Saturday 19 September 2015

A Look At...The Multiversity Part 1

Oh god why did I decide to write this?

When you say ‘I’ll have to have a look at that’, that’s what this style or article is: a Look At article (or series of articles) isn’t a review per say it’s far more informal, I read and watch a lot of things per week – I suffer from Depression, suicidal thoughts, paranoia (not always all at the same time) and have a very low threshold for boredom, (I’m full diagnosed, even with the boredom thing, well technically the doctor didn’t diagnose that, his really pissed of secretary did, but she’s almost a doctor right?) so I like to be doing something in an attempt to keep my mind from focussing on all the horrible depressedness swilling around in it, I came up with this idea to give some added bonus purpose to all that watching and reading, you could argue that it’s already serving a purpose (to entertain me and to keep my mind off my mind wanting me to die) and you’re right, but it’s always nice to have an added bonus purpose.  I wanted my first Look At to be something meaningful, one of my favourite stories or series, maybe something TMNT or Sonic the Hedgehog related, it ended up being The Multiversity – there is no significance to this ‘Mega Series’ being the first event, in fact I have no idea why I wrote it, in fact all the way through I was thinking ‘why am I writing this?’ but write it I did. I’m actually a little disappointed because I’m writing this intro after I’ve written the whole series of posts (I often write the intros last, shhh) and I know this isn’t going to be a very positive Look At and that’s not the impression I wanted to give, I’m not a critic, I don’t want to be one, I’m not trying to be Linkara or…that other bloke on Channel Awesome who does comics, I’m not going to be choosing what gets a Look At because it needs slagging off,I’m not even choosing things to Look At that can get me a good post, in fact I think as I’ve just proven I’m not choosing what gets a Look At for any good reason at all half the time, I’m just talking about something I’ve read or watched. ANYway…  

The Multiversity was 2014-2015 Event from DC Comics, one of the few readable things to be put out after the New 52 revamp in 2011, mostly because it wasn’t set on Earth-0. We used to call these ‘Micro-Series’ or ‘fifth week events’ but now they’re known as Mega Series – a set of one-shots with different titles but telling an overall story like a mini-series would, usually bookended by a two-part series usually under the name of the event (all of this is true in the case of the Multiversity) – the new name is presumably because it no longer functions as a fifth week event (filling a hole in the published schedule) and as part of everyone’s  desire to make comics sound as un-comicy as possible in a continued desperate bid for ‘legitimacy’. The whole thing is the brainchild of Grant Morrison – a superstar writer from Scotland who’s written Animal Man, Doom Patrol Volume 2, JLA, New X-Men, All-Star Superman, Batman and Final Crisis amongst many, many others and like many of the superstar writers of old he’s still using the good will he built up in his early years to get away with writing self-indulgent crap whenever he feels the need. He’d been talking about Multiversity since 2009 and it was, for a while, seen as a great lost comic book what could have been but it finally got made and it’s…well it’s not as bad as Finial Crisis.   

