Sunday, November 2, 2014

Multiversity: The Message

What's the Message?

Multiversity, according to his plans as announced, will be Grant Morrison's last work that could reorder the foundations of DC superhero comics. The ultimate chance to have his say regarding what superhero comics should be. This offer comes once only, in all eternity. So what kind of story is he writing? What is he trying to say?

Morrison, to say the least, has a predilection for the big concept, the big statement. He offers up that Multiversity is the best thing he's ever done, and the threat is the most terrifying thing that anyone's ever created in a comic. More terrifying than the commonplace threats we've seen that big stories where the destruction of all life and reality is what's at stake? How is that possible?

The answer may be contained in the first three issues of Multiversity. Look at the various Earths and characters from across the Multiverse that Morrison is using in the story, and how he is using them, and a pattern falls out.

The Pattern

Earths in the Multiverse mainly fall into two broad categories: (1) When an existing body of work is separate from mainstream continuity, DC dubs that side continuity an "Earth" to separate it from their other titles. This includes their own past work (eg, Earth-2 in the original 1960s conception of Golden Age continuity; the Anthro and Kamandi worlds, etc.) as well as the comics worlds of other publishing companies (notably those of Charlton, Fawcett, Quality, and even Marvel). The other category, (2) consists of side realities which are created to drive a single story and are DC Earths from the original conception. For example, the Crime Syndicate's Earth-3, and the various Earths that play host to the worlds of Kingdom Come, Red Son, Red Rain, and other Elseworlds.

Broadly speaking, Earths of type (1) have been around for quite a while and have been the basis of hundreds or even several thousand stories. They also were created independently of DC's main line, and as such, lack character-by-character equivalents to DC's star lineup of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, etc. On the other hand, Earths of type (2) essentially always take one or more DC stars and perform some twist: Making them evil, switching their gender, assigning them new backgrounds, etc. They are usually around for a story or two, as opposed to the serials lasting years or decades as in type (1).

Now let's look at the plot of Multiversity: A hideously sinister threat, called the Gentry, are attacking Earths one by one, and have already destroyed one of them. A team to stop them has been formed and has set out to save the Multiverse.

In Multiversity, we have seen or will see the following worlds being subjected to attack:

Earths-7 and 8, based on the Marvel and Ultimate Marvel universes.
Earth-20, whose existing characters are based on older DC comics: three mashups of Justice Society characters, alternate Blackhawks, and an obscure character from Strange Adventures.
Earth-16, based on DC characters from the Nineties and later who were successors to the Silver Age characters. In their own world, they are also the successors to Silver Age dopplegangers, but none of the Silver Age dopplegangers, save Ray Palmer, are themselves on-panel.
Earths 4, 5, and 10 corresponding to the comics universes of Charlton, Fawcett, and Quality comics companies, respectively.
Finally, Earth-33, which is based on Earth Prime, which is based on our actual world.

Here is the pattern that sticks out: The victim Earths, besides perhaps Earth-33, are all of type (1). The heroes coming to save them are all from Earths of type (2). This is no coincidence, nor is it abstract as it may seem. It is core to Morrison's intentions.

The victims are, fundamentally, sets of characters who do not include DC's key stars or extradimensional dopplegangers of them. Earth-16 may seem to be an exception, but note that these characters are not dopplegangers of DC's stars but are, rather, their children and successors. Damian Wayne even points out that he's not the world's greatest detective, but rather his son. Note also that Earth-20 has equivalents of three members of the Justice Society, but not of the star lineup of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or the Flash; nor is there a Hal Jordan or Alan Scott.

Meanwhile, the rescue squad that Harbinger gathers is, in Morrison's own words, a Justice League of the Multiverse. There are analogues of Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman. In addition, there are a few others such as Hawkman, Gypsy and Steel. Batman is notably absent, and Dino-Cop is a wildcard, but this is, in essence, a Justice League. The Justice League saves everybody else: That is the action underlying Morrison's big message in Multiversity.

