Review of Multiversity: Pax Americana #1

660722_deb903567558b7bdf35ded508f18cec1e9300b7dby Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely

About five years ago as a young adult I had to come to the acceptance that their were many things in this world that I wouldn’t totally understand at face value and accept them on those terms. It’s been a helpful life lesson that’s also made for a great thing to remember when reading whose over time become my favorite comics writer Grant Morrison. I love Multiversity: Pax Americana. All due respect to my esteemed colleagues pick for this weeks finest but I think it’s the best issue of the week by a country mile. It also might be the best single issue of the year. I don’t totally understand it but that’s ok. One of the things that people get hung up on with Morrison is how his single issue’s don’t make complete sense. I can concede this on some level although I think there is always enough going on with them to make reading it worthwhile and at the same time this is hardly Naked Lunch or The Sound & The Fury but I’ve never read one of his comics stories from front to back that didn’t crystalize everything at the conclusion and make the whole experience all the more rewarding from start to finish. But to get there you have to accept that there is going to be moments of confusion along the way, that it’s really an essential part of his story telling technique. Trust me in that the ride is much more enjoyable as a result. Outside of that context (or maybe because of that) Pax Americana is still an amazing single issue of a comic that explores the dichotomy of cyclical and non cyclical history, violence, utilitarianism, the theoretical nature of linear and non linear time, Watchmen and Steve Ditko. The latter two is perhaps most important as much of the narrative centers on a dichotomy of Alan Moore’s view through the his Captain Atom and Steve Ditko’s via The Question and how to reconcile both the overarching theory of everything with concrete objectivism. It’s a non linear story about the very real question of how far one will go to seek peace versus objective morality. And that is a very real yet criminally unexamined question for comics that makes sense as a stark correlation with Moore’s Watchmen that basically says a bunch of people dying is better for the greater good or the central thesis of Ditko’s entire world view of objectivism that centers on an individuals morality and right to live exactly as it see’s fit being the be all, end all of our existence above anything else. Pax Americana is a study in that dichotomy and that’s essentially the central conflict but in it you have the man in the middle of Haley who in effect uses those idea’s against one another to further  his own vision of America, one that was inspired by comic books no less. Haley and his father represent the infinite legacy of humanity to find a center between those two struggles. How Haley becomes a Christ figure in multiple versions of the comics time stream represents the son of god as both a leader and everyman in the way that we are all theoretically god’s children but still choose one son of god to follow and Pax: Americana is almost asking if those two conflicting ideologies may not be the central infinite struggle of man kind or at the very least the evolution of western society. It’s there in the beginning and last page with Quitely’s grid paneling. Oh yeah let’s talk about that because hallelujah this guy is limitless. It’s amazing how often the artist can push the boundaries on his singular style on every book he does but that’s double for any collaboration with Morrison. If there is a better writer/artist duo in the history of the medium I haven’t seen it yet and yes that includes Kirby/Lee (the former always carried the latter) Pax Americana is perhaps the most detailed and comprehensive work that the two have done together as each small panel is full of life, detail and energy  in beautifully disgusting  renditions. Something like the opening page of the bullet going out of President Haley’s head, the twin towers being rebuilt, The Question’s interrogation or the full scale defense of the white house from terrorist attacks are unreal and again that grid work is pure Ditko through and though while much of the imagery and visual symbols are very much borrowed from Gibbons Watchmen work. Multiversity is a comic series about comics but as is normally the case with a Morrison book that mean’s much more then the elevator pitch. What do comics mean for the world at large? How do two of it’s most important creators conflicting world views reconcile for us? What does that mean? Pax Americana isn’t supposed to give the answer and if that’s what your looking for then you are reading the wrong book. The issue is one of many central questions that make the sum of Multiversity as a whole. Purely as a comic it’s a visceral and entertaining mini epic but as a piece of larger whole that we’ve only just begun to see it’s so much more. What if you could see reality and time as Captain Atom? What if you refused to believe that was viable like the Question? How do you negotiate the two? The answer isn’t here for you but if we all think about it hard enough maybe we can find some truth in it. Is that part of what Morrison means by making the Multiversity reader the superhero? I couldn’t tell you but I know that having it makes the medium all the more better. As is the case with Morrison and life in general, embrace the unknown and enjoy the ride; it’s not like you have a choice in the matter.     

