That’s right readers! We’re back with a group review and it ain’t for a DC book! I know! That’s because the writers of the site were going to fight to death for this review and instead of losing a bunch of writers to death, we would just have all of them throw their two cents in. Collectively that ended up being six cents, but we only ended up getting the book two days early and we have schedules to keep! Read the book Image describes as: classic occultism where the various schools of magic are actually clandestine banking cartels who control all of society: a secret world where vampire Russian oligarchs, Black popes, enchanted American aristocrats, and hitmen from the International Monetary Fund work together to keep ALL OF US in our proper place.
The Black Monday Murders is something of a return to an earlier part of Hickman's career, recalling The Nightly News and Pax Romana both in terms of visuals (lots of graphs and diagrams) and subject matter (the inner workings of a bureaucratic cabal of corrupt men). That early era of Hickman is, however, not my favorite part of his oeuvre, and it's nice to see some of his more recent style seeping in. Firstly, the characters, while still a little cold, are already more compelling than anything in Pax Romana or Nightly News. Secondly, while Tomm Coker's style is reminiscent of the shadowy, static realism of Hickman's art, it's more refined and easier to follow. And, perhaps more importantly than any of this, while the book may hearken back to other Hickman work, it is a pleasantly experimental creative turn for the ever formulaic comics industry.
The mix of urban magic, conspiracy theories, and wall street backrooms is an intriguing, if not particularly sexy, central hook. I could use a bit more context to the various characters we meet in this issue, but the sharp dialogue and tantalizing world-building more than make up for it. Specific shout out goes to a story about a cop and a serial killer that manage to take some well-worn procedural cliches and make them intriguing again. In a word, it's a good book which I don't quit have a handle on yet, but will be anxious to follow up on.
This is an intriguing book, in no small part because I walked away from it not knowing whether or not I had actually enjoyed it. If the format were any different or anybody other than Jonathan Hickman was writing this, I’d be scornful or at the very least wary of it. I lose interest in books where the mystery consists of the author cloaking the characters’ speech and actions with layers of context we don’t have, meaning that we just wait for the truth to be revealed. The characters here are almost willfully obtuse in the way that they speak, which might be realistic except that their lingo is so difficult to parse that it creates riddles we can’t solve except with more information. Theo is the most human of the bunch, but he only makes a small portion of this book.
So if this book is doing these things that frustrate me, then why do I think I like it? The basic premise is an entertaining one. While jokes about the opaqueness of the stock market and banking industry are nothing new (The Big Short has put a target on this trope), this book takes it to a hilarious conclusion: finance might as well work through magic because it is magic. Yet beyond its mysterious nature, there are also some potential observations about the relationship of banking to human civilization. Banking is a different kind of power, beyond just wealth. Will there be some further commentary on that? I’m interested.
Furthermore, the book mixes truth and lies like it’s Pazuzu from The Exorcist. It’s true that the majority of serious American market crashes happened in October in the 20th century, but the three major 19th century Panics (1857, 1873, 1893) either fell in September or February. The book shows a stock broker falling to his death in the 1929 Crash, but on the very next page debunks this as a myth. It lists the correct founding year of Citibank (1812), but then it puts J.P. Morgan in 1799, but even the Morgan predecessor was only founded in 1838. Combined with all of the puzzles and symbology, Hickman seems to be inviting us to try and crack it while simultaneously placing red herrings and falsehoods. That makes it fun, and if this book keeps up with these first two things, I’m interested.
Anyone who has read anything by Hickman will tell you that each issue is like a single dot in an impressionist’s painting: beautiful in its own way yet nearly impossible to fully value or appreciate without gaining some perspective. In his most recent creative undertaking The Black Monday Murders, Hickman not only lives up to his reputation for the non-linear, he ascends beyond it to deliver perhaps the most curious, intriguing, and admittedly confusing book of the entire year.
I’m not going to lie, there was a lot going on in that issue. I mean a lot. Hickman has packed more content, history, definitions, and dialogue into a single issue than most writers will cover over the course of an entire arc. This is most assuredly a read and re-read type of book, so I’m not even going to attempt to put into words what took place within these pages but if the idea of global market finance as a living, breathing organism, controlled by mysterious devils/aliens that can manipulate the greed in human beings and in-turn propagate falsehoods that manipulate the poor into submission sounds appealing, then this is for you. And finally, in case any of you ‘HickHeads’ were wondering, the answer is yes: Death still wears white.
Equally as impressive (which is saying a lot) is the eye-capturing art of Tomm Coker. He’s able to create an incredible illusion of movement within the panels that produces a sensation more akin to watching a film than reading a comic book. Did you ever see A Scanner Darkly? That’s exactly what it felt like to me. While on that note, if Hickman and Coker ever did decide to go the film route, Richard Linklater would be a most excellent choice of director, don’t you agree?
In short, this was quintessential, classic Hickman; reminiscent of his early work in Pax Romana, and equally as good as anything he’s had his name on in the past five years. To quote perhaps my favourite movie from childhood, “there’s heroes and there’s legends: heroes get remembered but legends never die.” Jonathan Hickman is a legend and The Black Monday Murders help to solidify his claim to the throne.
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Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Tomm Chocker Publisher: Image Comics Price: $4.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital