Whether he explicitly stated it or not Pax Americana is to be Grant Morrison’s Watchmen Redux. Of course it is so much more than this as well. During the initial drafting of this article Pax Americana had yet to be released. Through intuition, my hypotheses concerning the Superorganism and the Supercontext, Grant’s love of happy endings alongside a recent rereading of Superman Beyond 3D I felt Pax Americana would be as utopian as Watchmen was dystopian. I could of course be wrong. Now, as I finalize this article, I realize the above statement about the utopian nature of Pax Americana upon first reading does seem wrong, but when we delve below the surface it can also be considered right. This in a way reflects that famous thought experiment from quantum physics; Schroedinger’s Cat which is both alive and dead at the same time.
To further prepare for Pax Americana and this article, I reread the articles I had written thus far on Multiversity. In particular the first. One thing I took away from this was the potential effect the Multiversity might have on DC’s wider narrative, especially with the thirtieth anniversary of Crisis On Infinite Earths looming. Cue then the recent announcement of Convergence just in time for said anniversary. Initially this seems to be a not too dissimilar reiteration of the narrative found in Multiversity. Displaced heroes some of whom will have featured in Multiversity will be fighting not only each other but also an evil from beyond conventional space-time. Of course this is the narrative found in COIE, and to some degree Final Crisis is a variation on this trope as well. What is also interesting to note is that Convergence will take place in one of the realms noted with a question mark on the Multiversity map.
I also soon realized I had thrown out some pretty wild ideas for the text to support. Contemplating these further I had what I can only describe as an intense holistic moment of insight. The rereading by a writer of their own work is perhaps no mere insecurity or vanity. Timothy Leary spoke of intelligence studying intelligence as part of an ongoing process of self refinement. From this he coined the notion of Intelligence Intensification or I squared (I2). More recently I had spoken of the idea of the Multiversity being an egregore or a thoughtform. The ambience of each issue reflecting the Multiverse’s growing sense of awareness of not only the danger it is in but also a reflection of self as well. This I also posited could be Grant attempting to explore recapitulation theory through the comic medium.
Take these notions of dawning conscious self awareness and intelligent self refinement, both of which Robert Anton Wilson spoke of in his books Prometheus Rising and Quantum Psychology, then fuse them. Doing this we realize it is no mere coincidence that in Pax Americana we finally meet (or for readers of Superman Beyond 3D are reintroduced to) Captain Allen “Atom” Adam, the Quantum Superman. One innate quality of Superman in any incarnation is that he inspires hope. Based purely on his appearance in Final Crisis I had such “trust” in the Quantum Superman that I really felt that everything was going to be alright. Even if on the first reading of Pax Americana he appears to be murdered to facilitate the advancement of The Gentry towards Earth-4.
I concur with everyone else this is the finest single issue of any event and has definitely lived up to the hype related to its place within the Multiversity event. Frank Quitely and Nathan Fairbairn really give the narrative the art it deserves, no doubt under the careful direction of Morrison’s through his notes and sketches. One favorite page for me is the page where Atom is talking about how he perceives reality. At one point the background becomes comic panels themselves contained within a single panel. To further accentuate Atom’s transcendent perception he looks out of the page and directly addresses the reader.
The interesting thing I find with Pax Americana is that it is so self contained that without prior knowledge and apart from a few elements here and there you wouldn’t recognize it as part of the Multiversity event at all. Obviously, therefore, consideration of its place as part of Multiversity’s narrative is one of the ways of reading this issue. Another inevitable reading and analysis would be its ties to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen. At the very least story beats and even page layouts are lifted straight out of the elder work. The Charlton comics characters are portrayed here by and large as their original selves, albeit with a hint of Morrison, rather than the analogues Moore used. The Question for example is somewhere between Rorschach and King Mob.
Returning briefly to Watchmen, these days it seems very fashionable to “poo-poo” some of Moore’s works, to decry him as a wrecker of superhero comics and to fall into the trap of believing that enjoying Morrison’s work means you can never appreciate the elder magus. Whereas past issues in the Multiversity event caused me to reread many of Grant’s prior work, the first thing I did after reading Pax Americana was pick up my tattered, well-worn copy of Watchmen. For all their similarities both books are worlds apart. That said each work imbues and invigorates the other. Pax makes you re-evaluate the scope of Watchmen. Watchmen‘s dystopian vision in turn makes you appreciate the underlying hope in Pax.
I’d like however to return to my own ideas concerning the Supercontext and the post Supercontext inhabitant, or Superorganism. When we first read Pax the two candidates I wish to submit as characters who are aware of the Supercontext and Superorganism seem anything but that. President Harley is assassinated in a manner eerily similar to that of JFK. Adam Allan is described as an ‘unkillable autistic god’ by the person who coincidentally ends up gaining the most from these characters’ supposed deaths. As previously noted this all initially seems to be the bleak cliffhanger typical of the series thus far. However consider Captain Atom’s supposedly disjointed omnipresence in time. Next take into account Harley’s postulated Algorithm 8, aspects of which are very similar to another of Grant’s interests; the Sekhmet hypotheses. Algorithm 8 forms a crux for much of the narrative of Pax Americana. The number 8 is a prevalent suggested visual theme in Quitely’s art throughout the book as much as the smiley face and midnight clock were in Gibbon’s art in Watchmen.
Harley using his father’s last work Major Max Meets Janus The Everywhere Man recruits and reawakens the subdued and forgetful Captain Atom to his true nature as part of the Superorganism. Atom in turn informs and inspires the younger Harley mourning after his accidental patricide to take the path that leads to where they first meet in the future. This creates a nice little feedback loop in time, best visualized as a mobius strip which is of course similar to a number 8. Considering all this Pax Americana now reads like it was all an elaborate scheme to draw out The Gentry and their agents and possibly to take the fight to them. This would perhaps tie in to my hypothesis about the growing intelligence of the Multiverse, now aware enough to begin defending itself, albeit through its inhabitants who are the sense organs through which it perceives itself.
Finally the most interesting thing about Pax Americana was the critical response it received, or to be exact, the speed in which people published their reactions. So swift was this that for a time I wondered if it was worth me continuing with my own analysis; particularly, when you have insight at the depth and quality of someone such as Rikdad whose thoughts can be found here. That said if it wasn’t for Rikdad and of course my colleagues at Sequart I never would have taken the risk to attempt to start writing for online publication. Also great art like Pax Americana should be open to a multitude of insights and interpretations. Part of the reading experience of something such as Multiversity is the investigation and sharing of analysis, because that is part of what intelligence intensification is all about and is but one of the ways towards the Supercontext.
The Multiversity Pax Americana is out now with Thunderworld arriving on the 17th of December. With any luck I’ll be writing up my thoughts on that whilst also celebrating my first year of writing for Sequart.