The Multiversity Annotations, Part 1: This Review Is In The Form of a Live Dissection
Teased for years and finally launched this week, The Multiversity is a universe-jumping series of DC Comics one-shots tracking the cosmic monitor Nix Uotan and an assemblage of star-crossed heroes as they attempt to save 52 universes and beyond from a trippy cosmic existential threat that, like much of Morrison’s best work, represents something far more mundane and relatable. Tying back into the very first Multiverse story in DC’s history, the heroes of these universes become aware of this threat by reading about it in comic books… comic books that, it turns out, take place in neighboring universes. Indeed, writer Grant Morrison continues his streak of highly metatextual DC cosmic epics with this eight-issue mega-series (plus one Tolkienesque guidebook).
Described by Morrison as “the ultimate statement of what DC is”, The Multiversity naturally offers the reader much beyond the surface level adventure, and that means annotations. Rather than merely filling out checklists of references, my hope with this feature is to slowly unearth and extrapolate a narrative model for Morrison and his collaborators’ work on The Multiversity; an interconnecting web of themes and cause and effect that works both on literal and symbolic levels.
Three pages into the preview for The Multiversity #1, I knew I was going to have a lot to work with.
With no further ado, go get your erasers and your textbooks, close your laptops, sharpen your pencils, and get ready for some course notes. Let’s go to school.
THE MULTIVERSITY #1
Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciller: Ivan Reis
Inker: Joe Prado
Colorist: Nei Ruffino
Letterer: Todd Klein
Editor: Rickey Purdin
To anyone who's read Final Crisis, the microscopic-life motif should be pretty clear: much as microbes chill out on head lice chill out on your landlord's hair, life in the DC multiverse is, from a Monitor-view, either a microbial infection or a bunch of helpful bacteria, depending on how you want to look at it. The point of the narration here in that context is pretty obvious, and you don't need Sexy Shirtless Jeff Goldblum to tell you that, as usual, Life Will Find A Way. <cue John Williams theme>
But there's something else going on here, too. A landlord is collecting rent. And while at first glance this looks to just be a framing device for introducing Nix Uotan and his new status quo, keep it in mind: the owner of a property knocking on a door demanding payment for the right to live there. Insisting on payment for residence, an attempt to enforce mutual symbiosis between two lifeforms (or groups of lifeforms). Keep that in mind as we travel through the rest of this issue, since we'll be coming back to it again and again.
As for exactly where Uotan's set up shop, that bridge in the background is familiar and I see skyscrapers over the river, so I think it's pretty safe to say that the Last Monitor and Judge of All Evil decided he wanted to rock skinny jeans and support organic fair-trade food in Brooklyn, or whatever the Brooklyn-equivalent of Metropolis is (he was listening to WGBS in this same room at the very end of Final Crisis). The more important question, though, is which EARTH this is, as it's the only one we travel to in this issue without a designation caption, which makes me think that it's Earth-0, where we last left Nix Uotan at the end of Final Crisis. (However, though, that'd mean that DC was publishing comics on Earth-0, which doesn't scan; maybe, guessing by Uotan's apartment number, this is Earth-41? (which is, in fact, highlighted on the cover)).
Also: eight panels and a background, while we're on watch for "8" motifs, since the multiverse is built on vibrations and each Earth occupies the same space, just a pitch apart, as is explained later.
And so, for the first time since 2008, we once again meet Nix Uotan, Last of the Monitors. He's moved some posters around, but this is the same room he was living in when we last saw him -- the desk/bed configuration is identical, for instance. However, he has a lot more comics, appears to now be taking SSRIs judging by the bottle of Zoloft (whether for depression or OCD I can't say, but I'd expect the latter considering he's currently engaging in divine apophenia), and and has some relics from his Final Crisis adventures, such as the Rubik's Cube Metron solved in the Justifiers' jail cell in Final Crisis and the stuffed monkey, Mr. Stubbs, who may be related to the hirsute primate Uotan met in that same jail cell who encouraged him to re-activate his Monitor powers.
