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Published on February 2nd, 2015 | by Michael

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A Guide To The Multiversity Guidebook

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That’s right, a guide to a guidebook. Aren’t we meta? The title of The Multiversity Guidebook is actually a bit misleading, to be honest, as it gives the impression that this comic is a reference book, not a part of the ongoing narrative. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you’re reading the history of the DC Universe as a comic within a comic within a comic within a comic, you’ve passed through the looking glass and into the strange, wonderful mind of Grant Morrison.

At its heart, Multiversity is a comic about comics. Shifting through genres and periods with a chameleonic ease, Morrison is presenting his thesis statement not just on the history of DC, though they are the company he is most associated with, but on the superhero comic as a whole. It picks up on running themes and subplots we’ve seen in Grant Morrison’s work going back a very long time; thematically, look at Animal Man’s encounters with the Forgotten Heroes of Limbo, a place where superheroes go when they’re not being written about; literally, Multiversity represents the culmination of threads which were first woven in and around Final Crisis back in 2007/8, and ideas seeded in Grant’s run on Action Comics from 2011-13. Not to mention the 77 years since Action Comics #1 first gave us a Superman.

ActionComic1

For sanity’s sake, we’re only going to look at the last 30 years, as I try and provide a touch of background for what’s going on, and some recommended further reading. 30 years ago, in 1985, DC released Crisis on Infinite Earths. Written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Perez, it tells the story of an attack on all reality by a creature from an anti-matter universe called the Anti-Monitor. His goal was simple; the destruction of all matter. Victory was won over him at great cost, to both individual lives and entire universes. Crisis was intended both as a celebration of DC’s history up to that point and a simplification of its continuity into a single, one-size-fits-all universe. I’ve always found this to be an unusual editorial mandate. To an extent, I can see it from the marketing stand-point, having multiple alternate versions of characters can be a bit daunting and distracting for the new reader. But it strikes me that, so long as you make it clear which is the main universe and which is an Elseworld, or a What If, people are smart enough to know the difference. As an executor of this mandate, Crisis is a very enjoyable comic. A comic exercising the will of unseen hands to make everything unified and homogeneous. Where have we seen that before?

It didn’t take long for alternate universe stories to start cropping up again, and they jumped right back into the DCU in 1994’s Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. The unofficial fourth member of the Crisis trilogy, Zero Hour features Hal Jordan, during his time as the supervillain Parallax, as he attempts to rewrite history in his own image. With its alterations to time, Zero Hour was another soft reboot of DC’s continuity, allowing for contradictory elements of characters’ pasts to be retconned. DC do this every ten years or so, most notably in 2011 with The New 52.

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After eleven years of relative temporal peace, the utterly baffling concept of Hypertime notwithstanding, 2005 saw DC return to the Crisis well for the 20th anniversary, with Geoff Johns’ Infinite Crisis. The DCU was under threat on four fronts; Brother Eye and its army of OMACs, war in space between the twin planets Rann and Thanagar, a supervillain uprising and the world of magic thrown into chaos by the destruction of the Rock of Eternity. Observing this, some heroes from Crisis on Infinite Earths who had left the universe decided to return and replace it with their universe, which was lost in the original Crisis. Infinite Crisis, along with its magnificent spin-off 52 (a weekly series lasting a year dealing with the fallout of Infinite Crisis from the perspective of some of DC’s B and C-list heroes, probably the best superhero comic crossover event ever), saw the return of the DC multiverse, albeit rather than infinite Earths, this one was limited to, well, 52. Originally identical, the histories of the other 51 Earths were altered by shenanigans I won’t get into because I don’t want to spoil 52, leading to the range of parallels we’ve been reading about these past few months.

