Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A Look At...The Multiversity Part 4

Nazis and Meta, and Jim Lee, who isn’t a Meta Nazi – ok I’m not certain he isn’t but it’s VERY unlikely he is.

Splendour Falls (The Multiversity: Mastermen)
Before I do the summary, I’ll just point out that the story is considered by some to mimic the story of Der Ring des Nibelungen, an opera by Richard Wagner about the fall of the Norse gods, which actually appears in the story itself as the play Overman is watching. As far as I know this hasn’t been confirmed by Grant Morrison but I think these people are onto something, given the Spiral Theory symbolism and how it was handled in Pax Americana, and how that issue also takes all of its plot cues from Watchmen, I’ll buy him basing the whole issue around an opera that is also in the issue. You imaginary readers can read all about this theory over at GlobeGander’s tumblr .
Quick Summary: On Earth-10 Adolf Hitler’s painful shit is interrupted and he’s brought to see Von Braun’s discovery – the rocket ship carrying an infant Kal-L from Krypton! Hitler is happy, this baby, bulletproof, who can rip steel with his bare hands will be his Ubermench, his Superman, Overman. Seventeen years later and Washington falls to the Nazis and Uncle Sam watches as they burn comic books and destroy the Lincoln Memorial. Sixty years later and Overman dreams of holding his dead cousin/clone Overgirl surrounded by the JLAxis* with Lord Broken looming in the distance. At Overgirl’s memorial the New Riechsmen pay their respects to Jim Lee’s credibility until Uncle Sam and The Human Bomb arrive, Human Bomb destroying the memorial statue and being taken captive. In the Eagles Nest satellite the Reichsmen discuss their new enemy, these are the first villains the team has faced that prove a moral problem as well as physical one – at least to Overman and Underwaterman, Leathering sees no problems, he did nothing wrong, that was his ancestors, Blitzen nearly blows his head off with one of the guns from another universe the terrorists are using then Leatherwing tries to beat more information out of Roy Lincoln but fails, in private Brunhilde accuses Overman of being weak. On Ellis Island Doktor Sivanna reveals the Freedom Fighters he’s engineered for Uncle Sam – Doll Man, Doll Girl, Phantom Lady, Black Condor and The Ray. The Performance of Der Ring des Nibelungen seems like the next logical target for the terrorists, but nothing seems to have happened, but while Overman and Lena travel to the final night of the show all hell breaks loose on the Eagle’s Nest – or rather, The Human Bomb does, and blows Leatherman and Underwaterman away. As Jürgen Olsen narrates how Overman seem to know what was coming, Uncle Sam tells the opera-goers to stick their Siegfried where the sun don’t shine and Overman fails to stop the Eagle’s Nest from falling onto Metropolis, causing massive damage.

Any book that starts with Hitler on the toilet can’t be all bad, it doesn’t matter how long it’s been or how childish the method, mocking Hitler will never stop being funny and will never stop being endearing. I have a couple of criticisms but this is one of the books from the series I enjoy re-reading the most and seems to be one of the most popular in the series. I think maybe that’s just because Uncle Sam is generally considered to be awesome (mostly because he never fails to be so) and hurting Nazis is always acceptable but it might be because it’s one of the easiest in the series to read, lacking most of the flaws that plague Morrison’s work for DC after he started with Batman, you can read about most of them in Part 1 but to summarize: there’s very little confusing elements used in the name of ‘style’.  Jürgen Olsen’s narration, which comes from long after the story in this issue has ended, is very effective in keeping things understandable, counterbalancing the Hinttastic Morrison personality that is currently in charge of our author and getting across the tragedy of the story – and if this really is based on the opera then the more tragic the better. 

Never not funny
My problem with the story is its focus – the main character’s Superman and the narrator’s Jimmy Olsen; on an earth for the heroes of Quality Comics. Fun fact: Superman and Jimmy Olsen were never published by Quality Comics, a lot of characters were* but most of them don’t appear in this book, instead we get a story about Superman from the bloke who was writing Superman at the time, in fact of the six important characters in this book only two of them are Quality characters. Now I praised the inclusiveness of previous books and I like it here too – what better foes for the Freedom Fighters than a Nazi Justice League? – and Sivana is obviously here to link it to the Multiversity plot but I just had hoped that the issue focusing on the Quality Comics earth would focus on the Quality Comics characters, other than The Human Bomb (who’s awesome, but then Roy usually is) the Freedom Fighters show up in no more than two panels each, we never get to see any of them but Phantom Lady in action and that’s in one panel and she’s scaring rich opera fans – most of the New Reichsman weren’t on the Eagles Nest (it seems) so we could have had at least a few panels of Ray, Condor and Phantom Lady squaring off against them, and it would have confirmed which Ratzis survived.

