Friday, May 1, 2015

Multiversity 2

Multiversity is a long and winding road, a story of stories, with multiple universes facing their doom, and a cast of characters so vast that the cameos and allusions stretch out numerous and almost invisibly into the far distance. The finale, Multiversity #2, has many of the hallmarks of a grand triumphant ending, big and chaotic, with the heroes more than matching in power and goodness what the villains offer in power and evil, until a final ceremonial victory celebration. As with much of the rest of the series, the finale is more than it seems at first glance.

Warring through a chaotic set of interlocking battles, a large number of heroes, some of whom have never been seen before, hurl themselves across the page, winning many small fights which are small only in comparison to the main battle, which is so large, it name-checks Darkseid as a side threat without bothering to show him.

With fights breaking out all across the Multiverse, it's the most humongous superhero battle of all time, which distracts from the most significant fact, which is that it's all completely real.

The reality of what's happening in Multiversity #2, as real as the stakes in the previous issue, Ultra Comics, is driven home at the beginning, when the font and second-person narrative speaks to us, literally to us, in a panel stylized as many pages, one after another, and an eye. The story goes on, with or without you. Whether we read or stop reading, whether it's from boredom or death that we stop, the story goes on. Last issue, this was Ultra's salvation and his curse, that his story goes on with or without us, forever. After we die, someone else will read Ultra comics, and someone else will read Multiversity and the comics that come after it. That's the first truth of Multiversity.

Later, when the overt threat of the bad guys called the Gentry have been defeated (Or have they?), and the Empty Hand makes an ominous debut and disappears, Superman of Earth-23, Cal Ellis, looks right at us as he refers to Earth-33, our Earth, and though he uses third-person, he's speaking to those around us in the real world, fans and creators alike: The source of all the heroes' troubles is really in our world, not theirs, and that's the fight that he and the Justice League of the Multiverse called Operation Justice Incarnate, must fight. Maybe Grant Morrison hopes that this team of alternate Justice Leaguers will appear in more comic books in the future, but that's not the real message. What Multiversity has been about since the beginning is the threat to comic books, the fact that its spirit and business wax and wane, and the things which sustain the industry could be corrupted or damaged critically in the future. The Gentry, a wave of unpleasant content, is defeated for now, by the idea of the Justice League and superheroes in general, but more threats remains.

And the bottom line threat is right there on the last panel. Cold, hard cash. If there's anything the comic book industry needs to survive, it's ultimately that. Even as movies and video games have made superhero stories more profitable than ever, the comics face a long-term existential threat to their business model. For now, the comic industry goes on, but the looming threat of The Empty Hand is always out there, to return when it chooses.

This is the multipronged message of Multiversity, and it drives the allegorical story from start to finish. A gothic miniadventure with a vampire Sivana invading the dark Earth-13 ends in victory for the heroes as the demon Etrigan patterns himself after Superman and a Zatanna-like curse produces the first of several laughs in the issue by making vampires crave coffee instead of blood. Then, the Marvels defeat Hannibal Lecter Sivana, and the story patterns itself around Crisis on Infinite Earths, becoming what comics have in many ways become, "an endless event." To the credit of penciller Ivan Reis, it's in this sequence that Earth-26's Lincoln Memorial with a cartoon-looking goat as the central figure becomes the issue's second laugh. Bizarro Adam Strange ("Adam Familiar") follows soon after.

The pivotal battle turns around Nix Uotan solving a Rubik's Cube, seeking, as seen in Final Crisis, a way to do it better than ever before, demonstrating the power of nerds to perform miracles. Now he's corrupted by the Gentry as he does so, and the greatest perversions of sweet, innocent characters take place. The Lil Leaguers are shown to be robot spies for the Gentry and Nix Uotan beheads Captain Carrot. If there's a place where the corruption of the genre would be more harmful, it would be in the variants intended for the youngest readers. The alternate Batman, Aquaman and Flash lead the charge, with Red Racer, the superhero who – like Barry Allen – is a comics fan, referencing both Crisis on Infinite Earths and stories in Morrison's own JLA series. Ultimately, the combined power of the alternate Justice League and the Marvel-Comics-inspired characters overwhelms the Gentry, and Nix is turned good, for now. The ambiguous victory with The Empty Hand fading away with a threat to return on his own terms gives readers the usual, formulaic win for the heroes while reminding us of Morrison's overarching warning: The comics face threats; if you love them, take those threats seriously.

