Published on August 26th, 2014 | by Brad0
A Guide To The Multiversity – Multiversity #1
This week saw the return to the DC multiverse of Grant Morrison, after more than a year since the ending of Batman Incorporated. Previously on Need To Consume we have seen Morrison run wild with his own creations in The Invisibles as well as his work as writer on an established flagship character in Batman. Now we can see a third side to his creativity as he is handed the keys to the toy chest that is the DC multiverse, a place that has some familiarity with readers but remains largely unmapped, waiting for a write of Morrison’s calibre to come and show us the way. His latest project, Multiversity, sees Morrison returning to the grand scale of prior epics Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis, as an unknown threat is preparing to destroy not just the DC Universe, but all the others as well. What great hero can save the multiverse? Would you believe it might just be you?
Over the course of the next several months, we will be publishing an accompaniment to the Multiversity series, providing background, analysis, and our own theories as to what the hell is going on. Where better to start than looking at the Multiverse itself? Fortunately, we have a map.
Working from the inside out, we see that at the heart of the multiverse are;
- The Rock of Eternity – home to the Wizard Shazam, and the source of all magic in the multiverse
- The House of Heroes – the base of operations for the Monitors, extra-dimensional creatures who observe and guard the continuity of the multiverse. It is able to access all the realities of the DC multiverse as it rotates about a fixed point in the fifth dimension. Also named Valla-Hal, or The Multiversity
Outside the House is the Bleed, a higher-dimensional fluid medium which contains and protects the Orrery of Worlds. The Bleed can be used as a source of energy, and access to Bleedspace allows for fast travel over long distances. Within the Bleed is the Orrery of Worlds, the space occupied by the 52 universes of the DC multiverse. Each occupies the same space, separated only by the unique frequencies of their own vibration. The foundation stone which supports the Orrery is Earth-0, the prime DC Earth, home to Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman et al. Some of the other universes we know about are;
- Earth-1, home to the heroes of DC’s line of Earth One graphic novels
- Earth-2, home of the Wonders, Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, Val-Zod et al, as seen in the ongoing Earth 2 comic
- Earth-3, home of the Crime Syndicate of America, most recently seen in Forever Evil
- Earth-11, home of the gender-reversed heroes
- Earth-23, home of Calvin Ellis, President Superman
- Earth-26, where the intelligent anthropomorphised animals live, protected by their greatest heroes, Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew
- Earth-29, home to Superman villain Bizarro
- Earth-30, where Superman’s ship landed in the Soviet Union
- Earth-31, home to Frank Miller’s Goddamn Batman
As the series progresses, we’re set to meet all manner of strange characters from across the other Earths, so we’ll fill those in as we go. On the very edge of the Orrery, you can see Wonder World, home to the gargantuan heroes from Morrison’s JLA storyline Rock of Ages, and Kwyzz, a world plugged directly into the Speed Force, also created by Morrison in his Flash storyline The Human Race.
Surrounding the Bleed and the Orrery is the Speed Force, the source from which the Flash and all other speedsters draw their power. This separates the physical realm of the Orrery from the metaphysical Sphere of the Gods. This plays hosts to four pairs of twin realms;
- Heaven and Hell
o Heaven, home to The Voice, The Spectre, Zauriel et al
o Hell, home to Neron, Azrael, Etrigan et al. Formerly the realm of Lucifer before his retirement in Sandman: Season of Mists
- Skyland and Underworld
o Skyland hosts the classic pantheons of myth; Greek, Egyptian, Mayan, Celts, Oceania, the Divine Bureaucracies of China etc.
