Welcome to the latest edition of the Pull List. A few months ago I dedicated the entire column to a single issue – Ms Marvel #1 – because I felt that it represented an enormously high standard of comic book. It’s still one of the finest titles on the stands at the moment by the way, so go out and buy it if you haven’t already. I mention this only because this month I am also only going to be discussing one comic book. But oh boy, what a comic book it is.
Way back in 2009 Grant Morrison said in an interview, “I’m in the early stages of putting together material for a Multiverse series but I want to spend a lot of time getting it exactly right, so there are currently no deadlines and I don’t anticipate any of this coming out until 2010.” The series, becoming known as Multiversity, did not come out in 2010. In fact, it gestated for five years and the title passed into fan-lore as just one of those comics that we’d never see.
However, it turns out that we were wrong. Multiversity has finally been released. Comprising of two bookend issues and six one-shots, each taking place in a separate universe (we’re promised Watchmen homages, and a dark, dark take on the Shazam canon) and each with different artists in tow, the series has been eagerly anticipated by many.
So, what to make of it? First of all, it’s excellent. Morrison at his best marries the kind of weird high-concept hallucinogenic imagery with a sense of humour and a love of the characters he’s writing about and he gets it spot on here. Our main character (after a wonderfully strange prologue featuring Morrison’s epic crossover Final Crisis leftover Nix Uotan) is the Superman of Earth 23, who last appeared in one of the New 52 issues of Action Comic penned by Morrison (and who also appeared in Final Crisis – there may be a lot of this), and who is a stand in for Barak Obama. Superman and President of the United States, he is whisked away via “Lex Luthor’s drug fuelled attempted to build a gateway to alternate worlds” and finds himself joining a multiversal team of superheroes including stand-ins for Marvel’s Thor, Image’s Savage Dragon and Captain Carrot (an anthropomorphic rabbit version of Superman). Their base of operations: The House of Heroes. Their job: to save the world by travelling across the multiverse and recruiting as many heroes as possible to fight an unstoppable threat.
So far, so Secret Wars, or Crisis on Infinite Earths. In fact, Morrison has played in this arena before: Final Crisis’ climax involved a very similar plot thread (and most of the same characters). But it’s clear even from this debut issue that this isn’t Morrison treading old ground just to get a story out there. This is almost certainly a direct sequel to Final Crisis and as such, is yet another part of Morrison’s enormous DC continuity which you can arguably fit his runs on Animal Man, JLA and even Batman into. There’s references to the universe being made of music, there’s the Orrery too, and the Ultima Thule – a spaceship made of frozen music. That’s nice enough for Morrison fans, but what about newcomers? It’s explained well and never feels overwhelming or bogged down in exposition. Plus, it’s got Morrison’s wit in heaps: the entire sequence on Earth-8 where our heroes come into contact with the DC universe’s version of The Avengers gives us ‘Behemoth’, their version of the Hulk, complete with enormous safety pinned nappy.
The issue also goes into a great deal of depth around Morrison’s other love: metafiction. We’ve seen it before in his work, Animal Man meets Morrison at one point and they discuss the nature of fiction and reality, the Monitors in Final Crisis act suspiciously like editors, adding and removing worlds as they see fit. Here, the Monitors have abandoned the multiverse, the way DC now ignore their universe to focus on solely their New 52. Furthermore, the prologue to Multiversity focusses on a supposedly haunted comic book from DC called Ultra Comics (which, by the way is actually the name of the final issue of this series), and the narration dares to address the reader of the comic directly. The opening captions of the issue give off an Italo Calvino-esque sense of strangeness:
“You think this is just a comic book, but it’s bait. You’re bait for them. You! Do we have your complete attention yet? Whose voice is this speaking in your head anyway? Yours?”
Of course, this does all hinge on how you feel about Grant Morrison as a writer. Multiversity is unlikely to change many people’s minds, and those who hated Final Crisis will find little to assuage their fears here.
One thing this issue also has on its side is the formidable talents of Ivan Reis, who appears from the outset to completely understand Morrison’s intentions. In this issue panels are weapons, stretching and thinning people out, squashing them and trapping them. Reis’ figures are wonderfully drawn, and there’s a great epic dynamism to his work. It’s a sign of trust perhaps from DC editorial, since we normally see Morrison paired up with lacklustre artists.
In short then, is this a comic worth buying? I’d say yes, absolutely. But I’m a huge fan of Morrison. If you’ve never read a comic by the man, then this isn’t where to start (pick up his excellent JLA or Doom Patron runs), and if you don’t like his work, this is never going to be your thing. For those who remain though, this series seems likely to go down in history.