Jonathan Hickman comics are always more about ideas than characters. With “The Nightly News,” the idea was the influence of the media upon the world; with “Transhuman,” the idea is of genetic and technological enhancements as framed through corporate competition; and, here, in “Pax Romana,” the idea is the altering of history to bring about a modern society over 1500 years before it should arise. So far, it’s been a very interesting read, but, surprisingly, this final issue has some of the best character work Hickman has done so far.
This series has seen a group of Vatican-backed time travelers return to 4th century Rome to change the course of humanity. When the Cardinal in charge simply wanted to prop up the Church, the leader of the military contingent, Brigadier General Nicholas Chase, and his command staff killed the Cardinal and took over. They formed an alliance with Constantine and set about eventually creating the perfect state through a series of sociological manipulations backed with knowledge of the future and futuristic technology.
While previous issues featured extensive discussions on religion and its role in societies, governmental structures, and the best manner in which to construct a society, this issue focuses more on the personal desires of these characters as their plan falls apart as those desires supercede the group. Chase’s support of Flavius is based entirely on sentiment and the dying wish of Constantine, which the rest of the group sees as a weakness. This leads to the fracturing of the group with some leaving voluntarily and others through force.
The pace of this issue is brisk in that it jumps from moment to moment, but also dense in that many of the moments highlighted feature lots of dialogue (including a two-page transcript of a conversation, which has been a standard technique in this series), and lots of allusions to events that occur off-panel. Hickman really trusts his readers to connect events for themselves, but does provide enough information to tell the story, although primarily through dialogue.
Hickman’s art is breathtaking in its design and skill, but it doesn’t work to tell the story in a traditional comic book sequential manner. Figures are sometimes stiff and show little emotion, merely put on the page to indicate their presence or that they are speaking, but Hickman’s skill at dialogue more than makes up for that. So does the beauty of each page, which is unlike anything else on the shelves and worth the cover price alone.
Hickman says that this is the first of many stories he hopes to tell in the “Pax Romana” universe and, hopefully, he produces another series soon, because this alternate history looks to be an interesting one.
(Check out Hickman’s unique art in CBR’s preview of the issue.)