Originally DC Comics just published comics on various genres in various anthology series, their superhero strips took place in a shared universe and they teamed up as members of the Justice Society of America. Fawcett Comics had their own line of superhero comics too and they existed in their own shared universe though there was no central team unless you count the Marvel Family (Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel etc). Quality Comics also had their own line of superhero comics that existed in a shared universe, though this was mostly shown by The Spiders Widow, Phantom Lady and Black Raven teaming up sometimes. During the early-to-mid 1940s superhero comics were very popular and these three companies were some of the most successful – along with Fox Features, MLJ (now Archie Comics), Timely Comics (now Marvel Comics) and various others. But as the decade wore on other genres rose in popularity and many of the companies either folded or found niches in other genres (Western, Comedy, Horror, Monsters, Crime etc) with DC only keeping Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Superboy ‘active’ while all their other characters like The Flash, Green Lantern etc being retired. Fawcett and DC were also locked in a long legal battle because DC claimed Captain Marvel (Shazam) was derivative of Superman.
Then came the 1950s and DC decided to reinvent their old hero The Flash, this new Flash was seen reading a comic book starring the old Flash and drew inspiration from it after he got his powers – this started a reversal in the superhero genre’s fortunes and they grew to become the dominant genre in comics they remain today and DC reinvented several old heroes including Hawkman, The Atom, Green Lantern and The Spectre. To keep in-line with the comic book’s appearance in the new Flash’s origin, when it came time to reintroduce the old heroes from the ‘40s it was decided that they lived on another earth in another reality and their reality was the fiction of the then-current DC Comics’ universe, each reality was on a different ‘vibrational frequency’ (allowing the Flash to access it – by vibrating in tune with it – and thus setting up the story) essentially setting up their new ‘multiverse’ to work like stations on a radio. It’s this central concept that The Multiversity is based around – only taken up to 11. The Post 1955 stories were said to take place on Earth-1 and the pre-1955 stories took place on Earth-2, the first story to use this set up was called The Flash of Two Worlds.
Once The Flash of Two Worlds had got out (and gotten a good response) the cat was out of the bag and new earths began popping up whenever the writer felt like it – most notably Earth-3 where the equivalents of the Justice League were villains called the Crime Syndicate of Amerika. When DC bought Quality Comics’ characters (which have actually fallen into the Public Domain) and began publishing Fawcett Comics characters (which they later also bought) they were given Earths of their own too – Earth-X and Earth-S aka Earth-10 and Earth-5 and of course their funny animal superheroes in Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew took place on yet another Earth. By the mid-80’s it was decided this was way too complicated (cos it was) and in 1986 the comic series Crisis on Infinite Earths destroyed the Multiverse and created one single universe and Earth where all their books should now take place, and as part of all this DC folded in the characters who had recently been acquired after the purchase of Charlton Comics (Captain Atom, The Question etc) but not before showing that they also had an Earth in the Multiverse. BUT DC still continued to publish stories not set in this reality (Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), these series would later be branded ‘Elseworlds’ and concept called Hypertime was introduced to explain how they existed while a Multiverse did not and how they could come to interact with the main Earth.
Then, for the anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC published a huge event called Infinite Crisis, one of the effects of that story was that the Multiverse was reborn, and each Earth was then made unique in the event’s follow-up series 52, a comic book Grant Morrison co-wrote. This Multiverse was NOT the same one as before, though several old Earths like Earth 2, 3, 5 and 10 were recreated and it was for this version of the Multiverse (Multiverse-2) that Multiversity was originally planned for. However in 2011 DC revamped its whole universe under the title of the ‘New 52’ completely recreating it’s continuity (in a completely haphazard fashion) and amongst that was a new Earth-2 and later a new Earth-1 (the ‘main’ DC Earth having been called Earth-0 since Infinite Crisis) so thus there was now a third version of the Multiverse. Multiversity was the first series to explore this new Multiverse but its creation is detailed in the 2015 event Convergence, meaning that Multiversity takes place after that story despite being published a year before it (that’s comics for you).

As an additional note the realities/earths that existed prior to Multiveristy but are revealed to exist (often in a new form) in the third Multiverse are: Earth-0 (New 52 version of the main DC Earth); Earth 1 (setting of the Earth 0 series of graphic novels); Earth-2 (setting of the series Earth 2); Earth 3 (new version of Earth 3, first shown in the Forever Evil event); Earth 4 (new version of the home of the Charlton Comics characters, hinted at in Final Crisis); Earth-5 (new version of the home of the Fawcett Comics characters); Earth-6 (setting for the Just Imagine…Stan Lee Creating the DC Universe books); Earth-8 (new version of Angor, which dates back to the 1970s and is based on Marvel Comics’ universe); Earth 9 (setting for the Tangent Comics books of the 1990s); Earth-10 (new version of the home of the Quality Comics characters and the Earth that Overgirl from Final Crisis originated from); Earth-12 (setting for the DC Animated Universe – Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League Unlimited, Batman Beyond etc);  Earth-15 (the earth destroyed by Superman –Prime in Countdown to Final Crisis); Earth-17 (setting of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight and others);  Earth-18 (new version of the setting from Justice Riders); Earth-21 (setting of DC: The New Frontier); Earth-22 (setting of Kingdom Come); Earth-23 (the home of the Black Superman from Final Crisis and Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run); Earth-26 (new version of the home of Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew);  Earth-29 (new version of Bizarro World); Earth-30 (setting of Superman: Red Son); Earth-32 (setting of Batman: In Blackest Knight); Earth-33 (our universe, known as Earth-Prime); Earth-37 (setting of Batman: Thrillkiller); Earth-33 (setting of Superman & Batman: Generations); Earth-43 (setting of the Batman: Red Rain trilogy); Earth-44 (the Metal League appeared in Final Crisis); Earth-47 (new version of the home of Sunshine Superman from Morrison’s run on Animal Man); Earth-48 (new version of the home of Lady Quark from Crisis on Infinite Earths); Earth-50 (home of the Justice Lords from the Justice League cartoon’s story ‘A Better World’) and Earth-51 (new version of the setting of Kamandi).

