I didn’t catch Jonathan Hickman’s first series “The Nightly News,” but after reading the first issue of “Pax Romana,” I might have to pick it up. The format is text-intensive, with Hickman’s illustrations serving more as static representations of the action his captions are describing – each scene in this setup issue is effectively trapped in amber, but no less engaging. You can get a pretty good impression of the structure from this preview over at CBR.
The core conceits of “Pax Romana” are highly reminiscent of Maria Doria Russel’s novel “The Sparrow,” which Dan (I think) recommended to me earlier this year. I’ve described Russel’s story as “Jesuits in Space,” the story of a secret mission to an alien world by a Vatican-organized team of explorers, linguists and theologians – it was a great idea to explore, unfortunately the story fell apart once the actual mission began. “Pax Romana” hinges on an even more compelling concept, namely, what would happen if a the Roman Catholic Church (in its last, desperate throes in Europe) discovered the means to go back in time? What lengths would the Holy See authorize to ensure the supremacy of the Church’s ideals?
It’s a wild, theologically geeked-out set up for a science fiction story – which means it’s absolutely perfect for my tastes. The first issue is all about world-building, revealing the secret (and now re-written) histories of this incarnation of the Church, as well as introducing those responsible. It’s a hell of a read, and an absolute firecracker of an opening. Your mileage may vary, and those who might be offended by negative depictions of the Church and its attitudes towards other faiths might be out of luck – but since it’s only a four issue limited series, you can take your chances on a single issue or wait around for the trade.