Page 45 Review by Jonathan
Set in a future where Islam has overrun Western Europe, Vatican-funded scientists unexpectedly discover that limited time travel is possible. After the obligatory discussion about the rights and wrongs involved in such an undertaking, the Pope justifies to himself that sending a private army back in time to conquer the world and maintain the then dominance of Catholicism in perpetuity would be probably be in everyone's best interests. Well, except the Muslims' obviously. And so he does, sending five thousand mercenaries led by a trusted Cardinal and hand-picked military experts equipped with state of the art munitions and even a few tactical nukes back to the time of the first Christian emperor, Constantine. They have strict papal instructions to follow regarding what they should do, although it quickly becomes clear that certain people think the freedom to dictate strategy ought to be exercised by those at the sharp end, not from several thousand years away in a future that won't ever actually come to pass anymore.
I was therefore slightly puzzled to see Jonathan Hickman's quote of "Obviously, it's a very small personal story about finding yourself." I can certainly see that Hickman very adequately explores the moral questions regarding whether one should even try such an undertaking and the challenges that would inevitably follow but I don't really see what he's driving at with that statement. For me this more a story about people inevitably taking the chance to abuse power either for their own ends, or simply because they think they know best, and in fact learning very little because they never ever do question the veracity of what they're doing. Others just below the leadership of course do, very frequently, with the all-too predictable power grabs and counter power grabs that ensue. So to me it's actually a story about people never really finding themselves at all. To be fair he does also state "There aren't any good guys, I didn't write any good guys. There are people that believe in things, but it doesn't mean they're believing in the right things." That sounds a bit more like it. Yes, certain big questions are asked, for example would you allow slavery, commonplace at that time, to continue because you need an indentured work force to rapidly build the infrastructure you need and thus improve the lot of the general population much more rapidly, at least until you get to an acceptable modern standard, then you could discontinue the practice?
PAX ROMANA is also apparently partly inspired by Frank Herbert's God Emperor of Dune. I'm assuming in part the connection is the extremely long time period of several thousand years over which PAX ROMANA is set (plus people single-handedly trying to direct the course of history). Or at least that was Hickman's original intention, and that is where for me a glorious opportunity has been inexcusably squandered in cutting the series to a mere four issues. Okay, okay, I understand that the original intention to do a longer series had to be at first delayed then curtailed, presumably due to Hickman getting work for certain other publishers, but it all just gets wrapped up so rapidly as to leave me with a very dissatisfied taste in my mouth. Presumably all the time he spent reading Hegel and undergoing a prodigious study of history, geography, geology and philosophy and doing a lot of research about the geographic changes of the state of Rome over the 300-year period of the fall of the Roman Empire and trying to figure out how I would consolidate borders and stuff like that was a bit of a waste of time then? I really really do feel Hickman has totally fluffed the opportunity to do something really special here. For me, though, the crowning sin / stupidity is to include a multiple-page timeline of events after the conclusion of the storyline at the end of the book, right through to the current time in the future that destroys any serious possibility of revisiting PAX ROMANA and continuing it. Crazy, and I just cannot understand the logic of doing that. I actually think it's almost a touch conceited and a lazy way of finishing something. And maybe I'm just being unduly harsh because something that started so strongly and promising seemed to me at least to finish so weakly. Really really nice art though, I will give him that.
[Editor's note: in spite of the above we do highly recommend Hickman's NIGHTLY NEWS, his first break-through graphic novel which was riddled with wit and quite startling in its execution.]