Multiversity is sure to be collected and read by fans far into the future. Its best issues are of the highest level, and they alone would be enough to make it a classic. The guide to the Multiverse is likely to be a significant reference for many years to come. The heavy message yoked to those elements is Morrison's good-bye (for now?) to monthly superhero comics, and it's a message readers and creators will thus be reminded of long into the future. Will they heed it? Morrison is likely talking to himself, and of his own retirement, in the opening panel of Multiversity #2. The story goes on, with or without you.


  1. Excellent Rikdad, I really liked the message of this book and you have done a great job describing it here. I hope when this story is collected, a way is found to preserve the "single issue" concept of each chapter, but I doubt that will happen. What an awesome experience reading Multiversity was as it was coming out. I'll be pleasantly surprised if another writer can use some of these concepts and ideas further in the future. I am curious how this story meshes with the other goings on in the current DC Multiverse as well.

  2. Jonny, I imagine the collection will include covers internally to separate the issues. The different art will probably make it relatively clear when someone flips from one chapter to another.

    As some of the groundwork for this story was first laid in 2007 (!!!), I suspect that it's pretty thoroughly disjointed from any other plans for the time being, but Johns' Darkseid War may have some tie-ins right away.

  3. Alvaro, Pax Americana alone was a ride! Blogging that the same day it came out was a grueling affair! Delightful, but grueling.

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  4. You make my favorite reviews, Rikdad my man. When I read Pax Americana I interpreted that Captain Adam became Ultra somehow. I noticed Ultra Comics (the man, not a comic in Adam's hands) and I assumed it was a future version of Adam. After all, we know Nathanial Adam has adventures in the multiverse in Superman Beyond. Now I think I was wrong, but I'm not sure.

  5. I wanted to thank you for these annotations; they all really helped me understand these books better. I enjoyed the books on the first read, but felt like a new world was opened up after coming to these annotations and re-reading the book.

    Regarding the comment -- Cold, hard cash -- and the comic book industry needing it. What is Morrison getting at? When I think of the Big 2, we have years (if not more) of hard/soft reboots, NOW! books, and endless events spanning multiple books. The cost to the consumer hasn't gotten less.

    I do worry about the impact on comics with it's extended popularity outside of that medium. It's a weird thing -- what fan wouldn't be overjoyed with the success, and yet, I want those universes as separate as possible.

    Thanks again for your thoughts on this.

  6. Jacob, thank you! I originally guessed that the mark between Ultra's eyes and the particle acceleration shot to Captain Atom were likely related, but the details of Ultra Comics show no likely connection.

    We know that Captain Atom disappears from the Superman Beyond events with no explanation but having indicated that he needed to return to his world. As such, it's likely that he returns to Earth-4 and has a beneficial impact on what happens next. I'd guess that means that the Vice President ends up disgraced and Peacemaker is freed, but that's speculative.

  7. I'm liking this blog. Officially following.

    There are no words for how much I want to read Multiversity when it hits TPB. You're only making me want to read it more!

  8. I'm brainstorming a possible relationship between Multiversity and Hickman’s multiversal-death story in Avengers and now Secret War—first of all, there are many interesting parallels between Molecule Man as presented by Hickman and Ultra
    (see here:,
    also interesting is the character at the end of Multiversity who looks like an Ex Nihilo from Hickman’s Avengers
    (see here:
    I took this appearance as commentary by Morrison on the gloomy, hopeless nature of Marvel and Hickman’s story—Multiverse-2 is the real Marvel Universe, which Hickman has figuratively dealt a final death blow to and Morrison is saying Multiverse-1, the DCU, could be next.
    (slight edits from a rambling May 7th post)

  9. Mr Donut Man,

    This is good work. I'm not reading any new Marvel comics lately (or, for the most part, ever), but I noticed a match around what Morrison had happen to Earths 7 and 8 and a headline-level description of 2015's Secret Wars. I also noticed a similarity between the events on Earth-8 and the original 1984 Secret Wars, which I read for the first time while Multiversity was in progress.

    Morrison certainly conceived of Multiversity before Marvel's latest plans were announced, but he may have tailored the details to match the kinds of matches you find.

    Kyle Rayner gave one or two more details about the story in The Just: Do those align with your observations?

    Also, note that Morrison said in an interview that he once planned a major DC event in which the first scene was at Captain Marvel's funeral and the first line would be, "Marvel is dead."

    I enjoyed his use of the faux-Marvel characters. Jeph Loeb's Superman/Batman had its own faux-Marvel universe in some of its later issues, FWIW.