What The Pattern Means

So, Morrison is a huge fan of the DC Silver Age, so they're the real heroes and other comics can't compare – is that the whole message? It's deeper and more specific than that, and Morrison's overarching message is why Earths based on the Marvel universes had to be the first ones to fall.

Morrison has increasingly used his comics to outline a real world threat to the genre. The Superdoom threat in Morrison's Action #9, a comic book shown in Multiversity, is described by one world's Lois Lane: "We sold out! They had 500 experts lined up, thinking in harmony to streamline the Superman brand for maximum cross-spectrum, wide platform appeal. They built a violent, troubled, faceless anti-hero, concealing a tragic secret life, a global marketing icon." In Action #17, Superdoom describes itself to Superman as, "An unstoppable killer franchise from a parallel reality. A thought that gets bigger the more you think of it. The thought of a Superman better than you! The thought of a bigger Superman. A stronger, more ruthless Superman. … powered by a simple corporate directive: Annihilate the competition! … Your replacement." The idea is also articulated by Mandraak in Superman Beyond and Final Crisis but not as clearly as in Action. And in Superman Beyond, it is explained that this threat can be beaten by a better idea, the story of a child rocketed to Earth from a doomed planet.

These Action issues are a direct prequel to Multiversity. We see Calvin Ellis, the Superman of Earth-23 in both Action and Multiversity, and we see four different Earths (including two or three Luthors and Earth 20's Doc Fate) build the Transmatter Symphonic Array, a multicolored device that acts as an interdimensional portal through which this threat attacks. In three cases, we're told that the Transmatter Symphonic Array is built by someone using instructions that came to them in a dream. Another one suddenly appears in front of Chris Kent in Alexis Luthor's apartment and was perhaps built by her. That is the science fiction explanation of the interdimensional threat, but Morrison's metatextual message is laid out in the nature of Superdoom: Replacing the pure, noble heroes with violent, troubled anti-heroes, stronger and more ruthless, designed to appeal to a broader audience.

Apocalypse as a Metaphor

"Violent, troubled, anti-hero" describes almost perfectly the qualities that brought on the downfall of Earth-20, Earth-16, and Earths 7 and 8, in that order.

Violent: The Society of Super-Heroes represents the pre-Silver Age, pre-Justice League DC, with two Justice Society heroes and the Blackhawks. The issue begins with very specific articulation of vows not to kill by the Atom and the Immortal Man. Soon, their universe is beset by threats which throw the far future of comics at it: The Green Lantern storyline accelerates into the future with the Alan Scott role and uniform (1940) on Abin Sur (1959) fighting Sinestro (1960s) and Parallax (2000s). Vandal Savage from Earth-40 arrives and knows that to attack this world, he must make them kill. This is a fate that already befell Earth-40 itself, as the meteorite that gave Vandal Savage his immortality was used as a murder weapon, whereas on Earth-20 this did not occur and the rock became a holy relic. As threats from later eras of fiction arrive (Lady Shiva, zombies), the pulp heroes from the past abandon their principles. First the Atom kills Blockbuster with the Deadly Atom Punch, which fells his enemy but makes him stagger at how he abandoned his principles. The Blackhawks kill Lady Shiva, and then the Immortal Man kills Vandal Savage. This directly attracts the threat of the infected Nix Uotan, the sign that their universe has become tainted by the things that Superdoom proclaimed itself to be. The Society of Super-Heroes (and by extension, the Golden Age Justice Society that it was based upon) has no place in a world where heroes are killers. And which Golden Age / Justice Society characters are absent from this Earth? There is no Superman, no Batman, no Wonder Woman, and no Flash. Those are the characters that might have saved them, but are absent until the Multiversal Justice League arrives.

