Before the world changed while you slept. Before time ran out. Before even there was a council of reeds making potentially ill-thought-out decisions. There would be peace.
When Jonathan Hickman broke onto the comics scene with The Nightly News he was heralded as the next big thing. Even in introductions to his work. The next Warren Ellis. The next Frank Miller. The next Matt Fraction. The next Brian Michael Bendis. The next… Which I thought was unfair. Not because he wasn’t a massive talent, and that it wasn’t exciting to see what he’d come up with next, but because he wasn’t the next anything.
He was the first Jonathan Hickman. And that shines through in his second major project for Image Comics.
“…Are you a small man or are you a man who could change the world?”
Pax Romana by Hickman is an alternate history political treatise. Kind of. After a pair of scientists working for the Catholic Church discover time travel, a group of religious soldiers are sent by the Pope back in time to correct the timeline. Basically to ensure a world wherein the papacy remains universal. It gets complicated.
Like The Nightly News, this series is one where Hickman does everything. His art is n’t exactly the greatest, but it fits the story. His style is somewhat like Bendis’. Emphasis on shadows, hard lines, and photo reference. It’s probably one of the reasons that his early material drew those comparisons, even though the content of the stories are radically different. Hickman also isn’t a dialogue guy in the same way. No Mamet influence here, even though the pages are filled with words. Yet, it’s because Hickman is doing everything, the dance between words and art doesn’t feel crowded. It’s less of page after page of infographics that his earlier series was, but it’s still dense. Complete with several pages of strictly text conversations.
But it’s in those conversations that the story really shines. Hickman is an idea guy. And I think in his early days of him, doing everything himself, there was a purity of vision. The art, dialogue, and information pages blend seamlessly together and you get to focus on the message in them. There are ideas here of political reform, of striving for an ideal society through various forms of government. Of technological and evolutionary advancement. And of a better world. Though it’s one where you’re left wondering through all of it whether or not a changed world truly is better. Or if it’s still destined to fail due to the flaws of man.
“…Who can know the heart of man?”
Pax Romana from Jonathan Hickman is a series that seems to plant the seeds for the ideas that he’ll play with, develop, and wow audiences with in his later work. You can see the elements of genetic manipulation, time travel, and sociopolitical structures that will serve as the basis for series like East of West and House of X/Powers of X. Yet it’s not just a kernel for ideas for later work. The series still stands on its own as thought-provoking experiment in alternate history.
Classic Comic Compendium: PAX ROMANA
Writer & Artist: Jonathan Hickman
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: December 26 2007 – November 19 2008
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