Within two years and two year-long weekly comics (52 and Countdown to Final Crisis), the multiverse was under threat again in Final Crisis. Grant himself took the wheel for this one, so it’s as dense and mind-blowing as you may expect. It deals with Darkseid’s ultimate plan to enslave the universe and stave off the end of the New Gods and the coming of the Fifth World. It’s in this comic that we learn that the main DC Earth is the keystone which holds the entire multiverse together, so when Darkseid’s destruction causes the black hole where his heart should be to be unleashed and begin devouring the Earth, the very walls of the multiverse start tumbling. It’s quite impressive.

Things held solid for a time, until 2011 and Flashpoint, the story which brought to a full end the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC universe/multiverse. As is often the way with these things, a Flash was at the heart of events, this time Barry Allen altering all of time because he’s selfish. I could go on for a while about why Flashpoint isn’t a fitting ending for that iteration of the DCU, but I’ll save that for something I’m looking at doing for Convergence. This lead to The New 52, the main DC Universe of the moment. Many changes, bolt-ons and retcons have gotten us to this point. And part of the beauty of Multiversity is the reminder that, even with all of that, all of our favourite stories still happened. They’re still out there on paper, on digital and in our imaginations. All recorded by us, the Monitors, in the fictions of Earth-33, our home.

The Multiversity Guidebook opens with the terrifying image of the Hannibal Lecter Sivana from Thunderworld wielding a flamethrower, burning a bobblehead looking Martian Manhunter, while a similar looking Cyborg lies dazed, and an Aquaman stands impaled. By Lecter-Sivana’s side is his bobble headed Mini-Me. Yes, it appears the Legion of Sivanas have invaded a world where the heroes all look like Powerpuff Girls. A chibi Batman attempts to save Manhunter, backed up by the equally minute Hawkman and Green Arrow. Lecter-Sivana orders his robots to kill the remaining heroes while he and his doppelganger leave. He has learned from reading a comic (later to be revealed the very comic we are reading!) that the transmatter device is word controlled. His words appear as inaudible to the readers, but they clearly work as the two Sivanas leave.

little-batman

Batman has never looked so cute

Meanwhile all looks lost for the tiny heroes but the robots are gunned down by another Batman figure (a look at the guide in later in the book shows that this Batman is from Earth-17, a world ravaged by nuclear war protected by the Atomic Knights). ‘What the krakkin ex are you?’ the newcomer exclaims, demonstrating in his first line that the language, or at least slang, of his world differs from ours. Atomic Knight Batman asks his new companion what is going on, revealing that ‘I cracked the Dark Tower of Luthex, hunting the Cosmic Grail’. This sentence warrants some analysis. Again, the guide of the Earths in this book is a valuable resource here. It says that the Cosmic Grail is an artefact from Earth-15, a world otherwise utterly destroyed by a deranged Superboy-Prime (in Countdown to Final Crisis). The lives lost in Earth-15 are described as ‘fictional’, while the picture accompanying the description is of a Lantern power battery, which certainly fits the bill as ‘a solitary, immensely powerful fragment of this universe’. In addition, the name the ‘Dark Tower’ could be a reference the Stephen King’s magnus opus of the same name, in which the Dark Tower is a structure that links all possible realities (including several of King’s own fictional creations). Thematically, the Dark Tower series is similar to the Multiversity with its orrery of worlds.

Atomic Knight Batman then spits out apparently nonsensical phrases which read a bit like Batty’s dying speech in Blade Runner (spoilers). ‘I dreamed the rose that grows in winter. Entered the vault of ages. Saw the Four-Stone… or thought I did’. It is a technique of Grant Morrison’s, and of several other writers, to sort of pile up this hard to grasp concepts and obscure terms into a single speech such as the one Atomic Knight Batman delivers. It saves on exposition, I guess, but it doesn’t help with the impression that the works are impenetrable. Atomic Knight Batman accuses Chibi Batman (whose homeworld we are on) of being one of Darkseid’s crew. This being a big crossover event, Darkseid is everyone’s prime suspect.Atomic Knight Batman uses another one of his favourite expletive, ‘Joker-Dammit’, which suggests society on his world took a very odd turn. Chibi Batman reveals that he is Dick Grayson and calms Atomic Knight Batman by using his real name, which for the avoidance of doubt is still Bruce Wayne.

