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Published on October 27th, 2014 | by Brad

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A Guide To The Multiversity – The Just

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The Just takes Multiversity to the seemingly peaceful confines of Earth-16, a place where the classic generation of superheroes are long-dead, and in their place are their offspring, searching for identity in a world where Superman’s robot army have eradicated all crime. This is Grant Morrison’s exploration of superhero comics’ long-standing tradition of the “legacy hero” – someone who carries on the name and identity of a great hero, after age, injury or death prevents them from going on in the role. The cynical view of that is that this is simply a way to keep the identity that sells the comic going, whilst freshening up the book with a new lead character, but none of that here – the legacy hero is a noble creature, honouring a great name which came before them.

In its way, the concept of the legacy hero dates back to before even the Golden Age, and that old favourite of this website, The Phantom. Thought to be immortal, The Phantom is actually the legacy of the Walker family, with Kit Walker the 21st man to take up the name and skin-tight purple costume, dating back to his ancestor Christopher Walker some 400 years prior. However, where The Phantom has legacy built into his very origin, the more common legacy hero, and subject of this comic, is a new spin on an old concept.

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The legacy hero tends to take on one of three types; the parallel universe equivalent, the inspired outsider or the family member/sidekick taking up the mantle. Notable exceptions are DC’s Green Lantern and Marvel’s Nova, each the title taken on by multiple members of the same interstellar police force. But then, even Green Lantern is a parallel universe equivalent to a pre-existing concept, the space-cop Hal Jordan version taking the place of Alan Scott and his magic lantern and vulnerability to wood.

The most famous examples of this type are from the dawn of the Silver Age, with the creation of the Justice League. Under the instruction of then Editor-in-Chief Julius Schwartz, classic Golden Age heroes The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and the Atom were revamped and revitalised, given new, science-fiction-inspired origin stories. The first and most successful of these was The Flash. The original Flash, Jay Garrick, was a college student who gained his speed from inhaling heavy water fumes. He was replaced by Barry Allen, a forensic pathologist who gained his powers after a lightning strike caused him to be doused in various chemicals in his laboratory. In an ingenious move, which no doubt inspired a certain aspect of Multiversity, Barry was inspired to take on the name Flash and the red uniform by reading comics about Jay, his favourite superhero. It then emerged that these comics were representations of Jay’s real adventures in a parallel universe to Barry.

Flash was also one of the first to be replaced by his sidekick after his own death, as the then-Kid Flash Wally West took up the mantle after Barry’s sacrifice in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Death in battle is an ever-present threat to our heroes (though it can seem like an injury to be recovered from at times), and, well, fact is the world needs Batman more than it needs Azrael or Nightwing. Nightwing’s time as Batman was chronicled in part by Morrison in his superlative Batman & Robin tenure, where he trained Bruce Wayne’s son Damian, himself taking up the mantle and legacy of Robin.

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The heroes of The Just are primarily from the period between 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths and 2005’s Infinite Crisis. There are some notable exceptions (Damian is a Morrison creation from 2006 and the notion of Batman and Superman’s sons as a team comes from Bob Haney’s classic Super-Sons from the early 1970s. Beyond them, though, we see 90s Flash Wally West, 90s Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, 90s Green Arrow Connor Hawke, and a variety of creations from Mark Waid’s The Kingdom, Dan Raspler’s Bloodlines and Justice League Task Force. The more crucial background reading for this, though, may be Philip Larkin’s This Be the Verse, cited by Alexis Luthor early on, and a pretty solid thesis statement for the issue itself; “They fuck you up, your mum and dad…”

This month’s edition sets its stall out with the cover, a parody of glossy celebrity mags that infect newsagents like a pan-dimensional virus. A woman who looks a lot like Lex Luthor smiles with a caption that reads ‘He gave me the key to the Batcave!’. A woman named Sasha claims she’s going to ‘party Jakeem Thunder right out of my life!’ A photo of a smiling Batman and Superman is ripped down the middle; ‘Is the WORLD’s FINEST bromance over?’ the cover asks us. Kon-El, shielding himself from the paparazzi and smiling, barely dressed Arrowette round out the cover.

