Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Examining "The Multiversity" and Its Four Issues so Far--A Mini-Run Review

A Long Time Coming (With Plenty of Waiting Beforehand)
Grant Morrison's "The Multiversity" was a project a long-time coming. First discussed back as early as 2009 when it was just called "Multiversity", it sounded like quite the concept, taking ideas and exercises he had did in other comics and putting it together to form a majestic creation.

This "Multiversity" would have two book-ending issues with a series of loosely-related one-shots taking place between them (not unlike his "Seven Soldiers of Victory" comic with its barely-relating minis). It would be about a Universe-threatening evil force that only the power of good could defeat (a topic he later touched-on with "Final Crisis", a series "The Multiversity" makes some allusions to). It would discuss concepts of meta-fiction and break the fourth-wall, what with the stories in one issue being actual comics in another issue, with various worlds all linking in strange ways(just as Morrison did with "Animal Man"), and it would be quite the mind-bender, not unlike my favorite comic of all time, "The Filth". Yes, this long-gestating and even longer-delayed series sounded like a magnum opus, possibly Morrison's biggest and wildest thing yet.

And then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited some more to the point we would forget this whole "Multiversity" comic was even a thing except for when the occasional piece of concept art would leak out.
A piece of concept art that was revealed.
But then, suddenly "The Multiversity" was a solicited title, and it became apparent that yes, Morrison's crazy comic-event would finally become a thing just as promised, with its book-end issues and series of one-shots all written in a different style with very different artists for each issue.

So now, "The Multiveristy" has been coming out, with its first book-end issue and three subsequent one-shots allowing us to start to draw a clear picture of where exactly Morrison may be going with all this. Each issue has had websites thoroughly dissecting them--not unlike Nix Uotan in the debut issue with his own copy of a Multiversity comic.
A map of the Multiverse, as it relates to this event
This all leads to what may be the most important question of all though: Is "The Multiveristy" any good? To that I can say, "Yes, oh yes," with no hesitation, and tell you that even a weaker-issue is still of a high quality, and the best issues so far are mind-blowingly stellar. To make that task a little simpler though let's discuss each of these four issues so far, in varying detail.

"The Multiversity #1: House of Heroes" 
"That's One Hell of a Start"
The debut issue of "The Multiversity" lays it all out there for the reader, explaining things quite clearly in a way that requires no background knowledge of Grant Morrison's other comics or the DC Universe, but rewarding those who have read some of his other works with nods to past comics (Nix Utoan was the last living "Monitor" at the end of "Final Crisis" but kind-of shouldn't exist as it isn't clear whether "Final Crisis" occurred due to the New 52 re-launch and oh dear I've gone cross-eyed).

Besides Nix Utoan and the President Superman (who also appeared in "Final Crisis" and an issue of when Grant Morrison was writing "Action Comics") there are all kinds of Easter eggs, but as I said, you don't have to know much of anything other than a love of comics to greatly enjoy "The Multiversity" as it starts-up with this first issue.
The Gentry are the evil force threatening basically everything.
Basically an evil force known as "The Gentry" is threatening the entire Multiverse and only a rag-tag assortment of heroes can save it. This is done through bringing in characters from various Universes in order to assemble a team that could possibly face, "The Gentry" with the interesting twist that all of these folk exist as comic-book characters in each other's Universes.

I'm greatly simplifying things as if there is one thing Morrison is good at it's making complex stories, but basically this issue features our introduction to Nix, glimpses of a ruined world, a switch in focus to President Superman, discussion of the threat facing all known realities, and a jaunt to an Earth suspiciously like Marvel's comic-Universe where the comic ends on a cliff-hanger that it is slightly annoying to think may not be revisited until some months from now when the final issue and other book-end of "The Multiversity" comes out. 
Regardless of the extended wait for a conclusion, it's a good issue and Ivan Reis is an artist whom is incredibly capable of illustrating the various earths we visit, be they ruined husks of a planet or Marvel-in-all-but-name. A fabulous taste of what "The Mulltiveristy" is going to be like, but the real test of course comes in examining the quality of the following one-shots that make up the bulk of this mini-event, and now I'll continue my overview/review discussing those in the order they have come out.