The scene switches to the gathered Sivanas, with Chibi Sivana being inducted. Returning from Thunderworld are such faces as Lizard-Sivana, Vampire-Sivana and female-Sivana. Lecter-Sivana explains that at first only inorganic matter can be sent through the transmatter cubes (hence the robots) but the combined Sivanas have worked out how to transport organic matter too. He goes on to say that they’re currently in a ‘sort of spinning top…vibrating in the bleed between spaces’, amusingly described as being ‘much smaller on the inside than it looks on the outside!’. The Sivanas say that although they cannot trust each other, their combined IQ, of over 80,000, is sufficient to take over the Multiverse; however as they turn on Chibi Sivana for being a wimp, they come under attack from the Marvels, again as seen in Thunderworld. Lecter-Sivana asks Count Sivana to marshal his vampire troops, staying behind to for a closer look at Mary Marvel, as alluded to last month.

Back in Earth-42, the two Batmen are discussing their predicament. Chibi Batman says the Little League were tricked into attacking Sivana’s lair and were ambushed as the sky turned red. Atomic Knight Batman justifies his use of lethal force (only on robots, admittedly) by saying that in Gotham’s radpits on his Earth, it was kill or be killed. Chibi Batman notes the differences between their respective worlds and notices Sivana’s discarded comic details parallel realities side by side. Once again, the comic is shown to be the one we’re holding, as the scene changes to the page Dick is reading.

Earth-51

We’re plunged into the world of Earth-51, described in the guide within as a place where ‘men act like beasts and beasts act like men!’. In a dinghy, approaching ‘The Island of The God Watchers’, are Kamandi, last boy on Earth, Ben Boxer, a biOMAC (this world’s equivalent of the OMAC) and Prince Tuftan, an anthropomorphic Tiger reminiscent of Captain Marvel’s companion Tawny. As interesting as the crew is their destination, a place where Aztec temples share the shore with drive-in cinemas. Once on land, Kamandi mentions that ‘Flower’s kidnappers brought her here’. Was the rose mentioned earlier an oblique reference to a woman named Flower? The beach is decorated with strange shaped skulls on pikes, left as warnings, which perturbs our new heroes without discouraging them from investigating a nearby tomb. ‘Maybe the Gods are the watchers’ says Tuftan perceptively, because it is revealed that the New Gods themselves are watching the heroes in the tomb. The gods look indistinguishable from the ones seen in the usual DC continuity but as they discuss Darkseid they say that the worlds host ‘multiple emanations of Darkseid… and of us’, so it would seem that there are different versions even of the New Gods. They have naturally sussed that Darkseid is behind the plots against the Multiverse, but as in Final Crisis there is yet someone else behind the god of evil, Highfather makes reference to a ‘dread hand’ who is responsible for unlocking Darkseid’s tomb and whose identity is unknown even to the New Gods.

In the tomb, biOMAC notes that those that had been there before them had dropped their weapons and fled. biOMAC also makes contact with the satellite Brother Eye, an ally from the Jack Kirby Kamandi comics of the 1970s but more recently a major threat to the DC universe in the events leading up to Infinite Crisis, and currently one of the chief villains of the weekly series The New 52: Futures End. Tuftan notices carvings on the wall, which Kamandi can read. Reading them, he describes how once ‘everything and nothing were the same’ but into the nothing came a flaw. The perfection, that is to say the nothing, named itself Monitor-Mind and trapped the flaw. It also brought in the monitor Dax Novu to study the flaw. Novu entered the flaw but was split in two, corrupted as the flaw became the orrery of worlds. Kamandi goes on to explain how it was Barry Allen, the fastest man alive, who was first able to travel between realities by vibrating at different frequencies. Not only that, but he also took his inspiration from a comic, naming himself Flash after an earlier hero, Jay Garrick. Thus we have the earliest example of comics from one world influencing people in another, as the Sivanas have been doing.

