I’ve never read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. (Most people who don’t like it haven’t either.) But I am aware of Objectivism, the tenet that Rand preaches without abandon, and I refuse to live in a world that adheres to the logical ends of Rand’s Gospel. Whether or not that is the case with Evan Young and Lou Iovino’s The Last West is subject to discussion. It would be an easy corollary. The Last West is the kind of story that leads the uninitiated reader to reach for illusory conclusions; an acquired skill is required to decipher its message, and though I’ve read it a few times now, I am not certain I have settled on a proper interpretation. Given that the comic’s introductory exposition, which follows a mysterious sizzle reel-esque prelude, pertains to causality, my ambiguous sentiment is appropriate. What came first? The micro-chip, or the nuke? These questions are more difficult than you might imagine.
Young and Iovino’s work is an alternate history of the United States. It isn’t steam-punk, diesel punk, post-apocalyptic, or obsessed with the undead. Actually, it’s rather refreshing. My reviewer’s package included author notes on the historicity of The Last West. Like The Guns of the South, by Harry Turtledove, the work is preoccupied with justifying its surreal social landscape with factual tidbits. We are meant to believe that, by living in a world without nuclear weapons, all cultural progress ceases or becomes mired in stagnancy. This malaise infects everything else. WW2 is unending. Civil Rights is impeded. The Sexual Revolution never happened, all because of Jughead, the tactical nuke that couldn’t.
Historical characters and their contemporaries are inspired by the singular genius of an idiosyncratic family, the Wests. The pun of the title is obvious at this point. The nuclear age was, is, continues to be, the final frontier of Western science, namely the last “west” left to discover. Also, the Wests’ eschewing of their place in society, leaving the singular, final West descendent hidden away from the world, never to be discovered spells the fall of civilization.
What The Last West represents can be taken from two perspectives, one naïve, another cynical. Sadly there is no room for a lukewarm response to the revelation of our involvement in the modern world we live in today. Enforced peace by the threat of nuclear devastation, according to Young and Iovino, is the product of one position or the other. The former suggests that the ushering in of the nuclear age, encapsulated by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was the only way to accelerate humanity’s social and empirical consciousness. Without it, and the deaths of millions, our world would be bereft of our life altering technologies. The later view, that our world’s current state is nursing on the suffering of untold casualty, that any advancement of human civilization is the alchemic exchange between life and death, is diametrically opposed to the former. But each position is completely unwieldy. Though it is true that our present world was born of certain conditions that, in hindsight, seemingly led to where mankind is now, to say that our world’s future would be doomed, that there would be nothing of note for us to discover or achieve without nuclear weapons is a fallacy. Consequently, to imagine a world without is moot. We simply can’t exist outside of our circumstances and experiences in any capacity.
The narrative quality is very good. I admit, I might not agree with some of the assertions Young and Iovino make, but that doesn’t mean the story is malformed. In fact, the plot is highly intricate, a noir tale told in the sunlight, a mystery thriller, and concerned with mid-20th century historicity. Frankly, I would be shocked if even DC could’ve pulled off something as involved as this. Nevertheless there are some logistical flaws, pacing problems, and divergent narratives here and there. The Last West is not the perfect comic it could’ve been (were such a thing possible), but it strives for it like a toddler strives for its father’s affections. Young and Iovino deserve much praise for what they’ve accomplished, make no mistake. But the final product still reflects its indie origins. It is passionate and true, but could benefit from some polished layouts and script revisions.
If I was given the opportunity to buy a sandwich or The Last West, I would die happy that I chose the gift of knowledge over a succulent reuben with corned beef and sauerkraut. I’m a foodie, but I have an appetite for narrative that is equally voracious. Yes, I am glad that The Last West exists, despite its roughhewn edges. Give it your attention, because few stories are as brave as Iovino and Co.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)