We seem to have jumped about six months into the future, since Uotan is annotating Ultra Comics, the seventh issue of The Multiversity. The "Cosmic Cosmos Forum" is a bit unbelievable -- dude would be on Twitter, right, not a comic book message board, not in 2014/2015? -- and I have no idea why he's talking to "JMS," since the only time I've ever seen those initials used in that sequence refer to J. Michael Straczynski.
And so, Uotan does what I'm doing. His landlady gives up -- he's got headphones on, he can't even hear anyway -- and as he begins reading Ultra Comics, his stuffed monkey comes to life to become a chimp pirate by the name of Mr. Stubbs. The only reference I can find to a character like this lies far outside DC Comics in the book and film Toby Tyler, apparently a favorite of Harlan Ellison and William S. Burroughs, placing it pretty solidly in the Grant Morrison Inspiration Playbook. It's a story about a boy who runs away from home to join the circus (much like what Uotan did when he dissolved the Monitors to live among the "germ-people" in the Orrery of Worlds), an attempt at being a cautionary tale that, instead, only encouraged children to do the same thing. Much like the narration imploring us to close the book right now, just as I slide across the touch-sensitive screen to take me to...
We see through Stubbs's fake-goggle-eyes as Uotan transforms into the Superjudge, which is, I guess, his new heroic moniker. The Ultima Thule (also last seen as Zillo Valla's psychedelic Yellow Submarine analogue in Final Crisis) comes into being behind him. Note the changes to his costume since FC -- instead of going for a sort of gothic trenchcoat look, he's gone all New 52 with a proper cape and the ubiquitous Jim Lee High Collar.
Also, pretty sure this is the first time the trade dress of later issues in a series had to be done months ahead of time so they could be featured as objects in the first issue of that series.
The Thule is the same it's always been, as Uotan and Stubbs use the power of music (as they always have) to traverse the spheres, ending up on a destroyed world that's sent a multiversal S.O.S. (as seen in the sky)...
Earth-7, a location previously seen in Countdown: Arena (which basically means we haven't seen it before, at least in the configuration Morison is working with). It seems to be an amalgam DC/Marvel universe (although not that Amalgam), and as for who all of these poor bastards stuck in this Totleben-esque urban hellscape might be, that might just have to wait for the Guidebook.
Again with the musical references; this plane is now "out of tune," making physics stop existing -- again, much like what happened to Earth-0 itself during the climax of Final Crisis. The Last Dude Standing at the bottom there is Thunderer, who appears to be a reimagining of the pre-Crisis Thor analogue Wandjina -- one of two we'll meet in this issue, really. (Morrison also decided to make the dude who took the name of the aboriginal thunder god a, you know, actual Australian aborigine with aboriginal art styles on his costume, which was definitely a good call.)
And so we're introduced to the villains of the piece, the Gentry, led by this guy, a one-eyed giant bat thing that instinctively makes me wonder A) how many hit points it has and B) whether or not I have to shoot a Silver Arrow into its eye to damage it.
But let's dig into the name. "The Gentry." The noble elite from a time when nobility was synonymous with landowning, when they were the high-born who profited constantly off collecting their share of the toil of the people in it. The renters, if you will. The modern definition of the term "gentrification" -- previously diverse spaces being repurposed by the middle and upper class into their own image -- may play an important part in this as well, considering the possible double meaning of "Multiversity" both as a play on "university" and a statement about the inherent diversity of the multiverse. (We don't see a straight white dude speak a line of dialogue until page 30.)
The main thing that I find interesting on this page is Stubbs's watch, the S.O.S./analytical capabilities of such bring to mind the idea of this being his version of Jimmy Olsen's signal watch, with his relationship with Superjudge/Nix Uotan somewhat mirroring the Superman/Olsen relationship, although that might be a reach.
