The Multiversity Annotations, Part 3: The Just – ‘They F— You Up, Your Mum And Dad’
Teased for years and finally launched in 2014, 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.
We’ll be focusing here on the third issue of the maxiseries, The Just, written by Morrison with artwork by Ben Oliver and color assistance from Dan Brown (the excellent colorist, not the literary hack).
Some general notes: first, Clem Robins, '90s hand-letterer extraordinaire, was an inspired choice for this 1990s DC Universe inspired issue. You'll see a lot of the fingerprints of Mark Waid and Various Artists' controversial sequel to Kingdom Come, The Kingdom, here, as well as a continuation of the "Earth-8" concept from Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez and co.'s Infinite Crisis, being the Earth where Kyle Rayner, Wally West, Connor Hawke, etc. came from before being amalgamated along with the other heroes of other Earths into the one post-Crisis DC Earth.
As a secondary note, I recommend everyone check out Rian Hughes's commentary on the Multiverse map in the video above; it provides a lot of interesting food for thought regarding the possibility that new worlds are entering the Orrery two at a time, counterparts like Earth-20 and Earth-40, which of course brings up the question of if the Orrery is limited to 52 worlds (and are some worlds going "down the drain" when new ones enter?) or if the Orrery is expanding. Either way, it seems to bolster the concept of the Orrery representing the restrictions placed on superhero comics and their narratives, and the Gentry perhaps being non-superhero genres attempting to "collect rent" for superheroes' monopoly over the worlds of the Orrery.
THE MULTIVERSITY: THE JUST
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Ben Oliver
Colorists: Ben Oliver and Dan Brown
Letterer: Clem Robins
Editor: Rickey Purdin
I've been staying away from playing "spot the character!" in these annotations, but I grew up on '90s comics and that's like half of the fun of this issue, so to Hell with it. Sasha Norman is the daughter of Shilo Norman, the second Mister Miracle (technically third if you count the dude who died in the first issue of the original Kirby series). She was glimpsed for a single panel in the last issue of Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle while Shilo is stuck in the Omega Sanction -- in this iteration the Life Trap, iterating Shilo through an endless stream of lives. Saffi Mason, Megamorpho, is presumably the daughter of Metamorpho and Sapphire Stagg.
Of course, Megamorpho isn't the first superhero to off themselves; I can think of Adrian Chase, the second Vigilante, just off the top of my head in the DC Universe.
Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul from Morrison's eight-year Batman run, alive and all grown up and this time stuck in a hellish utopia instead of a hellish dystopia. His girlfriend is Alexis Luthor, the daughter of Lex Luthor and... somebody, who's either improbably inherited her dad's non-genetic baldness or shaves her head out of a sick tribute to her dad. (Or, more likely, had the condition intentionally inflicted by her dad.)
I suspect the caption style that clearly becomes a motif of the issue on this page is to mimic the production style of reality television shows, where every issue the locations and participants/characters are reintroduced, with a short blurb on their relationships to each other. The back covers to the comics in this issue appear to just be color-inverted versions of the black-and-white art to a panel in that particular issue, rather than any real clue.
As for the actual content of the page, we've got a full-costume Batman in Gotham City during the daylight, defying convention; Alexis Luthor is reading Ultra Comics, the book that led Nix Uotan to his imprisonment and brought the Atom of Earth-20, Al Pratt, to a place of profound self-doubt and despair.
A quick note on Damian's taste in women: his mother was both a supervillain and the daughter of a feared international supercriminal, so there's more than a little bit of Oedipus Complex going on here, as well as an inheritance of Bruce's unfortunate tendency to think he has a magical tool of redemption in his pants.
Considering what we know at the end of this issue, it seems likely the reason Alexis keeps trying to figure out how to get Damian to read the comic is so she can infect him with the Gentry's curse.
We had the robot breaking through from an unknown earth to Earth-23 back in #1, and now another incursion (heh) from an alternate reality; it does seem like the walls between the universes are, as always, breaking down once again, albeit in less immediately catastrophic fashion this time.
It could just be Ben Oliver's art style, but the invaders from another dimension the Superman robots are taking on look very similar to the technovirus Sister Miracle was fighting with Ray Palmer's help in the opening scene.
