East of Gotham: Why Jonathan Hickman is the Best Thing to Happen to Comics in a Decade, from Nightly News to the Fantastic Four

Jonathan Hickman has become my favorite comic book author in a remarkably short time. I’ve read the majority of his work and consider most of it absolutely excellent. Hickman, as a writer, has two major story types of which he is the master. He is either writes giant, idea driven works where the characters are incidental, or he writes character driven works where individuals affect the larger scale of culture, time or some other ideology. Let’s take a look at how some of his major works, two independent and two Marvel illustrate this.

The Nightly News was Hickman’s first work in comics and it’s all about big ideas. The story centers around a mysterious cult trying to take down the media for their sloppy reporting ruining lives and attempting to control the populace. The characters are, for the most part, massively cool, but painted in broad strokes- they are mostly archetypes from the evil corporate heads to the charismatic sociopath in it to just blow stuff up. This is probably my favorite graphic novel.

The commercial work most similar to this graphic novel in terms of being about big ideas is the new Shield series, a work our own Jules Galette calls “potentially one of the best works Marvel’s ever published.” These books, with their abundance of ideas, immediately draw in the reader with a joy of originality and pushing the medium. Shield takes an illuminati-esque elite secret society and puts various ideologies at war, utilizing symbolic figures like a dark man and Leonardo Da Vinci to represent the different sides of mankind’s potential.

Thematically, this is very similar to Pax Romana, a world in which the Roman Catholic Church has discovered time travel and sends back a team, including a mercenary army, to change the past. The group in control of changing the past really pushes the plot forward and there is a theme of pragmatism being the way for humanity to achieve true enlightenment and progress throughout. The ideas are big, but it’s the people that make the ideas happen. The individual vision of the main characters pushes the plot.

Reed Richards does this in Hickman’s Fantastic Four. The writer of perhaps the best Richards ever, the four discovering adventurers have uncovered various new and interesting locations and characters, all pushed by the best understanding of Reed Richards I’ve ever come across. This is a man that believes in the progress of humanity through ideas and discovery, much as is shown thematically in Hickman’s other work. With that given, it should perhaps be no surprise at how perfectly Richards has been written. Reed isn’t the only well-written character. Johnny is fun and impulsive in a way that doesn’t make him seem utterly immature or irresponsible. He’s a mess up and a hot head, but it’s easy to see why he’s loved. Sue is constantly taking care of everyone with the air of a consummate professional so often found in mothers with an extended family around… and the Thing… the thing is… touching and tragic. He’s written so well, from the nuances of his speech to, well, why he says what he does. Whatever you make of the plot, the characterizations are definitive. This is the Fantastic Four the way Lee and Kirby meant them to be.

Jonathan Hickman has in his short career two of the better standalone graphic novels I’ve ever read, a definitive run on Marvel’s premier super-team and one of the better original in-house concepts ever delivered to Marvel. More, he is not handcuffed to a particular style when telling these stories. Sure, there are thematic ties, but the changing of how plot and characters are handled, the twists and amazing understanding of both plot mechanics and character already. That’s a resume that befits the Grant Morrisons and Alan Moores of the industry. That’s why Jonathon Hickman is the best new comic book writer in at least a decade.

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