If your mum and dad fuck you up, you have to kill them, of course. At least, you have to kill your dad. What you do with your mum, we’d rather not think about.

For all Morrison’s protestations, we know that he has felt a desperate need to compete with Alan Moore, and that Moore has felt no such need to compete with him in turn.

This is rather unfair, in many ways, as the two men’s skills are very different, and this can be seen nowhere more than in Pax Americana, which even though it very deliberately tries to ape Moore’s style (specifically Watchmen, but also Promethea) manages to remind me of nothing so much as Best Man Fall, the twelfth issue of The Invisibles, which like this begins with a death and tells the story of a life out of chronological order.

Moore’s original pitch for Watchmen∴ …I just made a typo, and the typo was “∴”, the symbol seen throughout Pax Americana, and for which I didn’t even know there was a keyboard shortcut in LyX, the word processor I’m using for this. So in the spirit of embracing mistakes, of synchronicity, of serialised narrative, I’ll drop that thread for now — I’m sure I’ll come back to it — and examine that symbol instead.

The symbol can mean many things. One of them is “therefore” — that’s why LyX has a shortcut for it, because LyX is primarily intended for writing mathematical papers. Anything following the symbol, in this meaning, is something that follows logically from it. Premise is followed by conclusion, proposition is followed by lemma.

But it has another meaning, too. In the teachings of Aleister Crowley — a figure who turns up in Moore’s work a lot, but who is also a background presence in the story of Pax Americana, his essay The Soldier and the Hunchback being to this version of the Question what Ayn Rand’s writings are to Ditko’s original — the ∴ means both abbreviation (in the name of his organisation the A∴A∴, the symbols showed that the organisation’s full name was the Argenteum Astrum), and that the organisation using the symbol possesses the secret Mason Word, the key bit of occult knowledge that is hidden from most people, and without which the world (in Crowley’s view) doesn’t make sense.

We’ve seen Crowley turn up in passing before, of course — we’ve seen the magic word “Abrahadabra” used, rather than the more normal “Abracadabra”. The difference is that the h in Crowley’s version symbolises Horus, the conquering child. Crowley believed that we were leaving the Aeon of Osiris, the father, and entering the Aeon of Horus, the time when the world would be ruled by “the crowned and conquering child”, a spirit of youth destroying the old orthodoxies.

One gets the impression that Morrison sees himself as the crowned and conquering Horus destroying the old father Mooresiris. Even though the two are almost the same age, and Morrison is keen to mention at every opportunity that he started working in comics before Moore, they are of different countercultural generations. Moore is a hippie, and his work has much of the hippie about it — grandiose, intricate, heavy, complex works. Morrison, on the other hand, came up in the era of punk, and his best work has much of the energy of punk — three-minute blasts of pop, based around well-worn formulae but with an energy and rebellious intelligence.

The problem is that Morrison seems to think of himself as the Mozart to Moore’s Salieri, but Moore actually is as good as his reputation, and got there first. Morrison will always be second-place, and this casts a shadow over all his work. It’s not helped by the fact that Moore got out of writing corporate comics early, while Morrison’s best work is done for DC and working with their characters. To continue the hippie/punk analogy, Moore is Robert Wyatt, ploughing his own furrow and releasing ever more abstruse music through tiny indie labels to great critical acclaim, while Morrison is John Lydon, a middle-aged man trapped in a punk persona, selling butter in commercials. Ever have the feeling you’ve been cheated?

Except that’s not fair, either. Lydon did the butter commercials so he would be able to fund recording and releasing a new album by his band Public Image Limited, because no record labels would take them on, and he wanted to make new, original, music again, not just carry on touring with the Sex Pistols doing nostalgia shows. And in the same way, Morrison’s corporate work allows his more individual work to be produced (Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye was published as a condition of him working on 52). But more than that, Morrison’s corporate work allows him to use twentieth-century icons to tell his stories, in the way Moore uses the icons of an earlier age in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. A work like All-Star Superman simply would not work with analogues or substitutes — it needs to be about Superman, and Lois Lane, and Lex Luthor.

At any other time, Morrison would be regarded as the greatest writer working in comics. The fact that there is another person with a claim to that title, who works in the same areas, who got there first, and who might be better than him is possibly the single most important thing to keep in mind when reading his work.

