Category Archives: East of West

Sidekicks: Raven and Wolf

Death with the Four and Raven and Wolf.

Death with the Four and Raven and Wolf.

Ben’s Grim CornerSIDEKICKS: PART 2

There are a lot of heroes in the comic world where, once you’ve read an issue or two, you can see the sidekick in the works. You know the ones I’m talking about, blathering on to themselves about justice and the righteous path and yadda yadda. After the fourth monologue that should have clearly been internal, it’s apparent that Chatty McGee needs a sympathetic ear – preferably in matching colours and able to deliver one-liners that are just lame enough that it makes their fearless leader look cool.

The list is exhaustive, and the names to go with them are … well, frankly, terrible.

Batman and Robin: While arguably the coolest – and most dynamic, in case you didn’t hear – duo out there, being named after a bird whose only claim to fame is waking early to eat worms isn’t exactly striking fear into my heart.

Aquaman and Aqualad: No comment necessary. Proceed directly to boisterous laughter.

Archie and Jughead: Sadly, I think in this case the sidekick is cooler than the hero – and I use that term more loosely than Archie’s commitments to either of the skanks he spends his time with.

Alright, that’s enough digging into the classics. My point is that some heroes are just made for a sidekick. They go together like peanut butter and jam, mutants and Sentinels, evil scientists and death rays.

But sometimes, a hero comes along that is plainly made for the solitary life. It’s the kind of character that never gets caught with their pants down, always gets the job done with grace and seeming ease and, most importantly, keeps their damn trap shut. Let’s face it – it’s hard to have a sidekick if you have nothing to say. It kind of defeats the purpose for having all that company en route to smiting evil. Nightwing (ironically), Spawn, Hawkeye, and Captain Marvel are perfect examples of this; while they might not have much in common – and some have been members of various superteams – even when working with others, they each walk the path of the solo superpower.

That’s what makes our current feature so interesting. Hailing from the year-old bestseller East Of West, this protagonist is notorious for working alone. After all, when have you ever heard of someone working together with Death?

Yeah. The Death. I’m sure you’ve heard of him.

And yet, in the dystopian world of Apocalyptic America, Death doesn’t ride alone. No, I’m not talking about his three friends from that famous book at the back of the Bible – in East Of West, those guys are at odds with our pale friend. This time, I’m talking about his two new friends: Raven and Wolf.

Not much is known about the two monochromatic lovers; they follow Death for their own purposes; perhaps that purpose is shared, perhaps not. One thing, however, is certain: the only thing more terrifying than facing Death atop his lethal steed is to face him with a pack of wolves at his feet and a flock of ravens screaming for blood.

It’s not just their ability to assist Death in his primary function that sets them apart, however. While their story is largely unknown – both are members of the cryptic Endless Nation, each is individually a force of great magic with the ability to manifest themselves into the forms of their namesakes, and both seem to have a lot of history together, even before becoming Death’s entourage – they maintain a gravitas all their own. Their shadowy, silent entrance at the beginning of the series engenders a sort of servitude to Death, like this is not a relationship of convenience as much as a debt to be paid. Then, as the story progresses, they begin to fill in the silence – which, for the brooding Horseman they follow, is long and rarely interrupted. Now, on issue 11, you can see that this is not just a tale being told about the world at the end of days, nor is it the epic of a being who, born for the purpose of destruction, has a change of heart. This story is also about Death’s companions, two mystical enigmas with as much at stake as their leader.

To me, that’s the essence of a sidekick. It’s not someone who laughs at your jokes, takes your beatings or listens to your boring tirades about the latest supervillain; it’s someone with their own life and their own motivations who has chosen to share the road with you for a time.

Even if that road leads to Armageddon.

More sidekickery abounds, Extremites.

-Benjammin’

 

Raven and Wolf can be found in all eleven issues of Image Comics‘ ongoing series East Of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta.

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The End Begins: Image’s East Of West

Ben’s Grim Corner

By: Benjamin Cook

_end-of-the-world_2433119bWell folks, we’re coming up on a very important anniversary. Most of you won’t even know what I’m talking about, which is pretty ironic considering the inundation of bullshit that was thrown at us for about twenty years regarding the Mayan long calendar. That just goes to show what effect time can have on us: leading up to a major event, it’s all we can think of – but when it’s all over, it’s just a memory, one that gets lost in the shuffle of birthdays, graduations, job interviews, weddings and holidays.

So just to remind all y’all who’ve forgotten, it’s been almost a year since December 21st, 2012.