The comic itself opens at a luxurious Malibu mansion. A young woman, identified as Sasha Norman, Sister Miracle, is talking telepathically with her friend. She’s explaining that she has caught a techno-virus from space which is a total bummer, as she’s throwing a party. Fortunately, the Atom is on hand to traverse her blood stream. To cure herself, Sasha mush perform her ‘ultimate escape’, IE think of something very sad so the hormones flooding her system can kill the virus. Her friend down the line, Saffi Mason aka Megamorpho has the very thing; she kills herself by jumping of a building. ‘We’re all doomed and there’s nothing we can do about it and everything else is just a joke on us’ she wails. She does think it’s ‘cool’ that she’s the first superhero to commit suicide, however.

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The scene shifts to Gotham, where Alexis Luthor is trying to have a conversation with Batman (Damian Wayne) about whether comic books might be art, setting out the metafictional, post-modern marker for this issue. Batman incidentally is decked out in a long black leather coat and so looks a lot like his counterpart the Midnighter from Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch and The Authority. An interesting visual tip off, given the reference to the Batman/Superman (b)romance on the cover. Indeed, Alexis wonders aloud ‘is Batman gay? Two thousand words by Wednesday students’. Damian is distracted all the while by an attempted invasion from another Universe, though Alexis and the populous at large seem entirely apathetic. ‘Nobody cares about anything anymore’ Damian complains. The reason is that the threat, like all threats it would appear, has been snuffed out by an army of superman robots. Alexis continues to talk about comics while this epic battle is taking place, even mentioning a piece she read on Trash-Bat. For the uninitiated, which is too bloody many of you, Trash-Bat is the website run by Nathan Barley, the brilliant/horrible creation of Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker in the eponymous TV series. Alexis uses the term ‘Picto-fic’, which Damian naturally dislikes. ‘What’s wrong with calling them comic books?’ he wonders.  This is probably a reference not only to people who avoid the phrase ‘comic book’ for fear it sounds childish but those who labour under the misapprehension that all comic fans avoid using the term comics or comic books. Morrison also uses this conversation to complain about poor pay for artists. Alexis further sets out the overarching concept of the series; ‘Imagine a post-modern Pinocchio super-concept character who comes to life only when you read about him.’

The conversation moves on as Alexis and Damian helpfully fill in some detail on Earth 16. As suspected, they are the children of their more famous counterparts. ‘Our parents did their jobs too well’ Damian opines. ‘They left us a world without challenges’. This goes some way to explaining both the hedonistic attitudes of apparent superheroes like Sister Miracle and the general apathy of the people when faced with what seems like a huge threat. Alexis and Damian talk more about their parents and what ‘psycho-autistic’ messes they are before mercifully Chris Kent, the new Superman, turns up. Damian hides Alexis under his lead-lined coat, Chris apparently not over the whole ‘her Dad killed my Dad’ thing.

The new ‘World’s Finest’ discuss the death of Megamorpho (Superman momentarily can’t remember her real name, Batman naturally can). Superman also defends the robots, which ‘put everybody out of work and describes his ‘team-up’ with another hero; he had a dream which featured Sandman, described here as a fictional character written by Neil Gaiman. The plot as described by Superman, ‘I dreamed of all the things I’d do if there was anything left to do’ is reminiscent of Morrison’s All-Star Superman. The following conversation shows just how far superheroes have fallen in the world of The Just. Batman shoots down Superman’s suggestion that they join Wally West’s Justice League, instead he suggests they provoke the 5th Dimensionals. A superhero (one carrying the Batman mantle, no less) wanting to incite a conflict out of boredom! Worse, it turns out they did it before, for an episode of Punk’d.  Next, Damian and Alexis have a row, as he abandons her and Kon-El’s art show in favour of the party she isn’t welcome at. ‘Why don’t you and Chris finally admit you love one another?’ she asks.

