By Jarrod Jones. If the DC Universe were to exist anywhere else but inside the 2-D stapled parchments that rest on the top of our coffee tables, it would decidedly reside within Grant Morrison’s mind. If that’s the case, then it must be such a burden for the writer to have a multiverse rattling around in his symmetrical dome, to have creatures like Solaris, the Sun Tyrant, or Mageddon, the Ultimate Warbringer waging all sorts of unbelievable havoc in his subconscious. He must have incredible dreams.

In Grant Morrison’s mind, everything is connected. Transcending reboots and superficial reimaginings, Morrison’s DC Universe isn’t beholden to any editorial mandate, fanboy expectation, or narrative law. Maybe that’s why his characters are known for breaking the fourth wall, looking up into our eyes and addressing our far more mundane 3-D reality, effectively overshadowing the garish, four-colored pop entertainment we take for granted and turning the experience of reading comic books into something more. In Grant Morrison’s latest installment of his audacious new science experiment, The Multiversity: The Just, hidden clues and telling easter eggs are sprinkled throughout the story’s narrative, connecting us further to the widening scope of DC’s Multiverse itself and to everything that has come before. It also bodes grave warnings for our future.

The best aspect to The Multiversity – aside from Morrison’s prickly attention to detail – is how the writer offers comic books as a form of delivery system into a complicated notion such as the Multiverse: there’s no traveling to be done in this series, no landing pad for us to aim towards, and no pandering avatar to function as the inquisitive hero, asking all the pertinent questions for us. In each issue of The Multiversity, the cover acts as a window into an alternate Earth, one that begs to be opened, and once it is, we are simply there. No clunky exposition pock-marked with phony pseudo-science, just a window to dive through, into an alternate Earth.

For The Just, that Earth is Earth-16, Earth-ME, an Earth that doesn’t feel too dissimilar to our own. Save for a few flying beings smattered across their skylines, Earth-16 has the contemporary look and feel of a society poisoned by the shallow nature of social media, where people never look up to the sky because there are phones to manipulate in their hands. And if that little parallel wasn’t eerie enough, its heroes aren’t too far removed from the hapless celebrity nobodies who blight the covers of our tabloids. (And to drive the point home, Ben Oliver’s cover to The Just is cheekily modeled to resemble those awful rags, complete with the eye-popping, sugar-coated pinks and whites that make such things impossible to ignore.)

In Earth-16, the stalwart heroes that protected the planet – Superman, Batman, Aquaman, and so on – have all either grown too old to wage their campaign against injustice or have died, leaving their sons and daughters to ascend to their heroic destinies as the next generation. The problem is, the former Justice League was too effective in leaving behind a sterling legacy for their children. (“Our parents did their jobs TOO well,” Damian Wayne tsks. “They left us a world without challenges.“) Superman Robots repel any would-be world invaders, and police the planet to the strictest rule of law, making “heroes” like Superman and Batman feeling rather listless, and the neo-Justice League of the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and more – heir apparents, all – to recreate old calamities in order to remain “fit.” All that’s left for these meta-humans to worry about is the status each hero inherited from their altruistic forebears, and to squander their wealth and power in order to crash the choicest parties. (Seeing these heroes inherit their parent’s strengths with none of their responsibilities strongly echoes Mark Millar’s Jupiter’s Legacy, an Image comic that operates within an unmistakably similar paradigm. Though, considering Morrison’s relationship with Millar, these similarities are likely superficial.)

It’s a world that’s lived long enough to see everything go wrong. Even Superboy, a clone of Superman created by Lex Luthor, has reached the inevitable point of his deterioration. (He pitifully uses any convenient excuse to obscure his transformation into Bizarro by claiming his maladies are simply from Tourette’s or Kryptonite poisoning.) In his declining health, Superboy’s dreams of the Gray Lady (an ominous figure from Multiversity #1) inspire a burgeoning interest in painting, and his works create a stir within the vapid art scene in Metropolis. (His gallery showing is in the fashionably dangerous borough of Suicide Slum, which is a nice touch.)

Thoughts, ideas, and dreams of other worlds weave in and out of The Just, giving the reader the opportunity to consider previous events within The Multiversity: Kyle Rayner (Green Lantern) speaks of the days when he wanted to be an artist in the comic book field, where he could embellish characters like Behemoth, Future Family and the Retaliators, all characters that appear on Earth-8. Superman and Batman have a tense argument about Batman’s girlfriend, Alexis Luthor, when the Transmatter Symphonic Array from Action Comics #9 pops in for one panel only to disappear in the next. All of these flourishes – rendered beautifully by Ben Oliver’s artwork – make everything that occurs in each issue of The Multiversity matter, and when everything matters, reading a comic book becomes a richly engrossing endeavor.

And there are even more reasons as to why The Just is such a remarkable read: when we’re faced with this much vacuous nonsense, it’s easy to forget that most of it is intentional, that in spite of all the shallow wanna-bes that populate the book, there is a mystery developing within all this inactivity. No answers are offered regarding the cursed comic book Ultra Comics (also from Multiversity #1!), but those who have read it are taking their own lives, a crisis which brings the fractured World’s Finest together to ask the right questions regarding the haunted pulp. This line of inquiry brings Batman and Superman to a frightening truth about Earth-16: when a world is populated by super-heroes who have grown languid, who will stand between the sanctity of the world and unimaginable evil? Because there are no answers, the book’s final page is an effective gut-punch, where we are forced to exit this alternate world in its moment of greatest peril. Somewhere within the 48 pages of The Just, where pretty little charlatans play super-heroes, Grant Morrison made us fear for the world of Earth-ME.

DC Comics/$4.99

Written by Grant Morrison.

Art by Ben Oliver.

Colored by Ben Oliver and Dan Brown.

9 out of 10