The Nightly News
Ask the average person what their opinion of the news is and I’d be willing to bet that you’ll open up a can of worms that you’ll immediately regret. The idea of news as a pure, objective source of information is long in the past. Now that we’re in the age of the twenty-four hour news cycle and the “No Spin Zone,” someone’s favorite news channel can be more controversial than you’d think. Some people choose to point out these biases and others remain unaware (or ambivalent) but in his series The Nightly News, creator Jonathan Hickman takes on news and corruption in a remarkably cynical, Frank Miller-esque manner. The Nightly News is a one-shot series of six issues, was published by Image Comics in 2006 and was both written and illustrated by Jonathan Hickman. It’s meant for the cynics and the conspiracy nuts among us and is as darkly humorous as they come.
The Nightly News is the story of a group that becomes labeled as the Cult of the Voice and their attempts to bring justice to corrupt journalists by any means necessary. While the author makes it very clear that he’s not advocating violence, this cult of anti-news activists use a system of identifying corrupt or lazy reporters that have ruined the lives of others by pursuing story rather than fact and kill them on live television. The Nightly News is essentially a treatise against the twenty four hour news cycle and the lack of objectivity and fact in news today. It makes the argument that the news is created to indoctrinate the public rather than to inform them and that it is engineered that way by a complicated, corrupt web of politicians, businessmen and journalists. The cult aims to create a world free of that pervasive influence and they kill many of those that they see as contributing to this culture of indoctrination. The story is supported by a unique art style and infographics that may or may not be factual but that add to the story being told. The web woven throughout The Nightly News is complicated and occasionally hard to follow but it’s certainly not short on hairpin curves.
Those who have been following previous articles here at Graphic Reviews may recall that I’m not exactly a Jonathan Hickman fan. To be perfectly honest, I was extremely hesitant to even pick up The Nightly News because I flat out hated Pax Romana. The Nightly News is a step above Pax Romana in several ways but the best I can say about it is that it’s not quite as terrible. Just like with Pax Romana, the story is essentially a tiresome treatise on a subject that appears to be near and dear to Hickman’s heart. It’s like if you mashed Noam Chomsky with the lunatic on the street corner and then gave him a gun. Stories often have a point that they want you to walk away with when you’re finally finished reading but I truly hate when the story gets lost in that point. For a large part of The Nightly News, I felt like I was reading some manifesto posted on some obscure blog. At no point did I care about a single one of the characters because I was never given a reason to do so. They weren’t fully fledged people, they’re just talking points for Hickman. It also falls prey to what appears to be Hickman’s fatal flaw: an addiction to babbling on and using an art form meant for SHOWING to TELL you everything. There were understandable and relatable points in the story and lessons in which I somewhat agreed with Hickman, only to have him take it to some conspiracy nut wet dream’s extreme and lose my attention completely. It’s not quite on the same level of Pax Romana, but I feel no smarter or emotionally changed from reading this. Mostly, I was just bored.
A large part of the reason that it IS actually better than Pax Romana however is the art. While Pax Romana’s panels were so heavily dominated by text that I could barely tell that there was art in there at all, The Nightly News does very interesting things with the art work. Gone are the traditional panels. It has the same strangely pretty art style as I’ve come to expect from Hickman but he uses shadow and color to have violence without it being gory. It’s still somewhat shocking but more stark and therefore more interesting for it. There is still a lot of text but instead of hiding the art, it accentuates it. For a story with this much text and extraneous infographics, it’s actually easy and compelling artistically to follow the progression from page to page.
Given my deep hatred of his previous work, I had pretty low expectations of The Nightly News. Perhaps that colored my opinion but frankly I’m still not convinced that Hickman knows that graphic novels are supposed to tell stories along with the moral. If you’re fascinated by conspiracies and the idea that the news is really just propaganda, The Nightly News may be just the book for you. To be fair, the art makes it worth flipping through even if you’re as bored by conspiracies as I am. For those who like Hickman more than I do, I promise to give him one last shot via East by West later this month. Then we’ll see if it’s strike three for Graphic Reviews and Jonathan Hickman.