May 2, 2009

My thoughts on Multiversity

So Grant Morrison, who at any point in time is either my third favorite comic writer or my third most hated comic writer, is helming a new DC project called "The Multiversity" (click the link for my source). It focuses on the many parallel earths of the DC Multiverse, and effectively attempts to spin seven of them off into their own ongoing series, and, preferably, their own lines of comics.

I've started a series called The Multiversity, which will pick up a bunch of strands from 52 and Final Crisis. Back when we laid out the return of the Multiverse in 52, I asked if I could establish some of these books as potential ongoing series. We wanted to set up each universe as its own franchise. [...]

So this is my big project for the next year, and I'm working on books for seven different parallel universes. Each one is a first issue with a complete story and series bible. Each one spotlights the major superhero group of a different alternate reality. And they all link together together as a seven-issue story that reimagines the relationship between the DCU and the Multiverse.

Now, I'm a great supporter of this, because, from the moment the multiverse was reintroduced back in the amazing weekly series 52, which Morrison was a part of, I thought that this was a good idea. After all, DC already has two superhero imprints: The DC Universe and the Wildstorm Universe, and each earth was established as a part of the larger multiverse, so why not put out more?

So, like anything Grant Morrison does, this project is hit and miss. Luckily (or, perhaps, unluckily, depending on who is chosen to take over these projects when Morrison is done with them), it's only for an issue.

The overall project seems pretty fifty-fifty to me. I think if Grant can get his editors to rein him in, then yes, this might be well worth it. One thing I don't like about Morrison's treatment of the multiverse is that, while other writers just treat it literally - there are parallel earths with different versions of the characters who can meet each other and we get a good superhero yarn - Morrison treats it as a metafictional literary device, which he then uses to tell stories about superhero stories, instead of stories about superheroes. Now, there's nothing really wrong with that concept. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are known to do the same thing, but unfortunately, Grant Morrison's about as subtle as it is hard to kill a Hammer Brother that's not on a ledge. He can get so wildly into his ideas that he's forgetting he's having a dialogue with the audience, and it turns out the audience he ends up having a dialogue with is that audience who was there for him before the project was even announced.

So, anyway. Seven earths, and two were announced. Of these two, I'm going to say that one is almost definitely a hit, and the other is most definitely a miss. Let's start with the miss.

The Charlton Heroes

The first focuses on the world designated as Earth-4, consisting of superheroes purchased from Charlton Comics back in the early 1980s.

Clockwise from top left: The Question, Captain Atom, Sarge Steel,
the Peacemaker, Blue Beetle, Nightshade, Peacemaker

Although these characters have been folded into the main DC Universe over the years, some with minor changes, some with major changes, I think it's still a good and valid idea to have a version of them be in their separate universe. It accomplishes 1) a nostalgic feeling for longtime collectors, 2) more freedom to tell stories with now-defunct characters, and 3) just flat-out more stories, which is always a good thing in the right hands.

Unfortunately, I don't think it will work for the following reasons. Firstly, Morrison has stated that in this new version, he changes the characters enough so that they're not really recognizable from the nostalgic versions. For example, the Question, with his Ayn Randian philosophy, is now updated so he views the world in terms of Spiral Dynamics. Captain Atom is now Captain Adam, a Dr. Manhattan analogue instead of the other way around.

Which brings me to my next point. The Charlton Heroes are the basis for the Watchmen characters. Look at the picture again. Look at it. You can actually see at least two of the analogues. The Question is Rorschach and the Blue Beetle is Nite Owl. Get it? You see? There are more, but I won't dive into that.

On that matter, Morrison has this to say:

I thought it would be interesting to pick up on that sort of crystalline, self-reflecting storytelling method, so the mad notion I came up with was to do the Charlton characters in a story I'd construct as an update on that ludic Watchmen style - if Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons had pitched the Watchmen now, rooted in a contemporary political landscape but with the actual Charlton characters instead of analogues!

