Well, separated from my beloved Avengers (and SHIELD, and the Fantastic Four) I find Jonathan Hickman’s tics and tricks a lot less annoying. All your favorite Hickman elements are here. Mysterious prophecies known only to some of the cast. A looming end of the world conflict. Alternate histories making the reader even more confused. Heck, it even has a protagonist that really isn’t much of a good guy (like many of the Avengers these days). All that said, when it isn’t the Avengers or another Marvel property, I don’t have a problem with it.
I came into this book totally cold, with literally no idea what the book is about. It turns out to be fairly complicated, but by the end of the first trade, things have cleared up nicely. Three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse have been reborn as very dangerous children, and they spend all their time traveling the world making sure that things keep moving the way they are supposed to (towards the end times). Certain powerful individuals are either profiting from or helping those end times along.
The powerful folks helping the Horsemen give us a nice glimpse into the alternate world we are reading about. America is divided, with a Native American nation and a new China, things are very different than the world we know. Add in that the familiar elements of America are either futuristic or Wild West archaic, and that makes for one mixed-up but interesting setting.
The last horseman, Death, has not been reborn as a child. After falling love and fathering a child, Death is instead riding around the Earth avenging the death of his wife. Since this version of Death is a big mean cowboy riding a robot horse with no head, that revenge takes the form of shooting an awful lot of people. Death and his allies are not heroes in any sense, but it is easy to start rooting for them when you see the other horsemen’s corrupting influence. I actually found myself more interested in the dissention in the ranks of the secret society more than anything else.
(I also loved the search for a new President after Death’s visit in the first issue. It was refreshing to see that so many of those government servants were unwilling to go along with the three horsemen’s demands.)
Nick Dragotta’s work isn’t exactly realistic or dark, but he is still a great choice for the book. The world is both foreign and familiar, and the character designs are memorable and easy to “get.” Death’s two Native American companions are going to be hard to top, though; they are pretty dang cool with their simple white and black designs. I also found myself fascinated by Death’s headless horse. I’m glad it seems to have survived the first collection!
This looks and feels like a Vertigo book that I would have gone crazy for back in college. So maybe I’m learning that Jonathan Hickman actually writes GOOD comics, I just don’t like the mix of his ideas and my classic super-heroes!