Reading Jonathan Hickman’s The Nightly News has been one of the more jarring experiences I have yet encountered with graphic novels. Regularly providing an artistic, entertaining and even socially conscious critique despite their inherent outlet for escapism, every single aspect of The Nightly News is a disturbing, though perhaps necessary confrontation drop-kicked by Hickman directly in the lap of the reader. A blunt commentary on the devolution of journalism and perhaps society, it is an unsettling speculation to what lengths people can go when believing they’re being lied to on a daily or more appropriately nightly basis. That said, it is even more unsettling when given such outrage, one realizes how subtly and often such manipulation continues to occur.
Read the first several chapters and one will think The Nightly News is a rather linear treatise, a thought piece born of intense frustration pondering the implications of justifying domestic terrorism against the information elites in power. It is that to a degree, a clever hook to readers triggering an emotional response to an issue in which seemingly everyone nowadays feels strongly. It is the story of John Guyton, of his recruitment and supposed deprogramming within the Brotherhood of the Voice. Consisting mainly of society’s disaffected and marginalized, the Brotherhood militantly undertakes action against what they perceive as the constant propaganda by the mainstream, corporate news industry as well as its enveloped commercial and political influences. The machinations between a disgruntled society, professional journalists and the governing elite all make for a superficially explosive amalgam. But things aren’t what they seem, and the story complicates with a deeper exposition outlining the more sinister manipulation between all said influences. In between such manipulation is a slew of calculated bloodshed, domestic terrorism that many would think hitherto improbable (but nevertheless not impossible).
Where Hickman excels is in his direct candor to the reader. From the outset, he peppers his panels with separate factoids regarding the corporate media, undoubtedly stoking the readers’ emotional involvement in the story. His artistry is unique: from a graphic design standpoint, his preponderance of red and the aching sharpness of straightened, multitudes of lines infuses the story with a buzzing though beguiling boxed simplicity; sharp are the contours but the content, the people contained within are cold, faceless. Additionally, he provides numerous personal and perhaps curdling, cynical annotations, tempered upon the reader with his citations, a quasi-objectivity nowhere more evident than a double-edged disclaimer in the subtitle: “A Lie Told in Six Parts”. It is not lost upon reader that avoiding the fine print in this story would be as dangerous as doing so when reading the newspaper or listening to a newscast. His portrayal of the cult, or rather the members’ adherence to desperation and infatuation with knowledge-power is both cathartic as it is depressing; that such empowered and self-aware characters can also predictably, blindly accept an unseen, orchestrated fate they feel is wholly of their own making is Hickman’s most important and unsettling complexity.
For all of the sharpness Hickman brings to The Nightly News, it is not without its occasional flaw. As blatant and meticulous as he is with infusing references in the work, the one major issue is the potential confusion between his anecdotes and the sources cited. While admirably giving credit to his sources, they are not enumerated, thereby becoming enmeshed with his anecdotes (both at the end of the work), potentially spoiling the ending for the reader. Nevertheless, some of Hickman’s most important points are located within his anecdotes. His passionate either-or arguments between “head or heart”, “doubt and faith” are not overstated. Rather, it is an intense plea upon the reader not to choose either, but to realize why they are forced to accept such a choice at all. In all, the Nightly News is a violent, daring and important work, an unpleasant though necessary artistic jolt, with a resonance extending far beyond the comics community.