Myth and Science – The Comics of Jonathan Hickman

There were some comics recommendations I left out recently. Marvel comics, which are awesome. Independent comics, which are brilliant. Comics, by Jonathan Hickman.

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.

From Avengers #3 by Jonathan Hickman

From Avengers #3 by Jonathan Hickman

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.

From Avengers #3 by Jonathan Hickman

From Avengers #3 by Jonathan Hickman

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.

The left is from Avengers - the right is from New Avengers. Also on http://comparativegeeks.tumblr.com/

The left is from Avengers – the right is from New Avengers.
Also on http://comparativegeeks.tumblr.com/

One was life, and one was death.

Mythologizing

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. 

From Avengers #1 by Jonathan Hickman

From Avengers #1 by Jonathan Hickman

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.

Death rides a Pale Horse. A pale, steampunk horse. From East of West #5 by Jonathan Hickman.

Death rides a Pale Horse. A pale, steampunk horse.
From East of West #5 by Jonathan Hickman.

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. 

Science. Bad.

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.

Here is the plot to New Avengers, as explained - with diagrams - by Mr. Fantastic.  From New Avengers #2 by Jonathan Hickman

Here is the plot to New Avengers, as explained – with diagrams – by Mr. Fantastic.
From New Avengers #2 by Jonathan Hickman

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.

This could also be the slogan for New Avengers. Or East of West. Or possibly Avengers. From The Manhattan Projects #2 by Jonathan Hickman

This could also be the slogan for New Avengers. Or East of West. Or possibly Avengers.
From The Manhattan Projects #2 by Jonathan Hickman

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.

Other Comics

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

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23 thoughts on “Myth and Science – The Comics of Jonathan Hickman

    • Thanks for giving it a read 🙂 I think Jonathan Hickman is doing a lot more than the “traditional” comic book story.

      For instance, More time is spent on the political wheeling and dealing of the fictional nations of Atlantis and Wakanda than on fight scenes. Those are often left implied, between comics – and you just see the outcome.

      As a writer, and a lover of comics, I really enjoy his work, if it’s not obvious!

      Liked by 1 person

    • He is not the artist. With the indie comics, he seems to be working with individuals who are seeing it through. I love the art in East of West, and am not a huge fan of the art in Manhattan Projects.

      For the Marvel Comics, he’s had a number of different artists. For the crossover event Infinity that he wrote last fall, there were three different artists – one handled space, one Earth, and one did the book-ends, the first and last issues. I think there were other artists yet doing the issues of Avengers and New Avengers at the time!

      All this is to say that it was harder to figure out the link until I started tracking him as the writer.

      There are elements used, however, that are all him. Like the “Everything Ends” picture, he uses whole-page chapter titles within the comics, as well as quotes from within the universe. And in the Marvel titles, he does great recaps at the start – which help to reinforce the language and art.

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  2. Great piece on one of my favorite writers. I picked up his very early indy work The Nightly News on a whim and have been following him ever since. His gift is being able to take something really big and deliver it to a reader as though it were weightless.

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    • That’s a really good way to put it.

      I also love the fact he’s willing to tackle the big stuff: religion, advanced science, politics and conspiracy. So many times you see someone just kind of stick their toe in the deep end, and talk about just one difficult topic. Hickman juggles as many as he can. And he makes it look easy – weightless.

      I have The Nightly News in the Test Pattern collection – really need to give that a read!

      Like

  3. I fell in love with his work from issue 1 on East of West! I can read those issues over and over again. I’m hoping to someday see these comics on, either, the movie screen or television.

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  8. Old post, I know, but I missed it the first time around. I was all set to comment about how I’ve never really liked Hickman’s work, but this makes me think I was probably wrong and ought to reread everything. I think I might like him more in TPB form than month-to-month.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, glad you gave it a read and got you thinking 🙂

      I think you’re right, week-to-week is not Hickman at his best. He tells big stories, long stories. As I understand it his story-arc in Avengers and New Avengers is three years, and it’s finishing up year two now. Things are coming together, crashing together. But one, individual issue of New Avengers might exclusively deal with Namor and Black Panther, for instance, verbally sparring about Atlantis and Wakanda. On its own, not much of a thing. It took two trade paperbacks to fully explore the story-arc about the Perfect World! And the plot really is happening between these two comics, where Avengers has spent most of its run publishing twice a month, New Avengers once a month, and then the Infinity event last year on top of that. So in two years of comics it ends up as a LOT of content. A lot of story.

      One thing I would recommend if you are reading Hickman in a TPB, still read the introduction or between-comic bits. In the Avengers comics, he does an introduction of a previously-in page, which rearrange the conversations, change the scene where something is being said, and have a bunch of callbacks to some of his repeated language and stuff that I now quote (that no one gets… had to buy some people Avengers so they’d get it). In East of West, it’s quotes and things from the in-world religion. In The Manhattan Projects, it’s quotes from the Feinman lectures and such, something that exists in our world, but with a whole new spin in the alternate universe.

      TL;DR I love how Hickman takes on both religion and myth, and science and possibilities. But that takes time, and TPB is probably the best way to read him 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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