Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Mike Huddleston
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
“There are many assassins in the known universe. This is the story of the most well-mannered one.”
There is no shortage of ideas coming from the house of Jonathan Hickman. After revitalizing a flailing X-Men line at Marvel and continuing to oversee that arm of the world outside your window, Hickman has returned to creator-owned material with Decorum, a limited series with a simple yet mysterious set-up. The one making it all work is artist Mike Huddleston. He’s primarily a cover artist these days, having not regularly worked on sequentials since 2015’s The Strain, but it’s his kinetic, mixed media approach that keeps this debut afloat.
If you’re a fan of Jonathan Hickman, you probably enjoy it when he’s being clever. And if you’re not a fan, you probably despise him for precisely the same reason. There’s a certain narrative smugness to the way that Hickman executes his work, almost like he wants to get one over on you, but he also wants you to know that he’s gotten one over on you. Decorum starts with one of those clever bits. A conquistador looks to invade some indigineous people but then you realize that the conquistador is really a robot and the natives have lasers. A battle ensues, but already Hickman has introduced the kind of weirdness that his creator-owned work seems to embody.
But if there’s anything to be said about Decorum #1, it’s that the writer is asking his audience to really trust that he can deliver them something they’ll enjoy, because the pieces don’t seem to fully add up yet. The obelisk-like black figures in the opening seem like they could be villains. The well-mannered assassin from the solicit could be working for them or against them - it’s unclear at this point. The courier who acts as an audience surrogate has about as much of a clue about what’s going on as we do. So any attempt to praise Hickman’s plans are really all for naught. If you aren’t content with letting the story come to you, you aren’t going to like this book.
But even if you pick up this book for no other reason, pick it up for Mike Huddleston’s art. His work is wild and inventive. It has imagination and urgency. It’s almost impossible to compare him to any one artist who is working today, but I’ll make some attempts. Huddleston can deliver some of the lush painting techniques of a Mike Del Mundo, but include emphasis panels that look like they are straight from a manga. His design work and character expressions have the strength and effectiveness of a Phil Noto or Rod Reis, while his pages enjoy the flourishes seen in the work of an artist like Tula Lotay. But there’s a sort of kick-the-door-in, punk rock energy to the whole package that recalls the unpredictability of a Jim Mahfood.
That kind of tonal and stylistic zig-zagging leads to some spectacular visual effects. My favorite beat is a simple one - the courier gets out of a negotiation with her employer that’s mostly rendered in smoky black-and-white, with some red shading for added effect. In the next panel, she’s at a fully painted restaurant, and her body, though small, is a mark of bright yellow just outside of it. Below that, we essentially zoom in on the yellow mark, where we see her eating some noodles. It’s all one page, but Huddleston is stretching a lot of different muscles. It’s an incredible evolution of the style that Huddleston has been honing over the years, and a clear expansion of his stellar work on Butcher Baker Righteous Maker. Huddleston is the real deal, and say whatever else you will about Decorum, but his work alone is worth the cover price.
Your mileage with Decorum will really depend on how much you trust Jonathan Hickman to deliver, and how much you like Mike Huddleston’s art. If the sort of scattershot approach to visual styling is too jarring for you, this one might not work as well, considering that Hickman doesn’t give us too much to really latch onto - I couldn’t honestly tell you what this story is about past telling you what the characters’ jobs are and what they get up to, and that kind of plot-light storytelling isn’t for everyone. That said, if you are in on Huddleston and Hickman, the world of Decorum looks to be an interesting one to explore.