We cut back briefly to Sasha Norman, who reveals that she saw a flash of a Big Creepy Space Lady (almost certainly Dame Merciless of the Gentry) as Megamorpho died, but her infection is dead, thanks to the Atom and her own grief. Over in Metropolis, Kyle Rayner, last of the Green Lanterns, is talking to Offspring, Megamorpho’s boyfriend and fellow shape-shifter. Offspring seems to be taking her death very lightly but it seems as if he’s just in denial – he’s convinced she’s coming back, a comment on the less than permanent nature of death in superhero comics. He and Kyle discuss comics including the destruction of Earth-7 in Multiversity #1, seen by him as a crossover in Major Comics’ Essential Major line called Essential Genocide. The destruction of the Essential Retaliators by a space demon is a double reference, equating the destruction of Earth-7 by the Gentry and the corrupted Nix Uotan with Galactus’ destruction of the Ultimates in the recent Cataclysm story arc. Kyle mentions he wanted to be an artist for Major Comics, another in the long list of publishing houses named so far across the Multiversity books. As an aside, Offspring mentions G-Men, which was the name of the X-Men analogue in Garth Ennis’ The Boys, which could be described as an anti-superhero book. Lantern then checks in at a JLA meeting, where he meets up with the Flash (presumably Wally West), Connor Hawke (who of course has taken the Green Arrow mantle up in mainstream continuity before now) and Bloodwynd though for the life of me I can’t remember if this is a Martian Manhunter disguise or another identity entirely. Another hint about the decline of the heroes is dropped when Kyle mentions that ‘we’re doing Red Amazo Crisis’ as if the JLA have to manufacture past battles in order to break out of the monotony. Connor mentions how creepy it is that their kids are friends with their old enemies’ kids.

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The scene changes once again to an art gallery in Suicide Slum, Metropolis. Alexis and a friend (Duela Dent?) are discussing Kon-El’s strange behaviour recently. Alexis drops the bombshell – like all the Superman clones Lex created, Kon-El will turn Bizarro. He’ll blame it on drink and drugs, then Tourette’s and finally Kryptonite poisoning but eventually it’ll come out. Everyone is dressed in superhero costume at the event, incidentally, which shows that a lack of demand has not lessened their number any. There’s a creepy lady in one of Kon-El’s paintings which resembles the woman Sasha described. Someone identifies her as ‘The Gray Lady’, whom everyone dreams about (like that one where you lose all your teeth or the one about a hand grabbing your leg from under the bed).

Another page, another location. Blimey, they’re really hoping around in this one aren’t they? The JLA are about to do battle with Red Amazo, whom the caption describes as a ‘Killer Android Bastard’. He’s absorbed the powers of the league, ‘it’s Doomsday plus!’ cries Kyle. Connor joins in the fight, although he’s not altogether sure he was there for the original. Alpha Centurion (who looks like another Dr Fate), thinks he beat Amazo last time but his attempt in the rerun leaves him with a broken arm. Kyle dives in recklessly and obliterates Amazo with a dozen spikes, calling him Major Disaster as he does so. Major Disaster, Major Force in the main continuity, is the villain who killed Kyle’s girlfriend Alexandra De Witt, leading to the coining of the ‘Women in Refrigerators’ trope by Gail Simone. The idea is that these women are killed by writers purely to provide the male heroes with motivation. Similarly, Kyle is here using these ‘battle re-enactments’ as his personal therapy sessions, rather than as a way of helping the JLA become better heroes. He also says that the comics he read earlier brought all his memories back ‘like something crawled into my head’. Natasha Irons, now Steel, finds a weird operating system in Red Amazo. Readers with a talent for pattern recognition will probably guess her next words; ‘I’d swear there’s a higher dimensional component…’ Three of the others present, Argus (Nick Novak), Wonder Woman (Artemis) and Aquaman (Garth) discuss the nature of the re-enactments. Argus says it is too soon to do Red Amazo, after all their teammate Red Tornado died in the affair, even if he was ‘just a robot’. Garth meanwhile is disgusted by the phrase ‘Aqua-Crisis’ when Flash suggests they try that next.

Meanwhile Batman, looking for all the world like Rorschach on the trail of his ‘cape killer’ in Watchmen (we have to wait for the that one, ladies and gentlemen) interviews Offspring about Megamorpho’s death, though Offspring seems more upset at his lacklustre computer gaming than his girlfriend’s suicide. Batman has a look at the comics she was reading before her death, which includes last month’s Society of Superheroes, and there’s a reference again to the ‘cursed’ Ultra Comic. Superman is also on the right path, more or less, as he talks to Menta, who had used her telepathic helmet to scan Megamorpho’s remains. She too mentions The Gray Lady and perennial Multiversity villains The Gentry. Pieter Cross as the new Doctor Midnight examines Megamorpho’s corpse, while Bloodwynd, a necromancer, attempts to find out more. Bloodwynd is introduced with the caption ‘Man of Mystery’, which reflects his origin as having been conceived as an in-disguise Martian Manhunter, before being retconned into being an individual in his own right (a bitter jab at Marvel’s treatment of one of Morrison’s All-New X-Men plot twists, perhaps?). Batman interrupts, just in time to see Superman insult him, bringing news.

