Pax Americana is a great riff on the seminal Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons classic Watchmen, but in a far more condensed and cohesive package. It works with similar grid-like structures, offers alternative modes of storytelling, and focuses on the Charlton characters Watchmen was based off of so in essence it’s like creating a riff of a riff. Except I actually think I prefer this better but that’s what it all boils down to: a matter of preference for Moore or Morrison.
The Alan Moore vs. Grant Morrison feud has been well documented over the years, beginning with what I believe was Morrison dropping satirical comments on Moore, Moore taking it seriously, and essentially calling Morrison a facsimile of himself. This would escalate for a while and then eventually reduce into a sort of bitterness that wasn’t always present but was still there.
As a reader, I’ve always liked the work of both. That being said, Peter Milligan’s body of work from the 80s to the 90s is better than anything either of them put out in that time period. If I really had to pick between the two, I would choose Morrison simply because he’s a less cynical writer than Moore. I don’t want to read the works of someone whose worldviews conflate with mine because then it forms a sort of hyper-dimensional bubble where thoughts only bounce back, never to expand. Morrison’s optimistic idealism is the perfect counterpart to my own relentless cynicism, and that’s partly what makes the 4th entry in the Multiversity saga so great.
Overall, this feels like a more optimistic Watchmen, and part of that has to do with the parody element. The Moore book followed a nine-panel grid structure whereas this one follows an eight-panel grid structure, mirroring the number of notes in an octave. The issue even goes all mise-en-scène on us as readers by having the visual composition of the panels match the dialogue (see the stair sequence and numerous other pages in the book). It takes the artistic complexity of Watchmen and amplifies it further. There’s a lot going on here structurally and on a narrative level too. But Quitely takes Morrison’s script and does wonders with it.
Speaking of, it’s always a pleasure to see a Quitely-Morrison collaboration because they both get each other. I don’t think any other artist could pull off the 200+ panel page near the end of this book because Quitely’s meticulous attention to detail rival’s Morrison’s. Quitely even gets to experiment quite a bit with the rigid 8-panel structure, filling as much space in each panel as possible and playing around with the gutters surrounding the panels as well. Only someone like Quitely could pull off the metatextual interplay between character and reader on page 14. Make no mistake, in addition to being stylistic, the artwork holds a metric ton of weight and substance.
The other great aspect of the story that is both equal parts Morrison and Quitely is the attention to symmetrical design. Panel structures all throughout have a sort of symmetry and the story can be read forwards and backwards. If I’m correct, Pax Americana is actually presented in reverse chronological order but still works either way. Most of what’s held within holds its own reflection within the page or maybe even on another page. This is the kind of comic that warrants multiple rereads.
As for the short nature of this essay, there’s just way too much to talk about here that I couldn’t possibly list it all out. I did my best to summarize what I thought to be the best parts of the book and to offer partial analysis, but all I can say is read Pax Americana multiple times over and do some analysis yourself. It feels good to have Morrison back.