Warning: This review contains minor spoilers.
2014 has been an incredible year in the world of comics. Between, movies, television, and video games, there is more media based on comic book properties than ever before. The continued rise of Image Comics has given creators more leverage in the industry than ever before, leading to a flood of creativity such as the titles Wytches, The Wicked + The Divine, and Sex Criminals. The original graphic novels Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Shoplifter by Michael Cho were met with both critical and commercial success. Female creators such as Kelley Sue DeConnick, G. Willow Wilson, and Becky Cloonan have opened doors for women to be an even bigger presence in the industry, though there is still a long way to go. And like the phoenix, even Vertigo risen from the ashes, reborn thanks to Trillium by Jeff Lemire and the Eisner-winning The Wake by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy. With these rising talents pushing the boundaries of the medium, it comes as a bit of a surprise that two of the industry’s elder statesmen have produced the single best issue of the year. But when those individuals happen to be Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, and the comic is the highly anticipated The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1, this should surprise no one.
Grant Morrison has been accused of writing obscure and inpenetrible works for many readers. On the surface, that is a fair assumption. Anyone looking for a classic, “meat and potatoes” superhero comic is certain to be lost in the pages of many of his works, including The Multiversity: Pax Americana. This is because Pax Americana is not meant to be read, but rather experienced. That assertion may sound pretentious, but it is not meant to be. Rather, it a notice for readers to check their expectations at the door and open their minds to new ways of seeing a story unfold. Pax Americana is a dense read, demanding a time investment that other single issues can only dream of. Every panel of every page requires examination that to just quickly flip through would be a disservice, especially given the amount of detail that Frank Quitely has packed into this issue.
At New York Comic Con, artist Yanick Paquette described working with Morrison as the best kind of challenge. Scripts are not cleanly laid out, requiring the artist to decipher and interpret his intentions for the issue. Because of this, only a few artists are a part of the “inner circle” that are trusted by Morrison to tackle his zaniest ideas. Due to the frequency of their collaborations, it’s evident that Frank Quitely is the most trusted, and Pax Americana is the latest example of the creative duo’s chemistry.
The quality of Quitely’s art is unquestioned. With his unique style that bizarrely combines cartoonish and realistic elements, this might be the best work of his [critically acclaimed] career, heightened by Nathan Fairbain’s beautiful colors. Panels are lush with detail. Figures are both fluid in movement and expressive, allowing readers to connect with the cast. Tech-savvy Blue Beetle and the enigmatic Question have a powerful presence on each page that draws the reader to their every movement. The same can be said for the placid Captain Atom. Yet the most impressive element to Quitely’s art is the way he has laid out the entire issue, which complements the themes Morrison incorporates into the issue.
Growing up in post-World War II Scotland under pacifist-activist parents, Morrison has innate anti-war sensibilities that are evident in Pax Americana, particularly with concepts such as the “god algorithm.” Beyond that, Morrison continues to play with the themes that have been a throughline for the greater The Multiversity epic, none more clear than in the reader’s introduction to Captain Atom. Reading an issue of Ultra Comics, the fictional comic title that has popped up throughout The Multiversity, Atom explains that within the pages of a comic, a character’s life is malleable to the reader. With the reader either flipping through the pages chronologically or asynchronously, this plays into the greater idea of comics (and by extension, any art form) being an alternate form of reality. Whether or not that is something that can be bought into is up to the individual reader to decide. This is just one of the many concepts Morrison packs into this issue, and to spell them out here would be a disservice to both the creative team and readers that have yet to pick up this issue and discover on their own.
The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 is the most complex and complete issue of 2014. Grant Morrison’s long awaited venture through the DC Multiverse has grown more enjoyable with each passing issue, and this latest installment sees the series reach its apex. This is Morrison at his best: though provoking, conceptual, and worthy of multiple reads. Furthermore, the use of classic Charlton characters serves as a reminder that all great works – even Watchmen – owe a lot to the past works that have influenced them. It is only fitting that one of the industry’s greatest, well versed scribes is the one to bring them full circle.
Simply put, The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1 is a testament to the power of the medium, and why people should continue to be excited about what it has to offer.