Omniversal Studios is, I guess, a riff on Universal Studios, and doesn't seem to line up with any previously-shown movie studio, although the name might be worth keeping track of.
As for Damian and Lexie's conversation about comics -- for context, read any comic book message board in the past twenty years. The idea of the character only existing when read about is one that Morrison's visited ever since Animal Man in the late '80s; it ties into his mythical Katmandu experience and the extrapolation that our lives could be narratives being read by fifth-dimensional beings.
There's a pretty solid argument to be made that Philip Larkin's "This Be The Verse" is pretty much the thesis statement for the entire issue. It's interesting that Damian appears to read the book for about as long as Al Pratt did, but doesn't get infected; perhaps it's due to still having Simon Hurt's curse in this universe, much as he did back in the alternate future of Earth-0 in Batman #666.
Damian's idea of dirty talk is attempting to force admissions of psychoses out of the ladies he's with, which is pretty much hysterical. I'd also expect the World's Greatest Detective to have a better plan for hiding his girlfriend than something out of a Harold Ramis or John Hughes movie, but here we are.
Here we get the other half of this weird MTV reimagining of Bob Haney's classic Super-Sons: the son of Superman. Here is Chris Kent, the genetic son of Zod and Ursa (from Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Adam Kubert's "Last Son" arc in Action Comics that began in #844) who was introduced roughly three or four months after Damian (and even then only because the "Last Son" arc was plagued with delays from conception to completion). Here, it seems, he was raised by Clark and took on the family name. For once, we've got Superman lecturing Batman on taking his job more seriously, which is quickly replaced by a genuine, po-faced excitement for a real "Super-Mystery," which makes these two come off more like Hank and Dean Venture than Chris Kent and Damian Wayne.
The sad truth here is that Morrison's version of Chris Kent is pretty much an idiot. We're talking about a guy who's so blown away by the very concept of suicide that he has to investigate it as a "super-mystery," instead of it just being, you know, a teenager who committed suicide. (He's right, but it's still a pretty messed-up presumption and thing to get excited about.)
Some of the stuff in Damian's trophy room is obvious -- an Azrael suit (since this Earth is based so much on the DC Comics of the '90s), his own grown-up Robin outfit, an old Bruce Wayne cowl. The circular object looks kind of like Brother Eye, but also like the parallel world invaders and Sister Miracle's techno-virus. That could just be how Ben Oliver draws spherical machines; it could be a clue for something else, but I can't figure out what.
The DC Universe of the 1990s was separated from that of the Vertigo books, so it makes sense that Neil Gaiman's Sandman run would be printed as comic books on Earth-16. Nevertheless, we know from Morrison's Multiverse Map that Dream and his realm lie outside of the universes of the Orrery of Worlds, so it's also perfectly possible for him to interact with this Chris Kent.
I don't know if the crazy raygun Damian's holding here is just for comedic effect next to all the deadly series weapons in the cabinet in the previous panel, or if it's a reference to an earlier story or another world in the Multiverse it might have fallen through from.
Also, again, Chris Kent is a pretty astonishingly dumb guy.
Here's where we get the info-drop that Earth-16's Lex Luthor killed Superman -- perhaps in the manner depicted in Morrison and Frank Quitely's All Star Superman? -- hence why Chris is so pissed off at Alexis' very existence.
The "big creepy space lady" is almost definitely Dame Merciless of the Gentry, who we see later this issue in Kon-El's art show.
We're introduced to Kyle Rayner, the '90s Green Lantern who here never rebirthed the Corps or was re-replaced by Hal Jordan, and Offspring, Ernie O'Brien, the son of Plastic Man originally introduced in Mark Waid's The Kingdom (including a feature one-shot with art by Frank Quitely) and brought into regular continuity in Joe Kelly's JLA run (and turned into Offspring officially in 52). Kyle's reading Ultra Comics too, presumably picked up during the investigation in Megamorpho's condo, since we know reading it is what led to her suicide.
