Today, Drew and Michael are discussing The Multiversity 2, originally released April 29th, 2015.
You’re missing stuff by reading too fast.
Mercury Man, The Multiversity 2
Drew: There’s a specific type of confusion that comes when reading certain Grant Morrison comics — the kind that comes when you have absolutely no idea what’s going on, but you have faith that it will all make sense in the end. Or, at least, you’ll be able to draw conclusions from it in the end. Mercury Man suggests that it all makes sense if we just slow down to make all of the connections, but Morrison books tend to require reading at a pace several orders of magnitude slower than the average comic. That Morrison doesn’t write “the average comic” is exactly why his works are so worth that effort, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make them incredibly difficult to talk about.
The Mutliversity 2 is an exceptionally Morrison-y comic, so while I’ve been able to draw some conclusions about it since Wednesday, it may take weeks (and consulting thorough annotations) before I’ve fully digested it. Indeed, the larger meaning of the issue is still so elusive to me that I think my space here may be better used digging into details that caught my eye.
The earliest is Nix Uotan’s opening narration that’s all about reading comics. “Four color thunder,” “the lettered word,” and “sound effects in our heads,” all make that point explicit, but it actually shouldn’t come as any surprise, given the events of The Multiversity 1, where everything seems to be taking place in the mind of a comic reviewer (though his story is also captured in a comic, both in-narrative and out). We return to that reviewer at the end of the issue, along with some of the opening narration from issue 1, which states that “life will thrive and prosper” wherever it can. Morrison adds a warning here to “be careful what you let into your head,” suggesting that the “life” he’s referring to are ideas — ideas introduced through comics.
Comics continue to play a vital in-narrative role throughout the issue, serving as the map to the multiverse Harbinger needed to navigate the heroes to Earth-8, and giving the Flash the materials he needed to craft a strategy. Comics are a constant inspiration throughout this issue, and you can feel it in the craftsmanship as much as in the story, as Morrison pays tribute to everything from the Crises to the optimism of Marvel’s Avengers (or, you know, Earth-8’s Retaliators).
Actually, that this issue’s climax plays out on the Earths of DC’s Marvel analogues (and I use the plural because Earth-7 also features some obvious Marvel homages) is no coincidence — it serves to make this issue’s conclusions about ALL superheroes, not just DC’s. The villains throughout The Multiversity (you know, aside from the Sivanas) have been known only as “the Gentry,” which gave us pause back when they were introduced. At the time, I suggested that the Gentry, as universe-consuming-and-destroying beings might represent comic reviewers. I’ll stand by that reading, but Morrison adds the concept of “gentrification” here, stating that they “make fit this world for [their] kind to thrive.” In this case, the neighborhoods being gentrified are comics themselves, and the displaced residents are longtime fans.
Vilifying new fans for wanting something different is kind of icky, but Morrison’s ire isn’t directed only at new readers — there’s something bigger pulling their strings on Earth-7. The giant being who has wiped out entire multiverses isn’t named, but his purpose as an editorial analogue is clear: he has the power to destroy this multiverse whenever he sees fit, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
Actually, the more I think about it, the more that reading makes sense to me, and the more crushingly cynical it feels. That being makes a big point about his hand being empty, holding it out as though someone is supposed to put something in it. What that might be isn’t clear until the final panel of the issue, where our comic reviewer holds out a wad of cash (his rent money, no less). It seems the editor analogue is working in service of profits, with no regard for the characters and stories that exist within the multiverses he can destroy. It’s a rallying cry to make creativity the driving force behind the industry, which I’m afraid might be a kind of naive point.
Or maybe I’m the cynical one. Either way, a riff on the climate of comics creation is a lot less interesting to me than Morrison’s usual schtick of riffing on DC’s entire continuity. It makes sense that this one would be different — he’s basically lost his favorite toy (that is: pre-Flashpoint continuity) — but it also feels like it wasn’t written for me. At best, I’m being let in on an argument between Morrison and DC editorial; at worst, I’m being vilified (or intellectually dismissed) for buying Big 2 comics. Neither option leaves me feeling great.
But I could be overthinking this one. Michael! Did I miss stuff by reading too fast? Did you come up with any more optimistic conclusions about this issue? I suppose we can at least agree that coffee vampires is a hilarious concept.
