In the not too distant future, a Vatican-backed research project has discovered the secret of time travel. With it the Church plans to fix the future by altering the past. They send a warehouse of modern weaponry and enhanced soldiers to Rome in 312 AD. But plans change quickly as the cardinal in charge of the mission is shot. Or at least that is how the aging Gene Pope is telling the young Holy Roman Emperor in an alternate Constantinople generations after those events.
Pax Romana is a four-issue comic series by Jonathan Hickman released in 2008. Set largely in the later years of the Roman Empire (though through the lens of hindsight), the plot largely follows a full contingent of time-displaced soldiers led by Nicholas Chase, a retired American general along with a cohort of partners on a mission from the Pope to change history and right the wrongs of modern humanity. Things however don't exactly go as planned, with changes in strategies, jealousies, political intrigue and human error taking the original mission on a different if interesting course.
- Alternate History Wank: The Romans, or the Holy Roman Empire as they come to be known, not only last much longer but go on to hold dominion over a large chunk of the world in the centuries after. Another emerges in Africa which is forged by a breakaway faction of Chase's group. They eventually form a union with the HRE through marriage in the future.
- Author Tract: The Bad Future scenes seem to give this impression, though they're ultimately a red herring for the actual themes.
- Bad Future: The 2050s. From the perspective of the Catholic Church and protagonists from the "original timeline" at least.
- Badass Army: Chase's forces, rechristened as the Eternal Army of Rome, by virtue of being comprised of experienced soldiers and a suite of modern hardware.
- Bio-Augmentation: The time-displaced force under Chase (including himself) were given genetic enhancements before their arrival, so as to better do their mission. This also includes longevity.
- Body Horror: The unlucky soldiers at the fringes of the time machine's radius pop up sometime later, looking far worse for wear.
- Boom, Headshot!: This is how Chase ultimately dies.
- Christianity Is Catholic: As a result of Chase and company's actions, the United Church under the Vatican is pretty much the only Christian denomination around and is much more "catholic" (in the sense of being universal) than the actual Catholic Church. Tellingly, the Gene Pope's other titles include being the Black Rabbi, Last Caliph and even the high priest to Amon-Ra.
- Decoy Protagonist: Cardinal Beppi Pelle, the clergyman sent back along with Chase was one of the key people in charge of overseeing the time-travel experiments and is nominally the head of the force. He's shot by Chase and company not long after they arrive.
- Four-Star Badass/Retired Badass: General Nicholas Chase. He didn't rise up the ranks by kissing posterior after all. He even sort-of survives his own death through the various Gene Popes over the generations.
- Giving Radio to the Romans: The main premise of the plot. The ailing Catholic Church sends a paramilitary group back to 312 AD to use both advanced technology and knowledge of future events to help the Roman Empire set up a stronger foundation for the Church. Things don't go as planned, but even so, technology and culture advance much quicker than in the unaltered timeline, although it still takes generations before a more recognizably modern landscape emerges.
- Medieval Morons: Averted. The Romans are amazed by the technology and powers Chase and company display, but they're definitely not idiots nor blindly taking their advice.
- Low Culture, High Tech: At first anyway. The time travelers are aware that their technological advantage won't last too long if they're not careful, especially as their ammo depletes and hardware breaks down without the means to manufacture new ones. As a result, they make use of it to set up a basis on which Rome can advance, though gunpowder is relatively easy to introduce. This also explains why the Romans don't leap into modernization right away and why it still takes centuries before an Industrial Revolution occurs.
- Noodle Incident: A number of events in the altered timeline are mentioned that aren't really elaborated upon. Notably the arrival of another Vatican expedition centuries after the events of the story, who become a new Knights Templar. And eventually, the Romans setting up off-world colonies by the 15th Century AD.
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The Vatican in the "original timeline" had their time-traveling technology and any incriminating evidence of its existence destroyed, which also meant that the armed force sent back in time are stuck there for good. This is done in order make sure that no one else could tamper with time. Though not before sending another contingent a few centuries later than the first one as backup, who end up becoming an alternate Knights Templar.
- Puppet King: Emperor Constantine subverts this. While he agrees to go along with Chase's plan, it's made clear that he still has considerable clout in Roman politics. His son is also a subversion of sorts at least until he's gunned down.
- Reasonable Authority Figure:
- Emperor Constantine, who sincerely believes that Chase's vision for mankind is also for the good of Rome. General Chase himself is more of a deconstruction of this trope.
- In the original timeline, the Pope counts.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: This is the basic justification behind the original plan. Problems arise however over how to go about it, let alone what was meant by that in the first place.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: A good deal of the comic also delves into this trope, showing just how far people would strive to achieve it. And also how their own failings and hubris can make utopia both undesirable and impossible in its purest form.
- Was It Really Worth It?: A recurring motif. The comic constantly has the protagonists (and readers) wondering whether their actions and goals are really worth their high-minded visions.
- We ARE Struggling Together: While General Chase and his fellow officers don't always see eye-to-eye, they initially manage to stick together. As time passes however, this degenerates into A House Divided as their personalities and differing visions start forming rifts among themselves.
- You Can't Go Home Again: It's made clear that the time-displaced soldiers have no way to get back to their original time.