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Pax Romana #4

Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2008
By: Matthew Brady

Jonathan Hickman
Jonathan Hickman
Image Comics
Jonathan Hickman burst onto the scene last year with the awesome, Fight Club-meets-Network mini-series The Nightly News. Heís done a few other things here and there, including the series Transhuman and Red Mass for Mars, but this is kind of the ďofficialĒ follow-up, since itís the next one that he both wrote and illustrated. And itís pretty great, in that it shows that Hickman isnít a one-trick pony. While his character art and dialogue style might seem familiar, he is definitely trying to stretch in new directions, and thatís great to see.

This issue finishes the mini-series, and it makes for an interesting ending, and a possible setup for future stories. The concept here is that the Roman Catholic church discovered time travel, and they sent a force back to the age of the Roman Emperor Constantine with the intent of ensuring that the church would be the main world power throughout history. But the military men who made the journey enacted a coup, and decided to take over the world using their own means, keeping it secular and enlightening the people of the past with their modern ways. Over the course of the series, Hickman has taken some interesting look at politics and religion, perhaps comparing his charactersí actions with that of modern countries who think they know what is best for third world nations. Itís been pretty fascinating stuff, and he has barely slowed down enough to let readers catch up, jumping forward years at a time and throwing crazy twists at the reader and daring him to keep up. With this final issue, we see the alliance the military men forged fall apart as their goals begin to differ, ending in exactly the sort of division of power that they were hoping to avoid.

The storytelling techniques Hickman uses here are as effective as ever, although probably not as innovative as in The Nightly News. But they work well, with clearly laid out pages and expressively moody artwork. Most striking is the use of color; Hickman isnít sticking to muted palettes, going instead for eye-searing oranges and icy blues and purples that are slathered across the backgrounds in a painterly style. Itís a great tone-setter, and another case of Hickman managing to come up with unique styles. He has also used text pieces pretty effectively in the series, inserting a dialogue between several characters at key points in each issue. Unfortunately, the example in this final installment doesnít work as well as the others; it seems to be a simple scene that could have played out as a few more pages of sequential comics. Itís one of the few missteps in the entire series, though, and it definitely doesnít ruin anything.

No, this is definitely some good reading, and a great example of Hickmanís ambition. In the closing pages, he suggests several future stories that could be told in this universe, even showing some of the end results of all the political machinations. Itís a nice tease that will hopefully be followed upon. Letís hope he wonít be too busy writing comics for Marvel to get back to it.



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