Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Grant Me the Wisdom

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 21st, 2014

The Multiversity #1
“House of Heroes”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Joe Prado
Colors: Nei Ruffino
Letters: Todd Klein
Cover artists: Reis & Prado (regular)/Chris Burnham, Bryan Hitch and Morrison (variants)
Editor: Rickey Purdin
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US

Until I saw a six-page preview of this comic book online last week, I had no idea Grant Morrison’s long-awaited super-hero epic was about to begin publication; I thought it was starting much later in the fall. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to know it was nigh, and I was even moreso after reading the preview. Grant Morrison has a way of writing comics that I don’t fully understand — in some cases, they completely befuddle me (I’m looking at you, The Filth). But that puzzlement never dampened my enjoyment of those comics. In fact, sometimes it made the experience all the more rewarding, because the intellectual exercise of delving into the writer’s meta-textual concepts made me a better reader and demonstrated the versatility and untapped potential in comics storytelling. My hope for The Multiversity was that it would offer a similar experience. That hope was fulfilled. Not only is the adult intellectual comics reader satisfied, but the kid who loved DC’s super-hero books of the 1970s and ’80s is elated as well.

Variant coverVariant coverVariant coverA corrupt influence is worming its way through alternate Earths, taking apart those realities piece by piece as their heroes strive in vain to hold back an unrelenting tide of horror and impossibility. Nix Uotan, the last of the Monitors, detects the malevolent force at work and, accompanied by his quirky monkey sidekick Stubbs, uses his trans-dimensional music ship to travel to the epicentre of the cosmic disturbance. Later, the last surviving hero of a dying world has managed to gather the champions from throughout the multiverse to aid in Nix Uotan’s mission, and led by the Superman of Earth-23, a small band of those heroes set out to discover exactly what’s going on and what they’re up against.

It’s interesting to note that Morrison doesn’t just take the reader to dimensions in which alternate versions of familiar DC characters exist. He also guides us to the worlds of other publishers, notably Marvel and Image. Dino-Cop is pretty clearly a take on the Savage Dragon, and the Thunderer, a thunder god, is just one of many Marvel-based characters in this book. So Earth-7, the world in which Superjudge rescues the Thunderer, takes his place and ends up corrupted, is a thinly veiled Marvel Universe. And by the end of the issue, a key character, representing all the DC Universe has to offer, is completely corrupted and tainted by what was the Marvel Universe. I can’t help but think this is a commentary on the state of the New 52 continuity. With former Marvel editor-in-chief Bob Harras at the helm of DC these days, and such 1990s artists as Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld (who built their reputations at Marvel) being such major influences in the early days of the New 52, Morrison might be suggesting that was a mistake. I’m probably reading too much into it, but just about all of the other DC-based heroes throughout this comic boast a genuinely fun, bright tone, but it’s the Marvel analogues that boast an edge or have decayed.

One of my favorite things about this issue — and Morrison’s writing in the genre in general — is the plethora of rather obscure characters and inventive new spins on established ones. The Monitor satellite scene reminded me so much of the opening of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, and given all of the elements from that classic 1985 limited series, The Multiversity was clearly intended to evoke those memories and comparisons. After all, Morrison is undoing the consolidation that serves the ending and intended goal of Crisis 30 years ago. There were several visuals here that just barely hinted at something cool and fun. The strange Hawkman, chibi Wonder Woman and Steel, and what I’m assuming was some kind of super-hero take on Swamp Thing. I was desperate to learn more about these concepts and others, and I can’t wait to see what Morrison and others artists have in store for us in forthcoming chapters in this story.

The art team of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado has been rising in popularity over the past few years, earning a greater profile thanks to its illustrations for such Geoff Johns-penned comics as Green Lantern, Blackest Night, Aquaman and more recently, Justice League. Their style worked well for those projects, but I’m not so sure it was a good fit for what Morrison is trying to achieve here. So much of the fun in Morrison’s super-hero genre stories stems from the little bits in the background, the throwaway, quick ideas that ignite one’s nostalgia and challenge the intellect. Reis and Prado’s linework is often a bit loose when it comes to background details. For example, in the scene in which the heroes are gathered in a defunct Monitor satellite, Dino-Cop is in a command chair, but because of rough linework and a coloring error, it’s not obviously him. It took me a minute or two to figure out who was using the visor thingie and calling some shots from that perch.

That’s not to say the artists don’t offer some strong visuals throughout this comic as well. I thought the monstrous, immense villains on Earth-7 were appropriately creepy and darkly surreal in their presentation, for example, and their take on Captain Carrot was surprisingly effective, despite his more cartoony appearance being cast aside for a more traditional super-hero genre style look. Another vital visual component in this book is to be found in the lettering, so it’s no wonder the multi-award winner Todd Klein was tapped for this project. He helps Morrison to go beyond the two-dimensional gutters of the comic, to allow the story to explode out of the pages and into the reader’s world. It’s most evidence in the opening scene, and Klein’s lettering allows Morrison to achieve so many different effects, different voices, different ideas.

What struck me as I was reading this landmark comic in DC’s history was just how much history was to be found in it. First of all, I realized Morrison has been planting the seeds for this story for years. There are elements from his Final Crisis book (and the misinterpretations of his intent for that book from Countdown to Final Crisis, penned by others) to be found here, and plenty from Crisis on Infinite Earths. It occurred to me, though, that this could all make for a thoroughly inaccessible comic for new readers. But I don’t think longtime readers will really have much more of an advantage or understanding of this script. Morrison’s work is mind-bending and new and weird. Knowledge of past DC continuity really isn’t important, as the focus here seems to be on building new continuities.

The opening scenes are definitely the most challenging and unconventional of the book. Morrison’s script suggests this story is meant to be seen as a virus or parasite, infecting the reader, invading the real world and making it a part of the expanding continuity the writer is trying to re-establish here. Do I fully understand it? Hell no, not even close. The first few panels make it clear it’s about infestation, about spread, about an itch in the back of the brain. I’m thoroughly intrigued and excited to discover what Morrison has in store. It’s a wonderful mix of unconventional writing and a wholly nostalgic, wonder-inducing celebration of what’s come before in the worlds of super-hero comics. I don’t want to miss a moment or a notion. 7/10

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