Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Multiversity #1

In 2006, Infinite Crisis #6 reintroduced the Multiverse. At least, the event that produced 52 separate vibrationary dimensions, each with its own Earth, took place in that issue. DC revealed the existence of the new Multiverse only gradually, with teases and hints before a final reveal near the end of the weekly series 52. The new Multiverse was a realm to explore, for creative talents to stake out territories and develop them, making the DC Universe a rich tableau of great variety.

Curtain falls. Seven years pass. Curtain rises.

As 2014 passes the midway point, the Multiverse still has been discussed only very sparingly. With the exception of a few “Earths,” the creative playground that DC introduced eight years ago has barely been touched. Until now.

Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity is perhaps the most ambitious event that DC Comics has undertaken, a mapping of dozens of fictional worlds. Crisis on Infinite Earths destroyed a thousand fictional worlds, almost all of them eliminated off-camera, with glimpses of ten or so along the way, and that was still vast in scope. Multiversity will put dozens of worlds on-camera, giving us teases of their individual richness while building a larger structure around them with its own logic and chaos. It takes within its scope previous works of Gardner Fox, Jack Kirby, Neil Gaiman, Morrison himself, and many others, including – through obvious Marvel surrogates – Stan Lee. We’re obviously going to see an enormous amount of detail in the nine issues of Multiversity, and the first issue gets that well underway.

The story begins by showing a smaller creature on a flea, which is a reference to a poem by Jonathan Swift that states that microcosms thereby extend into boundless new microcosms, ad infinitum. The narration speaking of the ubiquity of life unites this into a message about stories and fictional worlds, which continue into infinite variety, and this is the lead-in to the infinite (well, at least 45) worlds Morrison will address.

Nix Uotan, the Monitor seen in Final Crisis, is once again living as a young man in shabby surroundings, hounded by the mundane facts of existence. He reads a comic book and communicates with some apparently extradimensional Mister Stubbs, an anthropomorphic chimpanzee in pirate clothing who shared a detention cell with Uotan in Final Crisis #5. The plot of Multiversity is kicked off by their examination of a sinister comic book which is haunted and directly addresses the reader (both Uotan and YOU, the reader of the actual comic). This fourth-wall addressing of the reader is a familiar Morrison trope whose most prominent antecedent was the cover of Flash #163, where the Flash tells the reader, “Stop! Don’t pass up this issue! My life depends on it!” (Fourth wall narration was, incidentally, used by Gardner Fox as far back as 1940.) Morrison has also referenced that cover’s wording in Final Crisis #2, the issue in which he brought Barry Allen back to life.

The “haunted” comic book that begins this story is Ultraa Comics, the final one-shot issue of Multiversity which will be published in 2015. It concerns Ultraa, the lone superhero of Earth-33, which is the real world which we live in, also known as Earth Prime. Ultraa was introduced in a 1978 issue of Justice League of America, and Morrison obviously intends to use Ultraa to bridge the gap between superhero comics and our real world, something previously developed by the 1978 story of Ultraa and Kurt Busiek’s Superman: Secret Identity.

At this point, Nix Uotan changes to his Monitor identity and begins a voyage through the Multiverse on the Ultima Thule, an interdimensional craft introduced in Superman Beyond, and in short order, he finds a demonic infestation that seems right out of the works of Neil Gaiman destroying a Marvel-esque world of superheroes on Earth-7. This destruction, however, was merely bait to attract Uotan and fill him with despair, killing his interest in comics. Interestingly, the demons call themselves The Gentry, perhaps suggesting that “good people” too upright to read comic books are the metaphorical problem in this story.

And so, the Thunderer, an Aboriginal Australian version of Marvel’s Thor, is sent off to collect a team of superheroes from all the worlds of the Multiverse to defeat this threat. The rest of the issue is spent gathering a virtual Justice League from the Multiverse, something we’ve seen before in Superman Beyond, Final Crisis, and, befitting the appearance of Harbinger, Crisis on Infinite Earths. This interdimensional team will, we can be sure, lead the attack against the demonic threat, and introduce us to their worlds along the way.

