Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trade Waiting - Pax Romana

My first Trade Waiting review was Jonathan Hickman's The Night News, which is one of my favourite comics. I am also a huge fan of Hickman's even though I've only had the chance to read a small amount of his work, so I was looking forward to the release of Pax Romana. Hit the jump for my review.

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Jonathan Hickman
Collects Pax Romana #1-4

The Nightly News was a pretty ambitious project and, as such, I had some high expectations for Pax Romana, some of which were met and some of which were not. What works is the same design sense and style that Hickman used in The Nightly News. Luckily, he doesn't copy it, but reworks it's style to fit the new story which he is telling. The story itself starts out good, but lacks a strong ending, which is the biggest problem with the series.

In the year 2053, scientists in the employ of the Catholic Church have developed a time machine and, after much deliberation, the Church has decided to send a force of men back in time in order to change history.

After recruiting a military force, later called The Eternal Army of Rome, led by retired Brigadier General Nicholas Chase and under the supervision of Cardinal Beppi Pelle, the Church sends them back in time to the time of Constantine The Great. Once there, Chase learns that Pelle only intends to secure and maintain the Catholic Church's power and, with the support of his subordinate officers, Chase kills Pelle and takes control of the mission, which they change to accelerating the development of human society.

The rest of the story involves the beginnings of the mission and is told as a story in the "present" between the Gene Pope, an artificial human with the DNA of over a thousand holy men, and the current emperor of Rome, the four year old Constans IV. Most of the series takes place in the past, so most of the scenes in the present simply add details to the story that takes place in the past. The story itself is a little underwhelming. It details the early actions of the Eternal Army and their plans to better human society. These involve things like the recruitment of Constantine and some court intrigues.

Eventually, the group splinters into three factions and that is where the story basically ends though there is an "everything turns out all right" ending. Like I said, the story itself is a little weak, but there are a lot of parts of the story that are very interesting.

One of the things I enjoyed most about The Nightly News was the amount of detail Hickman put into the work and it is in Pax Romana as well. Both in the details he puts in the story and in his artwork. As I've said before, Hickman creates the comic as a whole so everything fits together very nicely and, like before, is very dynamic. Hickman also reworks things to go with the story he is telling. In The Nightly News, he had half page information boxes but in Pax Romana, there are two page dialogue spreads, which may sound boring, but they most definitely are not.

To me, what makes Pax Romana really work is the ideas that Hickman uses. The story is about the evolution of human society and, instead of simply showing that happening, Hickman goes into the how's and why's of that story and the details that it involves. Aside from the fact that I like this stuff and find it interesting in and of itself, Hickman makes it interesting all on its own. He does this in a couple of ways.

First is the general presentation and style of the story. Secondly, is that he does a great job of presenting the information and doing a job good of making it interesting. Finally, he has it revolve around personal conflicts between the various characters. This is what helps to make the material compelling to someone who may not find it compelling in its own right. This is also what makes the two page dialogue spreads work. Instead of being strictly about the details, it furthers the plot in an interesting manner regardless of whether or not you are interested in the concepts Hickman is using.

Verdict - Must Read. Hickman continues to prove his skills as a creator with this dynamic and unique work.

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Kerri Miller said...

I would've loved this as a novel, or an ongoing series - the final issue reads like "oh crap, I gotta wrap this up!" The ideas and story was far too large and ambitious for a 4-issue mini.

Eric Rupe said...

Kerri - Yeah, that's the same feeling I got about the book at the end. I do hope that Hickman revisits the concept at some point and further fleshes out his alternate history that he seems to have already thought out a bit.

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