Flash of Two Worlds

A very early example of universes colliding

Kamadi’s narrative gives us a quick précis of such meetings, starting with the two Flashes and the JLA meeting the JSA. He describes the massive crossover event Crisis on Infinite Earths (meant to straighten out the DCU good and proper. It failed.), Hal Jordan’s assault on reality as Parallax, Infinite Crisis and Superboy punching the wall of reality, and Booster Gold’s traverses through time and reality in 52. Kamandi explains that one of the monitors noted that the records of all these events were written into the fictions of Earth-33, which is supposedly the world which we inhabit (unless you’re reading this from a different plane of reality in order to hatch evil, multiverse conquering schemes, in which case hello there!). Kamandi covers the death of the monitors, leaving just Nix Uotan, as seen in Multiversity #1 and of course Flashpoint, noting that a Flash is always at the heart of these momentous events. Like Highfather, Kamadi references an unknown player behind everything ‘something vast and patient and terrible. What great hand casts the lightning and remakes the world?’ It is possible of course that this unseen force could refer to the writers themselves, a trick Morrison has used before on his Animal Man run.

biOMAC warns his companions that Flower has gone and that the local pirates have performed a ritual and then fled, which recalls Barbatos from another Morrison creation, The Return of Bruce Wayne. The scene then skips back to Earth-42 and the two Batmen reading the comic with Chibi Batman claiming that the maps of the universe contained within the comic will save them all. Those maps,  then. The first is of the entirety of reality represented as a circle, with the Source wall on the outside and the orrery of worlds in the centre. The key lists the different realms as represented by radio waves. Roughly speaking, the realms listed go from the most to least abstract, starting with the Source Wall, the Monitor Sphere and Limbo (home of forgotten characters), through more recognisable ideas such as Heaven, Hell and Dream and finally to the orrery. Also listed on the same page are different models of Shift Ship, mighty vessels powered by caged baby universes and capable of traversing all of reality. One model, the Carrier, is recognisable as that used by The Authority, created by Warren Ellis and subsequently written by, among others, Mark Millar and Morrison himself. Rather sweetly, the page features a note which reads ‘With grateful acknowledgment of the work of the many artists, writers, colourists, letterers, editors and others who have contributed to the rich tapestry of the DC Comics Multiverse’. Of course the map represents this work in its entirety.

Multiversity Map

Chibi Batman explains to his companion that the stories in the comics act as a chain or relay, sending messages from one reality to another – a warning had appeared in the latest issue of Li’l Gotham. As Chibi Batman talks of warning, we see on the floor an unsolved Rubik’s cube, surely a reference to Multiversity #1 and further back, Final Crisis and the New God Metron. He says that files on the 52 known worlds have been compiled by a ‘Super-race’ into a handy comic book. Descriptions of the 52 worlds follow, each accompanied by pictures of some of that reality’s key players drawn by a different artist and colourist. Key worlds include Earth-0 (the main DC Universe) Earth-2 (which has its own ongoing series), Earth-3 of the Crime Syndicate (as seen in Forever Evil) as well as worlds featured in previous and future Multiversity titles. Two Earths, 7 and 8, are clearly parodies of Marvel (the description for Earth-7 includes a mistake incidentally, referring erroneously to Earth-4) and Earth-41 is a mickey-take of Image Comics. Some, such as Earth-30, the home of Millar’s Superman: Red Sun, are the products of previous ‘what-if’ type stories.

Seven of the worlds, numbers 14, 24, 25, 27, 28, 46 and 49 are mysterious unknown worlds. The first five were created by a Monitor Magi for ‘unknown purposes’ while 46 and 49 are the second and most mysterious, respectively. Since nothing is known about either world, quite why one is most mysterious I’m not sure. I’m also unsure as to whether these seven unknown worlds will become central to the plot, or whether Morrison has left a handful of worlds undesignated to allow other writers to create their own visions.