Morrison's always loved playing with spelling and grammar, especially in Great Unknowable Cosmic Forces, but try not to laugh at the idea of "We Want U 2 Give Up Yr Dreams" as a Prince song title. "We Want 2 Make Yu Like Us" seems to definitely back up the "gentrification" reading of the Gentry's purpose, though.
I'm not sure why Thunderer is losing his clothes as he goes on -- I guess due to his constant raging against the dying of the light? -- he refers to the Rainbow of Worlds, which I'm guessing is an Aboriginal interpretation of the Bleedspace and Multiverse, based on the Rainbow Serpent creation myth. This makes double sense since much as wavelength increases from octave to octave in music, it also increases from color to color in a rainbow. Additionally, Morrison's official Map of the Multiverse portrays the Source Wall that separates existence from the blank page of Monitor-Mind as a rainbow, as well.
Nix Uotan refers to the Ultima Thule as a "shift-ship," equating it (again, as implied by the map) with the Authority's Carrier and Elijah Snow's great big cathedral ship from Planetary. He tells him to go to the House of Heroes (which, in the Multiverse map, looks kind of like the H-Dial -- which makes sense, since from there you can call heroes. Also, H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.) Uotan notes that you can only call heroes from fifty worlds; which worlds can the House of Heroes not reach? Earth-0 seems like an obvious choice, since it doesn't seem to be in this issue outside of (likely) Uotan's apartment, but as for the other one... Earth-33 (formerly Earth-Prime), perhaps? Or Earth-51, the Kirby world, which is still recovering from its destruction prior to Final Crisis?
Uotan calls himself "beyond Gods" because he is -- coming from the Monitor Sphere, he's outside of even the realms of Gods such as Dream, Skyworld and New Genesis.
We're back to playing with panel borders as physical boundaries, dragging that old trick out of the Animal Man toolkit. We're introduced to the actual members of the Gentry, Lovecraftian horrors that appear to be brand new and about whom I imagine we'll learn more in the subsequent seven issues: Dame Merciless, Hellmachine, Lord Broken, Demogorgunn (eater of people? It seems like a play on "demagogue") and Intellectron. Because, I presume, Morrison and Jonathan Hickman are in a cross-company game of chicken to come up with the most death-metal villain names.
And thus, the last page of the Nix Uotan section. I'm not sure how he gets back to his apartment for the final panel; it's possible it may just be a hallucination, or that it could be the effect of the here-introduced Anti-Death Equation, which seems to operate somewhat similarly to the Anti-Life Equation from Seven Soldiers in that a series of events plays out over and over again, sapping the will to live.
Uotan notes that the Gentry have "no scale, no perspective" -- it's an uncharitable reading re: modern DC but could they perhaps represent the 'house style' 'gentrifying' the unique worlds of the multiverse?
Now we return to President Calvin Ellis, Superman of Earth-23, previously seen in the excellent Action Comics #9 (which serves as a sort of prelude to this story) and the last chapter of Final Crisis. Cal's fighting a big robot of indeterminate, likely extradimensional, origin.
This page basically just reintroduces the fact that Ellis is the President of the United States simultaneous to being Superman. Courtney, his assistant, was referenced a few times back in the Action Comics issue and is seen delivering graviton impact reports to Ellis on the first page of Final Crisis #7.
We are reintroduced to the Justice League of Earth-23, previously seen in Action #9 as well, although Nubia as Wonder Woman also appeared in the final issue of Final Crisis, the last time Ellis got picked up by the Ultima Thule to save the multiverse. Here, it seems, Batman is the only white dude in the Justice League, and it's a treat to see Jake Jordan -- the Manhattan Guardian from Seven Soldiers -- again, even if only to sit down at a table next to Vixen.
