Jonathan Hickman wrote one of last year’s hottest comics with his take on the X-Men.
Well, he had to start somewhere, and one of his earliest works was an Image Comics mini-series he wrote and drew called Pax Romana. It has time travel and the Roman Empire.
I actually had this in my unread trade stack for a while…so long that it was on the bottom. Then, the other day, a co-worker remarked how Hickman’s work on the title was so interesting, so I opted to dig it up and finally get to it. And, well, the ideas here are intriguing if nothing else.
Set initially sometime in the future as the “Gene Pope” tells the story of the trade to a juvenile Roman Emperor for a still-existing Roman Empire, we learn that at some point a bit in the future from now, the Catholic Church invented time travel. Paradox is not a thing, so the Pope opts to send a team of soldiers under the guidance of the Cardinal pushing for the project to even happen to go back to the time of Emperor Constantine to try and make sure the world becomes a better place than it is in his time. To lead the soldiers, he selects his American nephew, a renowned general, who in turn chooses four colonels from different nations. The Pope’s only requirement seems to be that all members of the expedition will at least be nominally Catholic.
Then, once in the past, it turns out not everyone is on the same page on what the purpose of the expedition is or how to achieve it. How do you make a better society? Can mere humans, swayed by their emotions and not really knowing what comes next if too much is changed, actually achieve that goal?
So, that’s an interesting concept. The story, as written, has a lot of potentially cool philosophical ideas, but a four issue comic book mini-series doesn’t really have much time or space to get into that sort of stuff.
And therein lies the problem. The concept is fascinating, but it doesn’t make for a particular compelling comic book. Each issue/chapter has a two page spread where four or more characters debate what they are doing and how they will do it. Those pages have some panels showing who is talking, but the pages are mostly a long transcript of their spoken philosophical dialogue. And while Hickman’s art isn’t bad, it also isn’t very good for sequential storytelling, at least here. Many pages seem to be only two, maybe three panels, and since the story is mostly about people talking about how to make the world better while the things they do to try and achieve that seems to mostly happen between pages. This really should have been more of a text book than a comic. Good concepts, but kinda dull in execution in places.
7.5 out of 10 disgruntled mercenaries.