Earth-47

One of the odder worlds listed in the Guide

 

Back on Earth-51, the ground has begun to shake, forcing the heroes to flee the tomb, as apparently unseen by the characters and fiery hand writes ‘I Found You’ in flame on the wall. In the confusion, Kamandi drops a rose, crying ‘it’s all I had of her!’ Watching on, Highfather remarks that ‘Darkseid is but one theme in a symphony’ and that behind all of this lies ‘that dread and empty hand! Whose name none dare voice’ Highfather says that while waiting for their powers to return in full the New Gods can only watch and guide, rather than intervene directly, which seems rather convenient to me. All the really powerful types inevitably end up on the sidelines during the various crises. Nix Uotan, formerly the greatest monitor of them all, appears infront of the flaming letters, looking as if he holds the orrery of worlds in his left hand. He claims he has unleashed Darkseid on creation, ‘in the name of the Gentry and who they serve. In the name of the empty hand.’  Kamandi, Tuftan and biOMAC flee the island, noting that ‘the sky is red!’ as Chibi Batman had said of the ambush the Li’l League had been tricked into. Historically speaking, red skies indicate a Crisis in the Multiverse. Speaking of the little mite, Chibi Batman reads which Earth his is from but is non-plussed by the assertion that they are hiding a ‘terrible secret’ in their world’s description. Mysteriously a red rose has appeared on the floor, which Chibi Batman picks up, but before he can contemplate this strange development, the Batmen are set upon by the Sivanabots. Atomic Knight Batman volunteers to stay and fight them off, reasoning that Chibi is far less equipped to do so. He asks Chibi Batman to go through the door to Earth-17 and tell them there is no sign of the Cosmic Grail, and that Luthex in league with Darkseid. Poor Chibi Batman finds himself starring down the barrel of a gun upon arrival in Earth-17, as Captain Adam Strange demands to know where ‘his’ Batman is. Fortunately for Chibi Batman he is still holding the rose he found. ‘In his hand. The rose that grows in winter’ Adam cries, echoing the phrase his comrade had used when describing his dream. Having seen the rose, Adam has no hesitation in welcoming Chibi Batman warmly to Novamerika. However it would appear that any reprieve Chibi Batman has earned will be short lived, as for reasons unknown the sky has turned red, which we know can only be the harbinger of VERY BAD THINGS.

Meanwhile, Atomic Knight Batman has also survived his latest scrape and now finds himself talking to Dinocop and a handful of the other heroes seen in Multiversity #1. Bloodwynd welcomes him to ‘the frontline of the defence’ against the assault on the multiverse and it is also said that the vanguard sent to Earth-7 has failed to return, again harking back to the first comic. The assembled heroes immediately find themselves under attack as the worlds collide. A truly monstrous tentacled behemoth bites into the House of Heroes and the two representatives of Earth-42, Wonder Woman and Steel, begin acting strangely, their eyes turn red and they utter the single word ‘Empty’. They look very much like the children Darkseid infected with the anti-life equation in the early chapters of Final Crisis.  It is unclear whether it is just these two or the other heroes from other worlds that begin to do this as well, as they are out of shot. Back on Earth-42, the bodies of Cyborg, Aquaman, Flash and Martian Manhunter lie dead, but a giant hand, glowing blue, appears. ‘Get up. Reset’ commands an unseen voice. ‘You have died before and you will die many times more before I am done with you. See how my hand is empty’. The dead Li’l Leaguers rise up, eyes also aglow and in union cry ‘Empty is thy hand!’

So it’s all getting real in Multiversity with even the heroes’ sanctuary under attack. Next month will see the scene shift to a world that is already in pretty bad shape, Earth-10 where the Nazis won the war in ‘Mastermen’. Join us as we attempt to talk you through it!

 

Michael

Michael comes from the middle ground between light and shadow, between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. He will write on comics, TV and film, plus anything else that might occur to him.

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