Friday, July 24, 2015

East of West

Creating a "Weird West" setting runs headlong into what I call "the Deadlands Problem." That is, the conventions that constitute the Weird West are already largely set: the discovery of a fantastical substance the powers uncanny technology, gunslingers returned from the grave to seek vengeance, the Ghost Dance was a real and powerful rite, something-something Civil War, the end is nigh, etc. The low-hanging fruit of the Weird West has already been picked and packaged as the expected tropes that come with mixing westerns with fantasy and horror. This is especially true in comics and gaming; too few creators really stray beyond the territory already marked out by Deadlands.

East of West, however, feels startlingly fresh. The comic mixes western, science fiction, and horror-fantasy ideas; it's drawing from the usual set of inspirations, but the end result is weirder and more inventive than the stereotypical sum of those parts. 

East of West is set in an America divided into seven nations: Armistice (a land of strange pilgrims), The Union, The Confederacy, the Kingdom (a nation of black freemen), the Endless Nation (the nation of the united native peoples), the Republic of Texas, and the PRA of Mao (a nation of Chinese immigrants). Unknown to most, there is a wide-reaching conspiracy afoot; each nation is represented by a member of the Chosen who seeks to foster and bring about an obscure prophecy known only as the Message. At its heart, the Message is apocalyptic; though cryptic, it spells out the end of days.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are real in the world of East of West, and three of them wish to further the Message. The Horsemen's aim of fulfilling the Message's prophecy is derailed when Death falls in love with a young woman named Xiaoling who is in line to take control of the PRA of Mao; they have a child, who is late has been taken by the remaining Horsemen and raised within a computer-generated virtual world to be the Great Beast who will usher in the apocalypse. Understandably, Death is none too pleased with this plan for his son and currently searches for his lost child--a quest that puts everyone and everything in harm's way.

While Death searches for his son, the world is falling to pieces. Political instability, arms races and technological advancement, assassination, war, manufactured debt crises, and more rise to make the world ripe for the apocalypse. Amidst it all, Death's son emerges as the most terrifying tool of destruction.

East of West is one of the most interesting comics being published at the moment. If a different take on the Weird West is at all appealing to you, definitely give it a try. I found the first volume a little slow, but was definitely hooked by the second collected edition. And now, the customary image dump: