Creator Spotlight showcases comic creators whose work you should be enjoying if you don’t already. This edition is by Daryll Benjamin, in which he digs deep on 11-year wunderkind writer (and sometimes illustrator) Jonathan Hickman.
Since 2006, the world of comics has had a literal supernova come onto the scene and turn things upside down. With a count of 20 properties and no less than 250+ individual issues written, Jonathan Hickman is nothing short of the workman superstar for comic book fans. He has an extensive resume for both Image Comics and Marvel Comics. I’ll go through most of them, but I am going to rely mostly on his works that I have had a deep personal experience with. Let’s start with Image Comics.
Jonathan Hickman first broke onto the scene with The Nightly News in 2006–07 which looked at modern news reporting in the current age. Well, modern newscasting in a weird comic book universe, that is. He first gave readers a glimpse of his world building abilities here with a gritty, hand drawn outing (only 6 issues) that had surprises and an amazing amount of depth. The makings of a future superstar to me actually came through on the next work of his that I picked up years later.
Sure, he had also written Popgun, Pax Romana, Transhuman, Red Mass for Mars, and Comic Book Tattoo in the 4 years before (I did say he wrote a lot right?) I picked up Hickman’s next major work that struck a chord with me: The Red Wing with art by Nick Pitarra in 2011. Imagine mixing the movie Independence Day with the DC Comics property Blackhawks as Earth (or an Earth-like planet) in the future has teams of jet fighters heading off an invasion from another time. This 4 issue limited series proved in a short time that Hickman could layer his storytelling on a universal scale. This effect would come into greater focus with his best known Image/non-Marvel work. No, not Secret, but The Manhattan Projects with Nick Pitarra in 2012.
The Manhattan Projects is the story of the infamous Think Tank that created the Atomic Bomb during World War II. However, on this Alternate Earth, the think tank consisting of Joseph Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Harry Daghlian & Albert Einstein doesn’t break up and continues, in secret, making scientific strides for good and ill. Lasting through the decades, bending and twisting historic events and figures through plots of government, international policy, aliens, robotics, human experimentation, among everything else. When I said there is a lot going on in Hickman’s mind, it wasn’t hyperbole, because while he had these balls in the air for Image Comics, Marvel came calling for him.
Jonathan Hickman did stories for Marvel that were serialized in Legion of Monsters and Astonishing Tales in 2007 & 2009, but it was in the midst of Tales that Marvel offered him his first real impact work with the company: Secret Warriors. Shepherded in the beginning by his buddy Brian Michael Bendis and with art by talented artists Stefano Caselli, Ed McGuinness, Alessandro Vitti, among others, Hickman told a tale of Nick Fury and a green, rookie force of super-powered agents trying to weed out a major Hydra infiltration within SHIELD. The series is notable for three major reasons: 1) storylines used here have been used in the live action Agents of SHIELD series. Most notably Agent Daisy Johnson, a.k.a Skye, a.k.a Quake; 2) Hickman deftly used connections to every corner of the Marvel Universe setup by Bendis and used them to feed his stories. On this team you had ties to the mystic, Gods, mutants, Inhumans along with hardcore spy stuff!; 3) He spun out of this roots that led to his other Marvel projects including a later “origin story” in S.H.I.E.L.D. and the next project I’m about to tackle of his, Fantastic Four.
The run that put Hickman on the radar of most Marvel Fans, his Fantastic Four did several things that helped shape the Marvel Universe for years to come. First, he formed the omni-universal Council of Reeds, which for years was the domain of the more evil elements (see Kang) but affected our Reed’s decision making from that point on but also led to him creating the Future Foundation as a balance. The Future Foundation was Reed and Susan’s give to the future, a learning habitat for the gifted kids of the Marvel Universe under the Four’s watch. It became a second series in its own right.
Second, Hickman, for better or worse, reintegrated parts of Marvel Cosmic back to the “main” Marvel Universe through this run. As a result, Annihilus, The Negative Zone, Inhumans, Kree, among others were now back in play and that led to: the “death” of the Human Torch. Yes. You read that right. This death, led to other heroes, most notably Spider-Man, becoming involved once again with the Fantastic “Three” and the Future Foundation, thus expanding Hickman’s ties through the FF to the rest of the Marvel Universe (see T’Challa becoming Lord of the Dead; Black Bolt establishing a New Atillian on Earth & Valeria’s renewed ties with Dr. Doom).
So once again, Hickman has all of these plots rolling with Fantastic Four, he goes and takes a sojourn into the Ultimate Marvel Universe. Deciding to “rehab” The Ultimates in his style, Hickman writes Ultimate Comics: Thor, Ultimate Comics: Ultimates, Ultimate Comics: Fallout & Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye over the years 2010-2012, which helped fans forget the disaster of Ultimates 3 (the less said about that one the better. Trust me on this one readers) and essentially laid the groundwork for future storylines of his because, impressed with his work here, Marvel decided to give him the plum job of the line.
Brian Michael Bendis was moving on from Avengers and who better to take his place than the world-building Jonathan Hickman? Hickman takes over both Avengers & The New Avengers in 2012 (even ADDING another Avengers book Avengers World in 2013 to the mix to boot!) with a cavalcade of star artists and integrated some of the high Marvel cosmic plotting that was involved in both his Fantastic Four & The Ultimates runs while moving Bendis’ own Illuminati story to a “logical” conclusion within the mega stories/events Infinity & Time Runs Out. The previous detailing an intergalactic war vs higher beings while Thanos and his Black Order attack Earth on a personal objective (sound familiar, Marvel Cinematic Universe fans?). The latter, which had been hinted throughout all of Hickman’s Marvel runs, shows 616’s heroes fighting a losing battle against a multi-universal entropy as universes are crashing together, annihilating each other.
This was essentially a 7-year (yes, you read that right) build to Hickman’s Marvel (for now) Finale: 2015-16’s Secret Wars with Esad Ribic on art. All the universes are tragically united under a surprising savior with an even more surprising police force overseeing each region. Different eras and storylines, loved and hated by Marvel fans, mashed up and all coexisting under Hickman’s direction making this by far his largest project to date. It served as a wrap-up to not only his Avengers run, but ended up being a fitting goodbye to his Fantastic Four run too.
SOOOO what is Jonathan Hickman doing today? Well the master storyteller never stopped doing creator-owned work there while at Marvel. Over Image he has three books currently ongoing. The first is one he started in 2013, the critically acclaimed East of West, an alternate, Dystopian history of the United States from the Civil War on, where the U.S. is essentially 7 different countries united by the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. Yes. Once again, you read that right. The second title, The Black Monday Murders, is a weird ‘who done it’ in a style similar to aforementioned The Nightly News, which got Hickman started down this rabbit hole a decade ago. The third title currently running is The Dying and the Dead, about a man with a dying wife being given the opportunity to save her, meanwhile a murder at a wedding reveals a fifty year-old secret. Hickman fans know the man loves secrets.
There you have it! An abbreviated look at comic writing wunderkind Jonathan Hickman. Thanks for reading along this journey and I wholeheartedly recommend trying out his stuff for a literary good time.
Until Next Time, Keep Fantasizing!
*Thx to Image Comics, Marvel Comics & Wikipedia for the timeline and book title names.*