Pax Americana
starts and ends with a father being murdered. At the start, the symbolic father, the President. At the end, an actual father. Both shot through the head, giving them Doctor Manhattan’s third-eye symbol, and turning their two eyes into a ∴. Pax Americana is also about reflections, much as Watchmen was, and the whole story tries to critique Watchmen, even from the very start, which has the Peacemaker committing a murder, when Moore’s original pitch for Watchmen, when it was to use these characters, was called “Who Killed The Peacemaker?”

The whole thing is designed to show that Morrison could do Watchmen just as well, and that even if he couldn’t Watchmen wasn’t something that was worth doing anyway. And what’s left is something that only works, that only makes sense, with Watchmen having a canonical status. It’s a work that can never be read by anyone who doesn’t already know Watchmen, just as singing “no Beatles, Elvis, or Rolling Stones” only works if your audience know who those people are. Morrison can try to smash the idol that is Moore, but all he does is produce a work that reinforces Moore’s status.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.

[Over a ten-day period I will be posting my long piece on Multiversity. Those who want it in one piece can buy the whole thing as an epub from Smashwords right now for $1, on Kindle (US) and (UK), and my Patreons get it for free. Buy it and see if YOU are one of the lucky ones whose ereader will render "∴" correctly!]

12 Responses to “Multiversity: In Which We Burn”

  1. plok Says:

    I would like ONE MILLION more words on Pax Americana, please.

  2. Deep Space Transmissions Says:

    These are really great. Fantastic work :)

    Dunno if you knew about this and just left it out for space considerations but the “∴” is also the Roerich International Banner of Peace (http://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/qt-p-ro.html).

    Roerich was, I gather, a kind of Russian Crowley who somehow ended up lent his name to a 1935 peace pact concerning the protection of culturally important landmarks in war. Between 1935 and 1959, it was signed by a bunch of the world’s major powers.

    According to one interpretation, “the International Banner of Peace has three dots representing the past, present and future enclosed in a red circle representing infinity.” On a flag, it’s often accompanied by the word PAX underneath the icon.

    I was a bit dubious as to whether this was something Morrison had just chucked in after googling “peace flag” or something, but there’s actually a character in one of his Judge Janus stories from the 90′s called Judge Roerich, so it’s probably a bit more considered than that.

  3. plok Says:

    Morrison!

    He knows how to stack symbols.

    The crazy thing about it all, to me, is that Pax Americana really does enhance my understanding of Watchmen, at least as an event/artifact…because after all this time, it finally seems certain that no one ever really could have picked up on what was innovative about Watchmen (instead of what was simply gritty and “realistic”) in order to “sequelize” it, without indulging in a…well, hell, not even an actual sequel, but a straight duplication, a retelling. Morrison could be forgiven for saying “ha ha, you all said it was impossible, but I did it easily and it only took me ONE ISSUE not twelve!”…then again, it took five years to make instead of one, too, and as I think Andrew implies there’s not much doubt Morrison cares a LOT more about Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl et. al., than Moore ever cared about Blue Beetle and Peter Cannon. Nevertheless, there’s a point to this pirouetting — Morrison is arguing with Moore here, so the only place he can do it is actually INSIDE “Watchmen”, by USING Watchmen…by doing his own “version” of Watchmen, and I didn’t see what would be the point before but to read the thing is a different metakettle of fishtext entirely, entirely. If DC didn’t own both Watchmen and the Charlton characters, then this book would probably be illegal to print…and pointless into the bargain. If any of this stuff ever goes into the public domain, future readers are going to be SCRATCHING THEIR HEADS over Pax Americana!

    “What’s the point of this thing?!”, they’ll probably scream!

    But for right now it’s pretty much beyond remarkable. This is environmental art that won’t survive the coming-in of the copyright-extinction tide. ONLY MORRISON believes Watchmen needs this kind of direct call-and-response critique, much in the same way that only Geoff Johns believes that the most interesting thing about the Flash is NOT that he can run really fast…yet I needed to buy this cheeky, cheeky comic, you know? And I don’t think the critique is valueless. Actually I think the critique is pretty garbled! But as we expect with Morrison, that’s what makes it achingly complex, too.

    Craziest book I ever saw. For years I’ve argued that only Image can tell a certain kind of parodic Marvel story, because Marvel’s too close to itself to tell it. Marvel has to play it straight, because if they don’t play it straighter than Image they look like they’re ripping off the rip-off in an incredibly clumsy way. Distance makes the difference…but here Morrison is, busily ripping off Watchmen with the Charlton characters while saying the “original” was…I don’t know, shit?

    Or, brilliant?

    Or, somehow…mistaken?