o Underworld is their opposite, the domain of Hades. Also known as the Phantom Zone, it holds Krypton’s deadliest criminals, such as Zod, Jax-Ur and Faora-Ul
- Dream and Nightmare
o The realms of the Endless – the personifications of Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium (formerly Delight) from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The boundary between Dream and Nightmare is the boundary between Order and Chaos
- New Genesis and Apokolips
o New Genesis, land of the heroic New Gods, such as Highfather, Orion and the Forever People. The pinnacle of the multiverse
o Apokolips, dominion of Darkseid and the evil gods. Currently at war with Earth-2. The worst place in the multiverse
Beyond the Sphere of the Gods lies the Monitor Sphere, from which the all-powerful Monitors observe the comings and goings of everything within. In Grant Morrison’s vision of the multiverse, the Monitor Sphere is where we, the readers, exist. On the edge of the Monitor Sphere is Limbo, the place where characters go when they’re not being written about. Beyond the Monitor Sphere lies the Source Wall, the boundary beyond which all knowledge exists. Many have tried to breach it, few have succeeded, only one has returned; Kyle Rayner, the White Lantern. Sitting above it all is Destiny of the Endless, as old as the multiverse itself, and only an instant older than his sister, Death. All things have a destiny, and their destiny is her.
As a concept, the DC multiverse has existed since 1961, and Gardner Fox’s seminal Flash of Two Worlds story, in which the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, meets the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen. It’s revealed in this story that both Flashes exist in different parallel universes, and that Jay Garrick’s adventures on Earth-2 are published as comics which inspired a young Barry Allen on Earth-1 (now Earth-0). This paved the way for many crossovers between the Justice League of America, the heroes of the main DC Earth, and the Justice Society of America, the Golden Age heroes of Earth-2. This would last until 1985, and Crisis on Infinite Earths. This would introduce the Monitor, then just a seemingly omniscient, omnipotent being, and his anti-matter counterpart the Anti-Monitor, one of DC’s most legendary villains. Crisis wiped out the old DC multiverse and attempted to simplify things down to a single continuity. This lasted until 2005, when Infinite Crisis, and its sequel 52, re-established the existence of the multiverse, this time with a strict limit of 52 parallel universes. This rebuilt Multiverse came under threat in 2008’s Final Crisis when, due to Darkseid’s death dragging the prime DC Earth into a black hole – and remember, the prime DC Earth is the foundation on which the multiverse stands – the very walls of reality began to break down. Fortunately Superman saved the day by building a machine which could alter reality and wishing for a happy ending. Because Superman is awesome. He had some help though; the new Question, Renee Montoya, traversed the multiverse looking for heroes powerful enough to help Superman and it is here that Morrison started sowing the seeds that would eventually grow into Multiversity. Several of the Super men and woman (and rabbits) the Question brought together are set to return in multiversity. Final Crisis also introduced the idea that there were 52 Monitors, one for each universe, though by the end there is just one, Nix Uotan.
It is with Nix Uotan that we begin our journey into the Multiverse (well, we actually start with the louse on his landlady’s head, you know how it goes) and wouldn’t you know it, he’s reading a comic book. A comic book that happens to contain the first page of the one we’re reading (you know, all that business with the louse). Morrison has always had a penchant for deconstruction and the metafictional – his run on Animal Man saw the title character become aware of his own status as fictional and eventually meeting Morrison himself – but he might be outdoing himself here. Uotan, who is currently in his everyday Joe identity as seen at the climax of Final Crisis, is discussing a comic on a message board. It’s that new haunted comic from DC, part of that Multiversity thing. Using your new comic as the central plot device in itself is a pretty ballsy move if ask me. Uotan decides to investigate this comic further. ‘I have the book in my sights right now’ he assures us ‘My review will be in the form of a live dissection’. I know the feeling. He summons his sidekick Mr. Stubbs, a talking monkey dressed like a pirate, which is doubly strange because mere panels ago Mr. Stubbs can be seen as a mere cuddly toy. Mr. Stubbs suggests that Nix Uotan summons his alter ego Superjudge, so they can investigate further.
As they descend into the book, it warns the reader of the peril to come. ‘Whose voice is this speaking in your head, anyway?’ it asks us, somewhat unnervingly. ‘Continue to read’ it goes on. ‘Do as we tell us’. So we do, and we, like our intrepid duo of the Monitor and the monkey find ourselves is a broken world. Bodies lay dead, buildings lie in ruin and people seems twisted beyond all laws of physics. This is Earth-7, and something has gone terribly wrong. The artwork of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, along with the colouring of Neil Ruffino deserve special praise here. Abstract horrors abound in the hapless Earth-7 and one can only shudder at the notes Morrison must have given his art team for them to create such sights. Uotan and Stubbs find The Thunderer, a sort of Aboriginal Thor, who immediately tells them to flee. For it wasn’t he who summoned them here, it was the monstrous Gentry, a giant floating eyeball/bat thing. If that weren’t repellent enough, it talks to Uotan in text speak. ‘We want yu 2 give up ur dreams’ it tells him. It is also a villain well versed in the sort of egregious bragging beloved of Morrison and his fellow scot, Mark Millar. It’s not enough that these guys are thoroughly evil, they must delight in it in every word. ‘We have crushed his courage and his heart’ it tells us of The Thunderer. ‘His dignity will die and his flesh will follow’. The Gentry then offers Uotan the inevitable choice, abandon The Thunderer to his fate or trade places. True hero that he is, Uotan choices the latter. His final words to The Thunderer are instructions for him to gather the greatest heroes of fifty worlds at the House of Heroes, in the centre of the Orrery. Uotan is then subject to the universe folding around him. The Gentry promises him that ‘There is no release from this moment of ruin’ as Uotan will be eternally resurrected by the Anti-Death Equation (a reference to the Anti-Life Equation, usually central to Darkseid’s plans for dominion over space and time). A carnival of villains are introduced – Dame Merciless, Hellmachine, Lord Broken, Demogorgunn, Intellectron. You almost expect The Gentry to start jabbering about ships flying into the jaws of the nightmare child, but I digress. Not only is Uotan’s fate unspeakably horrible, it is also very abstract. Morrison excels at this sort of thing – you may sort of understand what a character means when they say they can touch the edge of space and time but you can never really fully comprehend it. This notion of the abstract is reinforced when the scene suddenly flashes back to a distinctly un-Superjudge Nix Uotan, reading the comic in his room. Things seems desperate, but as The Gentry commands Uotan to ‘Choose your weapons’ the presence of a Rubik’s Cube may hint towards a more benevolent sort of New God.
Careful examination reveals that Uotan and the reader have switched places – Uotan’s comic is open at the page with comes subsequently, when at the beginning of the book he was reading what we the reader already had. We turn the page and can see the scene in full – we’re now on Earth-23, home of a black Superman who is also President of the USA. This character was first featured as one of the more prominent supermen of many worlds from Final Crisis and he returns with a friendly Braniac in tow, juggling his duties as destroyer of robots with meetings with both his Chiefs of Staff and the JLA. A robot, you say? Bit prosaic for Grant Morrison isn’t it? ‘[It’s made of] unknown materials using weird analogue valve computing systems that degrade in contact with real world physics’ this world’s Steel tells his Commander In Chief. Ah, there we go. Steel goes on to say that the robot is probably a probe from a parallel universe and is drawn to the cube, a gateway to other worlds designed by a drug-addled Lex Luthor (where there’s a Superman, there is always a Luthor). In a trice, Superman-23 vanishes into the portal.
He appears at on the other side in a structure that looks for all the world like the incomplete Death Star and is greeted by Captain Carrot. ‘A real Superman—not just an analog!’ the Captain exclaims. He claims to have met Superman-23 before (and it would appear that in Final Crisis he did) but Supes doesn’t remember him. Possibly this is a result of all that timey-wimey stuff that goes on around these crises, or it could be as Superman suggests Captain Carrot met another version. Carrot concedes this might be true – he finds it very hard to tell humans apart. Carrot himself arrived at this place after being tricked by his nemesis Dr. Hoot. Hoot got the idea from a comic, a comic Carrot had written in his civilian identity. This trope is suddenly getting very familiar! Carrot takes Superman-23 through to meet the gang. Those already in attendance include an Aquawoman, doll like figures in the shape of Wonder Woman and Steel, Bloodwynd (in old DC continuity this was an identity adopted by the Martian Manhunter as well as being an entity in his own right) and, most thrillingly of all, Dino-cop. He tells Superman-23 he was crazy for his comics as a kid.
