I love the Marvel universe, don’t get me wrong. We go way back. But I’ll always love the DC Universe a little bit more, despite knowing deep down that the Marvel Universe is tighter, more well thought out, and more consistent overall. But what draws me so much to the DCU is how wild it is, how BIG it is. Anything is possible in the DC Universe, and nothing is too crazy. In my three decades plus of reading comics, I’ve seen the DC Universe contract (Crisis on Infinite Earths) expand (Infinite Crisis, 52) and start all over again (Flashpoint). Some of this frustrates me as a reader sometimes, but it’s that “anything can happen here” aspect of the DC Universe that always keeps me coming back.
People often say that superheroes are our modern day mythology, and they’re right. But the thing about myths is that they change and morph over time depending on who is telling the myth. Tall tales that change as they are passed down, all while still retaining a kernel of their original idea, at least enough to make them recognizable; to me, that’s the definition of mythology, and DC is all about that. The Marvel heroes aren’t really “myths” in the strictest sense. All these years later, they’re all still the same heroes that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko created fifty years ago. There’s not a lot of wiggle room when it comes to interpretations of Spider-Man, for example. The DCU heroes, on the other hand, are constantly changing: aspects of their stories come and go depending on the creators and the times in which they are being represented. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are wildly different characters from decade to decade, and from medium to medium, yet they are always identifiable as those characters. There is a fluidity to the DC heroes that Marvel just doesn’t have.
No creator understands and utilizes this aspect of the DC Universe or makes it work to his advantage better than writer Grant Morrison. Say what you will about some of his missteps (Final Crisis anyone?). More than anyone else, he understands that utilizing that epic grandness is the key to understanding DC. One just has to read his run on JLA from the nineties or his All-Star Superman to understand that. Doing “big” and “grand” is Morrison’s greatest strength as a writer, and Multiversity is the opus he’s been working on now for over five years. Ever since bringing back their Multiverse in 2007 at the end of their maxi-series 52, DC hasn’t done much with it, aside from the Earth-2 ongoing series. Scuttlebutt is that they’ve been saving it for Grant Morrison to map out and fully expand the rest of the multiverse, which is what he’s doing here in Multiversity. Finally, after all these years, we are going to see what those fifty-plus other Earths have to offer us. Our patience has paid off.
In this first issue of Multiversity, there is no shortage of big cosmic ideas happening. This isn’t a book for comic book newbies or people generally unfamiliar with the more “out there” aspects of the DC universe. As the issue opens, we are re-introduced to Nix Uotan, the Last Monitor from Morrison’s infamous Final Crisis series, who, while reading a “cursed comic book” (that happens to be a future issue of Multiversity), is then summoned to Earth-7 where an aboriginal super hero named Thunderer is seemingly the last man standing on his Earth. Naturally, Thunderer is fighting against a giant Lovecraftian villain with one giant eye and bat wings called The Gentry.
Nix Uotan then helps the Thunderer escape to the Orrery of Worlds at the center of the Multiverse. Quick sidenote: DC All Access has a very handy guide to the new Multiverse by the way; this is essential viewing before reading this series in my opinion. So the Thunderer ends up in the original Monitors’ satellite from the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths series, along with black President Superman of Earth-23, Captain Carrot, (an anthropomorphic super bunny), Dino-Cop (an obvious analog for Image Comics’ Savage Dragon), and many other hero characters, some familiar and some new. There are long forgotten JLA heroes from the eighties and nineties like Bloodwynd and Gypsy, and a female version of Aquaman who is a spot-on representation of the gender-swapped Justice League cosplayers who famously attend many a comic con. Also prominently featured is Red Racer, a seemingly gay comic book geek version of the Flash from Earth-36, who seems to be dating a version of his Earth’s Green Lantern.
After hearing the message from a holographic version of Harbinger, who has informed them that she has gathered the greatest heroes of the 52 Earths, several of them set off on a journey in Nix’s living craft, the Ultima Thule, an interdimensional spacecraft made of “frozen music” that allows them to travel all 52 parallel worlds. Why frozen music? Because the multiverse is fifty-two universes “all ringing” but occupying the same frequency, creating a kind of “song”-the Ultima Thule allows them to play the music like a giant instrument, and travel between universes. (stuff like this is why I adore Grant Morrison’s brain.) This group of heroes, which refreshingly doesn’t have a single straight white male among them, end up on Earth-8, a world made up entirely of thinly veiled analogs for Marvel characters; Lord Havok is clearly Dr. Doom, and the Retaliators are essentially the Avengers, with characters like American CrUSAder in place of Captain America and Behemoth in place of the Hulk and whatnot. It’s on Earth-8 where we discover Nix Uoton again, but he’s not the same as when we left him on Earth-7, fighting for his life. He’s been changed into something “other”. Mind you, all this happens in just forty pages.
If this all sounds like way too much, like a giant hot mess of storytelling, then this book is simply not for you. Grant Morrison isn’t afraid to just let his imagination run wild and, at times, it can seem to get away from him (especially in the opening pages of the book). As a reader too, it can seem like too much, but once we gather all the heroes together, things start to really gel, and the charms of the book’s crazier concepts just win you over. Case in point, the fact that every one of Earth’s heroes are comic book adventures on a neighboring Earth. (“Comic books are really showing us what’s really happening on all our different Earths..messages in bottles from neighboring universes. It’s amazing!”) You either go for stuff like this, or you don’t.
Another reason why Multiversity #1 works as well as it does are the amazing pencils of Ivan Reis. For the last several years, Reis has been DC’s secret weapon, and his work here shows how crucial it is to have the right artist on a book like this. An artist with a more cluttered style, like Chris Bachalo, great as he is, would have been a nightmare on a book like this. Reis’ clean style allows all these characters to stand out and shine without getting lost in all the wackiness.
It’ll be impossible to really judge Multiversity until all is said and done. Issue #1 will be followed up six single issue adventures that take place on different alternate Earths, before coming back and tying it all up in Multiversity #2, but this first issue is off to the a great start, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. Multiversity will either end up being Grant Morrison’s greatest achievement or his biggest failure, but judging from this first comic, it definitely won’t be boring.