What Offspring is describing is essentially the two Marvel Comics universes; here, instead of the Marvel Universe (Earth-616) and the Ultimate Universe, it's the regular Major Universe and the Essential Universe, but the concept is the same. Now that we know there are two Major Comics universes published as thus, it seems pretty safe to say that the regular Major Comics universe is Earth-8 (as seen at the end of Multiversity #1, where Nix Uotan's egg was awoken by Lord Havok), and the Essential Major Comics universe is the recently-destroyed Earth-7, glimpsed at the beginning of Multiversity #1. The Gentry had completely torn it to shreds, and here Offspring describes how in the last issue of Essential Genocide everyone got wiped out by a space demon, so it seems likely that was either the Gentry themselves or the turned Nix Uotan. It also, to a certain degree, begins to explain how Uotan was captured on Earth-7 and ended up in the egg on Earth-8; much as the Ultimate Universe is a sort of "subset" of the major Marvel one, so it seems there is a similar connection between Earth-7 and Earth-8 that might let Uotan pass through the Bleed in that form.
As for Essential Genocide itself, it seems to be a joking mash-up of the big Ultimate Universe crossovers like Jeph Loeb and David Finch's Ultimatum and Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley's Cataclysm with the ongoing planet-killing eerily-similar multiversal tale going on in Jonathan Hickman's Avengers books culminating in next year's Secret Wars.
I have no idea why there are dicks drawn on the wall they're talking in front of.
Connor Hawke, the '90s Green Lantern and son of Oliver Queen. Connor's story about having a hot date with Lady Shiva is total posturing -- as we'll later see, he's going to meet his daughter, to whom he claims he turned down a date with Lady Shiva to meet. The other dudes here are the Flash (Wally West, again of the '90s) and Bloodwynd, mystery '90s Justice League member who we'll get to in more depth later.
Of course they've gentrified Suicide Slum to the point where the former Superboy is holding an art show in a gallery there. I'm not even going to try to make out everyone at the party; Max Mercury, "zen master" of the Speed Force and mentor to Bart Allen/Impulse, is there, as well as Gunfire, the dude whose power is literally to turn anything into a gun, and Jeph Loeb's first creation for the DC Universe, Loose Cannon. We're definitely scraping the bottom of the Justice League Task Force and Bloodlines barrels at this point.
Kon-El is a clone of Superman introduced as Superboy in the "Reign of the Supermen" storyline that followed Superman's death in the early '90s; here he's the superhero equivalent of Corey Feldman, a child actor who can't grow up (literally -- his inability to age was a cause of much consternation in his '90s series). He was eventually revealed to be developed by Lex Luthor in the first issue of Geoff Johns and Mike McKone's Teen Titans run, the same time he got the T-shirt-and-jeans ensemble you see on display here. Alexis Luthor's friend here is Duela Dent, the Joker's Daughter, and the new Arrowette we'll get to shortly.
Here we see the big space demon that Megamorpho saw when she died -- known as the Gray Lady here (and appearing in dreams, much like both the idea for the Transmatter Cube and Neil Gaiman's Sandman, showing that dreams are in fact a way to communicate between worlds much like comic books and psychedelic trips). No clue who the girl that Kon sneezes on and then walks off with is; while the gloves are new, the outfit suggests she could be his '90s love interest Tana Moon.
I have no idea why Kon's coughing up vapor; could just be a byproduct of actual drug use, or could just be a side effect of his going Bizarro. The idea that "all clones of Superman go Bizarro" might become important if Bizarro World comes back in this series, since it looks to be Earth-29 on the Multiverse Map.
The Justice League is now so bored that they do the equivalent of high-level MMO raids/historical reenactment mash-ups in their spare time. Pretty much everyone in this crew gets introduced properly as this fight continues. Red Amazo is, presumably, a combination of Red Tornado and Amazo; the former was a robot created by T. O. Morrow to infiltrate the Justice League (almost exactly basically the Avengers' Vision, but in DC and even more of a boring sad-sack), and the latter is an adaptable villain created by Professor Ivo.
Alpha Centurion is a Roman dude who was abducted by aliens and came back, introduced in a Zero Hour tie-in issue of Adventures of Superman.
Not only is the roleplaying Red Amazo malfunctioning, now Kyle is flipping out from having read Ultra Comics, remembering his Uncle Ben moment from very early in his '90s adventures when his girlfriend was killed by a supervillain named Major Force. I have no idea why Morrison and co. are throwing the pretty fun Major Disaster under the bus for this, but I suspect the answer is "a mistake." It's amazing how callous the League is in using an incident where one of their friends died for roleplay purposes.