Troubled: The Just, the supeheroes of Earth-16, represent the post-Justice League DC characters, as they arose from about 1983 onward. The goodness of these superheroes dies not with a bang but a whimper. There are analogues of the Silver Age Justice League, but they are all replacements who are incapable of action. Their Superman, Chris Kent, is an ineffectual successor to Superman, not his equivalent like Calvin Ellis, the Superman of Earth-23. The best of them, Damian Wayne, is trying to rise to the occasion, but he admits that he's not the world's greatest detective, but the son of the world's greatest detective. Their Justice League only play-acts battles. Like the Lois Lane who spawned Superdoom, they sold out. They come under a form of psychic attack via comic books and movies. Their Megamorpho commits suicide. Kyle Rayner is suddenly paralyzed by memories of the murder of his girlfriend. They lack a real Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or Flash to save them. Like Earth-20, they have a version of Green Lantern, but not the real thing, whether that be Alan Scott or Hal Jordan.

Anti-heroes: We don't see this on-panel in Multiversity, but Marvel has regularly blurred the lines between heroes and villains, and Morrison uses this device with excruciating repetition in the few pages where we see Earth-8 under siege. In the first panel we see of Earth-8, Lord Havok (Doctor Doom) holds Wundajin's lightning axe (Thor's hammer Mjolnir) and other artifacts that may have direct Marvel equivalents: A villain holding a hero's weapon. Then we immediately see a hero (from Earth-7) start a fight with another hero (from Earth-8). After the Justice League of the Multiverse tries to stop the hostilities, we are reminded that Doctor Doom began as Mister Fantastic's friend and creation. Finally, the hero based on Hawkeye fires an arrow through Lord Havok's head. The blurring of heroes and villains in this scene is repeatedly asserted in just a few pages to characterize Marvel storytelling.

Who are The Gentry?

So we see that the Gentry are tied to the very same things that Superdoom represented in Action. When we translate this into Morrison's message about the superhero genre, we see why Marvel had to be the first universe that the Gentry toppled. Morrison is decrying the success of certain themes and tarnished ideals in the genre. As movies and video games supplant comic books as the dominant media conveying the superhero genre, they take the superhero genre into places that Morrison is warning us about. He is voicing in this story the reservations he has made explicitly in interviews.

Of the movie Man of Steel, Morrison said:
I’m not sure about the killing thing. I don’t want to sound like some fuddy-duddy Silver Age apologist but I’ve noticed a lot recently of people saying Batman should kill the Joker and, yeah, Superman should kill… unless you’re in one of the Armed Forces, killing is illegal and immoral. Why would we want our superheroes to do that?

Of his experience in designing video games, Morrison said:
There wasn’t a big interest in novelty. They seemed more interested in working on formulas that had worked in the past.

This is what he is saying in Multiversity, with The Gentry representing the opposite of his position. When The Gentry speak to Nix Uotan, it is the metaphorical voice of video games, movies, and perhaps (given the spelling rich in contraction) social media speaking to DC comic books, telling them that they will bring ruin upon them like this:

"We want yu. We want yu 2 give up yr dreams. We want yu 2 abandon all hope. We want to make yu like us." And what is it they do to comic books? They have apparently done it to Marvel as they tell Nix Uotan, representing DC, "We crushed his courage and his heart. His dignity will die and his flesh follow. Unless yu take his place. Exchange yr life for his."

Once Nix Uotan is infected, he has become, in essence, video games, telling the superheroes he confronts, "Play a new game."

The process of ruination, Morrison is saying, starts with Marvel, then spreads to DC's pre-Silver Age and post-Silver Age. In successive one-shots, Morrison will likely show how the much smaller universes of Charlton (already pretty well wrecked by Alan Moore's Watchmen), Fawcett (recall the ruined and depraved Mary Marvel from Final Crisis and Tawky Tawny in Final Crisis suddenly and savagely killing Kalibak), and Quality (the Freedom Fighters as crushed by a Nazi Superman) had no hope of surviving in the face of such an onslaught.

Morrison's overall message seems to be: Comics are on a downward slide. Superheroes have gained great new popularity in other media (when five members of the JLA visited Earth Prime to meet Ultraa in JLA #153, almost nobody recognized them; in 2014, those JLA characters are all the subjects of current or recent TV shows and movies; everybody would recognize them). And this larger world of new readers, players, and viewers is The Gentry (note that its signature character is essentially a big eyeball). They will spend big money on movies and video games and this money will bring the whole genre down. Echoing the Gentry's comment that Nix Uotan can give himself up instead of Thunderer, Marvel will be destroyed by pandering to these forces unless DC wins the competition by pandering to it more.

