I think I just read the best comic of the year.
And I encourage you to parse that statement in every manner possible…
Pax Americana, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
I bought this book on my lunch hour today, and I’ve read it twice. Once forward, and once backward, as it kind of encourages you to do.
Y’know, reading this book is a bit like experiencing a four-dimensional holographic download straight into your brain.
And I definitely did a bit of that, on the second run-through. You know the sort of thing: “So he said ‘box,’ and earlier… later… on this page over here… we get an actual quantum dog, so…”
Yeah, I know I’m not making any sense.
Just roll with it.
Pax Americana is the newest chapter in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, the big Corporate Spandex Crossover Event™ that DARES you to think Final Crisis was too “out there.” It’s a sort of quantum Rashomon, in which we see the same crisis playing out in different ways in a different alternate reality each issue. This time out, we get an Earth populated by the Charlton Comics characters, who were the inspiration for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. So of course, Morrison has decided to tell his Charlton story in the style of the Moby Dick of super hero novels.
“Ballsy” might be the word.
The final result, though, really is stunning. It’s a book about Past and Future. Good and Evil. Order and Chaos. Fantasy and Reality. Faith and Skepticism. Duality and Pluralism. Formalism and the Avant-Garde. Moore and Morrison.
Now, I am not remotely prepared tonight to offer a full analysis of what Morrison and Quitely have accomplished here. There’s just too much to talk about, and it’s all swirling around in my head too wildly to lay my thoughts out in a coherent manner. But in general, I see a book that functions as both an homage and a challenge to Watchmen, honoring its themes and formalist approach while making a very different argument about storytelling and the nature of heroism. It grapples… no… engages with the spandex classic, using it as a starting point from which to do its own thing.
It’s a story of small moments. Single lines of dialogue that ripple out and echo back on themselves. Tiny panels that work as much because of what they don’t show as what they do. Page layouts that lack Watchmen‘s “fearful symmetry” but that call back to other pages in a more complex manner. And a murder mystery solved not with a big revelation but with dozens of small ones that fill in like jigsaw pieces as you read.
It lacks the depth of Watchmen, as any single issue story would have to. But the compactness of it gives it a punch, an impact, all its own. It is, as I said, stunning. I’m more than a little in awe of it right now, so this grade might be a bit premature. But at this moment, still basking in the afterglow, I’m gonna have to give it…