Always Be Closing: The Multiversity Is Ending
Travis Hedge Coke
So, I just helped Superman beat me up. Or, I read a better part of my potential smacking around an ugly thought that had convinced me that’s all I was. Nazis fought terrorists. A chibi Wonder Woman begged someone to fight. Art shows were held. Comics were read. Zombie armies were called forth. Bills were paid.
SPOILERS FOR EVERYTHING! YOU KNOW YOU WANNA! READ ON!
The Multiversity has been, in words I use too often but am now quoting, “a trip and a half.” Almost literally, since it do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-dos itself through a standard musical progression and sometimes feels full on eight chord blues or a wagnerian falsetto. If when a Superman hears the music of the spheres and glory, they hear John Williams’ theme from the 1978 Superman movie, then Captain Carrot probably hears Kill the Wwwaaaaaaaabiitt. Because the secret of Kill the Wabbit, in all its splendor and riffs, strength, desperation, is that this rabbit don’t die. Captain Carrot knows he’s not going down for that final count.
You can’t kill the multiverse. You can’t even end one multiverse. You can’t even end a story.
And, why are you trying, you weird villain? People live in those stories? Children and old women enjoy them. People like these things.
While David Lynch is trying to fight against our ability to rewind or fast forward, Grant Morrison is explicitly embracing our ability to control time spent with this comic. Multiversity encourages us, sometimes blatantly instructs us to go backwards or forwards, to stop and stare and think, to rush over the pages and not so much think. You can have infinity in a closed space. Right this very minute, people are probably going backwards through or jumping around in Pax Americana or Ultra Comics trying to find a way out, to find the closure that leads to another issue and it is not there. Or, it is, because both of those issues were followed by another comic in the sequence. Pax cannot be followed satisfactorily by Pax Americana #2, but it is followed wonderfully by Thunderworld Adventures. Thunderworld Adventures is the way forward, if there is one, and also the way back.
Morrison has been on a kick about emergent structures for awhile, but he’s making it really naked here, and the ability to take time and rewrite issues is really apparent. Multiversity shines with a confidence and a strength that his reliance on “working it out when it takes shape” does not necessarily have in early Invisibles moving from the standardized Hero’s Journey riff to its later forms, or over the course of the disrupted-more-than-once Batman Inc (both of which I love). The additional pages and re-dialoguing of Final Crisis do not enhance that comic for me.
What does that mean, about me? I’m a Morrison fanboy, but I’m not A Morrison Fanboy®?
What does that mean for us? For you?
Multiversity is going to disappoint some readers. It already has let some folks down, with individual issues, or with the series overall. Especially, it seems, if what you want this comic to be is something other than what Morrison wanted, what DC put together, or what it is.
This is not Secret Invasion or Future’s End or Forever Evil. Nothing is being launched here. There are no ongoing titles to prove its worth as a thing existing. Characters are not “irrevocably” changed forever. A gay speedster or black Superman are not stealing the other spotlights from the to-be-preserved-at-all-costs heterosexuality of Barry Allen or the very very important whiteness of Clark Kent. No Li’l Leaguers or Nazi Batmen were broken in the manufacturing of this story.
If the big measures you’re using here are What Does This Change and How Many Spin-Offs and Followups, then it’s going to fail you.
If you’re down for a comic where the inheritors of a Nazi empire cry and rage, Childe Roland is Batman in Spaceman Armor, and the god of gods might be a big, needy starry-faced king who razes universes because it’s interesting and he’s “world-building,” then you’re gonna be good. That, Multiversity has in spades.
It’s funny, because we tend to talk about Grant Morrison as being divisive, a love it or hate it guy, but he sells big, so he’s not really. He’s a very commercial-friendly writer, at least in terms of superhero comics. And he’s a critical darling if there ever was one. And even his “divisive” works, like The Invisibles, show him making substantial effort to gather and keep (and please) as big an audience as he can.
And, we tend to think of miniseries as launchpads, in terms of superhero universes. Having an ongoing title is a mark of success for a character and having a long run is a mark of accomplishment for talent, so much so that people will manage to dismiss Frank Miller’s contribution to Batman or Jim Steranko’s contribution to comics at large by pointing out Miller has never been on Batman longer than four issues at a time and Steranko has only made a relatively small number of comics over his entire career. Even if you don’t believe that, you may kind of nod your head, because we’re trained to go along with that perspective.
When Grant Morrison stopped writing Batman every month of his life, many fans in comics and too many news outlets responded as if he was leaving superheroes behind him, or leaving comics entirely. It is not the first time. When he stopped writing his lengthy Invisibles and JLA monthly runs at the turn of the century, the word was that he was leaving comics despite a steady stream of miniseries bridging the year or so between those monthly ongoings and taking the reins of X-Men.
Superhero fans have short memories and low thresholds for panic and change. We are a cowardly and superstitious lot.
Back in the actual comics (as opposed to all the stuff we put in the comics?), no one’s flagging for us definitively whether or not Overman is a good man for honoring his dead sister/clone and betraying his team and nation to aid terrorists and ally with a Sivana. No magic author voice is going to tell us that President Hartley died a coward or a hero, or that he ain’t coming back unless you flip back to the pages where he is - super miracle! - alive. When the Big Bad and his “empty left hand” is fully fleshed out in the final issue of Multiversity, as we begin to understand that this is a sequence or a set more than a series, is he as blatantly evil as the superheroes feel? His agents are automatons that look like superheroes and live and die and fight for his pleasure, and he “stress-tests” superheroes and comic book universes, but… well, of course he does.
What do you think we’ve been doing, making and reading and talking comics all our lives?
When we see the “villain,” the cosmic horrors that have been attacking every issue are tiny, mice scurrying around Cinderella with thread and needle making her a birthday present. Birds gathering a cloak for a makeshift prince for Sleeping Beauty to dance with. And the “villain” makes no vile comments no dark threats, he is simply immense and beyond beatable. He wears the body of a superhero who is, we are told, all of us reading these comics, and he says, “I have CONCLUDED my assessment of your strength. I have NOTHING to fear from you.” And, he says his agents are building, slowly, the final chapter of the heroes’ never-ending story. Never-Ending. Story.
We see the Dr Sivanas of all the worlds get their punishments, their ends. But, Sivanas, evil geniuses all (except one, who’s just moody) are only men (well, one is a vampire, and one is a talking snake, and…). Captain Atom is banished. The President is murdered at his own command. Overman ends his own thousand-year reich and commits himself to his own martyrdom or monsterdom. Batman totally dates only psycho criminals because he knows that will bite him on the ass and it’s easier, perhaps, than admitting he loves a screw-up son of Superman with a promising art career and a genetic affliction that will degrade him into novel idiocy.
Things fall apart and men may tear themselves apart. Women may stand tall and halls of justice may shine forever in the Bleed. But these are mortal and comics things. These are pieces of imagination we, as audience and authors all, share with one another. And, so, too, are we. Especially you, because you’re rhetorical and I can’t see you at all.