On that: beyond the essential 7 earths (0, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10 and 33/Prime) every surviving reality it chosen purely on popularity power and in the most cases I agree with the consensus here – if they’d left off any of these universe (except maybe the one based on Generations and the Justice Lords) I’d’ve been pissed off – especially as the New 52 had already taken away the main realities we’d been following for our entire lives, to then cut things like the Kingdom Come or Animated universes out too would have just been taking things as ‘too far’ as possible. BUT there are some universes I would have liked, and would have thought would have survived – there’s no universe for either the Teen Titans or Young Justice TV series, nor for Superfriends and there’s no universe for the Dark Knight Returns books; I suppose you could argue that Teen Titans takes place in the DCAU (though that’s never been clear) but the other three should have been shoe-ins from the start, especially as Young Justice was on TV at the time.  

Anyway with all that out the way, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. 

The Curse of Superman (Action Comics Volume 2 issue 9)
Quick Summary: on Earth-23 Superman defeats Lex Luthor’s Warsuit and finds his Transmatter Cube, as he investigates three people – a woman and two dying men, one named Clark, appear through the cube. The woman tells Superman her tale, Clark came back from travels abroad with tales of using sound and thought to create things from nothing, needing funding to create their Superman they sold out to Overcorp who created Superdoomsday – a violent troubled anti-hero with a dark past with cross-spectrum market appeal. It went on a rampage through universes and is it’s here now.  Superman stands his ground initially but is knocked down, so enter: Luthor, armed with the woman’s K-Blaster and stuffs it into Super Doomsday’s eyes, blasting him and allowing Superman to get his second wind and trap the monster between frequencies in the Transmatter Cube. The Justice League come and take the cube away and asks the woman to stay, her companions having died, he asks her name ‘Lois Lane’ she replies ‘and you must be Superman done right’.

Subtle Grant, subtle; but not wrong as far as I’m concerned Calvin Ellis IS Superman done right, frankly he’s the best version of Superman we’ve ever had. Yes I said that, and I mean it – see Superman has never been ‘cool’, heroic, iconic, awesome, yes but he’s always lacked the ‘cool factor’ that Batman has in spades and most attempts to give him that (like Nolan’s Man of Steel) have been to make him grimmer and grittier – more like the undoubtedly cool Batman – and it’s never worked because it flies in the face of what Superman is, it hasn’t made him cool, just made people think the creators missed the point of Superman. Morrison has figured out how to solve this problem – he’s combined everything that makes Superman Superman with everything that makes  a cool black guy and bam, coolest Superman ever and thus for my money, the best version of Superman ever

The story’s a nice little hint at things to come but all the ‘dark 90’s angsty heroes suck’ theme seems a little hypocritical coming from a book published in the first year of the New 52, which featured the DC characters at their least clean-cut, heroic and iconic ever and was rifle with unnecessary darkness, violence, extreme-super-cool-laughably designed characters, secret organisations, sexism and bullshit.
Morrison’s writing here is far better than it’ll be in Multiversity #1, it’s legible for a start. Despite a bunch of buzzwords here and there it’s easy to follow and not at all confusing, and shows just how much he gets Superman and Luthor, Luthor’s opening lines ‘I’m not racist, it’s everything else about you I hate’ and his fight (and dialogue therein) with Superdoomsday is just…so Luthor. Gene Ha did the art as well and Gene Ha is amazing.

