Admittedly, attempting to write a review of a book as absurd and surreal as Multiversity #1 is daunting. But in all honestly, it’d be a disservice to not at least try putting down some words about Grant Morrison’s most recent event series. And not just because Kabooooom! is a site focusing on comic book reviews and this what we do, but because for me, personally, the DC multiverse is what brought me into the world of comics.
[NOTE: Over the course of writing this review, it became so much more than a comic book review. To read only the review portion of this opus, jump down to image of Multiversity #1’s cover.]
The year is 2009 and I was soon to graduate from college. A friend only recently got me hooked on The Walking Dead comics, which I’d been catching up on thanks to my local public library, but I’d reached that point where in order to continue the story I needed to find a comic shop and begin buying single issues. This wasn’t my first time in a comic book store, but it was the first time I’d come to comic book store with the intention to start purchasing a title monthly.
Once inside it was like unlocking a part of my childhood I hadn’t realized I had been shutting out. Sure, I went and saw all the big superhero movies when they released just like everyone else, but just like everyone else I hadn’t actually read any of the stories those films drew inspiration from. Yet, thanks to a more than healthy dose of cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series, X-Men, Spider-Man, and later Justice League, I did know and recognize most of the masked and caped characters on the walls.
Batman was and is my favorite superhero and it’s entirely because of B:TAS. So, once presented with SO MANY comics, I thought I should seek out what Bats was up to in the world of comics – only to discover Batman was dead! He had been killed in the finale of Morrison’s Final Crisis (DC Comics’ universe spanning event series of the day). Batman, dead? It didn’t make any sense! Comic book characters don’t die, even I knew that. But that was the bait, the hook that dragged me into comic books and I never had a chance to look back.
Like any good millenial, I started Googling, and I learned all about the many Crisises the DC Universe has endured over its long history. I went again back to my local library and borrowed Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour: Crisis in Time!, Countdown to and Infinite Crisis. I even slogged through all of 52, and then finally – Final Crisis. Whew! It was a lot of DC Comics history and lore to dig through, but along with a massive DC Comics encyclopedia I had also borrowed, I began to sort it all out.
After this quest for knowledge I finally felt properly equipped to begin digesting the DC Universe monthly. And of course, before long Batman was back. Even better, there were two Batmans as Dick Grayson had stepped into the cowl while Bruce was off lost in time; a progression of character I absolutely adored. I loved Batwoman, a character whose publication history I can proudly say I followed from practically day one. I immediately jumped on Gotham City Sirens and Birds of Prey, and I loved the hell out of Blackest Night. (Brightest Day? Not so much.)
I had done what so many consider too difficult, too confusing. I had made that leap into the whacked-out continuity of comic books. Then Flashpoint happened and blew it all up. That complicated, convoluted DC Universe I had spent an entire summer dissecting and devouring had been ripped apart and in its place – The New 52; DC Comics’ soft-reboot engineered to lure in new readers turned off by the publishers messy 70 year history.
Livid is too strong of a word. I wasn’t livid at DC Comics for, basically, making all my efforts over the past few years seem almost all for naught. But I was perturbed. I was upset they hadn’t imagined that there were newcomers to the medium who saw ‘getting in to comics’ as a challenge. One I had happily accepted. Sure, their numbers were low and they needed a way to re-energize the market, and there definitely aren’t enough weirdos like me out there willing to spend the time schooling themselves on DC Comics’ continuity.
Looking back, I recognize this as my first experience with that strange, entitled feeling many fans have when it comes to comic books. “But, these are my characters! Why are you screwing them up!?” It’s immature, surely, but the feeling does seem to go hand in hand with the level of fanaticism all the currently en vogue geek interests attract.
In the three years since I like to think I’ve gotten over myself. I no longer begrudge the constantly changing landscape of comics, and in fact, have come to embrace it. I mean, what’s the whole point of playing with immortal, everlasting characters if you can’t change them to better reflect the times, attitudes, opinions, etc. of your readers? If superheroes are truly our myths, then don’t they need to truly reflect all of us?
What has been sorely lacking from the DC Universe since its reboot in 2011 is the multiverse, that weird and impossibly confusing expanse of multiple universes with multiple iterations of all our favorite superheroes. It’s within the mulitverse that DC allows itself to truly be diverse, free of that logic that only the most iconic versions of their characters (i.e. Silver Age) are what sells. That was until Multiversity, a return to Morrison’s bonkers vision of DC’s multiverse last seen in Final Crisis.
