting the potential to come off as pretentious.
Anyways, enough of that. I’ve been meaning to write about East of West, a new series by Image Comics. And by new, I mean it’s been running for five months now (so it’s not new); however we’re on the cusp of the release date for the first trade paperback, so now is the second-best time to dedicate a blog post to this amazing comic.
If you want issue-by-issue reviews of the book, there are plenty out there; so I won’t be spending lots of time going through the minutia of the individual issues. However, considering how rich and deep the setting of the comic and the themes involved are, I might be better off focusing on each issue individually rather than trying to sum up the series as a whole.
If you read many reviews of the books, what you’ll notice is the reviewers using words and phrases like ambitious, biblical and world-building. A few even mention how the scope of the book feels beyond them. (And some mark the book as a failure in story telling due to its many elements and plot intricacies—to which I point to comics like Watchmen’s multiple plots and proclaim said reviewers as being completely wrong).
Truth be told, I never got the sense the series was very biblical (well…except perhaps in the scope of events that transpire during these first issues). However, I guess with the main character being one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse, it should come as no surprise that some people are attaching the word biblical to this comic book. That aside, I do completely agree with the reviewers who call East of West ambitious –the world created and the plot strings latticing themselves throughout that landscape are nothing short of ambitious.
East of West is a dystopian-future story that I would argue is impossible to pigeonhole. Whenever I try to describe it to the uninitiated, I end up saying it’s something like:
“A sci-fi western set in the far-ish future (with moments that have a very anime vibe in the same vein as Akira) where the United States is a very different place due to magic being the factor that had the American Civil War result quite differently. In the story, Death, one of horsemen of the Apocalypse has returned from the beyond to find his siblings (the three other horsemen of the Apocalypse) and exact his revenge on them for double-crossing him.”
Certainly after re-reading my preamble, it’s easy to understand why every reviewer says the series is ambitious. I’m not sure that’s the best way to describe the series, but it does give one the sense of the breadth and depth of the worked that its writer, Jonathan Hickman, has created. And created he has: because this is an Image comic book, it inherits the same challenge every Image title has: Image has no set pantheon or backdrop for books to exist in, so it’s up to the author to completely create the world and universe of the title he’s creating, which Hickman has done masterfully.
What has cemented my interest in the book is how by issue three, the book’s plot morphed into something you didn’t quite expect …and then did so again in issue five. Now, these are the hard right-hand turns that get done in other comics and used as a curve ball or a ‘gotcha!’ on the readers (the book, Hell Yeah, does that).
With all the myriad plot strings in the series, it would be easy to criticize and accuse it of lacking focus. Personally, I don’t think this is the case. Remember this is Jonathan Hickman writing the series; if you haven’t heard of him, all you need to know is that he did a thirty-issue story arc for Fantastic Four (in this day and age when no one writes any arcs larger than six issues…perhaps twelve issues) that had hooks introduced early on that weren’t resolved until near the end of the epic arc.
I like East of West. A lot. But, working at the store, what I’ve noticed is everyone who picks up issue number one picks up number two. East of West is the store’s fastest-growing title right now. What’s more, the vast majority of people who buy number two stay with the series. There’s something in its core that touches a nerve and keeps its readers coming back for each issue, even though the first issue feels very much like you’ve been thrown into the deep end of the pool.
I think it’s this accessibility coupled with a layered, organic, multi-faceted story set in a complex world with its rich history sitting just below the surface that makes me feel like it’s a story that really matters, to quote Sam Gamgee.