If you are thinking about picking up Pax Americana, don't read this! The book is worth it, from the (literally) jaw dropping beginning(ending) to the cool reveal at the end(beginning). Go get it!
In Pax Americana, the 4th book in DC's Multiversity event, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely take us to Earth 4, where the characters of Charlton Comics encounters the threat to multiverse that has been running through the series in the form of a vast conspiracy.
On Earth 4, the Charlton characters take on the form of the Watchmen characters they inspired, when DC refused to let Alan Moore use them for that book. Here they are the Pax Americana, formed in response to modern terrorist threats by an inspiring Kennedy like President, the son of of one of the greatest writers of Major comics, the fictional comics company that has appeared on all the Earths in Multiversity. Like their Watchmen counterparts, they are destroyed from within by a conspiracy that is supposed to save the world, but is in fact in danger of doing the exact opposite.
Ever since Multiversity was announced this has been the book I most looked forward to, and it blew my expectations out of the water. In terms of mainstream superhero comics, it is the most ambitious and experimental one I have read in a long time. And it is easily my favorite single issue this year.
Morrison and Quitely are amazing together as usual. They make what should be a hard story to follow an amazing and engaging read. In Pax Americana, time and chronology are just suggestions, suggestions that are often ignored. Midway through the book, the godlike Captain Atom lays it out as he is reading the cursed comic that has appeared throughout the series, that the reader has full control over the experience, able to read the comic in any way they desire.
And that is what reading Pax Americana is like, as we jump from moment to moment, starting at the end and working our way both back and forward from that point. Much like Captain Atom, the reader is not bound by strict chronology or concepts of past, present and future.
The book is bookended by the murder of two patriarchal figures, one a president and the other a superhero, both symbols of hope. Both are killed by men they loved and loved them. In the aftermath of the last assasination(but the first shown), it is noted by the Vice-president(and villain of the piece), that not only has the assassin, the hero Peacemaker, killed the President, but he has also killed the idea of the superhero.
And as we progress through the story, we learned that Peacemaker did not in fact kill the idea of the superhero on this Earth and the hope for change they symbolize. In fact the man he killed did that, long before there even was a Peacemaker. We learn of the mysterious disappearance of the hero Yellowjacket through The Question, Earth 4's version a violent, closeted vigilante obsessed with mysteries. No one believes that there is anything to The Question's obsession until in the end it is revealed that not only was Yellowjacket real, but he was killed by his own son, frightened by a man in a mask. His son would grow up to be the President, seeking to atone for the death of his father.
The hope that the superheroes were supposed to embody died long before the President did, even before the Pax Americana were formed. The heroes of Pax Americana fail because the hope they represent is false, as false as the salvation that the President sees when he catches a glimpse of Algorithm 8, the explanation of Universe. As in all the Multiversity books, the book ends when the superheroes fail to counteract the effects of The Gentry. It's just that moment occurs decades before anyone on Earth 4 thinks it does.
There is a lot more going on in Pax Americana, and my crappy summation does not do it justice. Frank Quitely does amazing work here, not just in terms of art, but composition and layout. This is just topnotch stuff.
Morrison is on point as well. He really brings the Charlton characters alive, channeling the Watchmen but at the same time giving them their own distinct voice. The Captain Atom scenes are trippy and so awesome, and I love the back and forth between Blue Beetle and The Question, including a subtle dig at all billionaire superheroes who spend money on insect or animal themed transportation instead of more practical solutions to fighting crime. The only negative is I felt that Nightshade could have served more of a purpose in story, but considering how much happens, someone had to get left out.
I can't recommend this book enough, it is an amazing experience that could only work as a comic. For me it is a testament to how much can be done with superhero comics, even in this day and age.
ETA: I messed up and had Peacemaker as the son and killer of Yellowjacket, when in fact it was President Harley, whose death opens the book. Thanks to GeneralSensible for catching that.