Welcome back, gang, for another stab at Grant Morrison's Multiversity. We had a thread about this title once before, but it petered out. Which was fine, until the second issue came out, which just begs for closer examination. So let's begin again.
I'm no expert on Morrison, or his themes/hobby horses (I'll leave that to Feargal). But I am pretty familiar with comics history, so at the very least let me point out the trail markers as Morrison does shout-outs forward, backward and sideways. In other words: annotation, not analysis.(You guys can do the analysis!)
Step one is necessarily the Map of the Multiversity DC released. It's not only a blueprint of the DCU, but also a roadmap of sorts for Multiversity. Here 'tis (click for larger image):
Note, for example, that at dead center of the multiverse is the "House of Heroes," which will be referenced in the first issue.
More significantly, while there are 52 worlds, there is an Earth-0 (Us?), so the count will be from 0-51 -- meaning there's no Earth-52. Further, there are seven worlds denoted by question marks, presumably referring to the missing numbers 14, 24, 25, 27, 28, 46 and 49. Earth-30 has a hammer and sickle on it, Earth-10 has a red X on it, Earth-29 is square (Bizarro World?), Earth-26 has cartoon eyes and there oddities like Earth-19 where it's hard to tell what is meant.
But I'm getting ahead of myself ...
THE MULTIVERSITY #1
We see President Superman, Calvin Ellis of Earth-23, where there's an all-black Justice League, first seen in Final Crisis #7 (2009). We see Captain Carrot of Earth-C (which I imagine will get an official number before this is over), first seen in an insert in New Teen Titans #16 (1982). We also see a Mary Marvel, earth origin unknown, and a red-skinned Green Lantern with horns (Abin Sur of Earth-20).
The camera opens on a city with people running around like bugs, zooming in closer and closer to a woman knocking on a door, closer still to lice in her hair. The omniscient narrator intones about life taking root wherever it can. Morrison often announces his themes with the opening panels, Iike with Anthro in Final Crisis #1, and I don't believe this to be an exception.
A young black male is typing in commentary on the Cosmic Cosmos Forum about a new comic book from DC titled Ultra Comics, which is rumored to be haunted. I don't know if it's significant, but there was a comic book published by Fawcett that ran 14 issues from 1951-53 titled This Magazine Is Haunted.
The man is addressing a stuffed monkey as Mr. Stubbs. Mr. Stubbs was a circus chimpanzee in the 1880 children's book Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with a Circus, which was adapted into the Disney movie Toby Tyler in 1960.
The young man is listening to music (presumably) on earphones; music will play a big role in this series, so that might be important.
The captions in Ultra Comics appear to be warning not just the young black man but also us readers to not read any further. Morrison has often broken the fourth wall, and appears to be doing so here. Mr. Stubbs comes alive (in a pirate outfit) and urges the young black man to change into his alter ego, Nix Uotan, the last of the Monitors, as seen in Morrison's Final Crisis.
Nix Uotan refers to his super alter ego as Superjudge. That's a new reference, unless you count the obscure album by the obscure band Monster Magnet.
The comic book has evidently summoned Nix Uotan to Earth-7, which he travels to in a ship named Ultima Thule. "Ultima Thule" was used in ancient times as a generic reference to someplace far away, generally impossible to get to. By Medieval times "Ultima Thule" was used to denote far Northern lands about which little was known, and at various times was a reference for various far-Northern areas, such as Scandinavia, the Shetlands, even an island in the Baltic Sea. The Thule Society, formed in 1918 in Germany, believed that Thule/Hyperborea was a perfect place in antiquity, possibly Atlantis, far in advance of us technologically, and the birthplace of the Aryan race. (As you can imagine, these Aryan-lovers were tight with the Nazis.) In modern times, Thule is a place in Greenland. Whether Morrison is referencing any of this, or even Conan's Hyperborea, or Aquaman's Atlantis, or Lori Lemaris' Atlantis, or even Arion's Atlantis, isn't clear.
Earth-7 is adjacent to the House of Heroes on the map, immediately to the left.
When Superjudge and Mr. Stubbs arrive on Earth-7, it is in ruins. Dead super-people litter the ruins, although I can't distinguish any of them. The words "We Need Your Help" appear in the air.
The words in the air are apparently a message from an ethereal, vaporized Invisible Woman analog. A fiery face appears to be a transformed Human Torch analog. A stretched-out Mr. Fantastic analog dominates the foreground, while some of the ruins are sentient and moving, apparently all that's left of this planet's version of The Thing.
Superjudge describes Earth-7 as "so badly out of tune, the laws of physics have been disabled." Another reference to music.
We also meet The Thunderer, the Thor analog of this world, likely based on Australian Aborigine myths or folklore, given his dialect. At his feet are various dead super-people that are avatars of both Marvel and DC characters, including Captain America, Superman, Vision, Blue Devil and Wonder Woman. (There are more, but I can't distinguish them, although one of them is possibly Cyclops.)
The chief bad guy appears, announcing he and his kind as The Gentry, who want to remove all hope. Weirdly, he reminds me of the sidekick in Berni Wrightson's Captain Sternn. It's essentially an eyeball with bat wings. That's actually a fairly common image, but I don't know where it comes from.
We see The Thunderer from behind this time, so the figures in the background are clearer. Still can't tell if that's supposed to be a faux-Cyclops or not.
