Welcome back to This American Death, Multiversity’s monthly annotations column on Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta’s “East of West” from Image Comics. I’ll be taking you through each issue of and explaining references, tossing out theories, and keeping track of some of the major events while giving them context. Since I won’t catch nearly everything the book has to offer and have been wrong plenty of times in my life, I’d love to see your thoughts and theories pop up in the comments section below.
Special thanks to the incomparable Tim Daniel for the great banner we’ve been using!
Don’t forget that this article is full of spoilers, so tread lightly and read your copy of the issue before reading.
East of West #14
Looks like I had this theory of mine from “This American Death – East of West #13” confirmed in the opening pages of issue #14. In that column, I wrote:
The second murderer employed a blade to stab The President of the Confederacy to death. Obviously, this was done in the chaos of the explosive event, and both are blamed on Xiaolian, though she committed neither. My money is on Chamberlain. He’s sitting next to the president, after all, and admits that he “understands treachery in politics quite well.” What does Archibald stand to gain from doing this? Well, power in the Confederacy. And isn’t that enough? Just a page earlier, we saw the president and Chamberlain in a minor dispute over how to handle Xiaolian’s declaration of war. It’s also true that the president was not aware of the secret group that formed to conspire to bring about The Message, while Chamberlain is very much a part of that group.
Here we see that, in fact, Chamberlain had a spike on his ring with which to kill the president in secret during all of the commotion. (I love the way Chamberlain’s story parallels his actions in these flashback panels. Truly great sequencing by Dragotta and Hickman.) I should note that Chamberlain speaks of “Appomattox.” I’m not history buff, but Appomattox was one of the last battles of the American Civil War. It was, for all intents and purposes, the battle that directly led to the surrender of the Confederacy.
It also ends up being true that Chamberlain finds himself up for appointment as the new president, his council citing the need for “old steel.” How serendipitous. One interesting parallel I thought of was from the last issue, where Wolf declared that the spirits crossing into the land of the living will be held under the “old laws” of magic. In the chaos and wartime environment of “East of West”, the “old ways” tend to be favored over progress. Sounds like there’s a lesson in there, doesn’t it?
We also finally get to catch up with America’s cutest, most precocious little rascals: the three horsemen of the apocalypse. Now, I’ve watched enough Mad Men to know a parable when I see one. I think that the story about the pilgrims that dug themselves into Armistice only to be brutally killed by Famine feels like foreshadowing of some type. It should be noted that Famine cannot wrap its brain around the idea that a couple of human beings would attempt this – that concept may come back later.
In “East of West” #14, we spend a lot of time with the horsemen as they end up being a huge vehicle for moving all of the myriad plots forward. Take Death, who ends the issue basically at their doorstep, thanks to the keen, uh, sense of smell(?) of the Texas Ranger’s robo-canine. Furthermore, the Endless Nation fires upon Armistice rather than the other warring nations, citing a “black death” acting as a cancer to the world. Quite literally, what Ezra has become looks like some sort of cancerous tumor, growing beneath the surface of the world. Remember that Ezra Orion was specifically raised to be the “agent of the end times” – his sole (soul) purpose to be horrifically grafted to this monster, all in service to “The Message.” Until he, quite literally, devours the Message and becomes one with it. True story: I had a friend who once ate a math test because he scored so poorly on it. It was just as gruesome as this.Continued below
What follows the eating of The Message is a sequence of lines from said Message, showing how Ezra’s downfall mirrors the prophecy in the pages. It speaks of the Word being “consumed”, a “right hand” cut off and a “left hand” to lead, as well as a “temple brought low” – all things that happened on Ezra’s watch over the course of the series. Again, is The Message literal? After all, none of these things happened on their own. Every step of the way “agents” were forcing the actions of the world into following The Message. I’ll not be to specific, in the interest of not wanting to offend anyone, but more arguments can be made for “East of West” and Hickman’s allegory for modern religion and the idea of false prophets and the perils of evangelism. Obviously, it’s taken to an apocalyptic and fantastical extreme here. After all, we can’t even be sure that The Message is being interpreted properly. So on the one hand, The Message was cobbled together from 3 different “transcribers”, is being essentially acted out by agents who are pushing these events forward rather than by some divine or omnipotent force, and isn’t even capable of being interpreted into one concrete meaning. Sounds like the type of thing that nations really do go to war over. *cough*That’s topical.*cough*
Now, I always thought that “time is a flat circle”, but we’ll go with War’s interpretation. The end result is the same, anyway. I found it interesting that the horsemen are clearly trying to re-interpret The Message on a relative whim here. Each of them comes up with an excuse to argue with Ezra over his interpretation – the very thing he was raised to do with his life in the first place. I love to hate how manipulative these guys are, especially as you watch poor Ezra decay in front of them.
Before we go, a word about the Endless Nation and what they’re doing in this issue. They launch the opening salvo of the war (something that causes “War” himself to experience something resembling ecstasy, I guess). I’ll note that the initial salvo was aimed for Texas cities, the domain of Bel Solomon, their new nemesis who as far as they know was responsible for assassinating one of the Endless Nation’s men at the meeting of the seven nations. The leader of the assault ends up changing his mind, speaking of the true “cancer” of the world, and ultimately firing at the location of the horsemen.
When the elder speaks of the “three words” that sprang to life after the fire in the sky, he’s speaking of the three different deliverers of The Message, as seen in “East of West” #1. Once again, The Endless Nation sees this as an age-old lie for mystics and believers of mysticism. The Endless Nation once again rejects the old ways, whether it comes to magic or prophecy. One of the biggest questions in “East of West” moving forward is going to be whether their approach will prove to be the right one. After all, we have seen and can prove that magic does exist in this fiction – Cheveyo and Wolf have both used it with great success – but will it ultimately win out?
Oh, I totally did, Archibald. I totally did.