It’s funny to think about how irrelevant the day seems now, isn’t it? It was the biggest deal, the sword of Damocles hanging over the world for the first decade and a bit of the 21st century. Now, it’s just as insignificant as Y2K.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think the Mayans had a good handle on things: they were able to completely map out the wobble of Earth’s axis over a massive span of time with near-impossible accuracy. That’s right, folks – Dec. 21st, 2012 was actually important … just not for us. It signified the end of something called the Procession of the Equinox, which is a fancy term for the way the Earth spins a little awkwardly, showing us different constellations as our sky is occupied by different sections of space, all at the speed of a snail crawling uphill through frozen molasses. Right now, the stars we’re gazing at from our various homes across this little ball of dirt are once again the same stars that our ancestors were staring at over twelve thousand years ago.

That’s one hell of a mind trip.

Still, deep down, I was kinda hoping that something would happen. Wouldn’t it have been sweet to see a little fire and brimstone, fight off some zombies or evil forces, maybe have a good chat with the Almighty and get a feel for how the world got so screwed up? I was certainly the guy in my circle of friends who was laughing at the possibility of an impromptu Armageddon, but … it would’ve been kind of awesome.

And I know I’m not alone in that feeling.

eastofwest1658Thankfully, I and my apocalypse-loving companions can indulge our fantasies elsewhere, thanks to writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta’s newest work: East Of West.

This isn’t just demons and zombies, people. This isn’t people struggling in a wasteland. This isn’t a war for resources like Mad Max.

Well, maybe there’s a little Mad Max.

Still, this isn’t like most stories about the end of the world, where you see everything after all the heavy shit’s over with. With East of West, you’re watching it unfold … but not the way you expect.

The story starts with the American Civil War. Instead of Lincoln wiping the floor with the Confederates, issue one witnesses the emergence of a new movement in America, heralded by a cosmic strike in the midst of the conflict. Apparently, when a comet lands in the middle of your country it’s usually a sign to renegotiate. Thus, history shifted that day, producing a new America with lines drawn very differently for each faction.

From there, we are propelled forward to 2064, where America is now split into eight territories, each ruled by its own leader and governed by its own politics. I won’t go into extensive detail here, since you should really read it, but suffice it to say that science is not the only force to be reckoned with in this alternate America. The Confederates, Democrats, First Nations, and various other groups are all represented, each with their own unique style.

But beneath the intrigue and backroom deals, there is the Message. It seems that whatever landed in the 1860’s inspired writers of various backgrounds to write apocalyptic prophecies heralding the arrival of four individuals who I’m certain we’re all familiar with.

I’ll give you a hint: they’re all known for riding horses.

Ah, but there’s a bit of a twist here, for as they make their arrival at the very place the comet landed two centuries before – a place now known as Armistice – there’s one unaccounted for. Death seems to have skipped the family reunion, and none of them know where he is. All they know is that there’s no time to waste when your job is to destroy the world.

Now, I can already hear your objections: “Another comic about the end of the world? Booooring.”

rev131703splThis isn’t your average Apocalypse, folks. In East of West, you find three horsemen who are so removed from humanity that they’re actually believable. Thereis a bickering political landscape that is reminiscent of today’s daily news, with just enough advanced tech and strange clothing to spin it as futuristic. There is a noble, almost altruistic horseman of Death who redefines the character in a way that finds you cheering on a guy you never wanted to root for. There’s magic intertwined with advanced technology, neither gaining an upper hand over the other. There’s even an apocalyptic priesthood who are as bumbling and unprepared as they are zealous. It’s the kind of Armageddon that almost makes you feel sorry for the bad guys.

For me, though, what makes this comic essential reading is the art. Dragotta is impressive in his rendering of the world just before its end, all of it somehow wrapped in a Wild West-esque environment that would make Clint Eastwood and John Wayne feel right at home (that was the Mad Max part I was talking about).

The cityscapes, technology and elements of mysticism are imagined in ways I’ve never seen as well: Death’s cyber-horse, his companion’s shape-shifting forms, even the tower of Armistice itself forced me to tie my jaw closed until I was finished reading the latest issue.

Beyond that, Frank Martin’s colouring blew my mind. It’s one of those comics where the colour doesn’t just enhance the background – it enhances the story. Each of the Horsemen is tinted in a way that simultaneously separates and unifies them. The blood stands out starkly against the dusky backgrounds of the American desert, even as Death’s monochromatic partners spill more and more. It’s the kind of work that puts this comic above its companions in the Wild-West-Apocalypse-shooting-laser-cannons-at-armies-of-cultists genre.

Add to that the smart, punchy writing and twisty plotline that Hickman provides, and this is a comic that is already showing significant promise after seven issues, and I’m sure will show its superiority before this second story arc completes its cycle.

We’re all a little morbidly curious – deep down, we all yearn to see the end, if only for a moment before we fade away. For some of us, it’s just a passing fancy, replaced quickly with less depressing possibilities. But for others like myself, that curiosity is an itch that we can never stop scratching. If you are one of those in a constant search for Armageddon, just head a little East of West and you’ll find what you’re looking for.

Until next week.

-Benjammin’

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