"The Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes #1" 
Delightful Pulp-Comic Adventures
The "Society of Super-Heroes" entry in "The Multiversity" has the unenviable task of being the first one-shot in the series, and therefore carries some weight on its shoulders as it is in essence the "true" start of what "The Multiversity" is all about--namely, Grant Morrison giving us fascinating extended-glimpses of other Universes while telling a loose over-arching story. You wouldn't think "Society of Super-Heroes" knows this burden though, as it flows quite effortlessly, whether through the narration of the Immortal Man with its self-assured style, or how penciller Chris Sprouse supplies art that is both pleasing as a piece of modern comic-art but expresses an old-school sensibility that makes the early-to-mid 20th century setting of the comic work wonderfully.

This issue touches upon the macro-scale story of comic--Universe's invading one another--and discusses the threat of The Gentry, but as these one-shots are supposed to do, it stands alone quite well in its telling a story of a group known as the Society of Superheroes (S.O.S.) coming together to fight some evil-folk from a parallel planet who mean them severe harm.
References to the over-arching plot of "The Multiversity" occur.
This issue also makes it clear that much of these stories involve Morrison taking various ideas and characters he likes and in essence re-mixing them in a sense to create something new. We have an Immortal Man, Doctor Fate (or in this case "Doc Fate") and a Green Lantern, but they are quite unlike what you may have witnessed before in other comics, and this is all the better for it.

"The Multiversity: The Just #1" 
Super-Heroes as Celebrities in the Twitter/Facebook/Etc. Age
Plenty of writers have written about the idea of super-heroes in a more modern-age with our concepts of technology and celebrity having an immense impact on the idea of what a "Hero" is. Hell, Joe Casey has done it in slightly different forms multiple times (his run on "Uncanny X-Men" "Wildcats 3.0" and so on). There also have been writers who have taken the idea of what it would be like for the children of super-heroes to inherit a world in which their parents had basically made them redundant because of making stuff too perfect (Mark Millar seems to be doing this in his super-delayed "Jupiter's Legacy", to give one example, with art on that interestingly enough being done by one of Morrison's collaborators on the next comic I'll be discussing). That said, I haven't seen too many comics take both ideas and run with them at once, so having Morrison do that here results in something that while feeling a bit familiar also has enough "fresh" within it to not feel like a retread of old and worn concepts.

Here we of course yet again discuss comics from alternate worlds invading this one, this time with the idea they are carrying a thought-virus of sorts, one that is making this world be on the precipice of mass destruction--a climax we only see a hint of in the last issue, almost making the whole issue feel like a bit of a tease, what with it's leading up to immense catastrophe but only giving us a glimpse on the last page. 

The ending of "The Just" leaves you wanting more of a conclusion than is delivered.
Then again, this issue is perhaps more about the journey towards the mass destruction than it is end-of-everything itself. We have Damian Wayne in his 20's or so and hiding his girlfriend, Alexis Luthor (the daughter of Lex Luthor, who likes to claim she isn't evil like her father), and his best friend Chris Kent  showing up to request his help in investigating what led a fellow super-hero to commit suicide. Meanwhile some other young heroes plan a party--because what else are you going to do when the world is basically perfect thanks to the original Superman making robots so powerful they can quash any threat, even another Universe invading?

Then again, that Universe-invasion failing in this comic unlike in "Society of Superheroes" may be why the other method of the comic infecting people's minds happens. Hm, maybe I've stumbled upon something in regards to how The Gentry operate? I can't say for sure, but if it turns out their destroying of world's follows a certiain blueprint of plans I'm going to claim credit for being the one who, "Called it."
Anyways, trouble is brewing in how Alexis seems to be scheming and it becomes evident everything going to Hell at the end of the issue is her fault (albeit with her under-the-influence of the evil comics). It's a somewhat predictable direction to take that the daughter of the evil villain turns out to herself also be evil, but Morrison just pulls it off by basically being able to say to the reader, "Come on, she's Alexis Luthor, couldn't anyone have guessed she'd be bad?"

This issue is by no means sub-par, but I found it a tad more lacking than the two preceding issues and the next one I'm going to discuss. Perhaps this was because it seemed to meander a bit before finally getting to the point of how the comics are "infecting" the mind of people and ending on its explosive finale. Still, I just wish it felt like "more" had happened. Perhaps the sensation of dullness was done in an effort to replicate the boredom the young heroes feel--I wouldn't put such an idea past Morrison. Whatever the case, "The Just" is a solid comic even if not my favorite so far, but the next one might be (my favorite, that is).

