This month marks the arrival of the 5th annual 30 Characters Challenge, the excellent event run by ComixTribe publisher Tyler James, where participants have to create a new comic character for every day of the whole month of November. I participated in the first year, successfully completing the challenge with 30 badly-drawn characters of my own, but haven’t done it again since. I won’t be participating this year either, but thought it might be fun to spend each day writing up a little showcase to celebrate a new comic character who showed up in comic pages for the first time this year. Comics are one of the most highly inventive mediums around, and this has been a particularly strong year for pumping out exciting new stories packed with compelling new characters. Let’s take a look at some of my favourites.
Created by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
From Monday-Friday this week the 30 Character Showcase will take an extended look at some of the many excellent new characters introduced in East of West, the epic new Image sci-fi/Western mashup from writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta. It is arguably the best comic series to launch this year, and has quickly established itself as one of the very best titles on shelves today. In my opinion, a big part of that is down to the characters, with Hickman and Dragotta populating their alternate-history America with a wealth of wonderfully-realised characters, with engaging personalities and distinctive designs.
And at the centre of it all, perhaps the most engaging and distinctive of all the figures within the ever-growing East of West ensemble: Death. 6 issues in, and there’s still a great deal we don’t know about how this incarnation of the Four Horsemen fits into the world around them, how exactly Death came to be divided from his brethren, and why they portrayed him. Or why he seems to have changed colour from black-skinned to a solid white – a veritable “pale rider” – since that betrayal. But though a lot of mystery surrounds death, he is nonetheless a commanding presence cutting a bloody path through the world of East of West in his quest for vengeance on those who wronged him.
Right from his first appearance, he makes his impression, entering the saloon with an instantly-iconic first line of “And so I have arrived,” and from there quickly introducing his now-familiar Highly Intimidating Monologue. Hickman gives Death a way with words that utterly hammers home his gravitas and the idea that he’s the scariest man in any room he walks into. And while his followers Crow and Wolf aren’t featured individually in this 30 Character Showcase, they work incredibly well as an extension of Death’s presence on their page, their sparse, iconic designs suitably complimenting Death’s.
In the issue where he first appears, Death murders the President of the United States, which is a hell of a way to make a first impression. But from there, he just keeps revealing more and more and becoming all the more compelling. Take, for example, his means of transportation, as seen above. In its first appearance, it appears to be a futuristic space-pod, something which presumably runs like a high-tech floating motorcycle. But once he sits on it, it grows legs and turns into a kind of robo-horse. That alone would make it incredibly badass. But then in issue #4 it is also revealed that it has a massive cannon capable of wiping out whole batallions of opponents with each blast. Issue #4 in general is a simply epic showcase for Death’s power and badass credentials. But in issue #5 we get a glimpse of a different, more vulnerable side to our stone-cold protagonist, as his tragic love story with Xiaolian is further explored. It’s an added dimension that gives him more nuance than just being an implacable force of nature.
There’s so much more to discover about Death and his shady history. Chief on the list is how someone so seemingly unstoppable was laid so low. And you can be damn sure I’ll be avidly reading each upcoming issue of East of West to find out more, and to see just what he’s going to do next!