Is Morrison saying that this has already happened? No, he "kinda liked" Man of Steel. He's saying that the process has begun, and that it could lead to that ruination if it continues.

What can save all of these fictional worlds is what his Justice League of the Multiverse represents: The pure, Silver Age Justice League style of heroes. Or perhaps not "style of"… perhaps only those characters exactly. As Morrison said in an interview, "With DC, the big archetypal characters are kind of like this human pantheon -- it's what we dream of when we go to bed at night." In the penultimate issue of Multiversity, the tide will turn as a once-evil Superman will be redeemed.

Making it Real

The remaining world in Multiversity that isn't really a type (1) or type (2) world according to my formulation is Earth-33, which is based on Earth Prime as seen in Silver Age stories. Morrison has stated that the events in the Earth-33 story, starring Ultraa (who debuted in the aforementioned JLA #153) will be the most terrifying thing anyone has ever created in a comic. Is this because the threat is actually real, about the real world and not about works of fiction? Maybe Morrison is talking about the possibility of the real world losing the comic books that its readers have come to enjoy. Maybe, he means, as Captain Carrot said in #1, that via the Multiple Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics, the things that happen in comics are actually happening to someone in a real universe and so the Joker, Reverse Flash, etc. are actually killing real people out there somewhere. Given the glimmerings we've seen so far, it may only be possible to guess at where Multiversity is leading, but it's clear where it has so far led: Morrison is writing a story that's about the whole genre, and the potential future he sees is not good.  


  1. Some interesting points here, Rikdad. I hadn't considered the Gentry in this way until now. I am really enjoying this series and looking forward to the next issue.
    DC announced a new Event Series for 2015 that looks to be very Multiverse related. Time will tell how Multiversity will impact the DCU moving forward. I have a feeling the "Old 88" will start to be acknowledged in the New 52 sooner rather than later, but we'll see.

  2. A quite impressive interpretation of Multiversity! Thank you.

    I'd caught on in the first issue to The Gentry's plot as it pertains to comic books ("We want to make u like us"), and to how making the Golden Age-style SOS into killers corrupted them and their world, but your larger point about the types of worlds being targeted and who will rescue them, I just wasn't there yet.

    Even if The Multiversity doesn't break sales records, I have no doubt the industry gurus and opinion leaders are scrutinizing it quite closely!

    1. The Golden Age bit was interesting just because Morrison decided to reconcile the fact that super-heroes were born from Pulp, and the super-heroic ideal (including avoidance of killing or brutality) doesn't sit that well with its Pulp origins. The S.O.S. fails because of regression. They fall backwards into like Film Noir territory, where the ending can't be happy.

  3. Jonny, as with Final Crisis, and even with Morrison's Batman run, I began with a mixture of interest and disappointment until I saw the big picture and then suddenly my interest and appreciation is vastly increased. Morrison's Batman run didn't click with me until #672 (14 issues in), and Final Crisis until the very last issue, and for Multiversity, it was this issue where it clicked with me. (Although I very much enjoyed several scenes in the first two issues.)

    Morrison hoped that his Seven Soldiers minis might turn into regular series, but that didn't happen for any of them. I don't see it happening with any of these minis, either, although I definitely expect the framework he created to be referred to again and again.

  4. ManWithTenEyes, thank you. As I first read, I saw some of the things you mentioned, but piecemeal, as lots of little individual statements. I was also perturbed that DC had once again used Marvel analogues which seemed to me to be unnecessary, but now I see why it was absolutely essential for Morrison to have faux-Marvel universes since that is key to his commentary on the industry.

    Morrison's own comments on his experiences as a game designer seem to emphasize his sense that he has a lot less creative power than he does with comics and that made the experience not very worthwhile for him. It would be interesting to see if Multiversity has an impact, but I think it would be very hard for him to impact video games or movies through the comic, although, as the story itself reminds us, comic books are the starting point for them.

