Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Multiversity Guidebook

The Multiversity Guidebook plays two distinct, major roles. An inner section provides a map, mini-encyclopedia, and timeline of the Multiverse, and serves as a reference, clip-and-save style, for fans to consult on matters of Multiversal navigation for the indefinite future. Around this section, and referring to it, is a chapter in the continuing story of the Gentry’s effort to crush and conquer the Multiverse. It returns us to the narration from Multiversity #1, and in this sense serves as a sort of Multiversity #1½ that will lead into the series-ending Multiversity #2 a few months from now. The narrative is not linear, however, but nested and branching – not as complex as Pax Americana, but complex enough to merit close attention.

The story opens as a logical continuation from Thunderworld, with the “Serial Killer Sivana” leading his robots and fellow Sivanas in an attack on Earth-42, home of the Little League. This opens with the little Martian Manhunter being killed in a panel that copies the death of the regular Martian Manhunter in Morrison’s Final Crisis #1 down to the similar posture and the death cry “My'ria'h!” The Marvels of Earth-5 are in hot pursuit, but the Sivanas have ample time to kill several little heroes, and fulfill their real goal, access to a better transmatter device that allows them to travel anywhere in the Multiverse. That transmatter machine was built by Sivana-42, another instance of an idea that is key to this story’s plot having been placed in someone’s mind by a dream. I’ve earlier discussed the importance of dreams to the Multiverse, as originally described in Gardner Fox’s stories about the Flash, and affirmed now by Morrison.

As the Legion of Sivanas depart, the Batman of Earth-17 appears and rescues the Batman of Earth-42 from Sivana robots. (Incidentally, these robots resemble the robot that Superman of Earth-23 was fighting in Multiversity #1, but are not identical in size or design. It remains possible that Serial Killer Sivana built that robot.) Although the two Batmen are allied, Batman-17 is willing to use deadly force, in stark contrast to the nice Batman-42, exactly the sort of corruption that appeared to bring Earth-20 down (notice that a Mayan temple is seen on Earth-51 in the Guidebook and at the end of Society of Super-Heroes), which implies that heroes who kill are possible in the metaphysics that Morrison is laying out.

As Batman-42 picks up a copy of the Guidebook itself and reads a history of the Multiverse, which begins by paraphrasing a similar telling of the history in Superman Beyond #1. Then the history goes forward to describe travel between the Universes and the Crises which followed, all of which, as I noted earlier, depends crucially on the Flash, Barry Allen. Then the action switches to Earth-51, where Kamandi, Tuftan, and Ben Boxer arrive in pursuit of their lost colleague, Flower, the original of which appeared in only two issues of Kamandi back in 1973.

What Kamandi and his colleagues find opens up new perspectives on the plot of Multiversity. As the characters on Earth-51 confer, they are being watched by the New Gods on New Genesis. Highfather and the New Gods discuss the situation, giving us some helpful exposition along the way. Darkseid was released from a tomb on Earth-51, allowing him to go forth in the form of multiple instantiations across many worlds. His tomb was opened by Nix Uotan, the son of Dax Novu. Nix Uotan, as we’d already seen, was corrupted by demons, the Gentry.

Here, the story opens the mystery wider. We knew that the Gentry corrupted Nix Uotan, but the New Gods tell us that the Gentry themselves are the agents of a higher, more evil power, The Empty Hand. Morrison has a preference for structuring his stories around a hierarchy of villains, with minor villains reporting to mid-level villains, and finally an ultimate top villain. In this story, the Big Bad is The Empty Hand, a name that calls to mind The Black Glove from Morrison’s Batman run. The identify of this villain is being presented as a mystery, “whose name none dare voice,” Highfather says. Lightray calls the villains, “The sons of midnight.” Who is The Empty Hand?

In an earlier post, I noted that the Justice League of the Multiverse had no Batman. Here, he arrives: Batman of Earth-17 appears in the House of Heroes and is immediately enlisted as the Gentry are attacking. We see a three-eyed, many-tentacled, be-fanged demon with a city as its head trying to eat the House of Heroes. Earlier, we saw another member of the Gentry, “Lord Broken,” appear as a house with an evil red eye inside. The name “the Gentry” and these buildings suggest that the Gentry are people, and as I’ve offered earlier, the villains of the story may be us (or among us), the people of the real world, Earth-33, which, as the Guidebook tells us, “exerts a powerful and unknown influence on the progress and development of the entire Multiverse.”

Who is The Empty Hand? We have a few clues. Most directly, when Kamandi reads the history of the Multiverse, we see an empty hand at the dawn of creation, with the text, “What great hand casts the lightning… and remakes the world?” This hand was famously seen in Crisis on Infinite Earths, but we can pinpoint its origin even earlier, to Green Lantern #40, when Krona and his effort to view the creation of the Universe were introduced. So that’s The Empty Hand, but it was earlier portrayed as a mere force of nature, not a character with the potential to be good or bad. Clearly, there are more reveals to come, attaching that hand, so to speak to some very powerful character we’ve otherwise known, or giving it a new identity. Near the end of the issue, it makes the dead Little Leaguers revive as its servants and says, “Get up. Reset. You have died before, and you will die many times more before I am done with you. See how my hand is empty.” Red-eyed, the zombie heroes respond, “Empty is thy hand.” The red eyes suggest Darkseid. The word “thy” suggests the Early Modern English of the King James Bible. Together, these reinforce that The Empty Hand is something primal, powerful, and evil.

What does The Empty Hand do? Reset. The history of the Multiverse, which we already knew, consists of many cycles of death, followed by regeneration. And the people who are really performing this regeneration are the writers, editors, and readers on Earth-33. Everything in the Guidebook continues to bear out that the threat in Multiversity comes from our world, a meta-story about the threats to superhero comic books that begin in those who shape the medium itself.

Erratum: The description of Earth-7 says that Thunderer is a survivor of Earth-4. This probably meant to say Earth-7.