Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #53 by Drew Barth
The End of the End of the World
It’s 2020. The end of the world feels like it’s breathing down our necks. Let’s assuage those feelings by talking about a different end of the world: East of West. I’ve talked about the series early last year. Begun in 2013 by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta, East of West was one of those staple Image series. From its impeccable world-building of an America ruled by an apocalypse cult to its characters built so well they could each head their own solo series, East of West was one of the best series Hickman released in the last decade.
How do you talk about the end of a series that has been building toward the end of the world?
In Hickman and Dragotta’s world, the Four Horsemen walk among the people and one of them has a kid. This creates the main driving force at the core of East of West—three of those horsemen will drag the world, kicking and screaming, into the apocalypse while one wishes to prevent it. Ironically, that horseman is Death. And Death is our main focus throughout the series. The close of the story comes with the death of Death and the end of the apocalypse.
What makes Hickman and Dragotta’s apocalypse story so unique is the lack of the apocalypse. Nigh every leader in this America has been chosen by the Message—a series of texts that prophesied the end of the world—to deliver the apocalypse to their world. But in their efforts to do so, these characters only bring about an end to themselves. The Message is like a textual cancer—infecting, spreading, and decimating everything in its path. But the Message is indiscriminate in its destruction as everything dies around it. Until it is stopped. And it is stopped simply by not following it. Veering from the road map to the end times means that end never comes.
An apocalypse built on the backs of hope is what East of West delivers in its final moments. And its hope is not something brought about by some grand power, but by the people who would have to live out the end times if they had truly arrived. As an ending, it feels especially poignant walking into this new decade, but that feels like what we need from the end of the world—hope. Thousands die over the course of East of West and the world is basically teetering on the brink of complete oblivion, but the idea that it can be brought back, that the teetering doesn’t have to tip over the edge, means they didn’t die for the apocalypse. That idea of hope and change and turning the world around through the efforts of people is what is going to make Hickman and Dragotta’s story so poignant well into the future.
Get excited. Stop the end.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.