Multiversity is DC Comics’ letting its freak flag fly. It’s weird. It’s super weird. But that’s what makes it such a captivating read. Morrison is fearless when it comes to following an idea from start to finish, and this is one hell of a start.
The reason this review began with so much of “me” is because Multiversity really brings out your inner fan. In fact, you, the reader, play as much a role in this book as do President Superman and Captain Carrot. Multiversity, like so much of Morrison’s work, is more than a superhero adventure, it’s a commentary on comics and the value we place in their stories. In fact, Morrison is suggesting that our stories are really just another world’s reality, which makes those happy endings all the more important, doesn’t it?
Multiversity begins with a live dissection of a reportedly haunted comic book. A comic book that will in fact release later this year as part of DC Comics’ Multiversity event. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Multiversity is a book asking for you to play a part, it’s asking the reader to stop and think about what they’re reading. At one point the narration even asks, “Whose voice is this speaking in your head anyway? Yours? Ours?” It’s all delightfully meta.
Morrison presents his tale of the last Monitor, Nix Uotan’s struggle to save the multiverse and its many, many worlds from frightening, Lovecraftian monsters called The Gentry with little explanation. This may be off putting to first time readers of anything involving DC’s multiverse, but if you’re willing the story can simply whisk you away.
The struggles of superheroes are a fairly typical battle against the forces of evil, and with that knowledge the tale of Uotan needing to recruit heroes from across the multiverse to aid him in battle is pretty self explanatory. Where things can get a little overwhelming is the number of characters introduced. Though again, that sense of there being too many heroes to keep track of works in favor of the epic Morrison is crafting.
Multiple worlds with multiple iterations of familiar characters is the mutliverse’s whole schtick, and Morrison is the best at utilizing that. There’s President Superman, a man from Earth-23 who juggles being Superman as well as leader of the free world; Captain Carrot, the hero of the cartoony Earth-26; Red Racer, Earth-36’s Flash analogue whose a big comic book geek and dating that Earth’s Green Lantern; Aquawoman, a tough as nails, takes no one’s bullshit Queen of Atlantis on Earth-11; and lastly, Thunderer, the Aborigine hero of Earth-7 who Uotan first comes to aid.
It’s an interesting cast of characters (and these are only the few who take center stage, there are literally dozens of characters scattered throughout, including some fun twists on many of Marvel’s) but what’s most pleasing is their diversity. This a team of heroes compiled from a multiverse of almost infinite possibilities and not a single one is straight, white, and male. It’s refreshing, there’s no doubt, but it’s obviously a bit of shame just how refreshing it is. Heterosexual white men are not the default of the universe, and it’s fantastic Morrison makes a point of this fact.
Paired with Morrison on this book (each issue of Multiversity will feature a different art team) are Ivan Reis, Nei Ruffino and Joe Prado, and you basically couldn’t ask for a better bunch. Where it was Jim Lee who set to artistic tone for The New 52, Reis and Prado together have created the cleanest and best looking books (Aquaman, Justice League) within this new style.
Choosing these two for a book as visually complex as Multiversity was genius. All those many, many characters never overcrowd the panels – except when they’re supposed to – and the panel transitions are clever but uncomplicated. There’s a particularly great moment where Uotan is restrained by an unknown border, something the reader will recognize as the panels themselves, and it’s only one of Mulitiversity‘s many self-referential moments.
Bringing a vibrancy to Reis and Prado’s artwork are the stunning colors of Ruffino. They are bright, they are bold, and it’s exactly what you want from a superhero book. Yet, when things get creepy – and boy, do things get creepy towards the end – Ruffino’s colors turn darker, bleaker, and perfectly reflect the less than hopeful sense surrounding these characters’ fates.
Multiversity is weird, but it is also wonderful. One read through – or perhaps even one hundred – won’t help you understand fully all the pieces in play, but that’s okay. Morrison understands superheroes are not set in stone, never allowed to change or grow, and that’s what’s most important here. Fictional characters are just that, fictional, and manipulating them to tell a tale is why they’ve endured as long as they have.
For some, Multiversity might be better enjoyed once all is said and done and it’s compiled in a trade, but for the adventurous reader, this a must read.
Oh! And for those intrigued by the DC Comics’ multiverse but don’t want to spend months dissecting it, here’s a great primer from DC All Access: