Holy shitballs, people, it’s finally here. The comic equivalent of Jodorowsky’s Dune, except we actually get to see it: the first issue of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity is now on comic shelves everywhere.
When Morrison first announced the project, the New 52 wasn’t even a gleam in Didio’s eye and Wizard: The Guide to Comics was still being published. It’s an ambitious comic event now eight years in the making, a mini-series that will attempt to map the DC Multiverse and, as Morrison himself has said, define DC comics themselves. Multiversity is one of the most anticipated projects of 2014, and it shows: there’s already been a number of reviews and annotations from people much smarter than me. I’ve been pondering what I wanted to say about the book for the last few days; I’m still not sure I have anything relevant or coherent to add, and at this point, I’m just another voice in the chorus. But a book like this needs to be talked about, deserves to be talked about – it’s a comic of scope, and vision, and faculty. Here are my scattered thoughts on the newest work of one of my favorite creators. I hope like hell this makes sense.
• For a book this complex, it’s surprisingly easy to follow.
It may be because Morrison is playing with a number of ideas and themes that have reverberated through his past work, but I didn’t find Multiversity nearly as impenetrable as I’d feared I might. The multiple realities we travel to are all pretty clearly delineated, and the characters – both the standard alternate reality inversions and the more direct homages – each have a unique voice and demeanor. I still love his President Superman in particular – he reads much like the Supes we all know from Earth 1, but there’s a casual acceptance of power about the character that’s missing from ours. One line in particular struck me – “My dad played a mean piano and I have been known to strum the guitar” – as something A Superman would say, but not OUR Superman. And I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention that Captain Carrot is exactly as fun and upbeat as you would hope, and adds a wonderful bright glow of levity to the story.
There’s also a definite Final Crisis vibe to the whole thing, but I can’t help but feel that’s an intentional callback, and not lazy repetition. The ship made of music and the reference to the vibrational frequencies of reality being like an instrument one can play – if one happens to be Superman – are all very reminiscent of his last earnest but ultimately flawed DC event, but they also play off the comic book physics long ago established in the Flash’s macrocosm. Speaking of….
• I really like the central conceit of the book, even though I feel it’s a bit ham-handed.
The idea that characters interact with and are inspired by the stars of the comics in their world goes all the way back to the first interdimensional crossover, “The Flash of Two Worlds!” from Flash #123, which saw publication in 1961. Morrison has proven himself a continuity archeologist before, when he stitched together the patchwork of Batman’s conflicting and occasionally embarrassing history during his six-year run on the character. He does much the same here, by having all the heroes in the Multiversity be familiar with each other because of those characters’ comic exploits in their home realities. Morrison has traditionally shown a more deft touch at this, however; most of the characters go around nerding out about reading each other’s adventures. It goes so far that there’s even a character, Red Racer – the Flash of Earth-36 – who proclaims himself the “resident comic nerd around here” and more or less forces himself on the pan-reality rescue team because “They NEED a geek for this.” I’m honestly not sure if this is Morrison pandering to the base or if it’s a reaction to Geoff John’s characterization of Superboy Prime back in Infinite Crisis, but I’ll admit, it wasn’t my favorite bit in the issue. Still, I love the idea that comics are, as Captain Carrot so eloquently says, “Messages in BOTTLES from NEIGHBORING UNIVERSES.”
• Ivan Reis is a superstar who needs to be getting way more work and credit than he does.
Reis deserves a lot of the credit for this comic being so readable – Morrison (and I don’t want to turn this into another paragraph about the writer, but this point needs to be made) can be incomprehensible in the wrong artist’s hands. Reis, however, manages to thread the needle of keeping each Earth reality distinct without sacrificing his signature style or attention to detail. I also stand in amazement at how beautiful and distinct each of his characters are on the page, not just in costuming but just and shapes in the panel. A number of high profile artists tend to bunch and amalgamate in crowd scenes, but Reis maintains a coherent character approach throughout the book. He also comes up with some super entertaining, super creepy designs for the villains of the piece – monsters from outside reality, composed of pure evil and malice, intent on destroying existence.
Mention should also be made of his costume design skills, which manage to evoke the classic uniforms without aping them. I am curious as to why Captain Carrot is drawn as a traditional anthropomorphic bunny when the cartoon physics of his universe still apply to him; not to mention what I can only describe as Midget Wonder Woman (whom I believe is supposed to be the kid version of the character from JLA: World Without Grown-Ups, maybe?). But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise phenomenal work of penciling.
• The lettering in this book is, no bullshit, amazing.
The lettering is pulling double duty here – it’s not just telling the story, it’s illustrating it. Whether its captions falling down the page, color-changing dialogue, emphasizing the words of the pan-dimensional monsters or the “super-judge” who stands against them, the lettering in this comic deserves a shout-out.
Multiversty is shaping up to be, on the strength of its first issue at least, another feather in Morrison’s already plumed cap. It is my sincere hope that in 2015 I will start a series of posts entitled the Great Grant Morrison Read/Re-Read, during which I will read and discuss the major works of Morrison chronologically from Zenith on through to the completed Multiversity. If the rest of the series holds up to the quality and scope of this first issue, I am excited to say my re-read will end with a jubilant crescendo.