REVIEW: “East of West #5” Shows the Importance of Characters and Relationships

eastofwest5East of West is one of those titles which takes a while to digest. It has all the trappings of Jonathan Hickman’s storytelling, from spectacular science fiction to extremely high-concept societal narratives threaded throughout.
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All that aside, this issue found me most intrigued by the characters. A common knock on this title to-date has been that its cast is largely opaque, offering very few avenues by which the reader can identify with them. In this issue, that is addressed to a great extent.
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The thing I love most about the way Hickman approaches characterization is that it defies the standard modern convention of laying bare the history of a character at the outset. Instead, he allows us to become familiar with characters through their actions before finally revealing the motivations behind them. This places the reader outside of the typical mindset of the omniscient observer, shifting the perspective just slightly closer to what one would expect from a resident of the world in which the story takes place. While this may be upsetting to some comics readers, who are very used to having the proverbial curtain pulled back on all a character’s innermost thoughts and feelings from the word go (I blame Frank Miller), allowing them to retain a measure of mystique is, in my humble opinion, far more compelling.
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Death has become a particular favorite character of mine over the course of this story. He is interesting enough from the beginning, possessing a wry wit that breaks the otherwise confining tension created throughout his quest. It is the underlying drama that Hickman reveals here which is most fascinating. Death is a character driven not just by the need to fulfill his destined purpose on Earth, but by a deep and abiding sense of guilt and shame. We learn of how his relationship with Xiaolian shaped him, but also how it has influenced the way in which he carries out his duties to destiny.
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Finally, after five issues, it is possible to tell who the central characters of this story are and what motivates them. Surprisingly, the reasons are all intensely personal. Despite the global stakes at play, all the events of the book spin around an interpersonal drama. It’s a terrific commentary on how the hearts of key figures throughout history are really the drivers behind its key turning points.
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For all that I’ve enjoyed this title’s action-packed alternate-history United States and the carnage that seems to permeate every page, it was this issue, with its intense exploration of the relationships between key characters which I enjoyed the most and, for me, stands as the best issue of the series yet.
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Josh Epstein is the Publisher for the Capeless Crusader website. He also hosts the weekly Infinite Crossover podcast in cooperation with Fanboys Inc. He’s a lifelong comic nerd, and “Superman” is the first word he ever read aloud. He is also an actor, singer, and daytime supporter of all things technical. contact: joshuadepstein@gmail.com

Josh Epstein

Josh Epstein is the Publisher for the Capeless Crusader website. He’s a lifelong comic nerd, and “Superman” is the first word he ever read aloud. He is also an actor, singer, and resident of a real-world Smallville.

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