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!
Keep in mind that we’ll be spoiling every issue, because I’m going to assume you’ve already read the issues. Why else would you be reading an annotations column on “East of West”?
This month, Kid Apocalypse comes to “East of West”, Death has a heart-to-heart and we see his weakness (to quote Morrissey: “I am human and I need to be loved – just like everybody else does.”), and Bel Solomon and Archibald Chamberlain have a little good-time Southern folk bro-time (not really):
East of West #5
Page 2, Panel 1:
“I’ve never been here before.”
Neither have we. And what lives in the “Lair of the Beast” is something that potentially blows the series wide open. We find that this lair houses the means to bring about the apocalypse as dictated by “The Message.” The interesting part is that this “Beast” is the child of Death and Xiaolian, making my early theory that the “chalice of a chalice” in “The Message” represented a child that Xiaolian was carrying. This was based on the Wiccan symbolic interpretation of a “chalice.” Wherever the Message came from (and it probably wasn’t Wicca), “East of West” has looked to combine many aspects of politics, history, and religion to create a version of America that is not exactly familiar to us, but is founded on a lot of the same belief systems and lore. I put that baby theory on hold in my column for issue #3, but I think I still get to chalk this one up in my win column, right?
Page 15, Panel 2
Death was called away from Xiaolian – apparently in an effort to keep him at a distance while the other horsemen (and Xiaolian’s sister) came for their son. They took her hands, presumably as some sort of horrible symbolic act, but also because she was a Death Dealer – reliant on her hands for the brutal things she had been raised to do. When she says they “took her name”, she no doubt means that they took away the thing that she defined herself by. And when Death was not there to protect her and her son, she no doubt feels that everything was taken from her.
Page 20, Panel 1
Let’s get to know the “Beast of the Apocalypse”, shall we?
The “Cheowee poet” has no immediately identifiable real-life analogue that I can think of or find, but there are a few interesting things about this panel. Jonathan Hickman is from South Carolina – home to the Cheowee Dam and the Cheowee people (a Cherokee Native American tribe from the area). While Native American culture is rich and vast, their contributions to art and culture are, regrettably, not well-covered in schools. At least not in the midwestern American public schools that I kicked around in. They are also not very prominently covered in American media or pop culture. The child’s immediate knowledge of the quote, as well as his intellectual interpretation of it, represents the depth of his knowledge, as well as perhaps the vastly increased influence of a Native American people that still seems to possess a large “segment” of the 7 Nations.
Page 20, Panel 2
Politics Lesson Time, Students!
A “Meritocracy” is a political form of Darwinism, wherein those who excel in intellectual and other relevant talents are given the power. If the Beast believes that mankind desires conflict, then a meritocracy no doubt establishes some sort of internal competition. At the same time, the Beast would certainly support a system that places the most value on his talents. He’s been developed to be some sort of wunderkind, at this point, and would no doubt rise to the top of a meritocracy.Continued below
An “Oligarchy”, in my opinion, is what we see with the current version of the 7 Nations. A small group of rulers hold the power over America. The supposition is that they each rule their individual states, however, we see them come together and we already know that they are making the decisions for what will ultimately be the fate of the world from within the shadows.
“Autonomy” is a self-government of the people, which the Beast describes as “opportunity” – an interesting choice of words. I imagine the Beast seeing this as “an opportunity” for the people to prove themselves. It’s a lofty ideal, and without knowing much about his personality (or lack thereof), I believe that he is answering the question in a purely hypothetical sense. Society places this lower on their scale of political preference, because it’s such a disorganized and complex ideal.
It is fascinating, to me, that the Beast defines “Liberal Democracy” as “freedom” – and that he believes that society places the least importance in this structure. Given that America, in our own current reality, is a democracy – the implications of this are strong. One of the things that classically defines America is the “freedom” of her people (and I’m only using the pronoun “her” semi-ironically). There is an ever-present dialogue going on as to whether what we have right now is the best thing for us. I have no horse in that debate, but it’s interesting to see the Beast place that last in the ranks of what he feels society prefers.
Let me take a short opportunity to reveal what I think (or hope) is a possible theme of the story. In American storytelling – most notably comic books – the fate of the entire world almost always rests on America. Here in “East of West”, there are 7 members of “The Chosen” and 4 horsemen that all seem to be entirely rooted in America. They run the country and they ultimately are controlling the fate of the world from their thrones in America. “The Message” came from America, yet it is an edict for the entire world. I hope (and suspect) that Hickman will play around with this concept going forward. “East of West” is a comic that is very much an amalgamation of many aspects of America. Perhaps it can also take on the idea of the American comic book that continues to put its country at the center of world catastrophes. After all, why do these 7 get to move the chess pieces toward annihilation? And why did “The Message” come to the various leaders of America?
Page 20, Panel 3
This panel is the most interesting to me, however. Does he choose his own prose via some ego that he has developed in his incubation? Or does he legitimately find it to be his favorite piece of prose? No doubt he has read a large amount of literature. He has perhaps digested whole libraries by now. Yet he chooses his own writings. Any thoughts on that one, folks?
Let’s dive in to what it might mean. “He spun against the axis of the world. His desire. His inertia.” In other words, he’s playing by his own rules. He is his own man. “Unless held up by an unseen hand, he would spin forever…and so he did.” If there were nothing to stop him, and unless something or someone else is controlling or guiding him, he would continue to spin against the world’s whim forever. Is this what he desires for himself? Does he see the hands that are guiding him toward apocalypse? Is he the unseen hand? Is he the one spinning against the axis of the world – delaying the inevitable? If he could spin against it forever, would he? Has he read Rick Remender’s “Uncanny X-Force”?