With East of West on hiatus, Manhattan Projects in limbo (along with Dying and the Dead), and Frontier a ways off, where is one to turn for that Hickman fix but The Black Monday Murders. Replete with striking black and white logos, alternate histories, dark magical cabals, and intensely mysterious bankers, Black Monday Murders might be the most Hickman-y book Hickman book yet. This does not guarantee it will be good, however, so it's a relief to crack open the fifty-five (!) page issue and enjoy it thoroughly. Hickman and artist Tomm Coker have taken a concept that doesn't inherently interest me (black magic conspiracies in Wall Street) and, through pure passion, made it one of my favorite new books of the year. As anyone who's ever read a book by Jonathan Hickman might expect, we are still in the set-up stage as the various factions are moved into place and the world is fleshed out. As such, being a little lost isn't so much a risk as a requisite. However, since the story is moving at a brisk pace and the world-building is so top-notch, it's hard to view the density as a deficit. The 21 page cold open takes us to the communist side of the Berlin wall in the 1980s as dark economists (something I've never had cause to type before) open a portal to an ancient meeting place. It's a wonderful opening setpiece that gets across the scale of the world being laid out as well as the idea that even the most outlandish parts of the series have strong ties to a very real world.
The rest of the issue plays out like a very strange DaVinci code style adventure story, with the hero and audience surrogate, Detective Dumas, investigating the strange language from the Murder scene. At the same time, Grigoria Rothschild, the heir apparent to the seat on the Wheel , lays a few cards on the table as to her larger goals. What could be dull is brought to life by a few excellent urban magic details (Ms. Rothschild has a mostly mute monstrous familiar as a companion) and the sharpest dialogue of Hickman's career. Instead of leaning heavily into the densely esoteric sermons which fill East of West and Manhattan Project, Hickman opts for a somewhat more naturalistic approach. This is a great choice as it allows the world to maintain a certain sense of reality without losing the wit and quotability that defines Hickman's writing (When Dumas asks a bank security guard when he started working there, the man smiles and answers "Soon after I accepted the job, which followed it being offered").
Aiding and abetting is Tomm Coker whose photo-filter art style lands somewhere between Alex Maleev and Hickman's own work in the Nightly News. While that style of art isn't my favorite, it's hard to deny that it works very well here with Coker's shadowy (but never murky) images having enough subtlety to give the book a sense of underlying tension. The book feels, visually, a lot like the Nightly News but Coker's art is warmer and more evocative than Hickman's was there, allowing characters like Dumas to be sympathetic instead of coldly interesting (a character instead of an artifact).
There's a lot let to unpack in The Black Monday Murders #2 which I don't feel at all qualified to do, but I'm looking forward to seeing how things develop over the coming months. Hickman and Coker are both working at the top of their game and are clearly having a good time doing it. There's also a lot of material left to explain and develop before the mysteriousness of the comic wears out its welcome, but as is, The Black Monday Murders is not one to miss.
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The Black Monday Murders #2 Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Tomm Coker Colorist: Michael Garland Publisher: Image Comics Price: $4.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital