Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Mike Huddleston
Publisher: Image Comics
Age Rating: M
Original Release Date: March 11th, 2020
Reviewer: Plastic Frank
Decorum is a relatively new comic by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Huddleston in which the galaxy has been transformed into a dystopian hellscape by thousands of years of interstellar colonialism and runaway capitalism. Decorum #1 debuted in print just about a year ago on Mar 11th, 2020. The artist, Mike Huddleston, is someone whom I’ve followed with admiration for well over a decade now and it’s high time I catch up with this beautiful comic.
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The spandex-fetishists among you probably recognize Decorum’s writer, Jonathan Hickman. He’s worked for Marvel pretty consistently since 2007 and immediately previous to Decorum Hickman led the X-Men franchise through the House of X and Powers of X miniseries. The subsequent Dawn of X relaunch was done under Hickman, who supervised all X-Men related creative teams. This is all to say that he’s kind of a big deal in the industry and yet I am unfamiliar with his work probably due to my aversion to lycra bodysuits.
Mike Huddleston has been working on indie and creator owned comics since the mid 90s. His first real breakthrough was illustrating Phil Hester’s The Coffin in 2000, a beautiful modern take on the Frankenstein archetype. The Coffin caught the attention of Guillermo del Toro and James Cameron who optioned The Coffin for a movie, going so far as to produce a script that was unfortunately never filmed. A few of Huddleston’s projects since The Coffin include Deep Sleeper with Phil Hester again, Mnemovore, a Lovecraftian tale written by Ray Fawkes and Hans Rodionoff as well as Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #1-8 with Joe Casey. Huddleston did eventually get to work with del Toro, illustrating The Strain comics from 2011-2015. The Strain TV show is said to be heavily influenced by Huddleston’s work in the books.
In the first pages of Decorum the reader is sort of dropped in the deep end. I found it intriguingly challenging. The scope of the preface is extreme, spanning tens of thousands of years and hundreds of thousands planets. I particularly liked this naked attack of Star Trek’s prime directive:
“Predictably, this ‘containment’ method failed [originating itself from the ‘flawed’ idea that the evolution of all creatures should occur in an uninterrupted fashion] and after several generations of seed ships spoiling each Goldilocks planet, the idea of off-world preserves was born. “
I’m sure it’s a bit of sarcastic humor on Hickman’s part but it also serves to illustrate to the reader the world you’re venturing into is not safe, or just.
The first thing you notice about Decorum is that the art is wonderful. The first 9 pages of illustration are nearly devoid of any text or dialogue. Huddleston’s art keeps you engaged while you struggle to guess where the story is going. The first chapter is a montage of the aboriginal denizens of an unknown planet under attack by mysterious AI aggressors in search of a very MacGuffin-like object. Huddleston’s approach is bold and varying in levels of abstraction. There are sequences reminiscent of Ashley Wood and Popbot. The coloring is experimental and rarely literal.
In Chapter 2 after a series of world building charts and indices we are introduced to Neha, a courier who is apparently being exhorted by a pharmaceutical megacorp holding a loved one in suspended animation. She’s haggling with Luca, a mid level bad guy, over the delivery of a mysterious package to a foreboding location. The promise of money overrides Neha’s disinclination and she reluctantly takes the job.
In Chapter 3 Neha arrives at her destination where a mysterious ageless white-haired woman is confronting Boss Doman D’vorth V about his betrayal to the Syndacate Major. Neha’s package is for the mystery woman. Imogen Smith-Morely is a member of the The Righteous Guild hired by the Syndicate Major to assassinate Doman. Neha’s delivery is a high tech weapon that Imogen proceeds to use to murder Doman and all of his henchmen, leaving Neha the only one left alive in the room. Imogen asks “Now. What are we going to do with you?”
I can only assume that in subsequent issues Neha and Imogen form an unlikely pair whose continuing adventures form the basis of what will be Decorum’s main storyline.
While it’s hard to judge a comic based on the first two dozen or so pages of a series I’m here for the art and the world building. Hickman and Huddleston are a high pedigree team who I expect great things from. Everything I’ve ever seen from Mike Huddleston has been great and issue #1 of Decorum is no exception.
The setting of a galaxy made unlivable by colonialism and greed provides an undercurrent of social critique, a staple of most good sci-fi. I was genuinely surprised by what happened when Neha and Imogen crossed paths. An assassin having her weapon delivered to her at the scene of the crime struck me as darkly funny and clever.
I feel like I’ve only caught a glimpse of the characters and story. What I have seen is promising so I intend to stick with it. I would recommend Decorum to anyone looking for bold, creative sci-fi a little outside the status quo of American comics.