Lex Luthor's multiversal gateway, as well, was introduced in that issue of Action. In that issue, the monster Superdoomsday from an unspecified Earth -- a thought-being created by that world's Clark, Jimmy and Lois who was corrupted by corporate branding into a fascist monster who rampaged throughout the multiverse -- arrived on Earth-23 before getting the hell beaten out of it by Ellis, who defeated it by using the cube to send it into the Bleedspace between worlds, where he later got rescued by the fifth-dimensional magician Vyndyktvx to fight Earth-0's Superman.
The fact that he was on drugs when he came up with it is re-mentioned here, which perhaps means that drug experiences work similarly to comic books as communicational media in the DC Multiverse.
A cosmic S.O.S. comes through the "transmatter symphonic array" and takes Ellis to the House of Heroes, which is...
The Monitor's satellite from Crisis on Infinite Earths. So much for any questions as to how Morrison was going to deal with pre-New 52 stuff. The satellite was "destroyed forever" by Harbinger during that original Crisis, but seems to have at least survived in shell form or only been partially destroyed, since it seems fairly intact here, in a Return of the Jedi Death Star under-construction kind of way.
We meet Captain Carrot, who seems to remember meeting Superman from the end of Final Crisis, when he was restored from being a regular ol' rabbit following the seeming destruction of Earth-26 in Captain Carrot and the Final Ark.
The fact that Captain Carrot's transmatter cube got its idea from a comic book does seem to imply that Morrison is equating comic books with drug experiences as I previously thought, so... that somehow got past editorial.
Earth-41 features "Spore and Dino-Cop"; since we later see Dino-Cop in this issue and he basically looks exactly like Savage Dragon, it seems that that's Earth-'90s-Image, with Spore as a Spawn analog.
Inside the House of Heroes, it resembles the Monitors' world from Final Crisis far more than the Monitor's satellite from Crisis On Infinite Earths -- note the silver rather than gold and the Orrery of Worlds in the middle. Dino-Cop is a pretty clear Savage Dragon analog, and most of the rest of them are pretty clear analogues of DC characters -- some of which are somewhat mystifying, like Bloodwynd from Dan Jurgens's Justice League. At the back is Lady Quark, previously from Earth-Six in the original Crisis, and the chibi Steel and Wonder Woman were glimpsed back in Action Comics #9, as their Superman got the living hell beaten out of him by the rampaging Superdoomsday.
Ellis manages to make contact with the Monitor satellite's systems, bringing forward the station's AI - Harbinger, from the original Crisis. At the time of the satellite's destruction, she was split in two, between her earthly and astral forms; her astral form returned to her "mechanical womb" seconds before the satellite's destruction, so it seems likely this is what we're seeing here.
She refers to the death of the Monitor -- singular -- so it seems likely that she hasn't been awakened since 1986. Her comment, though, shows that there were multiple Monitors way back in that time, we just only saw the one who's entered the Orrery -- likely Dax Novu, the ur-Monitor from Final Crisis who became the vampiric Mandrakk and was also the father of Nix Uotan.
Pretty straightforward, but worth pointing out that the worlds Harbinger mentions in the Orrery that are being corrupted are all of the one-shots that make up the middle six issues of The Multiversity.
Red Racer identifies himself as being from Earth-36; we later see that he comes from the same Earth as Optiman, who was mentioned as one of the murdered Supermen taken down by Superdoomsday back in Action #9 (the comic Red Racer hands Ellis on this exact page!). The entire idea of comic books being messages from parallel universes traces all the way back to The Flash #123 in 1961, the very first appearance of the Multiverse, as Barry Allen mentions reading Jay Garrick's adventures in comic book form as a child.
The first really interesting thing here is Ellis commenting on how the Ultima Thule looks like something he saw in a dream; we specifically saw him on it back at the end of Final Crisis. Which makes it weird that Captain Carrot remembers those events, but Ellis doesn't -- is this all a result of Flashpoint or just a coincidence?
Red Racer from Earth-36 is here as, in a way, the reader stand-in character -- the one who recognizes the comic books the different multiversal entities are from. (Major Comics is Marvel Comics, as will be pretty obvious later.) It's in the hangar with a number of other shiftships, resembling Carriers and other Monitor probes shown in Morrison's Multiverse map.
