Known to readers for his superhero genre work on Marvel Comics' S.H.I.E.L.D and Fantastic Four, Jonathan Hickman returns to creator-owned, independent comics with the minimalist science-fiction epic The Red Wing. Originally published in four issues, it’s been collected by Image as a trade paperback edition. Aided by illustrator Nick Pitarra, Hickman's science fiction epic is a visually beautiful addition to the Image catalog.
Audiences unfamiliar with Hickman will find a fast-paced and quick writing style in The Red Wing that avoids longwinded, expository narration as a rhetorical device to engage and introduce plot points. Instead, Hickman allows the art to breathe and cook on its very own, providing key elements of dialogue and a short, prose segment to supplement and accentuate the vivid illustrations crafted by Pitarra. Within three panels on the first page alone, Hickman and Pitarra succeed in conveying the central time-travel premise of the book, and the dire threat is presented by page four.
This technique throughout allows Hickman the literary freedom to explore backstory and change over time as integral elements of the evolving plot, not simply as segues into said backstory or just tangents to the main narrative.
Focusing on the academy lives of young pilots Dominic and Valin, Hickman takes a cue from Star Wars, Star Trek, or any host of science fiction, futurist adventure dramas and centers his tale on the attempts of these two to live up to and in some cases escape from the shadows of their legendary, fighting ace fathers. Although the underlying science behind time travel and mapping temporal trajectories is hinted at in sessions at the academy, Hickman avoids the trappings of becoming too burdened by voyages into string theory or quantum physics. In fact, the most intriguing elements of the story revolve not so much around the battles or flight sequences through time and divergent realities, but rather in the intimate moments of Robert Dorne, Dominic's father.
Here, in the Robert sequences, Pitarra simply shines. From his masterful utilization of negative space and stark blackness in the eight-page crash of Robert's vehicle to the four-paged, subtle and nuanced conversation between Robert and a proto-Mexica leader named Itzamna, Pitarra's illustrative, storytelling abilities are striking.
Some readers may notice the similarities between Pitarra's line art and the work of Geof Darrow, Chris Burnham, or Frank Quitely in their Moebius-influenced style of motion-driven linework, Pitarra, like the other named illustrators, is anything but a mimetic or copycat artist. He brings a vibrance to the pages that only reinforce the story Hickman is developing.
Although it is somewhat unclear why this hostile force is harvesting and chasing down the Red Wing at different points throughout time, when the different spaces and time lines finally begin to converge, the unraveling crisis is finally revealed. Some plot elements here may strike a few readers as predictable, yet Hickman reveals them in such a way that they still come across as intriguing and fresh. And, while certain aspects of the later narrative deserve critical inquiry and assessment of Hickman's strengths as a writer, avoiding plot spoilers, particularly those related to the diverging time lines and characters, would ruin the revelations for interested audiences. Suffice to say that even the most cynical fans of science fiction as well as the time-travel weary will find The Red Wing an enjoyable take on the genre.
Reviewed by Nathan Wilson on March 23, 2012
The Red Wing