"The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1" 
 Morrison and Quitely Kinda-Sorta Present Their "Watchmen"

It's no secret I and many others thought "Before Watchmen" (Also known as, "Fuck you, Alan Moore" was a tasteless cash-grab expanding on a story that didn't really need anything else written--especially if it was against the wishes of the original writer (the aforementioned Moore) and given an exhausted, "Okay, whatever," by the artist (Dave Gibbons). What DC could have done was a new idea, or even if they really wanted something like "Watchmen" take the idea of how it was originally going to use the Charlton-imprint heroes DC had acquired and done a comic like that but different enough to also feel at least a little "new". Well, Morrison was smart enough to stay far away from "Before Watchmen" but takes that idea of using the original Charlton characters in a story that kind of riffs on Watchmen, but also is an interesting take on the concept of heroism in general.

This has probably been the most anticipated of the "The Multiversity" one-shots as it reunites Morrison with his friend and often-collaborator, Frank Quitely. They've put out some amazing stuff before, the kind of material that you only get when a writer and artist work perfectly in-sync or of course in those rarer cases these days where the writer is the artist, too (See Side Note 1 for more thoughts on that). Therefore, it is a good thing "Pax Americana" doesn't just deliver, "the goods," it exceeds expectations.

Anyhoo, "Pax Americana" is basically Morrison and Quitely firing on all cylinders to make a comic that is equal parts a comment on Watchmen, another piece of the puzzle that is "The Multiversity", and its own unique artifact. While all the comics could stand relatively alone, this one especially could be considered to do so, with the whole business of comics-from-alternate-Universes being touched upon, but not nearly as important as in something like "The Just" where they formed the crux of the story (what with the comics warping minds). 

Here, the story is more driven by the characters themselves,  the comics just happen to pop-up so Captain Atom (here behaving not unlike "Watchmen's" Doctor Manhattan as opposed to his usual DC-self) can deliver some strange meta-comments about the ways two-dimensional papers function in a unique way before basically addressing us, the reader, with the question of how we might think our three-dimensional world might look to him (there's some of that classic Morrison 4th-wall shattering).
The story really is fascinating, jumping around enough in time and with clever page-designs that while reading this for the first time it occurred to me I hadn't been this overstimulated by a Morrison comic since "The Filth", and that over-stimulation with the incredible pencils (and inks and colors), complex story, and otherwise awesomeness is indeed a wonderful thing. Too often a comic can seem dull, but when you're reading something and upon finishing it you feel like you need to read it again forwards, then backwards, and upside-down even, something incredible has been made beyond a mere piece of entertainment, no, what you're holding is a piece of art.

"Pax Americana" is just an incredible thing to behold, and even if the rest of "The Multiversity" for some reason turns out to be a bust, the fact that we got this comic out of it would make the entire event still incredibly worthwhile. I imagine other entries in "The Multiversity" are going to be at least great and at best also amazing too though, so that probably isn't a worry one needs to have.

Some Good Stuff Is Done, But There's Even More Coming!
We are basically now half-way through "The Multiversity". There are three more one-shots set on various Earths left and the other book-end issue (plus a guidebook comic, but see Side Note 2 for some thoughts on that matter). It still is too early to say how great "The Multiversity" will be when all is said and done. It also probably won't be entirely clear what points Morrison is trying to make until the series ends either--if even then (folk still debate a lot of "The Filth" to this day, for example). Still, I would wager the rest of  "The Multiversity" is going to be just as good as the earlier issues (although I don't know if anything could be any better than "Pax Americana") and end satisfyingly, or at least as satisfyingly as Morrison can choose to end it. I for one am excited to see what comes next!

Reviews of the Individual issues:

The Multiversity #1: 5 out of 5 stars.
Society of Superheroes #1: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Earth Me #1: 4 out of 5 stars.
Pax Americana #1 : 5 out of 5 stars--Possibly the best comic this year.

He is real!
Side Note 1: Funnily enough, there have been rumors that Frank Quitely uses a pen name because it is actually Grant Morrison posing as someone else. It's a fun rumor but one made hard to prove true considering there is actually a guy actually named Vincent Deighan who has been seen in the same room as Morrison doing his unique-drawings. Then again, Bruce Wayne has always had doppelgangers to keep people fooled, so go ahead and keep theorizing!

Side Note 2: There will be a guidebook comic that elaborates on the various Universes, but some folk are counting that as an official part of this event and others are not, hence some referring to this as an eight-issue mini-series with an additional guide and others simply calling it a nine-issue mini-series--I have no strong opinion either way and probably won't form one until I actually have a chance to read the guidebook and see how integral it is to the "The Multiversity" experience.

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