  5. Wow. Just wow. Rikdad I've been writing up the series for Sequart and you have just blown everything I've written clear out of the water. I may have to point people your way in my next write up.

    Thank you for this.

  6. Two things occurred to me after I read your nice take on the story so far;

    1. It's probably pretty important that Wundajin is the sole Ultimate Marvel analogue to survive. Thor is so intrinsically linked to Jack Kirby in a way that many of his Stan Lee co-creations aren't, and it's important for an irregularity to be a member of the Multiversal Justice League - Wundajin is kind of representative of what Wonder Woman would be on a multi-JLA, but perhaps he's more indicative of a character near and dear to Morrison - Orion.

    2. The Transmatter Symphonic Array is the finished form of the Rubik's Cube. How I never noticed it is baffling, but it has a direct link to Metron, the God of Science as much as it has to Nix Uotan and his Chimp friend, and it's very telling that it's Super-Scientists, the arguable "greatest minds" in their given worlds, who are dreaming it up, whether it be Lex, Alexis or Doc Fate.

    1. I think we can rest assured that Sivana will construct the Cube in Thunderworld. I'm less certain of who will do it in Charltonverse - Allen Adam seems like his quantum mind will be able to unlock crazy physics, but he's got to lay off of the addling drug use to open his mind and then things get dangerous. I think Ted Kord is the more likely scenario.

      Another real quick thing - it's possible Neil Gaiman's Sandman visiting Chris Kent in a Dream was to warn him about The Gentry, believing a Superman an ideal candidate, but that Chris came up short and he had to put the dream in Alexis Luthor's head instead. If all these Rubik's Cube plans came to them in dreams, dare we think Sandman was involved in all of them?

  7. David, thank you. Please refer to this all you'd like. With most other writers, it's usually not even worth looking for patterns like this, but with Morrison, there's usually something there, on some level.

  8. K. Jones, that's a battery of great observations. I can't slice and dice all the Marvel subject matter, beyond the obvious hero-villain twists, but I suspect that you're onto something. Certainly the fact that Wundajin is a god seems significant. It also occurs to me that Australia is roughly halfway around the world from the Norse lands that Thor is from, and that 180° shift is also the angle between Earth-20 and Earth-40, which are opposites, in Morrison's map of the Multiverse.

    The visual similarity between the Transmatter Symphonic Array and a finished Rubik's Cube is another excellent observation. Revisiting Morrison's past uses of Metron and the Rubik's Cube is in order.

  9. So if the Transmatter Symphonic Array and Nix's Rubiks cube are essentially linked does this mean they are portals to the Overvoid/Monitor mind?

  10. David, I have a lot of guesses on that, but no answers. When we saw the Rubik's Cube in Final Crisis, I saw it as someone (representing a comics fan/writer) performing a universe hack and thereby obtaining vast new powers. A bit like a Green Lantern ring, but earned by force of personal effort, without the help of Guardians.

    The TSA reminds me of a few things: The Flash's Cosmic Treadmill, a Boom Tube, Metron's chair, the teleporter built according to aliens' instructions in Carl Sagan's Contact. The question, I suppose, is whether they are specifically portals or sources of more general power. I don't know the answer, but they are at least working as portals.

  11. Rikdad after our last conversation I started to get the pattern as well, and I reread the hell out of the issues.

    The SOS issue with the holy relic helped me arrive at the same conclusion about the Gentry. The way that the holy relic, an idea of limitless potential, was weaponized. Like the "bomb v. superman" comment grant has been on record about. Every universe that picks the bomb over a true Superman first and foremost is going to be gentrified.

    But while all of this is happening, Superman Beyond is still going on outside of space and time in the Nil. "Civilizations fall...and still we fight"

  12. ps - morrison calls parallax the fear thing in final crisis, kraken says it issue 2 or 3 when talking to batman in the hall of justice

  13. Ultraman's first appearance in Superman Beyond 1 captions read: I telescope in to the furnace edge and there HE is. Using whatever he finds as a WEAPON, a tool of DESTRUCTION.

