‘East of West’ #1 And ‘Fatale’ #13: Two Weird Westerns From Image Comics On Sale This Week
On sale now from Image are two new comics that see some of our favorite creators apply their very distinct styles to the old west. In the case East of West #1, writer Jonathan Hickman (FF, The Manhattan Projects) reunites with his Fantastic Four collaborator Nick Dragotta (Vengeance) to create an old west that’s somehow neither old nor necessarily west, but an alternate history of an electronic American frontier on the brink of a supernatural apocalypse. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Fatale #13 is as indelibly those guys as East of West is Hickman, telling the done-in-one story of a woman cursed with unholy influence over men running for her life in an old west that’s as deadly as it is beautiful, with a secret evil hiding just out of view. In both cases, the creative teams employ the western to ends that are as emotionally rich as they are entertaining.
In East of West, a celestial event brings the American Civil War to a close that’s markedly different from what occurred in our history. The details play out in issue #1, resulting in what’s known as the Seven Nations of America. Cut to 2064. World culture and technology has progressed in such a way that allows for Nick Dragotta and Frank Martin to create lots of cool looking stuff like four-legged robotic steeds and scary, violent dudes wearing badass dystopian fashions.
Superficially the book delivers what Hickman fans have come to expect from the prolific writer/designer — there’s ancient prophecies, there’s warring kingdoms, there’s mysterious future-tech, and there’s the characteristically slick iconography — but what’s harder to describe about this 40-page inaugural issue is the sense of doom that pervades every panel. It’s one thing to throw in a reference to Famine, War, Conquest and Death, but it’s another to see the horsemen of the apocalypse claw their way out of the ground in a mess of bones, guts and
metal, take off across techno-tinged plains with a course set for the for the White House (or White Tower), all because of some assuredly nasty thing that apparently traces all the way back to the bloodiest days in American history.
These are the kinds of big, mythical concepts that Hickman likes to play with in a lot of his work, and he’s known to plot his epic adventure stories with the precision of a scientist. But the inherent wildness of the western, the danger and dread that is built into this genre, have given him and Dragotta a dramatic filter that makes East of West #1 the writer’s most visceral first issue yet.
The latest in a long run of collaborations between writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips, Fatale imagines a world where the concept of the femme fetale, all but a force of nature in noir fiction, is just that — a force of nature. Or at least, a force of supernature. The mains series follows the trials of Josephine, an impossibly beautiful woman who wields a seemingly magical but definitely dangerous power over men, and who does not seem to age despite operating as far back as the 1930s. True to the series’ name, the results tend to be pretty grave for the gentlemen in question.
Issue #13 is a standalone tale that spotlights “Black Bonnie,” another woman in the same infernal condition as Josephine, but not always in full control of her power, and not living in as hospitable a time for women. The old west was a difficult place for a powerful woman to hide, and over time Bonnie made enemies of seemingly everyone, and it looks as if her freedom has come to an end when in 1883, Bonnie is set upon by a Native American manhunter over whom she has no special power. But when her captor takes Bonnie — who’s at least 60 years old at this point — to a cantankerous old medicine man, she’s thrust into a bloody fight with occultists that reveals more about the secrets of Fatale.
The old west setting gives Brubaker the opportunity to flip the script, giving his titular femme fatale the protagonist role. In doing so, he also flips the script on the western, a literary genre that’s not exactly brimming over with women heroes. With Bonnie in the narrative driver’s seat, Brubaker explores how the old west itself bears down on her like a vulture. For their part, Phillips and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser take a break from their usual work with cities, bedrooms and bars and create some scenic vistas, violent horseplay and old timey “Cowboys and Indians.” The world they depict is at once beautiful and harsh, where wide open spaces are as brutal and frightening as a cramped room. Tonally, visually and emotionally, this is a special issue of Fatale, and one that avails itself of the inherent roughness of the genre it plays with.