The scene shifts once again to the Planet Krypton restaurant (on top of everything else, are the heroes franchising restaurants now?). Arrowette,  a third generation hero, meets her Dad, Connor Hawke who reveals that like his father he rejected the materialist culture of the US and instead retreated to the mountains and shaved his head. Menta has been in touch with Arrowette and wants to form a super-team called The Just, so Arrowette wants her Dad’s trick arrows. Connor says she looks like a stripper and that anyway crime is a thing of the past, thanks to the achievements of the last generation. Connor of course straddles the two, he’s the son of a superhero but clearly fought alongside them before the Superman robots were able to extinguish all crime. Connor gives her four arrows and warns her that ‘even a Utopia can screw up’. Naming their team The Just shows how far in their parents’ shadows these kids live. Not the Justice League, just The Just. Not Green Arrow, just Arrowette. A diminutive name to put Young Justice to shame.

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Cut to: Batman and Superman on a rooftop discussing the case like in World’s Finest of old. Superman finds nothing unusual in the chemical makeup of the comic but Batman thinks the content might be to blame. He compares the nature of the ‘curse’ to the cordyceps fungus which takes control of an ant’s brain (a mutated version of this is responsible for the zombie apocalypse in The Last of Us, incidentally). He hypothesises that it’s a life-form disguised as a story, with hypnotic instructions that infect the reader. Superman points of that in Society of Superheroes, there is an attempt to build a device between dimensions. Batman meanwhile has found perhaps the best clue yet; all the comic book publishers, bar one, are housed in cities that do not exist in Earth 16. Are comics bleeding in from other worlds? Finally, he considers that Alexis might too have been infected by the comics she’s been reading.

Back at Megamorpho’s vigil, Bloodwynd (now positively identified as a ‘Multi-Mage sent by a Higher Power […] waiting[…] for the Day of the Demon to dawn’).  He tells Midnight and Gypsy (Cynthia Reynolds) that what used to be Sapphire Mason is warning them of the contamination of this world by the others and if the hero aren’t warned, by the time they realise what is happening it’ll be too late. Menta then appears and is positively fangirlish about speaking to Superman and Batman. Perhaps it is just the way she’s drawn but Menta gives me the creeps, I wouldn’t be surprised if she turns out to be a Gentry monstrosity in disguise.

Batman and Superman continue their investigation. Superman’s robots must have been spoken because they’ve suddenly gone into bodyguard mode and following Superman around to protect him. Alexis’ apartment contains another of the Transmatter cubes, sent to collect the heroes of the Multiverse to battle the Gentry. Quite how these manifest isn’t yet clear, though it seems that they manifest in the dreams of that universe’s Luthor, in order to send its Superman to the Multiversity. Interesting, then, that it was Bloodwynd we saw in the Hall of Heroes back in Multiversity #1. Superman wonders who else besides Alexis was not on the guest list for Sasha’s party; anyone with a lot of power? Observant readers will have notice that Jakeem Thunder (he of the all-powerful Genie) has not been seen in the book since his ignominious mention on the cover, where it mentions he’d split from…Sasha. Suddenly, Superman is coldcocked by his own robot as Alexis and Jakeem make their entrance. Alexis reveals she was behind the changes to Red Amazo, using it to consolidate the Jakeem’s genie’s control over technology. She reveals she and Jakeem are ‘crashing the party’.

The scene shifts to said party, which once again resembles The Boys, in particular the ‘Herogasm’ arc, though this being DC it’s significantly lighter in the gasm. Lights glare, chairs begin to fall from on high and Arrowette casually mentions that Menta reckons an invasion from another reality is about to start. Sasha couldn’t care less though – she’s got a twitter feed to run and anyway isn’t that what the Superman robots are for? Sasha meditates on the possibility of meeting another version of herself completely oblivious to the ongoing carnage; in a spectacular heel turn, the Superman robots are on the rampage. Some AIs just want to watch the world burn.

Brad

Brad

Consumer. Scribbler. Occasional drunkard. Nice beard, though...
Brad

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