Today, Spencer and
Greg Patrick are discussing The Multiversity 1, originally released August 20th, 2014.
Spencer: It may not seem like it at first, but comics are one of the more interactive art forms out there. While movies and TV shows dictate the pace you experience them at, you can move through a comic book at any pace you desire, and even just the act of turning the page involves you in the story; you are advancing the story, and without your actions, the plot cannot move forward. The Multiversity is a Grant Morrison story, so it should be no surprise that it’s meta as piss. The reader’s power over the narrative is just one of many themes Morrison plays with in this title, but it’s certainly one of the most fascinating — and will likely also be one of the most divisive.
Monsters from outside the known Multiverse — The Gentry — are attacking and destroying worlds, eventually attracting the attention of Nix Uotan, “Superjudge” and last of the Monitors. Uotan (last seen in Morrison’s Final Crisis) and his side-chimp, Mr. Stubbs, find Earth-7 ravaged by the Gentry, and sacrifice themselves to rescue the world’s champion, the Thunderer, and send him back to Uotan’s HQ, the Orrery. Thunderer eventually gathers his own team of the multiverse’s greatest heroes — including Captain Carrot and Earth-23’s presidential Superman — and attempts to rescue Uotan, only to find him transformed into one of the Gentry!
So yeah, even though I didn’t mention the more metatextual elements of this issue in the summary, they’re present from the very first page — actually, they’re present from the very first ads several weeks ago. Some of it’s hard to follow and perhaps even a little silly — Uotan is in the comic we’re reading, but is also reading the same comic and is somehow a part of it as well? — but I found much of it to be absolutely fascinating. At one point the narration tells us, “don’t look ahead to the end or it’s all over,” which is clever because if we skip to the end of the story then it’s literally over, but it’s also another demonstration of the power the reader actually has over the narrative; if we refuse to look at the end of the story, does it ever really end?
In that sense, if we do read the end of a story, then the outcome is, in a way, at least a little bit our fault. The narration tells us that the villains are in our head, which is again true, because this whole story exists in our heads. This comic may be published on paper or on the internet, it may have been assembled by Morrison and Ivan Reis and DC editorial months prior, but the story doesn’t really begin until we read it, until we use our minds to bring it to life.
Morrison also highlights the power of comics and the power of their readers in other ways. Comics play a vital role in the narrative itself, with various comic books providing peeks into the events of various alternate Earths. This makes knowledge of comics a useful ability, as Red Racer of Earth-36 demonstrates:
I’m sure we all see some of ourselves in Racer here; what comic book fan hasn’t hoped their knowledge may someday help them save the world, or at least hasn’t gotten a thrill out of being able to use their comic-smarts for something useful? In a more broad sense, this could represent the way a reader’s knowledge of comic book tropes can help them navigate and better understand a narrative, but it also reminds me of the unique role comics fans have played in the formation of the medium itself, and that’s reflected in the advantage reading comics gives the heroes of The Multiversity.
For example, young fans of TV or movies may grow up to work in these fields, but unless they’re Quentin Tarantino, they’re not going to be working on the same shows and movies they grew up adoring. A young Batman fan, though, can grow up to create Batman stories, then retire and watch their children and grandchildren continue to work on Batman. For better or for worse, fans of superhero comics have a place and power within the genre that fans of other mediums don’t.
Of course, at first there doesn’t seem to be a lot of overlap between these more metatextual themes and the actual plot of The Multiversity; if fans are going to point out any aspect of this issue as a weakness this will be it, but while I’ll admit that it may be a valid reading, I don’t agree. I think there’s one idea that connects these two threads, and it’s the power of comic books as a medium.
We’ve already pointed out how the issue’s meta-touches highlight many of the medium’s unique strengths and the power readers have over it, but even in the actual details of the narrative Morrison seems to be having a field day exploring some of DC’s more bizarre characters and continuity. This title is a showcase for the far-out concepts you don’t usually find outside of superhero comics — be it ships that run on music, talking chimps, or even just the idea of alternate universes itself. The way I see it, The Multiversity is a celebration of comics as a medium, a celebration of the many quirks that make comic books comic books. For anyone who loves comics, it’s an absolute treat.
Man, all that talking and I still feel like I only scratched the surface of everything going on in this book; I didn’t even get to mention the excellent work of penciller Ivan Reis, who seems to have conquered drawing the DCU and thus moved to the multiverse beyond. Greg, with so much going on I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Did all the elements of this book come together for you as well as they did for me? Also, what’s your take on the Gentry? I can’t quite seem to put my finger on what they might represent (though not for a lack of trying).
