I think one thing about me that most people have come to be aware of is I love to buy up trades, even if I don’t get to reading them for months. Such is the case with Jonathan Hickman’s pre-Marvel work. I bought all the books I could get during a sale one week, but have only recently gotten to them due to my large stack of comics to read. However, upon finally getting to them, I can easily say I’m kicking myself quite thoroughly over this. What you’ll find behind the cut are several reviews to some of the greatest things I’ve ever read. Hickman’s story telling is absolutely uncanny, and I believe it’s absolutely fair when Blair Butler calls him “the next Alan Moore.”
Now, I should point out that there is no place that calls these “the Pronea books.” I’m simply choosing to call them this based on the Pronea image present on the back of each book. All the books are printed on Image and have no connecting factor other than the writer and publisher. So if you go google searching for the Pronea books, don’t expect to find much.
That’s a very intense sentence to open with, but is the only one I can think of appropriate when talking about this book. I’d heard some pretty good things about it before reading it, but even then I could not even begin to guess how amazing the book was. It’s an incredible ride from start to finish, and let me help explain why:
When I was a young lad ages ago, there was a book that my friends and I all adored. It was called Fight Club. It was an entertaining piece of fiction that broke the mold of storytelling we were used to in the literature form, and was one of the first books we all adored that wasn’t heavily science fiction or fantasy (and wasn’t assigned by the school). We hadn’t even entered high school yet, but we all adored this book. Now that I’m order, I look back on this book and the work that followed, and can acknowledge that Chuck Palahniuk is no longer my favorite writer. Part of this is because his last two works failed to entertain even slightly. A bigger part of it, though, is because I read the Nightly News, and as an adult with adult thoughts and beliefs, I have a brand new book for me and my friends to rally behind.
Now, Hickman takes a great deal of time to establish that this is a work of fiction, but I think it’s more than that. The Nightly News is practically a living and breathing story, one that allows for multiple reads with different takes each time and new things to focus on. Upon finishing the story, I immediately revisted many pages and saw them in new lights. The ending appendix of notes explaining many of the references helps to shine light on many passages of the book that didn’t fully click, such as brief quotes or references that help make the story even richer. And by the end of it, I realized I’d spent an entire day reading tiny lettering, smaller than your average print, just because I didn’t want to miss a beat.
Since reading it, I’ve told everyone I know they need to not only read it but own it. The Nightly News is quite frankly one of the most brilliant debuts I’ve ever read. An added addendum to that statement is that, prior to reading it, I was already in awe of Hickman’s writing style. He is doing an amazing job with the new Secret Warriors book on Marvel and has done some amazing issues of Fantastic Four with his short time on the book. So to pick up a new comic that pre-dates both of those and be even more floored is a feat that very few authors can pull off. Quite frankly, the Nightly News is one of the best comics I’ve ever read and I ever will read.Continued below
As Hickman’s first work, you’d think that it couldn’t be that good. Unfortunately for us, it is that good. It’s so good that it makes everything else pale in comparison, and it makes me as a reviewing writer look like an idiot who rambles. As a final thought, though, let’s put it this way: the only really proper way for me to talk about Nightly News is to stand in front of a person, hold a copy of the book out to said person, and say “Here. Thank me later.”
Aside from that, I just don’t know how else to accurately get my point across. But that’s what happens when you pick up a book and the first thing you see is that your main character is a sniper in a high position shooting at people in a crowd.
With this book, I already knew it couldn’t be better than Nightly News. And that’s true – it’s not. However, Pax Romana is an amazing follow up, and it shows that Hickman didn’t just have dumb luck with his first book. Both creative and artistically intriguing, Pax Romana makes for a read that is both challenging and entertaining.
Challenging might be an odd word to use, but this is what I mean: with Nightly News, we had foot notes and a somewhat straight forward plot. Pax Romana deals with a group of soldiers sent back in time by the Vatican sent back in time to Rome AD to help make Christianity more promninent. Right off the bat you’re dealing with a time travel based story, which creates certain challenges as well as a basic knowledge of Roman history. Fortunately, Hickman does a great job of making the book accessible for non-History majors. He doesn’t let you off the hook though. Expect to see pages worth of dialogue that are literally transcripts of meetings held by prominent characters in the book. And you can be sure things do not go according to plan, as they never do in time travel stories, which eventually lead to intense ethical and political discussions.