Mercifully for all concerned, some exposition is finally forthcoming from Harbinger, the station’s AI. She tells the assembled heroes that the corruption of the orrery of worlds is underway and the greatest heroes must gather to stop it. What I loved about this sequence is that Superman-23 assumes the role of leader, the Superman among Supermen. The others clearly look up to him, this role is normally reserved for the Superman of DC Prime so it’s nice to see one of his counterparts shine. One of his fans, Earth-36’s Red Racer, asks Superman to sign a comic book. Carrot interjects at this point ‘I alwasys suspected that one world’s reality is another’s fiction. That’s why I like happy endings[Spoilers]’. He compares them to ‘messages in bottles from neighboring universes’. This is similar to a trick Morrison has used before. In the wonderful All-Star Superman a false newspaper headline announcing Superman’s death is published as a way of sending a warning back through time. Morrison is often at his best playing with ideas of what constitutes reality and it shines through here, even though by and large this section of the book is far more straight forward than the earlier parts. It’s your basic assemble the heroes to save the day fare, but with the added twist that each hero appears as fiction in the world of another. But how does it work, does each world fit within another like Russian dolls, with one world the ultimate reality which contains all other, or is it like ouroboros the snake eating its own tail – Universe A is contain within Universe B, B is contained within C and so on until Universe Z which is contained within Universe A…Regardless, the heroes are determined to make the best of it. Superman-23 leads a small delegation to Earth-7, travelling in Uotan’s ship which is described as being made of frozen music. Red-Racer joins them despite the protestations of his team mate. He believes he is needed because ‘These guys don’t know their DC from their Major Comics!’. Morrison really is laying it on with a trowel at this point.
Even less subtle than Morrison setting a wrecking ball to the fourth wall is the Avenger analogues the heroes meet when they accidentally land on Earth-8. They’re even called the Retaliators. It makes the Garth Ennis series The Boys look like the very model of restraint. According to the list of announced comics for this series Earth-8 won’t feature heavily so this whole episode is probably just Morrison having some fun (and providing sharp relief from the weightier abstract sections), and it’s fun to see a little response from DC to the recent incident in Avengers where Namor the Sub-Mariner destroyed a representation of the DC universe. It also gives Captain Carrot the opportunity to show off his cartoon physics after he is literally squashed flat by Doctor David Dibble, the Behemoth.
As the two teams of heroes stand around arguing, Lord Havok (that’s Doctor Doom in all but name. And even that is pretty close) attempts to hatch something called The Genesis Egg. It does not end well for him. He’s consumed by whatever is contained within, his suffering ended by a timely arrow from Not-Hawkeye. Believing Nix Uotan to be trapped inside, The Thunderer breaks the shell. Uotan is not the man he was, however. Having suffered from what seemed like an eternity, the creature that emerges instead resembles his father Mandrakk, fallen Monitor and Vampire of worlds, the creature behind Final Crisis. When sending The Thunderer off to assemble the heroes, Uotan had said ‘tell them there are things beyond Gods.’ Well in Final Crisis, Mandrakk had shown himself to be beyond Gods, he was the puppeteer behind the entire event and even Darkseid danced at the end of his strings. If Uotan really has become his father’s son it’ll take more than just a handful of Supermen to stop him.
Well, that about wraps her up for Issue One. Having introduced the multiverse, some of the key players and the threat facing existence, each subsequent issue will focus on a particular world, while Issue 8 will act as a bookend to the entire series, much like this one. This first issue has one final trick up its sleeve however. ‘Reader, what have you done?’ reads a panel. ‘They’re in your head! Do as you’re told! Put this book down now!’ You think you’ve just read a comic. Turns out you were the main character.