The House of Heroes (The Multiversity issue 1)
Quick-ish summary: on Earth-Prime* Superjudge – the last of the Post-Infinite Crisis Monitors – is about to perform a live review of a supposedly haunted comic from DC Comics (Ultra Comics #1) over the internet (in his secret identity) then reality warps and Superjudge and Mr Stubbs (his pirate chimp sidekick) go to Earth-7 to investigate a distress call*. On Earth-7 they find that reality is out of tune, physics are broken and most that world’s heroes are dead – only Thunderer remains, standing alone against Intellectron. It turns out that the Gentry summoned Superjudge to trap him, he orders Thunderer to escape to the House of Heroes and is then trapped as earth-7’s reality folds down and we meet the Gentry in full – Intellectron, Hellmachine, Dame Merciless, Lord Broken and Demogorgunn. Superjudge then wakes up in his human form in a completely different place in his room because fuck story continuity.
On earth-32 Barak Obama Superman defeats a robot with odd physical properties then attends to a meeting as his AE President Calvin Ellis. Once presidential stuff is over with he attends a Justice League meeting where Steel has investigated in the robot and thinks it’s a probe from another world and it’s drawn to the Transmatter Symphonic Array or Transmatter Cube that this world’s Lex Luthor made. That cube then gets all excited and Superman is teleported to the House of Heroes, where he meets Captain Carrot, who explains the situation: Thunderer sent out an S.O.S and the House responded by bringing heroes from all over the world – Dino-Cop and Spore* being the first. When Superman tries to interface with the House’s A.I. via his Brainiac programme he sets of Harbinger, a computer. Harbinger’s been turned off since before the Mintors were gone so it takes ‘her’ a minute to sort ‘herself’ out then she establishes the threat in the hammiest way possible. Superman decides to take a team to help stop this great threat – himself, Thunderer, Aquawoman, Red Racer and Captain Carrot with Dino-Cop acting as Oracle – Red Racer establishing the ‘one world’s reality is another’s fiction – specifically comics book fiction’ to Supes as they go to the Ultima Thule. Superman figures out how to fly it but because there’s no sound affects it looks like he’s talking about something he isn’t doing , they’re apparently attacked but we don’t see it.
On Earth-8 Lord Havok is using the Omni-Gauntlets and Wandajin’s axe to open the Genesis Egg, then Thunderer punches Wandajin in the face, The American CrUSAder think they’re working with Lord Havok so they attack them (hey, this universe Is based on the Marvel Universe, what do you expect?). Captain Carrot decks The Behemoth because you don’t fuck with cartoon physics then Lord Havok hatches the Genesis Egg, and from it comes The Superjudge, now a member of the Gentry (and just going by his regular name of Nix Uotan). Oh Shit.

I have made this sound a lot more legible than it actually is to read.

Establishing shots Grant, fucking hell man – establishing shots! This is a problem of Morrison’s that showed up in Final Crisis and Batman too, sometimes he will just miss out panels showing an important action happening, have panels arranged in a way that the focus of the conversation or event isn’t focused on or worse, just miss out an establishing shot to tell us where we are, what’s happened or what we’re talking about; this is – I believe – done in the name of not insulting the reader’s intelligence (not everything needs a caption box explaining what we can clearly see) but sometimes, in fact often, it just makes things confusing or causes a break in the flow leaving readers (or at least me) unsure what the fuck is happening, and as this book is already existential, metaphysical and metaphorical cutting down the confusing is the way to go, not ramping it up just with a needless stylistic choice. It’s bad during the shift from Earth-Prime to the Ultima Thule, we don’t see the stuffed monkey turn into Stubbs and we don’t get an establishing shot of either the Ultimate Thule or its interior (I think they move straight to its interior) so if you haven’t read Superman: Beyond 3D – where the Ultima Thule wasn’t even associated with Nix Uotan – you have no idea what Stubbs, a character who seemingly just appeared out of nowhere, is talking about or how they get to Earth-7. But it’s worst when Superman’s team arrive on Earth-8, Havok is talking without any background or indication that he’s standing near anyone, then there’s a flash of light from him breaking Wandajin’s axe, then the next page Thunderer’s out of the Ultimate Thule, punching Wandajin and the Retaliators are there out of nowhere then Lord Havok is fighting the Fantastic Four analogues – we have no idea where anyone is relation to anyone else and everything jumps about and feels like there’s panels missing throughout, it’s badly plotted, written and paced regardless of who’s written or drawn it. There’s a big difference between not stating the obvious and not doing your job properly – your job, gentlemen, being to tell us a story we can follow in the medium of sequential art.

