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 we get to know the ultimate sweetheart of “East of West”: Antonia Levay
East of West #8
J.Lo wore it better
So, this issue was pretty much a starring vehicle for Antonia Levay, a member of the chosen who we’ve seen teased as a potential bigger bad. And while this issue featured a variety of cruel acts committed on the part of Levay – perhaps none were more grievous than that cleavage. Remember that I made the connection to the real life historical figure “Anton Levay” – a well-known Satanist from years past. No more overt connections are present here, but the wordplay of the names certainly serves to identify her as sinister.
“Chaos reigns” has become a meme thanks to Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” (which is a real hedonistic trip of a movie, if you’re into that sort of thing). However, its literal meaning is obviously quite serious and potentially grave. Here, it evokes an American that has fallen apart due to the widening of the economic and social gaps. I sometimes wonder if Hickman does intend for slight nods to these memes, as he does have a strange sense of humor. It would be speculative of me to say for sure, but he’s done this sort of thing before. The earliest use of “chaos reigns” that I can find in the popular vernacular is from the poet/writer John Milton – famous for Paradise lost (which is certainly an interesting connection, as that work concerns the fall of man), but “chaos reigns” is actually from Comus another of his works that seems less serendipitous when compared to “East of West.”
We’re all pretty good at reading comics by now, right? You had this little bit picked out as obvious foreshadowing, right? But to what end? Sometimes when there is a sub-big bad there are a couple of options. Either the bad person can become good, or, what I think is more likely in this case, is that Antonia Levay will become a victim of circumstance. She will certainly not be innocent, or even sympathetic, but she will be used by the bigger bad for their own means to an end and then will most certainly be discarded. Note that the Four, er, Three Horsemen call her an agent of the end times. Agents are often, as Sly Stallone will tell you, very expendable.
I wasn’t able to directly correlate this speech with any real political speech in history, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this was word-for-word something that some presidential candidate said once. Antonia Levay is performing some classic politician tactics here, telling her citizens that things will better one day while simultaneously clamping down harder on them. A lot of this issue had to do with the price of freedom, what freedom really is, and whether anyone really has it at all. Hickman does a really great job of using Levay to stick to this theme and explore it from a variety of angles. We see Levay trade herself to the Message itself for what she perceives as “power” and “freedom”, but I think we all know that she’s not really free either. She’ll feel oppression from the Horsemen someday – it’s a near certainty.Continued below
Remember that in an early column, I noted the variety of names that Death has been called in “East of West”? Well, here is a new one. “Quietus.” Merriam-Webster defines Quietus as a “final settlement” (of a debt) or, quite literally, “death.” This is interesting because, as most things in this story, it works on multiple levels. “Death” is the obvious literal definition, but remember that Death was warned of a debt that he would have to pay to talk to this oracle. “East of West” deals in death, debts, and uneasy alliances – this is just another extension of that. Perhaps Death’s presence before the oracle signifies also the final “quietus” of this aforementioned debt between the two of them. We still, however, do not know what that debt is yet.
Now, anyone could have looked up “Quietus” in the dictionary, but I have another cool reference to bring up. The term “Quietus” was also used in Children of Men (both the book and the film – and both are highly recommended by yours truly). In the book, “Quietus” referred to a formal mass drowning event. Remember too that Children of Men is a near-future apocalyptic tale of government oppression. If you’re a fan of “East of West”, Children of Men might be right up your alley too.