18/11 The Multiversity annotations Pt 6
LIBRARY artefact #030
PAX AMERICANA Part 2
As the Captain Atom ‘cosmology’ scene ends with the scientist invoking his mother and Sarge Steel’s cruel joke, we proceed from masculine metaphor to feminine on the page 17 scene with Nightshade, Eve Eden, and her mom Maureen (I love that Nightshade’s mom, introduced as the Queen of a bizarre alternate dimension, is ‘Maureen’ – perhaps it sounded exotic once…).
The prevalent Aeon of Osiris/dad representation of a ‘Big Bang’, which likes to imagine our universe exploding from nowhere like space cum from a cosmic cock, is challenged with the more contemporary, more ‘feminine’ idea that daughter universes "bud" like twigs from prior mother universes without the need for explosions.
The reverse zoom from the black dot on the i-Scene magazine cover is intended to suggest the emergence of a smaller infant universe from its ‘mother’ universe.
The portrayal of Maureen Eden was inspired by my own mum’s spiralling dementia (Quitely drew Maureen to resemble my mother and captured exactly how Agnes sat in her favourite buckled and collapsed armchair with legs crossed casually, in an oddly youthful nonchalance).
Her decline was more benign than some to the extent that she remembered who I was until the end and would enthusiastically read through my comics, only to start again when she’d got to the back cover, as if she was beginning a whole new story.
She would chain smoke, forgetting she’d already puffed her way through a cigarette five minutes previously, eagerly asking for ‘just one cigarette’ over and over.
Pay careful attention to the butts in the ashtray – sometimes full, sometimes empty – and you may realise with a sickening jolt that we’re seeing multiple visits, all the same, all equally repetitive.
The centre pages of the issue are mostly symmetrical – with the Janus bust at the top of the spread cueing us to that notion.
Lovely, doomed Nora O'Rourke pretty much explains the importance of the Roman god Janus to the structure of the story, mentioning again the Porti Belli, the Gates of War in the Roman Janus Temple.
Notice also how many characters are shown passing through open doors again and again.
The battered peacemaker is also depicted in profile from both sides to visually recapitulate the Janus bust.
On the left with Janus facing back, Eden says ‘YOUR PAST RECORD IS SPOTLESS.’
On the right with Janus facing the future, Eden’s dialogue runs ‘YOUR FUTURE SAFTEY CANNOT BE GUARANTEED.’
This while Sarge Steel’s metal glove pummels the meat from Peacemaker’s skull.
My take on Peacemaker goes back to the original and presents Christopher Smith as a seemingly sane and organised individual, training others to stand up against global bullies.
James Gunn’s Peacemaker which offers a more psychologically troubled take is, however, my favourite superhero show, and John Cena’s portrayal of the character touches the sublime. Our Multiversity take on the character is very different and goes back to the original concept rather than the ‘80s revisionist Nazi nutjob.
The notion of ‘A Man Who Loves Peace So Much He’s Willing to Fight for It’ doesn’t seem to be as much of a laughable contradiction these days. The Peacemaker has chosen to do the dirty work of establishing abiding peace in the world. It seems a very modern realpolitik concept for a superhero and the resort to deconstruction where he’s generally portrayed as a deranged joke on his name feels like the lazy way out.
The PAX Institute in Switzerland is based on the weird original from Peacemaker issue #1, with its radically clashing architectural styles – part LeCorbusier, part Ludwig the 2nd!
The shadow of a swooping eagle can be seen falling across the lead dove’s back before the dove is killed, prefiguring or recalling Nora’s murder. The blood splash makes another figure 8.
The Question's cold and ruthless response to the trapped ‘informant’ is based on a notorious sequence from Steve Ditko’s first Question strip (a back-up in Blue Beetle #1 from 1967), in which the titular hero allows a bad guy to die, simply because he deserves it for selfishly choosing to break society’s rules.
The original scene was re-written to suggest that the Question saves the man, but Ditko's intent was for the character to be far more ruthless and inflexible towards even minor lawbreakers.