For balance – every major character introduced (or reintroduced) before Earth-8 is awesome and I instantly liked them all. We’ve seen Calvin Ellis Superman before and he was cool, he’ll be cool here.  As for the others, well Dino-Cop mixes The Savage Dragon with dinosaurs and Aquawoman takes everything from Geoff John’s badass post-Blackest Night Aquaman and makes it sexy so they’re both instant successes in my eyes. I don’t like either Captain Carrot or Red Racer’s costumes very much, they’re exactly the sort of modern over-detailed ‘realistic’ superhero costumes I want to see die in a fire but Captain Carrot has always been awesome in an ironic sort of way and now Morrison makes him awesome in every way possible while Red Racer is such a nice bloke you can’t help but like him. Thunderer I was initially pissed off with because I thought he’d replaced Wandajin but then that was found to not be the case so I got over it, his costume isn’t as nice as Aquawoman or Superman’s but better than Captain Carrot and Red Racer’s, it lacks all the annoying ‘realistic’ modern elements but just looks a little bit awkward, as a character though he comes across as a great bloke and a legitimately powerful hero – plus there just ain’t enough Australasian superheroes (let alone Aboriginal ones) so he gets points there too. The Gentry are magnificent, the best kind of Vertigo-esque designs drawn by a bloke who draws gruesome fantastically, a wasted gruesome woman, a sentient house filled with unspeakable horrors (and huge eyes), a space monster with a city on its back, a moving mass of dead bodies and…Intellectron, a flying egg eyeball with bat wings; four metal covers and the logo for the band. Things go downhill a bit once we reach Angor Earth-8, the new Retaliators designs are pretty weak and the Not-Fantastic Four designs aren’t even worth talking about, the exception is the Behemoth – a giant blue monster baby, while pretty childish in concept (the Hulk’s a big baby, all he does is have tantrums, hurr hurr satire) looks fantastic in execution but the rest is pretty poor – especially Lord Havok. ‘The Extremists Vector’ is one of my favourite comic stories (no, really) and I am very protective and very critical when concepts from it are used elsewhere (like that horrible Countdown: Arena) but even unbiased the designs of the Extremists (by Bart Sears, I think?) were fantastic, they were clearly equivalents of Marvel villains without feeling derivative, they didn’t look like alternate costumes for Dr Doom, Dormammu, Sabretooth etc, this new costume for Lord Havok does, it’s crap, it’s uncreative and nowhere near as good as the original, or even the horned version from Countdown, and frankly if you’re not as good as something from Countdown, you are beyond hope.

Oh yeah, Ivan Reis is on art – he’s a good artist, he has a pleasing style – he was great on Blackest Night and he’s very good at the gruesome and horrific while still being able to draw clean, classic superheroes that don’t look in anyway macabre (unlike say, Kelley Jones or Brian Finch) meaning he’s perfect for this story and perfect to draw The Gentry.  He does scrimp on details, especially background details, sometimes which are a problem in a book like this especially with Grant Morrison using this style or writing – really these universe spanning event books should go to the more detail obsessed artist in the George Perez vein. 

But the book’s just fucking confusingly written, in fact I was so disappointed that it carried over all the worst traits of Final Crisis that I was going to just give up on the whole story but I read part 2 anyway and it does get better and more legible (more ‘standard’ I guess) so I stuck with it, I’m glad I did. This issue however is riddled with Grant Morrison’s worst attributes at DC – hinting at things rather than making it clear when hinting doesn’t build atmosphere, isn’t needed for story purposes and is just being done for the sake of it; the confusing plotting and the feeling that panels have been missed out; cock-eyed pacing; having dialogue make matters worse by throwing in made up buzzwords (seriously the whole JLA scene is made 5 times harder to read by having characters talk bollocks rather than a language we can understand); focussing on things that aren’t plot relevant just so the reader has to work out things when working things out isn’t necessary for that part of the story, god it’s like Final Crisis but without all of the familiar elements of Earth-0 to help you along. There’s also just random bits of bad writing – Thunderer knows Nix Uotan’s in the Genesis Egg (how?), we never see the signal for help from Earth-7 come in – and there’s NO FUCKING SOUND EFFECTS. Nothing makes things more confusing, and makes the characters look madder, than no sound effects.    

Next time: We meet some of the new earths, Morrison finally tells a Doc Fate story and I want to have sex with Lex Luthor’s daughter.    

* This is my guess, the Earth isn’t stated but as DC Comics exist here so I’m guessing it’s Earth-33 aka Earth-Prime, the real world as it were.
*it’s all a bit confusing really: Superjudge and Stubbs switch realities and go to the Ultima Thule – which I think is in the House of Heroes in Bleedspace (it’s never said) – to investigate where the ideas for this haunted comic come from as they know that one universe’s comics is another’s reality (that’s never said) – they then go to Earth-7 presumably on this mission but then say they were called to help by an S.O.S. (sent by the Gentry) , as there’s no sound affect (in general) and we’re never shown them receiving this distress call I have no idea, it’s like a page is missing, a common feeling in Morrison’s DC work after he started on Batman.
* DC’s new equivalents of The Savage Dragon and Spawn from Image Comics. 

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