"In Which We Burn": In 1974, the vigilante Yellowjacket had won himself the praise of concerned citizens by taking up the role of a street level vigilante crime-fighter in stark contrast to OSI super-agents such as Dan Garrett. One night,
- Say again? If there's a pattern, I can't see it. She just goes round and round. The view is the same in both directions.
Appearing in "In Which We Burn"
- Pax Americana
- President Harley (Only appearance; dies)
- The Pax Institute
- Nora O'Rourke (Only appearance; dies)
- Dr. McDougall (Only appearance; dies)
- Prof. Lyons (Only appearance; dies)
- Vice-President Eden
- Sarge Steel (Flashback and main story)
- Terrorist leader (Flashback only)
- The Gentry
- Lord Broken
- Yellowjacket (Flashback only) (Dies)
- George W. Bush (Flashback only)
Synopsis for "In Which We Burn"
In 1974, the vigilante Yellowjacket had won himself the praise of concerned citizens by taking up the role of a street level vigilante crime-fighter in stark contrast to OSI super-agents such as Dan Garrett. One night, when returning home to his life as Vince Harley - a comic book creator - from a night of crime-fighting, Yellowjacket was forced to go in through a window, having forgotten the key to his house. In the meantime, his son had snuck into his room and discovered a gun in his desk. When he was startled by the masked man coming through the window, he fired the weapon. Only after peeling away the domino mask did he realized he'd killed his own father. Looking at it, the mask had twisted into a "∞" shape.
The truth of what he'd done weighed on him for years. He visited his father's grave often, letting his life and personal hygiene suffer. One night, while he sat in his usual spot on the bench in the cemetery, he was visited by Captain Atom, who granted him visions that crystallized the seed of an idea.
Some time later, new heroes Blue Beetle and The Question had formed a partnership, though the Question could never understand why Ted Kord would use all of his money to develop gadgets and flying machines, just to catch the likes of smack dealers, when he could use it to fight poverty and injustice in a more direct way. Having caught a drug dealer, the Question's methods of meting out justice made his partner worried. He stuffed a bag full of heroin into the man's mouth, causing him to overdose, and leaving a pithy note behind; his modus operandi. As Ted tried to explain that they couldn't do things like that, The Question ignored him, commenting that he'd been thinking they should work on the ultimate mystery: what really happened to Yellowjacket - America's first Superhero?
By 2005, Harley had become a governor, working under George W. Bush. By his initiative, America had developed a new kind of soldier - a superhuman peacekeeper. When terrorists broke into the White House and threatened the president's life, Harley called on his Peacemaker to kill every one of their men. The Peacemaker signalled the end of a world living in fear of terrorism.
With his program in full gear, Harley paid a visit to a newly discovered superhuman in Allen Adam, whose powers were so great that he could simply think America's enemies to death. Adam's power was such that he was conscious of all points in time at once, making him confused enough to address Harley as president, anticipating a future that had not yet come to pass. Kindly, Harley took Adam on a walk through the gardens, explaining that he had puzzled on the mysteries of life. He went around the world trying to figure it out until he found it at 23 years of age, sitting at his father's graveside - the ultmate algorithm that would explain everything. It is the structure of all things, hidden in plain sight.
After applying that algorithm, he learned to predict events. The future, he said, holds a dark age of neo-barbarism, and he had found a way to prevent it. The president would need to be sacrificed in order to secure world peace. To that end, he had come to Allen to offer him the opportunity to become a super-hero, along with the purpose he sought. The solution lay within Major Comics title "Major Max Meets Janus the Everyway Man." With all of Allen's power, he could do the impossible by bringing the president back to life, redeeming the ultimate villain and restoring symmetry to a broken world. Before Harley left him, Allen noticed a ring on his finger bearing the "∞" symbol, and Harley explained that it served as a reminder to him of when and where he first saw the pattern and what it had meant.
Shortly after his election to the presidency in 2008, Harley gathered together a team of government-endorsed super-heroes who would be overt as opposed to covert as OSI had been. Among them were Blue Beetle, The Question, and the Peacemaker. As Harley welcomed them, he warned that their trademarks and codenames would become the property of Uncle Sam and they were to represent a new, futuristic, and upbeat America. Before introducing them to the public, he took The Question aside to confirm whether he was going to be on-board with their plan. Soon, Harley was revealing the new team to the world, introducing them as the Pax Americana, to be lead by Captain Atom. As a show of his power, he had Atom build a set of three towers in place of the World Trade Center, much taller than even they had been. This was seen as an affront to some, but they could do nothing in light of Atom's powers.
As part of the Pax Americana, the Question interrogated a dirty cop working under the corrupt Vice-President. The officer was pinned under the letters of a collapsed neon sign, in a puddle of water, as an electrified wire threatened to dip in and electrocute him. The Question offered him a gun, with the implied option to shoot himself, shoot The Question and die anyway, or confess and perhaps live. The officer confessed that he had received his orders from Sargeant Steel, and that he had heard rumours of a plan to have Captain Atom murdered and of a secret formula. Rather than saving the cop, The Question simply took a picture as he was electrocuted, commenting that he would not be saving bad guys.