Of course, the book is only 4 issues, and that’s the biggest drawback. A story like this is definitely worth a full ongoing, or at least 12 issues worth of good solid content. I understand that the book was supposed to be the first part of a trilogy, which (if you know this while you’re reading it) leaves you both optomistic and confused by the ending. The ending seemingly wraps up the story at the end, with the last 6 or 8 pages condensing “the future” so you somewhat understand what happens (as well as a time line in the back of the trade), which leads me to believe that there will be no sequel. On that realm I am slightly disappointed because, by the last issue, I was practically begging to see more. The characters are all so perfectly written, and the book makes for such a wonderful thriller, that more than anything I’m sorry to see it end so quickly. There is definitely plenty of room for fleshing out.
With that in mind, I still recommend Pax Romana. Since this is Hickman’s only other solo book, I think it makes that worth the read alone. Hickman’s style of graphic design based art makes for some of the most interesting comic set up I’ve ever seen, and as much as Nightly News didn’t follow standard traditions of a comic, dare I say that this book follows them even less. Hickman just has such a great grasp of what he’s doing when he’s in charge of the art that I’m pretty sad to see him not doing it all the time. His arranging of colors especially set a perfect tone for the book, in regards to both mood and time. And with him, less is always more. The book reads wonderfully.
If you followed my advice and picked up the Nightly News, I’d say get this one as well. The two works aren’t related, but they go together very well. It’s kind of like going to your mom when you were a kid and asking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich, but instead of just cutting off the crusts like you like, she rearranges the whole thing, both in the performance of the task as well as the eventual execution. And by the time you finally finish eating, you’ll never want to eat another PB&J again unless it’s done in the exact same way.Continued below
Which brings me to…
I almost feel bad writing this because I’ve loved literally everything else he’s done. You name it, I loved it. Nightly News, Pax Romana, Fantastic Four, Secret Warriors. I have it all. But this? When I finished, I was just incredibly underwhelmed. So yes, I did just completely catch you off guard. You thought I was going to spend my whole time praising the man, and while I would on any other day, I just couldn’t get into this.
I’m not sure why. On paper, based on what I had read about it, I thought I would like it. The art is pretty good. JM Ringuet is a talented artist. I love the way he drew the characters, and his choice of art, using central colors throughout the entire book, was really good to look at (though, to be honest, one of the things I didn’t like was that Hickman himself didn’t do the art on this one. I thought to myself – we had a good thing going… why stop?). And as far as Hickman’s writing is concerned, that was good as well. It was intelligent and well thought out. Not his best obviously, but still intelligent and appropriate for the book.
But when we come down to the plot and the way the story moves and unfolds, it’s incredibly underwhelming. The story is told under the premise of being a documentary, but the big “twist ending” is pretty easy to call early on. I picked it up not even halfway through the book. Plus, the ending in general (outside of the twist) felt too easy. Where Nightly News and Pax Romana were well thought out stories, this one seemed almost paint by numbers in a way. And when all was said and done, I felt really bad that I somewhat agreed with the person who wrote the introduction for the book, Dr. Anton Rebere. While I wouldn’t be as harsh as he was. I definitely felt bummed out by how little I enjoyed.
I guess that, when you think about it, this is the first time Hickman strayed from the path he was establishing on his solo books. We had intricate conspiracy plots with lots of detail to the story and how it was presented, and this one was much more of a straight “crazy science” book. There were no footnotes at the end, no timelines to follow throughout the annex of history. It was just a much more bland book in comparison. And when I’m holding this book up to the likes of Nightly News and Pax Romana, it just didn’t hold up. It’s ok though. We can’t expect Hickman to do the same things forever. He just missed the mark a bit on his first try. I forgive it.
Of course, now we’re finally brought to:
Red Mass For Mars
I don’t know if I can review it. Am I allowed to? This isn’t done. We’re one issue away from completion, and they’re relatively hard to find. Actually, try impossible. Although I did read that as soon as Hickman finally did end it, it would be immediately released in trade.
With that in mind, I’d like to put out an open statement to Mr. Hickman and Mr. Bodenheim: PLEASE finish this. PLEASE. From what I’ve seen and be able to read, this book is AWESOME. I want to add it to my trade collection. I know you’ve got your hands full at Marvel right now, and I’m not complaining about the output. In fact, I’m loving it. But at the same time I want to see this book hit the light of day! That way I can write up a REAL review of it, rather than a review which basically consists of me asking for the book to be done.
Let’s make it happen, ok? Sweet. I’ll buy everyone pizza. Promise.