And then there’s Jim Lee. Jim Lee’s still a good artist, this isn’t the best work he’s ever turned in but even sub-standard Jim Lee is still head and shoulders above the best work of a lot of other artists (most of them working for Dynamite) but his design work has just…LINES! Everything must have piping! Tron lines! Stitching! Unnecessary crap! It’s too much, over-detailed. Now I don’t know exactly which characters in this book Lee designed (I’m thinking some may be the work of Mark Hawthorne, who drew them in the Guidebook, a others dating back to Final Crisis like JG Jones or Doug Manke) but I can hazard a guess that Black Condor, Underwaterman, the Ray, Human Bomb and the utterly boring Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern equivalents are all his because they look stupid. The Ray’s the worst, it’s just a typical Lee design but with one bracer and some dirt (the colourist added) to make him look ‘rougher’, he looks like characters I designed when I was 14. I will say that I really like the idea of making each of the Freedom Fighters one of the various minorities the Nazis persecuted, especially making the Black Condor y’know, Black.       

Just to make it perfectly clear, Human Bomb IS a favourite
of mine
Out of his Box! (The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1)
Fuck summarising this in-depth – Ultra Comics is made to defend Earth-33 (our Earth) he goes to some post-apocalyptic Earth that I can’t pinpoint on the Multiverse Map (perhaps it’s not supposed to be on it? having been made up just for this story?), Ultraa’s there, Intellectron turns up, there’s a fight, the end.

I just…I can’t do this book. It’s so dense I can’t even see the bottom let alone reach it. My brain does not work on the metatextual levels that Grant Morrison’s drug-expanded noggin does, I can’t get it around Ultra Comics #1, I don’t think like that, I wish I did, I wish I could think on the higher planes of existentialism Morrison and his most ardent followers can do, I wish I could but I can’t – I get what’s going on, I get what he’s trying to say, I get the concept of Earth-33 (our Earth) using a comic book to stop a threat that’s coming through from comic books, but I find this book impenetrable, I read it and feel like I’m wandering around a town I’ve never been to and everyone else knows exactly where to go. 

So meta.
I can review the bits I usually look at: I like the Red Riding Hood character; she comes across as badass and her design – a mix of post-apocalyptic and Vash the Stampede. I’m not majorly fond of Dough Manke’s art (his name maybe, but not his art) but that’s mostly because he tends to be put on books he’s not that well suited for – like Superman – but he’s pretty perfect for a supposedly haunted comic that includes Super-Cannibal Children and making a classic superhero design (Ultraa) seem creepy without changing a thing about his design. The plot of the book makes sense but the story can get really confusing, though I think a little of that confusing comes from thinking too hard about what you’re reading rather than being the cause of page layouts or scene order or anything like that, if you can’t quite get your head around the meta side of things here (like me) I’ve found you spend so much time to trying to get it that you get confused about what’s going on when really it’s quite straightforward, there’s a lot of terms, made-up pseudoscience and mumbo-jumbo thrown about though and that can lead to some unnecessary confusion, word play’s nice but in a comic this dense and this potentially baffling it just adding problems. Criticizing it beyond that though kind of feels like I’m proving it right – which is kind of infuriating, a post-modern metafictional comic book version of saying ‘by denying it you’re admitting it’ so I won’t, I’ll just move on, which you can totally do because other than showing us the book the heroes and villains have been reading there isn’t much happening in this book that furthers the plot, at least I don’t think so.

Next time: it all ends but it is also... only the beginning

* Some were confused about this dream having the Pre-Flashpoint Nazi JLA rather than this world’s New Reichsmen but we’ll learn later that the Empty Hand and the Gentry are still feeding off of the previous Multiverse, somehow that makes their appearance make sense to me but buggered if I can explain why.  

* Plastic Man, the Blackhawks, Firebrand, Alias the Spider, The Jester, Kid Eternity, Miss America, The Red Bee – all characters established in the Pre-Nu52 DC Universe – as well as characters like Captain Triumph (a big character in the Golden Age mini) and Madame Fatal: how fitting would the story of a cross-dressing masked vigilante be in a world ruled by Nazis? 

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