The Question here appears upside down because the informant was originally intended to be lying on his back under the collapsed neon sign (which also forms an ‘8’) but Quitely drew the man face down instead. This scene also harks back to the ‘origin’ story of Rorschach in Watchmen issue #5, where the character cuffs a child killer to the radiator then sets the place on fire, leaving the murderer with a hacksaw to chop through his own wrist if he wants to escape!
The Question’s ‘no compromise’ black and white worldview was of course the inspiration for Rorschach’s Randian perspective in Watchmen.
The crowded speech bubbles, wherein the Question outlines the basics of the Spiral Dynamics theory of personal and cultural developmental levels, are intended as a parody of Steve Ditko's endlessly didactic Objectivist monologues in Mr. A.
Mr. A’s motif was a plain card with black on one half, white on the other, and his entire worldview was based around the notion that morality was a simple matters of black and white, where things were either right or wrong and there were no grey areas.
Here, The Question has fragmented into a prismatic worldview based on the 8 colour-coded levels of the Spiral Dynamics system (I had a killer idea for the event that brought about his breakdown – one so good I daren’t write it down in case someone makes off with it). It doesn’t seem to have mellowed his bloodthirsty approach to crimefighting much. Spiral Dynamics has done little more than provide the Question with more inventive justifications for his extreme behaviour towards the criminal classes.
Sergeant Lane, the Pax government liaison, is Rocky Lane of the OSI (Office of Superhuman Intelligence). He is the son, or more likely grandson of Rocky Lane, the prominent Charlton Comics cowboy hero who debuted in 1954. Sergeant Lane is not to be confused with Sarge Steel, the killer with the steel hand who murders the scientists.
The scene with the first meeting of the nascent Pax America team is intended to recall the ‘Crimebusters’ scene from Watchmen but played in a very different way.
Blue Beetle wears his original costume, based on the Dan Garrett look (Garrett, the first Blue Beetle, is mentioned in the story as an OSI (Office of Superhuman Intelligence) operative from the Cold War.
We see Judomaster, clearly not happy about being turned into a stereotyped Japanese crimefighter with a rising sun motif! The Question, who like Rorschach in the Crimebusters scene from Watchmen has more self-assured body language here, while Blue Beetle seems more youthful, bursting with bullshit and eager to please.
Some say the snatches we see of the Blue Beetle/Question partnership’s beginning, development and decline, contain deliberate wry echoes of my relationship with Mark Millar but I couldn’t possibly comment.
The names Blue Beetle suggests for the newly formed team are based on previous attempts to update the Charlton characters – ‘The Sentinels’ refers to The Sentinels of Justice from Americomics. ‘We are The Law’ implies the L.A.W (Living Assault Weapons) from the 1999 DC comic of the same name.
The three towers represent Art, Science and Religion. Their groundplan forms the Roerich Peace Banner.
Captain Adam is wearing his original red and yellow hero costume here to look more obviously superhero-ish for his dramatic public debut.
Dr. Rogers is the mother of Captain Atom’s 1968 romantic interest Janet Rogers.
Quitely still kicks himself for forgetting to include the dog’s MUSCULATURE in this telekinetic dissection of the poor mutt’s anatomy!
Allen Adam cautions against the delights of analysis and over enthusiastic deconstruction, his words recalling those of Mephistopheles to the young scholar in Goethe’s Faust (part one):
‘When scholars study a thing, they strive
To kill it first, if it’s alive
Then they have the parts and they’ve lost the whole
For the link that’s missing was the living soul.’
The gardens – ‘a masterpiece of design and organisation’ act as a handy metaphor for this story and for Watchmen, its inspiration. On page 28 is another concealed ‘8’ created by the stone bridge, its reflection, and the looping flight paths of a dove closing in on its dragonfly prey, hinting perhaps at a darker more manipulative side to the relationship between soon-to-be President Harley and Allen Adam.
Self-consciously ‘filmic’ and ‘widescreen’ in its approach, we tried to make the Peacemaker action sequence on pages 30 – 33 feel oddly familiar, with its lazy echoes of We3, also by me and Quitely. The intention is to create the effect of something that’s been ripped off from something cooler and better, that we created for ourselves.
With the inclusion of Bush as a character to seal the deal, the 4-page Peacemaker sequence is basically the tone of The Ultimates in precis.