Elsewhere, Chris Smith - the Peacemaker - and his girlfriend Nora discussed President Harley's father, whose last comic book work was a story titled "Janus the Everyway Man." That story, Nora supposed, might have had some connection to the president's fabled "Algorithm 8." Chris suggested that Nora put her super-brain to work on solving the algorithm so that she could predict the future. She'd have two years to do it. By then, the Pax Institute would have trained the next generation of Peacemaker agents. Then, Harley would win the 2015 election, Chris would do what he was trained to do, and then the two of them would run away together in hiding.
In January of 2015, Captain Atom hovered within the center of a particle accelerator reading a copy of the cursed Ultra Comics, noting how within it, he had seen a Möbius strip, curving through eight dimensions on pages 12 and 13. He explained to the waiting scientists in the control room of how the ability to flip to any page of a comic, entering into its narrative at any time, is one way that humans conceive of the two-dimensional continuum - but they must challenge themselves to conceive of how he perceives the three-dimensional world. He could read any moment in their history as if it were a panel on a comic page - he already knew of their plan to destroy him. Realizing that they were found out, the scientists activated the particle accelerator, creating an artificial black hole within his skull. With that, he was gone - apparently destroyed. Watching, Sergeant Steel rose from his seat and shot each of the scientists dead, tying up the loose ends.
According to the President, he would have to be assassinated in order to ensure world peace - but his plan hinged upon Captain Atom returning from wherever he'd gone to bring him back. Nora worried that if Adam didn't come back, there could be no world peace. Chris responded that if that was the case, then they would know for sure that life really is random, but he believed in his mission. That mission was to assassinate the president for the sake of world peace. When he had asked the President why he was willing to sacrifice himself, Harley had said it was because he deserved it.
In November of 2015, The Question travelled to Nora and Chris' home to investigate Nora's murder. He determined that Chris had left earlier, leaving Nora alone. The truth was that she had been left alone, and had only just discovered the truth of Algorithm 8. She knew what was to come. But in Chris' absence, she sensed someone else's presence. The Question confirmed this from his evidence, and determined that Nora must have been bludgeoned to death with a Janus-head sculpture, a feat requiring super-human strength. As she began to die from severe brain damage, Question surmised that Nora began crawling toward the elevator for reasons unknown.
The Question's investigations led to his being pursued by his former friend Blue Beetle, who believed his ex-partner had become too paranoid and entangled in the bogus mystery of Yellowjacket's murder. Question, however, believed that by serving the government as he did, Beetle was complicit in all of their crimes - and he knew the guilt was eating at him. Thanks to Ted's reliance on technology, Question was able to trap him with a magnet, and escape into the subway system. He encountered Nightshade there, easily defeating her in combat and warning that while her superiors thought they ran the game, they had neglected to consider who was controlling the board on which they played.
Outside the White House, President Harley was assassinated by Peacemaker, as planned, shot from a sub-orbital leap, piercing through the peace-sign flag that Harley had been waving. Before long, Peacemaker was captured and taken to an interrogation room. No one could understand why an American hero would kill his president.
Vice President Eden explained to his daughter, Nightshade, that with his act of murder, Chris Smith had ended the age of the American Super-Hero. Frustrated, she responded that becoming president in Harley's place should have been enough for him, knowing of his manipulative ways. She enjoyed being Nightshade, and wasn't eager for that to end. Her father responded that she could look forward to new opportunities. They would be entering into a time when a firm hand would be needed. While super-agents had given people something simple and strong to believe in after 9/11, these new times demanded new strategies - which he intended to declare to the press before speaking with Chris.
When Eden demanded to know why Chris had killed the president, Chris responded simply that he was saving the world - from him.
Back at Vincent Harley's grave, Captain Atom reappeared at last, delivering Algorithm 8 to the 23-year-old Harley who would become president and die for world peace, over and over again.
- A "Director's Cut" version of this issue was released in May of 2015; including pencil art by Frank Quitely and full scripts by Grant Morrison.
- The issue, in concept, storytelling and its usage of the Charlton Comics characters, is by writer Grant Morrison's own admission an intentional reflection of Watchmen.
- Evidently, the Presidential elections of the America seen in Pax Americana take place a year earlier than in the real world, as the Presidential election takes place in 2015 rather than in 2016.
- The infinity symbol "∞," like a Möbius strip, is a recurring figure in the issue, both in terms of the narrative and in shapes formed in the artwork. The story itself becomes like a Mobius loop through its recursive nature.
- The two comics shown by Sgt. Lane to the Pax Americana - All-Star Superman and JLA: Earth-2 - were written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quietly, who both worked on this issue.
- Yellowjacket is based on an early Charlton Comics superhero who was not one of the characters that DC bought from Charlton in 1983. In 2015, however, the original Yellowjacket is in the public domain and available for use by anyone.
- Blue Beetle's pitch for the name of the future Pax Americana group "Sentinels" and "the Law" are references to the Charlton Comics era superhero group the Sentinels and the L.A.W., respectively.
- A display case contains memorabilia related to Banshee, Punch, Red Knight, and Smiling Skull.
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