Actually, that’s not a fair joke to make, is it? I’m fascinated by The Multiverse, but not strictly in a comic book setting. I don’t know if y’all have been watching Rick and Morty on Adult Swim, but you definitely should be. You’ll be hard pressed to find another show that explores the infinite possibilities of multiple realities with quite as much zeal and hilarious abandon as R&M. But while that show would crack a joke similar to the one I just made — making a world different in just two very specific ways — Morrison is careful to keep his lunacy on a specific trajectory, never losing site of the medium (or more specifically, the genre) he’s writing in. The peculiarities of Multiversity are the peculiarities of superhero comics.
There are probably half a dozen examples in the first issue, but let’s go with my three favorite: Nix Uotan’s superfandom, Major Comics and Captain Carrot’s cartoon physics. First, Nix:
That scene should be recognizable for anyone that’s ever guest written with us, or even anyone that’s taken to a comments’ section or message board anywhere to discuss their latest comics. When Spencer and I were chatting about this issue on gchat a couple days ago, I had to stop myself from sincerely using the phrase “it’s about as weird as you might expect.” Morrison’s got that special breed of fan/journalist down to a T. There are a lot of ways that reading any comic book is an incredibly interactive medium, just as Spencer mentioned above, but Morrison isn’t interested in simply exploring the experience of any comic book reader – this is the experience of the modern comic enthusiast, who has access to advance copies and is planning on posting his review in the form of a live discussion.
[Here’s a little aside: I do find it interesting that while Nix is such a solid stand-in for anyone that might be reading this issue the day it comes out, he can’t possibly be a stand-in for anyone who reads this story ever. For example, someone waiting to read Multiversity in the trades — or when their friend hands them a copy three years from now and says “hey, read this fucked up comic” — isn’t going to see much of themselves in Nix. There’s also the incongruous idea that the narration in the book is speaking directly to the reader, questioning the identity of its own voice. The real question it should be prompting is: who is the reader? Are we Nix? Are we Superboy Prime? The reality — that I’m Patrick, a comic book reviewer and improviser from Los Angeles with a birthday on Sunday — ends up being a compelling part of the narrative as I experience it. We always project ourselves on to narratives, but Morrison seems to be explicitly demanding it here.]
Then there are the heroes from Major Comics. Guys, it’s no secret that these are the Marvel Heroes.
Hilariously, Jonathan Hickman was playing with this very idea recently in his Avengers and New Avengers series, wherein the Illuminati (Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Black Bolt, et. al) were forced to do battle with, and eventually destroy, the parallel world containing The Great Society. The GS was an obvious stand-in for some version of the Justice League, complete with analogs to Batman, Superman, Dr. Fate, Flash, etc. In the DC Multiverse, Earth-8 is populated by Avengers analogues, called the Retaliators. It’s odd timing — these huge parallel-world stories popping up at both publishers at the same time — but Morrison’s take is immediately more successful because he’s able to address the weirdness directly. Try as we might, we were never really able to pin down Hickman’s perspective about DC Comics, but Morrison’s a cheeky sonofabitch, and is quick to a) get silly with Marvel’s creations and b) have the characters make meta jokes about Marvel. I love that the Hulk of Earth-8 is called Behemoth, is blue, wears a diaper and says “BEHEMOTH BASH” instead of “HULK SMASH” (Morrison improving on Stan Lee’s affection for alliteration?). Even more than that: the fact that President Superman recognizes Machinehead, American CrUSAder, the Future Family and the Bug from “the movies” reinforces the role that Marvel has in the real world. Of course that’s how the president would have experienced Iron Man, Cap, FF and Spider-Man. Again, these are power dynamics that exist in the medium and the genre right now, connecting the readers even further to the world of Multiversity.
The final thing I wanted to bring up is Captain Carrot. First of all: MVP of Multiversity? I love him. Have you guys seen Chris Burnham’s variant cover that’s essentially Action Comics 1 with Captain Carrot in place of Superman? It’s incredible, follow that link. What’s even more intriguing about the character is that he brings the nature of his own reality with him where ever he goes, as evidenced by the fact that one minute, he’s bashed by the Behemoth, and the next, he’s sproinging back to his original form bragging about cartoon physics.
There’s easily a whole essay to be written about Captain Carrot, but I’ll try to be brief. His presence heralds the the call for different tones in comics. Supposedly, we will be getting more of this idea as the series unfolds, with the Shazam Family story in particular affecting more of an all-ages tone. Morrison is addressing the disparity in tone between superhero comics. There’s seemingly no judgment here, just pointing out that sometimes there’s a Teen Titans GO! or a Superman Family Adventures, and that those stories are no less valid and fun. There’s an extra layer here if we consider the decision to make Cap a rabbit — he’s almost Bugs Bunny-esque. We can maybe discuss more in the comments, but the Looney Tunes are often evoked to suggest a little extra anarchy (as in the opening to Gremlins 2).
Man, this thing. This fucking thing. For as smart and mindbending as it is, Morrison and Reis never let the ideas overrule the fun. It’s an absolute blast all the way through. I’m into it 100%.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?