It's been fun to do that kind of style but rethink it and try to play a new version of that 'sound' without copying anything directly. We've got 12-panel grids and pages where you're seeing the events leading to a murder, the murder itself and the investigation all happening simultaneously across the same background. I'm right in the middle of that one, so it's fresh in my mind.
So, for whatever reason, Morrison is going to try the Watchmen techniques with a Watchmen premise using the heroes that Watchmen was originally intended to use. I suppose it's because he wants to do his own take on Watchmen while at the same time knowing those characters were off-limits. Still, I can't help but feel he's really overreaching himself here. Where Moore is cerebral, Morrison is spontaneous, and where Moore really thinks about execution, Morrison just cares about getting his idea on the page.

There's a very different kind of murder mystery at the heart and the whole thing can be read backwards, forwards and sideways.
I have to admit to being intrigued by that pattern - I bought Promethea 32, after all - but there is only one man I really trust to pull off such an experiment and his name isn't Grant "I don't really care about executing this well; I just care that people know I'm a genius" Morrison.

Another factor that gets me really worried about this is that Morrison and Moore are known to have a rivalry, which, in my opinion, stems from the fact that they're both too much alike in terms of ego and intelligence and too different in terms of philosophies. If Morrison is trying to outdo Moore here, there's little doubt he won't succeed. But you will get some Morrison fans as well as some people who probably can't read Watchmen well enough to appreciate it that this single issue Morrison will do of the Charlton/Watchmen characters will get them to rant about how it's "Watchmen done right." I really hope I'm wrong.

With that said, let's go to the one I think will be a hit.

The Power of SHAZAM!

Despite the utter wretch that is Final Crisis, it did give one positive: it gave Captain Marvel some screen time. And some GOOD screen time, too. While, again, there is a Captain Marvel on the main earth, there is also Earth-5, a world based on the old Fawcett Comics Characters, of whom Captain Marvel is the main man. (Basically, think of the main earth as a conglomerate of all the companies that DC purchased over the years, but think of each company as still maintaining a separate office anyway.)

I've already blogged about Captain Marvel in the past, so hurry on over there, read it, and get back to me.

There are two things I find to be necessary for a Captain Marvel story. Though he may never outsell Superman again, he could still be a very viable commodity (well, he still is) with his own line of comics and a range of spin-offs like he used to.

The first is that Captain Marvel needs to be the premiere superhero in his universe. That's just the way his character works; he can't play second banana (which he always will as long as Superman exists in the same universe, for no reason better than DC created Superman and didn't create Captain Marvel). He should be the leader, because that's who he was created to be.

The second is that Captain Marvel does not work as an angst-ridden "mature readers only" character. This is incredibly tough for any writer because of the current market. People want angst and depression and complaints, complaints, complaints. It would take a really dedicated and sincere writer to make Captain Marvel work in this day and age.

So imagine my elation when Grant Morrison not only names Earth-5 as one of his "Multiversity" projects, but also says it will be done in a "more traditional, all-ages All-Star Superman style."

The Earth-5 designation bypasses the first problem, making Captain Marvel the premiere guy in his universe, but to do it in All-Star Superman style is the CORRECT solution here. Regular blog readers know by now how much I love All-Star Superman, and how I believe it's the perfect way to encapsulate what Superman is all about. Furthermore, it's an all-ages story that is whimsical, fantastical, and sets Superman up as a role model for kids and grown-ups alike.

Thinking about it, honestly, many of the stories used in All-Star Superman would have worked well as Captain Marvel stories. So I'm very, very hopeful about this project, and I think it may be the break Captain Marvel finally needs to break out again, at least on a critical "book-you-must-read" level. If Grant stays on one of these book for any length of time, I'm hoping it's this, because the character who outsold Superman in comics' heyday deserves some good treatment, damn it.

Fingers crossed for this project. And for the Charlton/Watchmen project, fingers way, way, way crossed. Good thing I'm double-jointed.