This is a really tough comic to review, especially since I’m writing this review on election night, when my mind is full to bursting with political commentary and punditry. Elections, to a great extent, are about listening to and reacting to a lot of polemics, a lot of people screaming assertions at you at the top of their voice. It doesn’t matter if they’re true or not, what really matters is that screaming people get to be heard.
The Nightly News is a loud voice of dissent. It’s also a very odd comic book, part typeset radical commentary, part the story of a cult out to reclaim America from the corporate lapdogs who deliver the news. The comic begins with the thoughts of John Guyton, a “financial manager in disrepute” who lives in the streets before meeting the Hand, one Alexander Jones. Jones is literally a man who extends Guyton his hand in friendship when Guyton is at his weakest ebb. As you might expect from a comic with a cover of Guyton firing guns, Jones talks Guyton into a radical life, where the media is the enemy. Not just the enemy of free thought or of democracy, as one character asserts before being assassinated. No, the media is the enemy and must be destroyed.
Guyton’s words are eerie: “One year ago, the VOICE spoke to me and gave me your names. It was a gift and now I have received another. Today… today a word came, a message from the VOICE. Not for myself, because I am his HAND, but for all of us, because we are his disciples. He has given us a holy commandment. We will destroy these destroyers of lives – we will stop the lies that flow from their lips. We do a holy work… hear his words…”
Told in a bold and exciting visual style that is dense with words and thoughtful in its layouts, Hickman’s art is as provocative as his story. In its bizarre layout of facts and figures, like some sort of channeling from Guyton’s brain right onto the page, Hickman delivers and stunningly unique comic. It’s spooky because we can see the propaganda that Guyton has seen, get a feel for the facts and pseudo-facts that drive him to make the bizarre decisions that he makes. Because some of the assertions make sense – there’s a clever graphic about media consolidation, for instance – and everything is attractively laid out on the page, it’s easy to feel empathy with Guyton. Until, that is, one realizes what a creepy and bizarre person Guyton really is, and how evil his actions are.
The Nightly News is a very clever take on cults, told in a way that only comic books can deliver it. Come to think of it, Halloween was only a week ago. This comic book is also a good fit for that holiday. It’s a scary look at what cults can do for a vulnerable man. Living inside his brain for 32 pages was a spooky experience.