Natasha Irons, niece of John Henry Irons, wore this armor and the name of Steel for a while in the late '90s and early '00s.
Argus is yet another Bloodlines alumnus, while the Artemis Wonder Woman here is the '90s replacement from the William Messner-Loebs run that occurred around the same as Azrael taking over as Batman, the Reign of the Supermen, Hal Jordan being replaced by Kyle Rayner, etc. Aquaman here, Garth, is the original Aqualad, eventually known as Tempest in the '90s; his outfit here is similar to that one. I presume that, by this point, "Aqua" has become some sort of slur for Atlanteans.
Ernie's penchant for masking his sadness and denial with humor and faux flippancy is, of course, inherited from his father. He's playing a Young Justice game, which presumably shows that Young Justice, the animated show -- which was originally stated to be on Earth-16 -- airs on TV there as a chronicle of everyone's younger days.
Anyway, Ernie's just in denial that his girlfriend's dead, although the expectation of resurrection is actually a pretty logical and not-unfair suspicion in any DC Universe.
Finally, we pick up the relay race from last issue, as Damian reads Society of Super-Heroes, somehow published by DC Comics (we'll get back to this).
Menta here, Holly Dayton, is the daughter of Steve Dayton, Mento, former member of the Doom Patrol. The mother, judging by the resemblance, is likely Rita Farr, Elasti-Girl, who Mento created that helmet to impress in the first place. Here we see that she poked into Megamorpho's head and saw that, after reading Ultra Comics, she saw remnants of memories of the Grey Lady/Dame Merciless and the rest of the Gentry, pretty much confirming that Ultra Comics is, somehow, their delivery mechanism.
This is the '90s Doctor Mid-Nite, Pieter Cross, created by Matt Wagner and brought into the late-'90s JSA reboot James Robinson, David Goyer and Stephen Sadowski masterminded (Robinson soon left the title was quickly replaced with a promising, fresh-faced young writer named Geoff Johns). Bloodwynd is a dude who was Martian Manhunter in disguise but then turned out to exist outside of being Martian Manhunter and his powers are pretty much exactly as he exposits here. (It's also pretty funny since this is basically what Marvel did to Xorn being Magneto in disguise after Morrison's New X-Men). Chris is not only an idiot, he cracks jokes at his best friend's expense to his peers, so he's a jackass. I guess Clark died before he could actually raise Chris.
The Planet Krypton restaurant was introduced in the Mark Waid/Alex Ross classic Kingdom Come, and expanded on in Waid's Kingdom miniseries, which was also a major influence over this entire issue with its vision of a utopian super-dynasty built off the DC Universe of the 1990s.
Arrowette here has the name Cissie King-Hawke, implying she's the daughter of Connor Hawke and either Bonnie King, the original Miss Arrowette, or her daughter (this is less likely since the names are similar and the age difference is creepy), Cissie King-Jones, the Arrowette in the Peter David/Todd Nauck Young Justice run from, you guessed it, the '90s. The Miley Cyrus influence in this iteration is ... not very subtle.
It's interesting that they really do introduce a superteam called "The Just" -- when the title of the book, at least for me, seems to be less "these people are just in their beliefs" and more "oh, it's just Arrowette" or "it's just Offspring." These aren't the Just in their principles, they're the Just in that they're leftovers.
This book is pretty low on likeable characters.
I can't get over how literal and dumb Chris is. He's the most useless Superman possible, completely devoid of nuance or subtlety or metaphorical thinking. "Here's the chemical composition of this comic!" What a jackass.
Now, let's talk about Damian's cordyceps fungus metaphor here.
The cordyceps fungus, enlarged, was a major part of the PlayStation zombie epic The Last of Us. Alexis Luthor, earlier this issue, mentions her love for zombie stories. We had a zombie investation last issue in Society of Super-Heroes, and there's easily an argument to be made that Ultra Comics' infection is equally inspired by the zombie craze. Perhaps the Gentry invading the Orrery are, in fact, the new readers of comics or the new genres taking over the industry, being unfairly vilified by these superhero characters? Horror tropes invading the superhero environment; haunted houses (Lord Broken) like Locke & Key and zombie infestations (Demogorgunn) like The Walking Dead.
