Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Art by: Nick Dragotta
East of West #15 is a rumination on the power of names, labels, and identity, all wrapped up in the larger narrative of the beautifully, bleak space opera that Hickman and Dragotta have crafted.
One of the best aspects of East of West (and most polarizing) is the way in which the story is told, which is through constantly shifting narrative perspectives. By never settling down consistently on one character, faction, or location, the creative team behind East of West allows the reader to experience this world with fresh, unfamiliar eyes. It treats the reader as an inhabitant, rather than a vessel to assimilate a protagonist behind. While Death does serve as a main character throughout the book, he acts as more of a catalyst and tying force for the larger story rather than a consistent point of view for the reader to embrace.
This issue deals with the emergence of Death’s prepubescent son (now named Babylon) as The Great Beast alluded to throughout the series as he starts to make his first steps into the story as a major, influential force. We follow the three horsemen (War, Famine, and Conquest) as they attempt to kill Babylon before he can make any great strides into fulfilling his role as The Great Beast. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we also follow Death trying to save Babylon before any harm comes to him. The most surprising aspect of this issue is the levity that Babylon has in dispatching his foes and emerging as one of the most powerful characters established in the series. Being attached to a sort of artificial intelligence his entire life, Babylon’s view of life, the concept of names, and what people mean to him are dealt in a cold, calculative way which is combined with a childlike sense of wonder which allows Hickman’s prose to really shine. Some of the best dialogue in the series comes from this issue, specifically when Babylon asks the Artificial Intelligence (now aptly named “Balloon) what he should call himself, taking his moniker from the first city to emerge from the darkness.
Dragotta’s pencil’s remain as detailed and bright as ever. He depicts the umbilical-cord-like apparatus that Babylon is attached to with surgical precision, allowing every bit of background and foreground architecture to shine along with it. The confrontation between Conquest and Babylon remains the highlight of this issue, from both an art and writing perspective. It allows for one of the first true moment of character development for Babylon to shine (this being his pondering on the concept of mercy) and simultaneously allows Dragotta to depict Babylon’s first fight in a visceral, calculated, and beautifully rendered way.
East of West #15 is an incredible part of an even better whole, which is emblematic of the dense and incredible way the series tells it’s story. The last page reveal of how Babylon truly sees the world is harrowing and is enough to keep any dedicated reader around next month.