By Jarrod Jones. Here’s a fundamental truth for you: one issue written by Grant Morrison has more ideas in it than an entire year’s worth of your usual superhero fare. For the uninitiated, a typical chapter in anything he has written must seem like a chaotic mess, with each page swaddled in his LSD-drenched, cosmic hyper-speak. Then there’s his timeline to consider, one that continues to perpetuate in Morrison’s nigh-legendary tenure with DC Comics, and with every progressive, episodic leap there must come – for rabid fans like myself, that is – more than a little preparation.
Maybe that’s why The Multiversity seems like such a daunting book to tackle: Morrison’s recurring themes of infinite life, underverses, Hypertime, and more weave in and out of everything he writes. Ideas thrown up against the wall during his time on Animal Man might unexpectedly reappear years later, perhaps during his seminal JLA run. So too do the concepts of anti-matter universes and sun tyrants alluded to in those JLA issues pop up years later, in books like All-Star Superman. Heroes and villains that Morrison dusted off from a time long since forgotten – or are otherwise conjured up by the mad Scotsman himself – dance in and out of Morrison’s narrative whenever their services are needed, and despite DC’s infamously strict editorial control, the writer seems to not be so beholden to their nouveau universal law. The Multiversity may be navigating DC’s New52 Multiverse, but ideas and characters both Pre and Post-Crisis On Infinite Earths are showing up anyway, seemingly picking up the pieces from where we last saw them. It’s ideas like those that make this beautiful comic convolution feel more like coming home, even when we’re blasting across the Multiverse.
The Multiversity #1 is the prologue to six separtate sagas (all set on an alternate Earth, and all designed to intertwine as one sprawling epic), and as such, the book functionally operates as a genesis point to the entire hullabaloo. From the start things feel exactly as they should from any Grant Morrison tale: transcendent, ambitious, and thrilling in that cosmic sort of way that just doesn’t happen very much anymore. (Refreshingly, there is no Johns-ian uberviolence to propel the narrative, nor are there any pretentious ponderings acting as expository catch-ups. It’s all pure excitement from the word “go.”)
The writer begins his mindfully transcendent tale by introducing us to a comic book critic as he prepares himself to dig into the latest from DC Comics. (As far as names go, we’re in the dark, though his Cosmic Cosmos Forum handle reads “JMS.”) Morrison has to be aware of the anticipation towards his latest project, and with this conceit it seems he’s prepared for the scrutiny that’s being placed upon its paneled narrative. (He’s definitely having fun with it.) Aiming to review a purportedly “haunted” book called Ultra Comics, he begins to skeptically leaf through the comic he intends to dissect. (And DC intends to release it on Earth – on our Earth – at a later date.) Just as this character begins to literally vivisect the issue aloud to his stuffed monkey, Stubbs, the book’s captions warn him that something is amiss. The panels shift towards a white light, and ominous captions grow bigger and bigger, somehow asking perplexing and slightly unnerving questions of us, the readers: whose voice is speaking in your head? Are you in control? Is the book pulling all of us in?
The following splash page gives us the first big reveal: our critic is none other than the Last of the Monitors himself, Nix Uotan (previously seen in the pages of Final Crisis), now allied with his multiversal investigative partner Stubbs, and with them, we travel to Earth-7 where the very laws of physics have been compromised by an ancient, malevolent force called The Gentry. It’s here where the story manically catapults into chaos, and Morrison goes bananas rolling out the big, BIG bads.
Fortunately, Morrison has paired himself with Ivan Reis, whose acclaimed work during Geoff Johns’ influential Green Lantern run has steeled the artist for the unimaginable, and with Reis’ capable and slick compositions, the unimaginable becomes very, very real (and very, very frightening). Just as hope is all but thrown from the window, Uotan compels Earth-7’s last standing champion, The Thunderer (think of him as an Aboriginal Thor) to high-tail it in the Ultima Thule (think of it as an inter-dimensional yellow submarine) in order to gather heroes from all over the Multiverse to counter the mounting threat. It’s a stirring act of bravery that is ultimately swallowed whole by a damning fear.
DC Comics brazenly projects Morrison’s mission statement across The Multiversity‘s cover: this is a team-up book, a Cosmic Neighborhood Watch, and ultimately the book provides precisely that. The Thunderer succeeds in assembling champions from all over the New52, and thankfully Morrison doesn’t just stick with a predictable roster of generic analogues to DC’s Earth-Prime (though there are a lot of those too: Red Racer of Earth-36 and Aquawoman of Earth-11 are but two slightly recognizable faces). There is so much potential playing in a sandbox this big, and Morrison doesn’t disappoint: Dino-Cop (obviously a playful homage to Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon) and Captain Carrot (!) are on board, gung-ho to save all of existence, and so is Calvin Ellis, the immensely popular President-Superman of Earth-23. (Superman and the Captain prove to have the most potent interplay in the entire book. Each exchange between the heroes is simply priceless.)
Obviously licensing terms and long-standing business interests keep Morrison from involving Marvel, Image, and other comic book universes from joining DC on a Roger Rabbit-level crossover, but The Multiversity soldiers on with its out-there concepts anyway, offering readers with vast imaginations a near-limitless potential to realize their inter-company daydreams. (Comic books act as windows for all existing parallel Earths. Let’s wrap our heads around that one.) Morrison is deft enough to involve DC’s distinguished competition without ever going any further than tongue-in-cheek, and it’s on Earth-8 where we meet The Retaliators (think The Avengers; it’s easy if you try): this particular Earth’s mightiest heroes boast a roster that includes Machinehead, Amercian CrUSAder, and Doctor David Bibble, also known as Behemoth. (The severely entertaining showdown between Behemoth and Captain Carrot is easily the most fun I’ve had this summer.)
The Multiversity #1 acts as a quasi-sequel of sorts to Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #9, where the Commander of Steel discovers that his eternal nemesis, Lex Luthor, has constructed a multiversal traveling apparatus called the – ahem – Transmatter Symphonic Array, a design that came to the villain during a drug-fueled hallucination. This device left that issue with lingering questions, not just ones like, “will we ever see President Calvin Ellis again?” but rather like, “how did this information come to Luthor?” Those answers – both of them, thankfully – arrive in The Multiversity, and Morrison even bothers to solder these two otherwise disconnected chapters by including a quick shout-out to the Red Racer of Earth-36, who placates his lover (?) Power-Torch before he runs off to battle, even though both are still reeling from the loss of Optiman at the hands of Super-Doomsday. (It all happened, off-page, in Action #9.) Even though Morrison didn’t have to include this little tangent, the fact that he did makes Multiversity all the more cozy. This is the kind of world-connecting that the New52 has been sorely lacking. Let’s hope DC continues this positive trend well after Multiversity reaches its end.
Dr. Simon Hurt, the vile, near-Satanic knave from Morrison’s immortal Batman run was once quoted as saying, “I built this endless puzzle for you… a hole you’ll never fill, a case you’ll never close…” This may as well be Morrison shouting these words to us; in the twenty plus years he’s worked at DC, Morrison has given us a widening mosaic, seemingly infinite, filled with a rich and storied history that never ceases to portend exciting things for the future. And while this puzzle has the potential to carry on with no apparent end, Grant Morrison’s genius is found in the knowledge that the pieces will always fit snugly.
Written by Grant Morrison.
Art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado.
Colored by Nei Ruffino.
10 out of 10