Given the most screentime is the black (African-American; in truth, Vathlo-Kryptonian) Superman, Cal Ellis, previously used by Morrison in Final Crisis #7 and Action #9. Ellis leads the all-black superheroes of Earth-23 (perhaps not incidentally, Michael Jordan’s number). But only Ellis, pursuing the origin of a mysterious robot attacker, is selected for the interdimensional team, which also has Captain Carrot. Captain Carrot remembers meeting Ellis (in FC #7), but Ellis doesn’t remember meeting him, a conflict which will seemingly be resolved later. Other members of the team are Dino-Cop of Earth-42, an Aqua-Woman from Earth-11, and a speedster named Red Racer from Earth-36, whose Superman was vanquished in a battle with Superdoom, the Superman-Doomsday pastiche from Morrison’s Action Comics. Notable in their absence are the characters of Earth-0, the main DC Universe. We learn that the characters of various Earths often appear in the comic books of other Earths, a concept that goes back to the introduction of Barry Allen, a fan of Jay Garrick’s Flash Comics, in Showcase #4. We also learn of Valla-Hal, a Monitor Watchstation number ∞, with the implication that these characters are the equivalent of gods.

This task force, however, ends up on Earth-8, not Earth-7, where they find a different set of Marvel-like characters unknown to the Thunderer. Here, a Doctor Doom stand-in named Lord Havok is consumed during contact with the demonic forces. At the end of the issue, the heroes find that Nix Uotan has become corrupted, reminiscent of Mandrakk, the darker manifestation of Uotan’s father, Dax Novu, seen in Superman Beyond and Final Crisis. Obviously, the next part of the story involves a battle for Uotan’s soul, and by extension, for the good in comics to win out over the worse aspects of them, as seen by Morrison.

Moving forward, Morrison has many challenges to face. His knack for wide-scale invention of new characters and new worlds is well established, and he’s surely up to that challenge. He will also need to do justice to the magnificent works of his predecessors as he places them, in rather summary fashion, into a larger narrative structure. Perhaps the greatest challenge that he is taking on is the goal of showing that comics are essential, that they are embattled, and using his story to help lead them to become something better. Morrison portrayed his Superdoom character in Action as “a brand” with “maximum cross-spectrum, wide-platform appeal, a violent, troubled, faceless anti-hero... a global marketing icon.” Is DC launching a major event that criticizes their own products and cross-licensing? Will Multiversity be a voice of protest against other works? It’s curious to see what statement Morrison is trying to make and what result it might have.


  1. I was debating reading Multiversity in floppy form vs waiting for the collected edition - when I saw you were covering the series, I decided on floppy. Thanks!

    1. I can't wait for the collected edition(s). But I think some of the Meta-ness of this series will be best experienced in floppy form as a monthly.

  2. I certainly thought about the paper-vs-digital distinction while reading the issue, because the comics shown within the issue are all paper! Maybe that will be an anachronism soon!

  3. I should be following this post soon with a post just about the map of the Multiverse. After re-reading older works, I see that Morrison had some of this stuff in mind as far back as 2007. The map is perhaps more interesting than Multiversity #1, but there's a lot more left for us to find out.

  4. Quick question: Where did Gardner Fox use 4th wall narration in 1940? I recall characters in some stories, like Batman, turning to the reader at the end of a story to ask them to buy war bonds or something but I'm curious which story or stories you're citing from 1940. Thank you.

  5. Man with Ten Eyes,
    The original JSA story, among others to follow, was full of 4th wall narration. I intend to write up a Retro Review of that historic story. As one example, Johnny Thunder tells Doctor Fate, "The editors have written a story about something that happened to me. It's on the next two pages." All Star #3 may have the first 4th wall narration written into the middle of a story in DC/comics history.

  6. Ah, yes, All-Star #3. It is a mind trip in places! That tone fell away all too quickly in the early JSA stories. I will look forward to your Retro Review.