I think Jonathan Hickman has really risen to prominence recently, has become incredibly prolific. I don’t know if it’s that he’s finally gotten the chance to write stories he’s been sitting on, or what, but he has a number of great ongoing series coming out right now.
Once I figured out who he was and tracked his stories, I have started to see some story similarities, some ways that he thinks about the world. And I love it. He focuses on science, on the far edges of it, the possibilities – especially quantum mechanics and alternate realities. He focuses on mythology, on stories of creation, on stories of the end times. So let me present his comics by these themes, and at the end, some more reading possibilities, ones I haven’t gotten to yet but want to!
Universal Creation and Universal Destruction
The great idea was expansion. And it started with two men. One was life. And one was death.
Avengers is about heroes – is about saving the Earth, and then it expands to saving a lot of worlds. They start with a concept: expansion. The threats are getting bigger, so the team needs to get bigger too. Not that they need everyone all the time. So they have a base roster – the Avengers from the film. Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and of course Iron Man and Captain America. Then they have a ton of other heroes – ones who are pretty well known, and others who are less known, or new, or new iterations.
So Hickman takes the time to introduce the new heroes, as well as the new villains he has crafted. And he ties it all back to his new villains, to universal-level threats. To the story he is telling of how the Marvel Universe began, about the first race, the Builders. And about the systems they have built.
In New Avengers, Hickman is telling the opposite story. About universal destruction. About the end of not just one universe, but all universes. The New Avengers keep this a secret, and prepare to do whatever it takes to defend the Earth. Iron Man is the only one on both teams – the only one who sees all the threats.
These are great comics to read together. Getting to see the parallels between these two stories, to see the opposite stories happening.
One was life, and one was death.
Hickman does a great job of both building his own myths, and exploring and explaining them, and working with existing myths, and taking them his own way.
One example is in Avengers. I’ve mentioned how he explores the idea of creation, of the early days of the Universe. But the legend he’s really telling is the legend of the Avengers. Of how they went from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and became a beacon for the whole universe.
It was the spark that started the fire – a legend that grew in the telling.
His use, and re-use, of phrases like this, help to shape a meaning for it. The spark comes up, again and again. And the call to action – to being Avengers. I think that exploring these themes and uses of language are reason enough to recommend, and for you to read, Avengers.
Another example of Hickman and myths is his independent series East of West. This comic is a new take on the Apocalypse, starring the Four Horsemen – and an entirely new prophecy of the end, the Message.
He tells an alternate world history, one spiraling out of the American Civil War turning out differently, and of the introduction of the Message at that time. Oh, and an asteroid hits, that throws things off.
Because it is close to – and not – our world, and close to – and not – our myths, it keeps you wondering, guessing, and figuring out who is good, who is bad. Who you want to win, who you want to lose. And wondering just what is really going on?
If you like Apocalypse stories, or alternate histories, I definitely recommend East of West. I guess I would add, if you like Borderlands or The Dark Tower, you’ll also probably like East of West. It’s the Apocalypse. It’s not a happy time, or a safe place to be.
The cast of Hickman’s New Avengers is made up of some of the smartest minds in the Marvel Universe. This means that, unlike the heroism and mythology of Avengers, you have logical reasoning, hard decisions, and science. Machines of war, plans and contingencies. There’s politics, too. Cunning plans, deals and overtures. It’s a very different world, and fun to see it’s the same person writing it in the same space.
However, this is nothing compared to the hard science of The Manhattan Projects. This comic makes you fear for what could have been, makes you almost happy that it’s fiction. Right? I hope it’s fiction. Like East of West, it is an alternate history of our world. This time, the question is: what if the Manhattan Project had been a front for something else, something darker and more dangerous?
They find dimensional travel, aliens, new weapons, new science. They also confront politics – taking on the Freemasons or Illuminati or whoever it is running the world. And they replace them.
While the art is not my favorite in this comic, the ideas and characters creep me out. It’s a fun read, and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about this one. So you can consider it yourself! And if you’ve read it, then: Oppenheimer.
There’s more from Hickman, much of which I still want to read myself. For some of his earlier, 5-comic stories, they are collected on ComiXology in a title called Test Pattern. He also had a very successful run on Fantastic Four and then started FF, the Future Foundation. Also, for a recent and currently running title, he has one called God is Dead, which sounds like American Gods in comics form. I’m waiting for collected volumes of this to give it a read, but it sounds right up my alley!
Hopefully I’ve piqued your interest, because I love Hickman’s work, and hope you will too! For more reviews on Jonathan Hickman, I’ve written a lot about him on Comparative Geeks: Avengers New Avengers Prelude to Infinity Infinity