Also, note that the cordyceps fungus takes over ants, who were pretty much the focus of the entire first page of Multiversity #1, just to drive the metaphor home.
First off, every issue of Multiversity so far has had DC Comics in the indicia, I have no idea what Damian's talking about. (I checked. I know.) I'm also confused as to why the comics have indicia from their own universes -- isn't the whole idea that the ideas bleed through to another universe where comics are written and drawn portraying what happens in those worlds? Why are these comics physically bleeding through from other dimensions, and how did they all end up in Ernie's collection? Damian's pointing at what's clearly the Thunderworld issue when he says it was published in Fawcett City. Fawcett City's definitely in Earth-5, and Hub City is where the Question is from so that must be on Earth-4, where the Charlton heroes live. "New Hooverville" sounds a lot like something on Earth-20; I have no idea where Cosmoville and Satellite City could be, but I suspect we'll find out as the series progresses.
Chris comments on how Saffi and "Eddie" got infected; I presume Eddie is actually Ernie O'Brien, so either it's a screw-up or, more likely, a comment on how terrible Chris is at remembering the civilian identities of superheroes.
Damian realizes what's going on as the horror begins to mount. Gypsy was a member of the Detroit incarnation of the Justice League; Bloodwynd repeats Nix Uotan's phrase of knocking at the door, as it seems the Gentry have arrived to Earth-16, through dreams and comic books, to collect their rent. (Other genres finally collecting on all the space superhero comics took in the apparently limited narrative space that is the Orrery, perhaps?) Menta knocks at the door and proclaims she's wet herself, which manages to be the creepiest thing on the page.
Now, it's pretty clear that Alexis has been into Multiversity for a while, with a smorgasbord of various pages arranged on her wall Carrie Matheson style and an almost perfect recreation of Lex Luthor's transmatter cube from the first issue and Action Comics #9 already built. (At some point off-panel, presumably, Bloodwynd investigates Alexis's apartment and takes the transmatter cube back to the House of Heroes, which is why he's in the big group shot in the first issue).
The Jakeem Thunder reveal is interesting, since the dude's only been mentioned previously on the cover, as Sasha's boyfriend. I'd almost argue it's dirty pool to throw him in, but if you consider the cover as part of the story and the fact that the issue is a done-in-one, it's pretty fair play.
And so, the parlor room scene where Batman is the one who gets completely punk'd for once. Alexis Luthor now has control over technology and magic; she coordinated Megamorpho reading the comic and her subsequent suicide, but also the Red Amazo going haywire during the reenactment, and most likely Sasha's technovirus as well. The fact that Jakeem Thunder's genie is a fifth dimensional imp (established in Morrison's "Crisis Times Five" arc of JLA with Howard Porter, the same storyline that introduced Jakeem Thunder) seems to continue to imply the fifth dimension will play an as-yet-unseen important role in this series, after its earlier mention as the axis the House of Heroes rotates around. So now, it seems, despite having created the transmatter cube that leads Bloodwynd to the House of Heroes, Alexis Luthor is currently an agent of the Gentry, much like Vandal Savage, spreading their gospel -- whatever it is -- to Earth-16.
Cut to Sasha's party, which looks absolutely ridiculous in every conceivable way. I can see Mas y Menos, Impulse, Krypto, a grown-up Slobo from Young Justice (the compassionate Lobo clone), Miss Martian and countless other '90s teen heroes chilling in Sasha's pool right now, just as Arrowette gets the call from Menta explaining somewhat more succinctly the resolution of the issue's mystery.
While Batman is fighting Superman robots, Sasha's bacchanalian party continues, with new visible guests like the Creeper and the android Hourman from DC One Million. The "party of the century" is correct, since this is probably the last time the superheroes will be able to continue this lifestyle considering...
The final page is Alexis Luthor's controlled Superman robots beginning a swath of urban destruction. (The book never mentions where Alexis Luthor's apartment is; it could be in Gotham or Metropolis, so I'm unsure as to where this carnage is taking place.) Another cliffhanger ending for a Multiversity one-shot, which I imagine will be a trend until we finally reach the final issue.