Recent Dorkiness

Pax Americana: The Watchmen Sequel Done Right

So I’m feeling a tiny bit under the weather this week, and will have to keep this short. That’s okay, though. Because I have a clever plan…

As you may or may not remember, last week’s column was a take-down of the Doomsday Clock ashcan, Geoff Johns’ completely-missing-the-point sequel/response to Watchmen. But as I said then, I hate to be a hater. So I thought that this week I should maybe take some time to discuss something that I think responds to Watchmen well. To whit:

Pax Americana! A one-shot from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely that takes the Charlton Comics characters that inspired the Watchmen characters, and does them in the style of Watchmen. I wrote about this comic when it came out three years ago, and (this is where my clever plan comes in) I encourage you to check out what I said then before I go back into it now. Just hit the link below, and experience quantum transport back to the year 2014!

(I’ll simultaneously meet you there and wait for you here. Get me! I’m Schroedinger’s Critic!)

https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/a-thousand-cuts-morrison-and-quitely-delicately-devastate-with-pax-americana/

Back so soon? How was 2014? Pleasant, I hope. More self-righteous, but less on-the-brink-of-nuclear-armageddon, as I remember. Ah. Good times!

Anyway! Pax Americana! As you could probably tell, I was still reeling from it when I wrote that initial review. Upon revisiting it this week, I found it no less heady. But I do feel confident enough to discuss why it’s so much better than that Doomsday Clock nonsense I subjected myself to. The main reason for that is something I said about it back in 2014:

“[Pax Americana] 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.”

So, yeah. This feels like a conversation between the two books, instead of a ham-fisted attempt at a copy. It plays by Watchmen‘s structuralist rules and ups the ante on them, going for an 8-panel grid rather than a nine…

that it then experiments with wildly, breaking it down to 16 panels in places, or drawing the reader’s eye across the page by wrapping it around a stairwell… 

 

…going into staccato variations for action spreads…

…and, in what may be the most insane two-page spread I’ve ever seen, goes wide for a 32-panel tour de force that maps four different characters around a single large room, across three different timelines, to establish the motivation and method of a murder.

It’s stunning work. And that’s just the surface stuff.

Underneath all that, Morrison is telling a story about the nature of super heroes. Watchmen‘s final argument on that front really seems to be that the only real heroes are regular people, trying to help where they can. Once you get into agendas and grand plans, you’ve left the path and turned into something monstrous. That’s how you get a cynical killer like the Comedian, a morally-rigid psychopath like Rorschach, or a well-intentioned but ultimately heartless schemer like Ozymandias. But then there’s Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, two flawed and all-too-human people who just want to help. That’s why they’re the ones who get the happy ending, the ones Dr. Manhattan (whose journey goes beyond mere heroism and into godhood) smiles upon before leaving humanity behind.

In contrast, Pax Americana argues that, while some heroes may very well have feet of clay, their personal flaws are less important than the inspiration they provide. Grand plans can work out just fine, if we have the courage to believe in the potential the super hero represents. The fatal flaws here are an excess of pragmatism, and a fear of change. So Blue Beetle and Nightshade (analogs to Watchmen‘s real heroes) can be over-concerned with money and fame. The Question can be an increasingly-obsessive jerk. And Peacemaker…

Holy crap, Peacemaker. This is a character with a fascinating premise: he’s a pacifist who becomes a warrior, engaging in acts of violence only to bring about peace. So here’s a character with a grand agenda built in right from the start. He believes in a greater good so strongly that he’s willing to sacrifice his personal beliefs to bring it about. Rather than writing him as a nutjob, as most modern writers have done, Morrison turns him into Captain America, a man of such absolute moral conviction that he never hesitates in his task. And if he’s right… If he believes hard enough in the dream… Everything’s going to be alright.

Of course, we don’t know how that works out for him. Pax Americana leaves its own outcome in a state of quantum uncertainty (it’s Schroedinger’s Comic!). The grand plan may be going off just as it’s supposed to, or it may fail utterly. Each reader has to find that answer for himself, and the answer you come to depends on what you believe in: Faith, or Fear.

Which is another thing it has in common with Watchmen, I suppose…

At any rate. There’s more I could talk about here. I’ve read Pax Americana three or four times in the last 48 hours, and it’s like peeling an onion. Additional layers of motivation and meaning reveal themselves with each reading (I now believe, for instance, that the real reason the Question is so obsessed with his investigation is that he was in love with the Peacemaker’s wife).

But for my purposes tonight, I’ve said enough. THIS is how you do a sequel to Watchmen. You wrestle with it. You challenge it. You engage with its themes and complexities while telling your own story that’s just as rich. And most importantly, you do all that without disrespecting the wishes of its creator.

Even if you’re a rival wizard…

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About Mark Brett (431 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

2 Comments on Pax Americana: The Watchmen Sequel Done Right

  1. Agreed on all points. This really was the spiritual and true sequel of sorts to the Watchmen without seeming like it was trying to be, or even at the risk/point of being a unintentional parody, like Johns’s Watchmen work is starting to look like.

    I loved the creative use of the panel grid structure that the Watchmen popularized that Quitely uses here. A lesser artist would’ve fucked this up royally, but not Quitely. God bless him for that.

    This was definitely one of my favorite, if not favorite of all the Multiversity one-shots, even though Thunderworld (another book that played with panels) and SOS are also treasured by me.

    So you think the Question was in love with the Peacemaker’s wife huh? Shit, now I’ll have to re-read this to see if I catch that too.
    I did enjoy the new aspect he presented with the Question, as far as taking Ditko’s absolutism philosophy and adjusting it slightly by adding colors. Brilliant!

    Speaking of the Peacemaker, this really was the best the Peacemaker’s ever looked or was written, so hat’s off again to Morrison for working his usual magic(k) with these characters.

    Finally, Morrison’s eternal theme of fractals is once again used here, from beginning to end, and right back again. Loved how you really could read this backwards and still get the same effect.

    Like

  2. I never read this. Thanks for the recommendation. Perhaps I will seek it out soon.

    Like

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