18 thoughts on “Review of Multiversity: Pax Americana #1”

  1. Great review. It was an entertaining comic (even though it left me behind). I think Morrison was too focused on responding to the structure of WATCHMEN (destroying the traditional linear progression of the comic book) at the expense of his larger narrative. Between the art and story, I think the art is the better part of the comic.

    I would have liked to seen what Morrison could do with the Charlton characters if he weren’t determined to respond to Moore’s use of them in WATCHMEN. Captain Atom was portrayed as a psychopathic Dr. Manhattan, which I don’t think was fair to either character. His Question was right on, but had to have the Rorschach elements. Peacemaker – huh? Sarge Steel – huh? That’s really all I can say about those characters as used in the comic, based on my understanding.

    1. I always thought of Dr. Manhattan as a bit of a psychopath as he totally lost touch with humanity. He forgot what it was like to be human and mortal and flat out stopped caring about humans. If you look at him as a man I think he fits the label of psycho but as the god he turned into that’s a bit harder since it’s impossible to say how a super-being would view us. But I feel safe calling him a psycho as he was once human and should be able to sympathize with our plight. I haven’t read this issue of multiversity yet so I can’t compare this interpretation of the character but that’s just what came to my mind 🙂

      1. I’d wonder though if you were at his elevated view where it’s impossible to see the world in the terms humanity does. It might also be Moore’s take on humanity on some level. He certainly lacks a certain level of empathy that you could see coming through in the voice of Dr Manhattan

      2. Dr. Manhattan was a distant character, but he was careful not to harm innocents. I did not get that sense from Captain Atom in this comic. There was a particular scene that I just found frightening and appalling. You’ll know the one when you read it.

            1. That made me cringe as well but when he says “I thought I could locate the source of the feeling” it made sense to me. Like when you think of dogs, possibly the most purely living creatures on earth or at least towards humans, that’s something that in unquantifiable and he can’t understand that. When you think about it, that “source of the feeling” like love or however you want to put it, isn’t really a factor in the central dichotomy between Moore’s utilitarianism & Ditko’s Objectivism and possibly the one inherent flaw of either. I took that part as a signal and an extreme one to get your attention

    2. Thanks man. I didn’t really catch the idea of responding to Watchmen by destroying linear progression. I feel like that was more a function of the narrative for Captain Atom as its his perspective which would be non linear and how that fits into the larger story of Pax Americana but I could be wrong as none of the story is very obvious. More with Captain Atom I didn’t really see him as a psychopath per say as its more like if you were able to see existence from his elevated perspective. As for art Quitely is a maniac and dude elevates anything he’s on. I’d read a comic by James Patterson if he drew it

  2. Great review Patrick. I was mixed on this when I first read it, but the more I’ve let it sink in, the more I like it. Like you, I didn’t follow all the narrative, however, I do have a feeling for the themes that Morrison was trying to explore.

    Like Reed, I do think that Morrison got bogged down a little too much in the Watchmen-meta. I would have preferred less gloss on Alan Moore, and more of Morrison’s own take on the original Charlton characters.

    Speaking of Watchmen, I have one quibble with your reading of it: I don’t think that Moore ever clearly agrees with Ozymandias. I think that Moore gives readers three moral choices (agreeing with Ozymandias; Night Owl’s decision to make the best of what it’s too late to change; Rorschach’s “no compromise even in the face of Armageddon”). In fact, I would argue that it’s left ambiguous whether Ozymandias’ plan will even work, given the final panels of Roschach’s journal. In my mind, the closest thing to a moral of Watchmen are Dr Manhattan’s parting words of “nothing ever ends.” Who knows what the world will look like 1, 5, 50 years from now?

    1. I mean with Moore if you are saying this is the smartest human being to ever exist within the species and this is his solution I feel that he’s siding on that point (which lets also note, is a fictional world that Moore thinks could happen if Western Culture follows a certain path) since he tends to value intelligence so much. That and he legit dislikes modern western culture rather fiercely

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