Saturday, 5 September 2015

The Multiversity Review (Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely)

Grant Morrison’s long-awaited Multiversity series is nine extra-long issues of a Crisis-like event that threatens to destroy DC’s 52 universes that make up the Multiverse. 

Besides Ivan Reis who draws the two issues that bookend the series, each issue is drawn by a different artist: The Society of Super-Heroes = Chris Sprouse, The Just = Ben Oliver, Pax Americana = Frank Quitely, Thunderworld Adventures = Cameron Stewart, The Multiversity Guidebook = Marcus To (mainly - there are contributions from a few dozen others!), Mastermen = Jim Lee, and Ultra Comics = Doug Mahnke. 

Like many of Morrison’s books, The Multiversity is an ambitious project - but was it worth the wait and is it any good? Yes and no. 

Let’s start with the premise: The Gentry, a collection of monstrous villains comprising Dame Merciless, Hellmachine, Lord Broken, Demogorgunn, and Intellectron, are seeking the destruction of the Multiverse. A “superjudge” called Nix Uotan is also doing the same - maybe he’s tied into the Gentry, I’m not sure. The superheroes from the various worlds unite and fight against this threat to save the Multiverse (no prizes for guessing whether they do or not). 

It’s hard to get excited about yet another Crisis-sized melodramatic event book from DC - they’ve done just too many at this point. Not to mention Morrison himself whose Final Crisis apparently wasn’t so final after all! More than that though it’s an extremely generic superhero template - the goodies vs the baddies, etc. 

If you wanted to, you could just read The Multiversity #1 and #2 - the bookend issues - skipping the seven issues in between, and still get the gist of the book. That’s not great storytelling! And what was all that nonsense about Multiversity being a “haunted’ comic? Was there any payoff to that? None that I can remember. 

However, Morrison being who he is, it’d be unfair to judge his book purely on its surface qualities. There’s subtext here, as well as a playful celebration not just of the rich texture of the DC Universe but of the comics medium itself, and some pretty good stories too. 

The subtext, or “real meaning” of The Multiversity, as I see it: Nix Uotan is a comics blogger/critic who is reading/experiencing Multiversity and engaging with it on that level, though the characters perceive him as a threat to the fabric of their universes, destroying it through analysis. The Gentry are evil because they’re gentrifying comics, eliminating the magic and madness of classic superhero comics through intellectualising a fun medium - DC’s whacky characters like Captain Carrot, Obama Superman, and the Marvels, are just a few who stand against that. Or it could just be a hyper-aware representation of reading a superhero comic - seeing it through your eyes, through their eyes, back through your eyes. 

While it’s clever, and of course if that’s what he was going for, then the whole “critics/intellectuals are ruining superhero comics” isn’t very successfully rendered in this book, not least because Morrison is one such comics writer who’s blazed a trail of respectability in the medium, making thought-provoking, complex comics, like Multiversity, that appeal to adult audiences. 

The “celebrating the strange esoterica of the DCU” side of things will appeal to the hardcore DC base, of which I’m not really a part of. Seeing characters like Abin Sur, the original Blackhawks, the original Captain Marvel, Kamandi, and scores of others crop up didn’t do much for me. Huh? was the usual response followed by a shrug. But it does do a good job of highlighting the vastness of characters/worlds in the DCU. 

The best issue by far was the Frank Quitely-drawn Pax Americana which is a great story: Peacemaker assassinates the President, the Question is trying to solve a murder, and Captain Atom is in the midst of a breakdown. It’s a very obvious Watchmen pastiche but it’s also a very smart use of the comics medium. Ultra Comics especially riffs on breaking the fourth wall and how comics are read, but Pax Americana does something similar in a much more subtle, artful way. 

The rubik’s cube is an important symbol in this book. It appears several times throughout and is essentially a metaphor for The Multiversity and, I think, what Morrison was aiming for in theory for how the book was meant to read. Besides Quitely’s sublime art, Pax features the best example of a rubik’s cube as a comic with interlocking panels that form different stories at the same time (they’re different “colours”) while certain panels create a pleasing symmetry, like when Atom is walking through the park. 

Besides Pax and Ultra, the only other issue I quite liked was the Jim Lee-drawn Mastermen which posits: what if Superman’s pod had crashed in Nazi Germany during the war? Superman, or Overman as he is known in this comic, wins the war for Hitler and eventually becomes ruler of the Third Reich. It’s up to Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters to beat Overman’s totalitarian regime. It’s not an especially complex comic but it’s a fine story similar to the also great Elseworlds book, Superman: Red Son. 

The other issues are generally quite dull. The Multiversity #1 and #2 are superhero excess at its worst (hundreds of superheroes fighting villains for page after tedious page), The Society of Super-Heroes is retro-dull and more of the same fighting, The Just imagines a world where crime is eliminated and the superheroes sit around vapidly redundant, Thunderworld is just another average Captain Marvel story, and the Guidebook is overloaded with forgettable detail. 

Morrison tries tying them all together by throwing in Multiversity comics into the comics themselves - they’re visions of real worlds, not just comics - along with cameos from the Gentry here and there, but it doesn’t work in creating a coherent story. Instead Multiversity comes off as a series of mildly entertaining short stories, which isn’t the worst thing it could be but it is nonetheless underwhelming given the talent and the hype behind the project. 

I’d recommend giving this a look for the terrific art alone - every artist on this title brings it - but Morrison has written some real gems here as well. It does feel a bit like homework at times but Multiversity, while challenging, is an interesting effort from one of the few creators trying to stretch the boundaries of superhero comics, and that makes the effort worthwhile. Just don’t expect a masterpiece or especially to know what anything means - it is Grant Morrison after all!

The Multiversity

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