Michael: Drew, coffee vampires are of course hilarious; as is Bizarro Adam Strange: Adam Familiar. Mercury Man exposed one of my comic book cardinal sins: “missing stuff by reading too fast.” Thankfully Drew’s analysis is always a guiding light to me, especially when traversing such murky waters as those of Grant Morrison’s mind. So yeah, The Multiversity 2: what a doozy, right? I really wanted to reread the entire The Multiversity saga again before this write-up, but each of them is so damn thick. I’ll have to take Mercury Man’s advice and slow down; digesting this whole narrative over a longer period of time same as Drew.
As we’ve discussed in previous Multiversity write-ups, I am on board with the concept of The Gentry as comic book reviewers/insatiable consumers. The Gentry are the mass appeal audience that a company like DC or Marvel hopes to achieve through “gentrifying” their stories and making them more accessible with relaunches like The New 52. Morrison is a man who loves his DC comics and continuity, which is of course very clear throughout the entirety of this massive undertaking of a series. Morrison is a rock star; he’s always going to be raging against the machine — even if it is the (empty) hand that feeds him. I don’t completely agree that he is vilifying new fans, however. The Empty Hand (which is actually a really cool evil mastermind name) is demanding the money of its readers — because DC Comics is a business.
But comic fans know that something that is a highly marketable and profitable commodity can also have a deep intrinsic and unquantifiable value. Comic book lovers can be cynical and hesitant when it comes to changes our beloved characters and concepts. Many of my non-comic-book-reading friends don’t understand why it is so hard for me to be satisfied with a comic book movie or TV show. Like many other fans, I feel protective of these characters and stories and get dismayed when I don’t feel like an adaptation fully lived up to that story’s potential. I’ve been exposed to many great stories of these kinds: on the page and on the screen, so I know that great art can still exist in great commercialism. Writers like Grant Morrison made me realize that great stories don’t just have to be about heroes and villains punching each other, they can be about ideas. “Be careful what you let into your head,” right?
Like I said, Morrison is a part of the system he’s fighting against. And just like any hero fighting against the odds, he’s trying to beat them from the inside. While more recent examples like The New 52 and “edgier” film adaptations are likely targets for Morrison’s gentrification theory, the very notion of DC’s Crises are also fair game. While they are epic and emotional dramas on the most massive scale, stories like Crisis, Infinite Crisis and the rest are merely edicts from on high to gentrify their books so a new set of readers will have the entry point to fill that Empty Hand. But just because there’s a bottom line to represent doesn’t mean that creators can’t reach hearts and minds while simultaneously serving their corporate masters. So true to form, Morrison is commenting on an industry standard that he is currently engaging in himself.
I guess I just don’t (or won’t let myself believe) that Morrison would be so cynical and cruel as to dismiss/belittle potential new readers for wanting something different. Maybe I’m blinded by my own admiration for guys like Morrison, but my favorite part of reading comics is tracing one point (character or creator) to another and another and experiencing that perpetual history myself. Besides, this entire series is about embracing the different: Captain Carrots, Super Judges, gay Flashes and Black Supermen. I think it’s incredible that we have a book on the scale of The Multiversity yet the current incarnations of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman et al. are nowhere to be seen. In fact, barring characters like Captain Carrot and the Marvels Family, the majority of the characters in this final battle are completely original incarnations of DC heroes; characters with rich histories like Alan Scott, Wally West or Dick Grayson are nowhere to be seen. What I’m saying is that as seasoned as Morrison’s superhero career is, I don’t think he’s become the jaded Alan Moore. Not yet at least.
The grand finale of The Multiversity 2 left me equal parts inspired and frustrated. Having read epic cosmic battles like this before, I was all ready for a final showdown between “Operation Justice Incarnate” and The Empty Hand. But Morrison knows as well as we do that the endless struggle is just that. “The story goes on, with or without you.” I have no idea what the future holds for the cast of The Multiversity, but I know for damn sure that I would continue to read whatever they do next. “Be careful what you let into your head,” because there are plenty of terrible stories that come from The Empty Hand, but there are plenty of amazing ones too. I think DC Comics’ recent gentrifying strategy is flawed, but with the critical/commercial success of books like Fletcher and Stewart’ Batgirl, it’s clear that DC is a landlord that is willing to listen to its tenants’ concerns. There can be different books for different audiences. Not everything needs to be gentrified.
Man I should end it there. But there are still so many other things I want to talk about from this book: Rubik’s cubes, Final Crises, shamed suicidal Little Leaguers and absent Charlton characters. To the comments!
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?