"Red Mass for Mars" was the fourth Image book from Jonathan Hickman, the third of a small wave of them released back in 2008 alongside "Pax Romana" and "Transhuman," and while the other two finished up in late 2008, this one has lagged behind. So, here it is, two years after the first issue shipped and, during that time, Hickman has gone on to become a little bit of a mucky muck at Marvel, writing "Secret Warriors," "S.H.I.E.L.D.," and, of course, "Fantastic Four." Hopefully, with his larger profile, readers will flock to this series in trade as it tells the story of 33 superhumans defending Earth from a superior alien invasion in the year 2118.
The first three issues of the series have been the set-up for this final confrontation as Mars, the Superman-esque hero that landed on Earth in the 9th century, has decided to stand beside the rest of the heroes after some, including his son, have already fallen in a failed attempt to destroy the Hun-Du fleet as it makes its way to Earth. The final battle is bloody and brutal with both sides taking heavy casualties, but the stakes are high with the Hun-Du being parasites that feed upon and control their hosts, reveling in the destruction and control that comes with the conquest.
Compared to previous issues, this one is a quick, breezy read with most of the discussions and words put firmly behind the heroes, all that remains is the fight. It's a somewhat strange issue in that respect as it lacks the usual philosophical and technical discourse of Hickman's Image work. But, at the same time, more than any of his other works, this one is an example of philosophy in action as the series has been built around the progression of conceptions of Utopia, this issue embodying 'fraternity.' At the same time, it's a big superheroes versus aliens battle, and Hickman wisely pulls back with the dialogue and narration, leaving the minimal amount.
Ryan Bodenheim's art on this series has been phenomenal. His detailed renderings of the Hun-Du give them a terrifyingly real feeling, while also getting across the epic nature of the confrontation. While Mars isn't the only hero standing against them, Bodenheim makes it look that way almost as the leader of the Hun-Du and Mars almost mirror one another. In stepping back, Hickman also just lets Bodenheim loose, calling for lots of cool imagery for the space battle and allowing for large panels when appropriate. Hickman's muted coloring emphasizes the strong line work of Bodenheim's pencils, using only a small range of colors. It almost has the feeling of a black and white comic, but with a variety of subtle, faint colors.
Hickman's minimal writing allows Bodenheim to carry the issue and he does so ably, delivering art that befits the epic scope of the action of this issue. While the wrap-up to "Red Mass for Mars" is surprising in its restrained writing and focus on the battle, something Hickman's Image work has avoided to a degree, it works very well as an action book, showing the final stand of superhuman against a superior force, and putting forth his philosophical point in action. Fans of his Marvel work should definitely look for the trade in October. I mean, only if the idea of Superman and Batman teaming up with every other superhero to fight off an alien invasion in space sounds cool to you, of course.