    I don’t even know, and it’s like seeing a hat come out of a rabbit. I can’t help but applaud, but damned if I know if it’s Art. Though it definitely passes for magic!

    Good call on “Best Man Fall”, by the way: I think all these Multiversity comics are ostensibly mimicking Comic X while sneakily actually referring to Comic Y, myself…

  4. jonesy Says:

    Of course something always came before. Movements are movements because they move away from preexisting somethings. Rebellion is rebellion because it’s rebelling against institutional somethings. False dichotomies. Causality, basically.

    But this one got me thinking about Old Oedipus and the nature of women in comics – or at least women’s role in comics in the First Seventy-Five Years. But where’s Prez Harley’s mom? Nonexistent. Because Oedipal characters are rote.

    I want to know more about Ma Nightshade.

  5. Archibald Says:

    Of all the things that one could appreciate about PAX, the plot was not one of them. Morrison has never been great at plotting especially on his expansive superhero mash-ups. Often the high concepts and bravado scope he works with offer enough smoke and mirrors (and razz-a-ma-tazz) to lull the suspension of disbelief into a stupor. Regrettably, the plot of PAX (unarguably the pick of the MULTIVERSITY litter) DOESN’T MAKE ANY GODDAMN SENSE and no amount of analysis of what makes it great can make up for this turd in the punchbowl. No matter how outrageous Alan Moore stories can be, his plots always have an interior logic. WATCHMEN makes sense. Morrison took on Moore and failed.

  6. Spoilers Below Says:

    More so than Watchmen, I was reminded of Mark Millar’s Civil War and The Authority when reading Pax Americana.

    Sure, all the trappings of Watchmen are there — the character analogues, the cold war fear, the digs at Steve Ditko. But the situation? The rise and the registration? The fear of the government take over of superheroes? Pure Millar, Morrison’s own bastard son, the one who stole his fire and lit up the movie world that Morrison has so badly wanted to claim as his own.

    And as it was over a ghost written issue of The Authority (issue 28, with Art Adams doing his best Frank Quitely impression) that they had their big break up, what better place to send some fire down at the child who destroyed his faith in humanity, as well up at his “father”?

  7. Adam Says:

    I’m not sure I quite buy the argument that Morrison’s best Orkney is all within the superhero genre.

    That said, this is a wonderful series of posts.

  8. Zakaria Says:

    That’s really interesting. I was considering something similar. Only in my addled state I didn’t see Morrison in any of the father/son roles.

    I did however wonder if President Harley wasn’t a take on Moore and if his “father”, Vince Harley didn’t have a bit of Kirby in him.

    Though to be fair, the beard might have thrown me off.

    https://retconpunchdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/epiphany.jpg

  9. jonesy Says:

    So the son always kills the father, the movement always kills the thing its rejecting, ad infinitum?

    Maybe in this singular universe. But if that’s the case I’m glad to find hope in Captain Atom’s words and deeds, because he reminds us we can just flip the pages backwards and re-experience the old. And as for the new? Well, he up and leaves the confines of that conversation, doesn’t he?

    Movies aren’t large enough canvases for Morrison’s broad … casts. Well, except Interstellar in its simple way. Now TV … TV’s the future, and the place where we see ideas similar to, or spawned from his, functioning at max capacity.

  10. Ed A. Says:

    I really think Spoilers Below is on to something with the Civil War/Authority connection.

    Maybe I’m just parsing Pax through my own perception/biases but it seemed to me that Morrison is using the Watchmen aesthetic and devices to play around with today’s commonplace ‘Superheroes as Government-mandated super-militia/spies’ thing, which has been at the core of Marvel’s comics and movies for a long while (and I’m entirely sick of).

    The man who would be President killed his father, the ‘open source’/no copyright Yellowjacket (with all surviving characters owned by DC), shooting the hole in YJ’s domino mask and breaking the enclosed perfection of the “8″, closing the hole through his own assassination by Peacemaker. The Vice President’s line that his government’s world has no need of an absurdly costumed propaganda-piece paramilitary; the consequent impending removal of superheroes from the state and the state from the superheroes – removing the taint from both perhaps?

    I don’t know, I’m probably talking utter guff.

  11. peacemaker | englebright Says:

    [...] on Multiversity over at Mindless Ones, with my favourite so far (perhaps inevitably) being the part on Pax [...]

  12. Damon Says:

    I read through this posts in the kindle version in a nice wee pub while drinking tea and thought this particularly one was stellar. Looking forward to going through the 7S one!

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