  14. In Final Crisis the Rubik's Cube PINGed, so I think a Motherbox connection is pretty ingrained. Bruce's battle with devils in the Batman run hinged on boxes - Joker's apophenia hinting at everything from coffins to caskets to Ancestorbox, to the safe Talia sticks him in, to the fact that panels on the page are like boxes Batman is trapped in, and only interference from a character who exists "off panel" can save him (first Metron, then Kathy Kane).

    There's also the Miracle Machine, encased in a box of Inertron. Superman memorizes it then has Lex Luthor and Sivana help him build one back in his time. The impetus is that the Miracle Machine is effectively not too different from a Motherbox. So for Luthor, Alex, presumably Sivana, to be making these Transmatter cubes, I think we can assume they're tapping into a very similar thing that New God Motherboxes tap into.

    What else?

    The Gentry seem like just the sort of villains who would insist comic books be referred to as graphic novels (picto-fics, ha!) and purchase them at their precious Barnes & Nobles as local comic shops close down all around.

    And I think Intellectron might be the ultimate form of Bat-God. An ever-prepared all-seeing, almost Brother Eye-like eye with bat-wings of terror? Self-satire, perhaps? It's pretty important that no Batmen of the Multiverse have been used so far.

  15. Andriulli,
    The SOS issue really lays out the way that violence committed by the heroes is what undoes their world. The vulnerability to the Gentry is similar to that in the two Marvel universes that we see, but fairly different in The Just, where nobody commits violence, but Chris Kent and many others are ineffectual and Kyle Rayner is traumatized by violence committed by others. It'll be interesting to see how the next three universes are made vulnerable to the Gentry's attack.

    That's a good call that Morrison used the phrase "Fear-Thing" for Parallax before. Morrison recycles curious phrases, sometimes with many years between the two uses; sometimes it's meaningful and sometimes it's not.

    Ultraman, as described there, is a good example of someone damned by their violence. Remember in Morrison's Batman run, Lane – the Satanic Batman – tells Bruce that he could stop what's going to happen if he killed Lane then and there. This is, of course, a classic deal with the Devil. In the short run, it looks like a good thing. In the long run, not so much.

  16. I don't feel like this is a clean and tidy Universe B invasion ala Invisibles. This is foreign and malevolent!

  17. I posted a link that didn't work or something cause I don't see it, anyways THE AXE OF WUNDAJIN source material right here???

    The Maximoff twin analogues also right?

  18. Andriulli - Awesome find! Sorry if I missed it, but can you point out what issue that is from and the context behind it?

  19. google "justice league liked zatanna too much" or something along the lines, or right cliek the imge in chrome and "search google for this image"

    but its a really good find right boys?! i feel like i discovered a hypercrisis clue! myself! the finder of clues! the life that is death!

  20. That's a bullseye, Andriulli. There's a page on Wandjina here:

    I'm curious about the small change in spelling, but this is definitely the source of the Multiversity teams.

    1. omg I finally found a hypercrisis loose end! "....MSZHS!"

  21. This was an excellent analysis. I'm not sure if I agree all of the assertions made, but it certainly makes me think. The Gentry representing the malign influences of external corporate media (video games, big Hollywood, etc) and the ruthless, apocalyptic themes that those media have embraced these days, feels really fitting and certainly in keeping with Morrison's sentiments in various interviews.

  22. Arch, thanks. Villains sometimes represent real villains from the real world, but I suspect this is much more so with the Gentry than, say, Gorilla Grodd, even if the villainous behavior in question is much more muted than murder and mayhem! I think it will be clear by the finale what it is that the Gentry represent, but it's getting clearer all the time.

  23. issue 1 of this series should of had captain atom appear, that would really help bridge things. a nice vague appearance with some ambiguous information thats ultra relevant

  24. I feel like reading the multiverisity is like reading the invisibles if the invisible college's members were all unaware and not even in a 7 soldiers manner working towards a goal.