The panel where Steel backhands Peacemaker is the last scene chronologically – so it repeats the opening assassination and prefigures the concluding gunshot, with Peacemaker’s finger gun and his ironic dialogue, ‘BANG!’, as well as calling back to the denouement of my ‘Thatcher assassination’ comic story St Swithin’s Day with artist Paul Grist back in 1990.
The Blue Beetle/Question team up scene shows their early days relationship and power dynamic as a contrast to their latterday enmity. The Question’s pre-Spiral Dynamics black and white ruthlessness is on display here as he casually and cruelly and despatches the heroin dealer with his own merchandise.
The bottom four panels show the time of day and the seasons changing to indicate how long Harley has been coming to sit by his father’s grave. That he meditates under a tree is a deliberate nod in the direction of Buddha attaining enlightenment underneath the boddhi tree.
We begin at 7.00 in the morning in Spring with budding branches. The next panel in the sequence shows noon on a Summer day, with the trees in full leaf. The third image is 4 o’clock on a darkening Fall/Autumn day, with leaves dropping from trees. Finally, we have a Winter scene, 6pm and dark with branches bare.
The hands on the church clock make a PEACE SIGN if overlaid.
We thought hard about how to portray this moment of enlightenment; previously in comics, attainment of zen satori or Buddhist nirvana is represented by a purely white blank page or panel representing the ineffable, (Bryan Talbot’s The Adventures of Luther Arkwright when Luther attains apotheosis achieved the gold standard version of this approach nearly 50 years ago, so no point in going there again). We chose instead to use the 8-panel grid as a way of nailing down the precise feeling of what it is to be ‘enlightened’.
So the panel structure breaks down into jangled chaotic infinite fractions then rebuilds as something new, more organised and coherent.
Frank Quitely drew Harley’s cognitive breakdown as a disordered fragmentation into images of stress or violence, which break and separate endlessly into infinitesimal tiles, then into a flatline, before the re-integration process begins, and a new, more ordered and integrated way to see the universe emerges.
Everything suddenly makes sense!
"Major Max" is a character published by Major Comics, the in-story counterpart to Marvel Comics in the real world, as an analogue of Captain Marvel, specifically the Jim Starlin cosmic version of the character from the early ‘70s. The new female Major Max, a shoutout to the Carol Danvers MCU status quo, can be seen as a member of the Retaliators in The Multiversity #1.
Yellowjacket was the first Charlton Comics superhero character. He appeared in the appropriately named "Yellowjacket Comics" in 1944. The character is in the public domain so technically anyone can make up and even publish new stories about Yellowjacket, if so inclined.
The hole in the domino mask, like the blood on Watchmen’s smiley pin, speaks of violence done to a symbol of comic book innocence, but the mask is also that of a burglar. The hero is confused with a criminal, a thief, a monster threatening children – the absent father at the heart of the superhero concept, the fallen idol, the mythic made flesh and mortal, the betrayal of idealism. It’s Watchmen’s shot to the head of the American superhero.
I felt certain I could write an 8-issue Pax Americana series with the same level of depth and complexity every issue – and had some interesting ideas for bringing in new storytelling techniques each time – but Frank Quitely was quite understandably unwilling to commit years of his life to a corporate superhero gig based on a bunch of C-list character acquisitions so Pax Americana stands alone!
E-Space is Green -- because it’s full of Entropy.
E-Space is a swamp.
THE MONITOR: Yes, Doctor, you were right. Our Numbers were holding The Fabric of The Universe together.
NYSSA: But how? Surely in A Closed System like The Universe, Entropy is •bound• to increase?
THE MONITOR: Certainly. The Universe long ago •passed• The Point of TOTAL Collapse.
Tom: ....PASSED The Point?!?
THE MONITOR: ....IF it had REMAINED closed -- But we have the means to •postpone• The Time.
THE MASTER: So that's why you adapted The Pharos Project.
THE MONITOR: Yes. We •opened• The System by creating VOIDS into OTHER Universes.
P.A.M. Dirac : Charged Vacuum Emboitments!
Tom: We passed through one of your voids, Monitor.
THE MONITOR: It all depended on our •continued• endeavours -- A temporary solution while the advanced research unit worked on a more permanent plan.