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
Thus far in my extended examination of East of West and its thrilling new character creations, I feel like I’ve largely been engaging in an extended celebration of Nick Dragotta. Death, the Three Horsemen, Xiaolian, I feel these characters are triumphs of design. Dragotta has crafted them in a way that they feel instantly iconic, and placed them in the kind of dynamic, dramatic tableaus that linger in the memory and make their respective presences reverberate off the page. For all his excellent dialogue Hickman has gifted him, when I think of Death in East of West, I think in images: walking away from the headless corpse of the President, his back to us, calmly replacing his hat, at the end of issue #1, or riding on his mechanical horse cannon, a pack of wolves walking beside him and a murder of crows flying over him, at the conclusion of issue #5. But Chamberlain is a creation who is almost entirely a triumph of Hickman’s writing. Save for some truly spectacular facial plumage in the form of the pointiest beard known to man, Dragotta doesn’t have much to work with in terms of his visuals: he’s a regular old man in a suit who spends most of his time sitting down, smoking cigars. But what he does do is talk, and Hickman has him talk beautifully.
In the 7 nations that America is divided into, Andrew Archibald Chamberlain is the Chief of Staff of the Black Tower, opposite number to the White Tower, marking him out as head of the Confederacy. We’re first introduced to him amidst all the other leaders making their respective greetings to the incoming President in issue #2, and he initially seems like one of the least interesting. But it’s him we linger with as he departs the meeting and heads back to the Black Tower, and it’s there he meets with Death. Given how Death’s visit to the White Tower in the previous issue went, I think we could be forgiven in assuming that this scene will result in Chamberlain meeting a similar fate to his opposite number. But instead, Chamberlain talks his way out of it.
In this verbal duel with Death, Chamberlain reveals a greater complexity than what was initially apparent. He may not the ardent believer in The Message – the prophecy each leader is charged to help bring to pass – that he publicly claims to be, enjoying the fleeting pleasures of the power afforded to him to desire the end of the world anytime soon. He’s a snake, utterly self-serving, but in that selfishness his goals may align more closely with Death than with his fellow advocates of The Message. I say “may” a lot here, as Chamberlain has already revealed himself to be such an effortless liar that we don’t know exactly what kind of con he’s pulling and who he’s lying to. The one thing that’s clear is that his only true ally is himself, as indicated by him throwing apparent kindred spirit Bel Solomon under the bus the moment their partnership threatens to inconvenience him in issue #6.
It’s hard to determine whether we can really call the magnificent bastard likeable or not, but it’s undeniable he has a sense of charisma to him. His extended monologues have a certain philosophical, pragmatic charm to them, which at times seems to almost win over even those intent on killing him. So, what is Chamberlain destined to be in the grand scheme of things: deeply flawed good guy or oddly endearing bad guy? A bit of both? Like so many things in East of West, that is, for now, a mystery.