30 Characters Showcase #5: The Three Horsemen

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.

5. THE THREE HORSEMEN

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Created by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

Okay, I don’t know if this entry is kinda cheating, since it’s three characters for the price of one.  But really, these three come as a set – War is arguably the most prominent of the trio, but I can’t recall any scene with one where the other two don’t also show up – so I’m including them all as a single entry.  In this week’s extended showcase of the excellent new characters introduced to the world in East of West, I began yesterday with Death, and so it feels natural to now pass on the spotlight to the remainder of the Four Horsemen: War, Conquest and Famine.

East of West #1 begins with them being reborn in the form of children, and we quickly learn that their return has dire implications for the world.  It’s funny, after introducing us to an utterly adorable cast of kiddies in FF, Jonathan Hickman can turn around and give us the most utterly vile, horrific children seen since King Joffrey.  In a world filled with moral murk and dangerous people, these little terrors – not even yet matured into their adult form and their full power – are already undoubtedly the Big Bads, casually massacring enough people to leave literal hills of corpses in their wake in issue #1, wiping out half the US Government in issue #2.  Where they go, bad things happen, and their presence brings with it an involuntary sphincter-tightening of the reader bracing themselves for the worst.  And their badness is hardly new, with flashbacks hinting at betrayal and maiming of our protagonists in times gone by while not yet going into the specifics: cryptic snippets of a terrible past reminiscent of Once Upon a Time in the West, with Hickman and Dragotta very much casting War, Conquest and Famine in the Henry Fonda role.

I also like how, despite how despicable and intimidating the Three Horsemen are, Hickman finds a way to make them blackly funny.  I’ve probably laughed at least once in just about every appearance they’ve made.  Or maybe that’s just because I’m a sick puppy.

Going forward, I’m keen to learn more about these villains individually.  So far, we know that War is the apparent ringleader, that he relished being a woman for centuries until this recent rebirth has left him unwillingly gender-switched into a boy.  We know that Famine is very visually striking, a skeletally gaunt woman with weapons that resemble a pair of whips.  Conquest is the least distinct thus far, though I noted that he seems more visually striking in his briefly-glimpsed adult form from the flashbacks.  But I see that there’s a spotlight issue on the Horsemen coming up, so hopefully that will give us a fuller portrait.

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30 Character Showcase #4: Death

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.

4. DEATH

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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!

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