book review: pax romana

I loved the concept behind Jonathan Hickman’s Pax Romana, but the execution was kind of lacking.

The idea is that in the future a couple of scientists figure out a way to make time travel work, but their research has been paid for by the Vatican who use it to make history better. They send a team back to Constantine’s time to get the Holy Roman Empire set up correctly, with enough advanced technology and wealth and foreknowledge of the future and science to ensure some form of success.

It’s a great idea for a book, and the characters who are sent back in time are excellent, in theory. The way the book is done though, really distances you from any of the characters. That’s part of the point (the story is being told as a history lesson to a new emperor in a space ship) but it feels like they left out a lot of the bits that would make it an insanely cool story. You see characters doing very little. Each chapter has two page dialogue scenes that have a small picture of the people involved, and that’s where the majority of the interesting stuff happens. Everything else is interesting layouts and use of whitespace, but not a lot of storytelling.

Jonathan Hickman used infographics really well in The Nightly News, but by the time you get to the end of the book and see the cool timelines of how history went between the timescales of the story, I was disappointed that those events weren’t told as dense little one page comics instead of sentences on a line.

The story we got was good enough and the pages were laid out prettily, but everything was so sparse it became a little frustrating to look at everything left untold.

educating people not consumers

Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken has a good discussion of formal vs informal education, and of the difference between creating consumers and creating people. Participating in culture is the way to the latter. Which brought to mind this quote: “The only thing you should learn from school is that you do not belong.” (The Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman)

book review: the nightly news

Jonathan Hickman’s The Nightly News is a comic about journalism, but unlike DMZ or Transmetropolitan this book’s journalists aren’t the (tarnished) heroes: they’re the enemy. The Nightly News is about revenge-killing journalists for their crimes of fucking with people. It’s also about cults and American politics being owned by media companies, and there’s a lot of Chomsky. It’s pretty awesome.

“Well, pardon me for being frank, but Chomsky’s a fucking retard.”
– Senator M. Jay Rector

One of the awesome things about it is how the pages are designed. There aren’t really many panels, but overlapping images in black white and monocolours/pages (oranges & browns for the present timeline, blues for the various other times). Infographics are interwoven through the pages, too. It doesn’t look like a regular comic book.

It gets a little over-the-top at times (the running joke with the media conglomerates/senators using quotes from famous Nazis that get mistaken for McLuhan and Chomsky is great, though). The characters we’re following are kind of terrible people. I appreciated the references at the end of the book, where Hickman explains some of the references being made and how it all got put together. The subtitle for the book is A Lie Told in Six Parts, but he still has to explicitly state “I am not the Voice in this book. This is a story, not a sermon.” (It reminds me of Warren Ellis having to state every once in a while that he and Spider Jerusalem aren’t actually one and the same being.)

I got this book from the library but I think I’m going to want a copy when I return to the Northern Hemisphere.