Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Mike Huddleston
Image Comics, 2022
Staying in the shadow of Shakespeare’s rebuilt Globe Theatre in Southwark on the Thames, your reviewer picked up the collected edition of the science fiction title Decorum at a comic shop on a recent business trip to London, and then spent what should have been a busy work-related afternoon instead fascinated by the (literal) universe that writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Mike Huddleston have created.
Set in the far future, Decorum describes a series of human and alien civilisations scattered across our galaxy, traversed with the sort of almost casual interstellar flitting we see in the Star Wars motion pictures. There are governments and grand diplomacy between federations of worlds, to be sure, but people still toil away, trading and hustling and getting on with life. When The Comics Journal says https://www.tcj.com/reviews/decorum/, “ Decorum is all over the place. Only Hickman’s skill as a writer saves the book from being completely self-indulgent, and while the story is absolutely brimming with ideas, there are so many of them that even over the course of 400+ pages, none of them stick around long enough to truly immerse the reader“, we completely disagree. Society is complex, and will remain so. Mr Hickman brings that home.The hero of this story, Neha, wants to free her family from a hermetic suspension. They will be cured of a pandemic illness and released when finally aggregates enough cash. And she has a long way to go.Contrasted with this base existence is the stylish master assassin, Imogen. She cannot possibly be British – who knows where the Earth is in this universe? – but she clearly has modern British élan. She even drinks tea, with a husband who looks remarkably like King Charles:
Here is someone supremely confident in her abilities, fearless and aloof, concerned about decorum (hence, the title of the story) when success is a given. “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what knife you use.”
There is a lot to like in both characters. Neha does grubby work because of the best of reasons – Neha wants to save her family. And when Imogen meets Neha, Imogen takes her under her wing, recognising not just a good heart but also, somehow, talent. Perhaps the talent is more important than the heart, or, perhaps, the heart fuels the talent.
Artist Mike Huddleston’s art is, quite simply, beautiful, strange, diverse, and wonderful. By way of example, compare this:
… with this:
Decorum is a quest, of sorts. There is something very, very vaguely in the story which is reminiscent of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune. This is no complaint. We have human culture so changed by the enormous passage of time that only the base elements – commerce, war, religion – have survived. We have a messiah, albeit one who is reincarnated by way of a weird cosmic egg.
We have an all-female elite (Imogen’s school of assassins), a cadre of warriors trained with a discipline that reminds us of the Bene Gesserit in Dune. We witness a rise to supreme power from a position of bleak desperation, not unlike Paul Atriedes. And we have artificial intelligences gone mad, destroying worlds without hesitation in order to preserve malign coding. From that perspective, Dune’s historical Butlerian Jihad banning computers seems quite sensible.
A comment on Reddit about Decorum noted that Mr Hickman pulled back on the stick in the final moments of the journey. Having spent a significant amount of time building up the layered backdrop to the story, it does come to a quick conclusion. But is that cause for complaint?
(This review replaces a previous review, which contained a number of significant errors – including the correct name of the author, Mr Hickman. Our apologies for the oversights.)