"That song -- so sad -- so brave." Exactly how Ellis referred to the Song of the Multiverse back in Final Crisis, when the Ultima Thule came to pick him up to fight Mandrakk. It appears that by playing the tune on the harp in different pitches, it navigates the ship, based somewhat off of creativity and imagination. (Captain Marvel of Earth-5 played this role on the Ultima Thule back in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond).
And so we return to the same Bleedspace we last visited in Superman Beyond. The Hawkwoman on the left appears to be Kendra Munoz-Saunders of the current Earth 2 universe, as portrayed in that ongoing monthly comic. There's an angry-lookin' monster here, almost definitely of the Gentry.
And here we have Lord Havok, a Doctor Doom analogue, having just taken down the not-Avengers of Earth-8. Wundajin appears to be another version of the pre-Crisis Wandjina, who immediately gets knocked out by Earth-7's Thunderer, making the Relatiatiors (Avengers) of Earth-8 assume that the Ultima Thule's inhabitants are villains working with Havok. Crusader mentions that one of their members, Hyperius (an analogue for Marvel's Hyperion, who is himself an analogue for Superman), has gone missing -- if not to go to the House of Heroes, then where?
We're fully introduced to the Retaliators of Earth-8, who we'd previously seen with these exact character designs as the inhabitants of Earth-6 back in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond where they were embroiled in a weird analogue mash-up of Marvel's Civil War and Secret Invasion events. It's also possible that Earth-6 just has a similar group, much like Earth-7 does since Thunderer immediately recognizes Crusader and Machinehead. (Is it better than the rest? Green to red?)
In case Major Comics being an analogue for Marvel Comics wasn't obvious until now, Red Racer's here to spell it out for you. The Future Family are the Fantastic Four; Bug is Spider-Man; the G-Men are the X-Men; Stuntmaster is Daredevil; and the Behemoth, well, he's the Hulk as a giant blue baby with an actual diaper on.
And in one page, I've fallen completely in love with Captain Carrot.
And now it's a showdown between not-Reed-Richards and not-Doctor-Doom, as the axe-and-Omni-Gauntlets-wielding Lord Havok hatches the Genesis Egg. The axe is obviously Thor's hammer, but I'm not sure about the Omni-Gauntlets -- the Infinity Gauntlet seems like the most obvious guess, but Havok doesn't seem to be rocking power on that level. As for the Genesis Egg, I've got no idea, although it is somewhat similar to the egg Krona was left in at the end of the last actual JLA/Avengers crossover.
Not that the entire "hatch the Genesis Egg" plan worked out well for Havok. Now he's having a total freakout, talking about seeing "their faces" (does he mean the readers? The Monitors? The Gentry? Is there any difference between these things?) just before Not-Hawkeye fires an arrow into his face.
Now the Genesis Egg hatches into what we'll see on the next page is Nix Uotan, who's apparently fought and suffered for "eternity upon eternity" -- which very neatly lines up with the Gentry's threat of the Anti-Death Equation back at the very beginning of the issue. It's transformed him into something else, something far more like how his father ended up as Mandrakk. I'm also somewhat unclear on exactly how the Thunderer knows Nix Uotan is in there.
And so it all comes back around: Nix Uotan is at the door, transformed into a vampiric Monitor without scale or perspective, much like the Gentry. But what does it mean when he says he's "at the door?" Well, think back to page one: his landlord knocking on his door, asking for rent, for his part of the symbiotic relationship that allowed him to live in that apartment. So we come now to the Gentry of the DC Multiverse, knocking from Earth to Earth, demanding their rent, and now Nix Uotan has become one of their agents, much like how the vampiric Monitors in Final Crisis would literally siphon lifeforce/Bleed from the multiverse to stay alive.
Next month: The Secret Society of Super-Heroes, with Morrison, Sprouse, Story and McCaig.