One of my contemporaries once theorized that with Grant Morrison-penned comic book adventures, "You never know which Grant Morrison is going to show." So far, with "Multiversity," readers have gotten plenty of the idea-factory Morrison. Some of those ideas are innovative and ingenious ways of looking at old characters and concepts. Others are new characters cut from whole cloth. Still other ideas are framing sequences or storytelling structure. With "The Multiversity: Pax Americana" #1, Morrison trumps all that and, with his frequent collaborator Frank Quitely on art, gives readers a trippy, deep, mind-numbing comic that features Morrison's spin on the more popular Charlton characters.
Glimpses of Quitely's art featuring the Ted Kord incarnation of the Blue Beetle sharing page space with the Vic Sage Question have served as a beacon for what "The Multiversity" COULD be, but nothing in any preview is an appropriate appetizer for what Morrison and Quitely serve up in "The Multiversity: Pax Americana" #1.
More than once in the story, Morrison's dialog clues readers in to the story structure and its own seeming metaphysical awareness, but quickly snaps taut and makes that awareness appear to blossom from the characters on the page. Morrison inserts clues and outright recommendations for the reader to check the structure, the pacing and even the direction of the story. He also provides dialog replication of the characters' paths, such as the conversation between President Eden and his daughter, Eve (also known as Nightshade). The writer sets the story up to go in reverse, revealing the events that lead to the opening scene, but in doing so, Morrison gives readers the freedom to structure the story's timeline in the own context, as he omits any caption boxes that would date or timestamp the story. The important dates of the story are IN the story.
Quitely's art is, simply, the best I have ever seen from him. He captures the essence of each character -- from President George W. Bush to Blue Beetle -- and every era that "The Multiversity: Pax Americana" #1 introduces. The sheer panel count in this comic book has to be a record, especially when some of the panels appear little more than a square centimeter. Quitely fills all forty pages with panels, as there are only two panels in the entire comic that fill a half page. Every other panel is smaller than that, and many of the forty pages have more than four panels on them. Quitely packs detail into every single panel, from the gore sprayed by an assassin's bullet to the creases on the Question's featureless mask. He doesn't make Nathan Fairbairn's job easy, but the colorist sticks with Quitely the whole way through, delivering gorgeous tones and shades, while defining the finished look of Quitely's character designs. Rob Leigh is as tight a collaborator visually as he is to Morrison's story. As the Question explains the spectrum of choices, Leigh, Quitely and Fairbairn create a disturbingly brilliant page where the story grows in the panels as the page action progresses.
A simple comparison to "Pulp Fiction" might be a good place to start with explaining what Morrison accomplishes in "The Multiversity: Pax Americana" #1 relative to other comic books, but that would be a dramatic understatement and incomplete. This is, quite simply, like no comic book I've ever read before. Morrison makes it seem familiar, especially with the Question and Blue Beetle present, but the story itself is nowhere near as straightforward as that heroic duo is accustomed to. Thanks to Quitely's art, I know I'll be re-reading this comic again, but this next time around (and the time after that) I'm sure I'll be analyzing every image Quitely chiseled into each panel of "The Multiversity: Pax Americana" #1. "Multiversity" is four issues in, and it's has gotten better. Here's hoping that trend continues and that we continue to get more new ideas like this from the Grant Morrison Idea Factory.