(Before beginning the article, be aware there are significant and comprehensive spoilers for the phenomenal and largely unheralded books discussed here. If you would consider reading them before beginning this, for your own sake, it’s highly recommended you do so.)
El Sombra died in shame. Brought back from a blissful retirement for one final chance at vengeance, his mind was instead placed in a robotic shell once designed for Hitler himself, becoming in a sense the very Nazi machine Pasito’s conquerors had once intended for him. Looking after a growing A.I. population – subject to the same prejudices as the rest of the disadvantaged throughout the series, even by otherwise heroic characters – it becomes evident what humanity that once refined him has long since faded. In truth, despite the thoughts of Doc Thunder to the contrary, he remains El Sombra: pure drive and rage against the Bastards, the Other, that would strike back against him unless he strikes first, intending like the Nazi’s and Lomax before him to shape the world in his own image. Whatever warmth and honor made him who he was were the soul of the poet Djego he had suppressed before his transformation into the Saint of Ghosts, and he long ago left that behind. And in the world of Pax Britannia, he could have ended no other way. In spite of his heroism, he murdered Parker Crane after he was shattered and ended as a threat. Like every other villain of the trilogy, he placed his desires over respect for the life of another, however foul, and in the moral universe Ewing has established there is simply no room for him from that moment on. When he’s destroyed far after the end of his natural life, it’s nothing so much as a release for a ghost long since past. And even his fate pales before that of Doc Thunder.
He found himself wondering if his ability to feel things, simple emotions like love or hate, was atrophying slowly, shriveling like some vestigial gland no longer required. During those nights when he lay in his bed and stared up at the ceiling, knowing that if sweat could come it would be icy cold, he always found himself giving thanks to whoever might be up there for the primal terror he was feeling. As long as he could feel that horror of becoming inhuman, it meant he still had some humanity left in him.
Doc Thunder evolved beyond any other living thing, able to look across the solar system and within the tangled spirals of DNA, able to liquefy steel with a gaze and defy gravity. And as his power increased, his humanity in turn faded, like every other character in the series fundamentally divorced from the everyday pains and joys of life. But unlike them, he forces his decency to remain, as he seals himself away that he may never become a threat to the world after a final confrontation with El Sombra, consigning himself to an eternity of loneliness. No good deed goes unpunished: the witness to a murder in the 1700s from near the beginning of the story loses everything; a gunfighter from across time by the name of Jacob Steele who lay down his arms in the name of peace is murdered and posthumously exploited; a group of stranded space explorers in the first chapter attempting to prevent their partner from tampering with a young world’s fate are eaten alive by the local wildlife after having lived a life of guaranteed immortality. Decency and fairness amount to nothing in their lives, while the imperialism steampunk and by association the universe are constructed on rule everything in the end. And as we learn, the universe exists in a loop: there is nothing to be done, because it was destined.
Yet in the end, salvation does come courtesy of the last source expected: Lars Lomax. Lomax, the ambitious scientist, the social rebel, and the great enemy Doc Thunder always believed to be capable of greater things, saves everyone. Like several throughout the series, including 19th century genius Franklin Reed and this universes’ version of Andy Warhol, Lomax is aware of another world. An Earth much like our own (hopefully not too much, given catastrophic events in its mid-21st century) that should have been that, by the year 1,000,000, is inhabited by “A race of hyperintelligent zen monks who communicate telepathically…And they’re using those superminds of theirs to explore and map the nine billion countries of heaven. And the whole history of their Earth, and of the infinite possible Earths that aren’t theirs. And bring it all together.” And Lomax risks everything, both his position at the top of society he once would have burned the world down to seize and the structure of reality itself, to repair history on the hope that others could succeed where he had failed in building something better and saving everyone without discrimination, allowing an ordinary man the choice of which world to bring into being for the next cycle. And as Thunder, at the end of time and the incarnation of power, fulfills the role of God in restarting creation as something better thanks to the work of his greatest opponent, every single person along the way was necessary to bring them there.
The witness from the 1700s provided crucial evidence pointing to the other Earth; Steele provided the substance that broke in the first place, and would ultimately repair time; Maya directed Doc Thunder to where he needed to be, and El Sombra showed him what he could be so that he would willingly go there. And everyone along the way shaped them, who were shaped by others in turn, a machine the size of the universe built to save everyone by people doing what they believed to be right in spite of their flaws. In the world of Pax Britannia as envisioned by Al Ewing, no one is inconsequential: everyone makes all the difference in the world, and despite an inescapable and corrupt society and culture working towards and often successfully tearing them down, even at the end of eternity the most basic act of good can still change everything given time, including themselves. In the world of Pax Britannia, the chance of overcoming stagnation and building a better world is within reach in spite of all appearances, and so long as people stand up, and question what they’re told and what they believe, and just try, then there’s a way for anyone to make a difference.