Thunderer mentions "the Rainbow or Worlds," possibly a reference to the Multiversity Map. (He also loses his "Thor" powers -- and his front teeth -- as he reverts to Don Blake an ordinary Aborigine.
Thunderer says "the Pitiless Ones" are from "behind the invisible rainbow" and are "opposite of everything natural." One must assume again that he is referring to the Multiversity Map, and that The Gentry are from beyond its borders.
Nix Uotan references "The Orrery" and the "House of Heroes" from the Map.
We meet the other Gentry: Dame Merciless, Hellmachine, Lord Broken, Demogorgunn and Intellectron. These names are not familiar to me. The latter two are portmanteaus of Demiurge/Gorgon and intellect/electron. There is a demogorgon in mythology, but it's not a significant figure.
The "anti-death equation" is described as something that won't let you die and/or extends the moment of death indefinitely, as opposed to the anti-life equation -- central to Final Crisis -- which removes free will.
We visit Earth-23 and President Superman. On Earth-23 Brainiac is apparently Superman's computer/major domo.
The President's assistant is Courtney. I am unfamiliar with any significant Courtneys in DC history that look like this twentysomething brunette. Courtney Whitmore is a blonde teenager.)
We meet Earth-23's Justice League, whose headquarters resembles the pre-Crisis Justice League's satellite. Members include Steel, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Zatanna, Black Lightning, Batman, Green Lantern, Red Tornado, Vixen and a man in a leather jacket with a half-helmet of gold -- likely Mr. Terrific, but possibly Dr. Fate or Guardian. All are black except possibly Batman, who is probably black, but if he is, he's very light-skinned.
Superman has destroyed a robot of unknown origin and unknown materials that degrades upon contact with real-world physics -- obviously, something from The Gentry's neck of the woods. Wonder Woman suggest they look for its origins "in higher planes and rare geometries, or in the harmony of spheres where endless worlds and voices sing in rhapsody sublime."
This might be a good time to mention that all of this talk of music, musical spheres and harmony has resonance with the ancient theory of "the music of the spheres" as well as the original separation of Earth-One and Earth-Two by vibrations.
For Music of the Spheres I can't do better than Wikipedia:
"Musica universalis (lit. universal music, or music of the spheres) or Harmony of the Spheres is an ancient philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies—the Sun, Moon, and planets—as a form of musica (the Medieval Latinterm for music). This "music" is not usually thought to be literally audible, but a harmonic and/or mathematical and/or religious concept. The idea continued to appeal to thinkers about music until the end of the Renaissance, influencing scholars of many kinds, including humanists.
The Music of the Spheres incorporates the metaphysical principle that mathematical relationships express qualities or "tones" of energy which manifest in numbers, visual angles, shapes and sounds – all connected within a pattern of proportion. Pythagoras first identified that the pitch of a musical note is in proportion to the length of the string that produces it, and that intervals between harmonious sound frequencies form simple numerical ratios. In a theory known as the Harmony of the Spheres, Pythagoras proposed that the Sun, Moon and planets all emit their own unique hum (orbital resonance) based on their orbital revolution, and that the quality of life on Earth reflects the tenor of celestial sounds which are physically imperceptible to the human ear. Subsequently, Plato described astronomy and music as "twinned" studies of sensual recognition: astronomy for the eyes, music for the ears, and both requiring knowledge of numerical proportions.
Meanwhile, the original concept introduced in "Flash of Two Worlds" in Flash #123 (1961) was that each universe vibrated at a slightly different rate, so the Flashes could travel from one world to another by adapting their internal vibration to the universe they wanted to visit.
Morrison appears to be tying the vibrational concept to a literal Music of the Spheres.
On Earth-23, Lex Luthor was trying to access the multiverse with a "Transmatter Symphonic Array" -- which suddenly activates and whisks Superman to ...
... the House of Heroes, "outside of normal time and space -- between universes" at the center of the Multiverse (according to the Map). We learn this and a whole lot more exposition from Captain Carrot, who has also been pulled to the House by a Transmatter "Hutch' as have a host of other heroes, each pulled by a Transmatter machine of some kind, which materialized on their worlds after Thunderer sent out an SOS. Captain Carrot describes the fluid in which the worlds exist as "Bleedspace" that's rotating through the fifth dimension (where Mr. Mxyzptlk lives) around a fixed point of the multiversal Orrery of Worlds."
Addendum: Captain Carrot thinks he has met Superman, but he's thinking of the Superman from Earth-One, whom he met in Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew #1. CC says that all humans look alike to him -- a racial slur on our planet, but here, the reverse: Captain Carrot literally cannot tell the black Superman from the white one. They're all equal in his eyes.
He also refers to the House of Heroes as "a watchtower," which has JLA resonance.
It is also called Valla-Hal, Valhalla sideways.
We meet more heroes snatched up by the SOS. We see (and will later be introduced to) Spore and Dino-Cop (Spawn and Savage Dragon) from Earth-41, Red Racer and Power Torch (Flash and Green Lantern) from Earth-36, Vixen and Bloodwynd (no Earth specified), a Hawkman of unknown origin, Aquawoman of Earth-11 (probably the world of gender swaps we've seen before), Lady Quark and Lord Volt (of Earth-6, first seen in Crisis on Infinite Earths #4, 1986, and subsequently killed, so these may not be the same ones), plus chibi versions of Wonder Woman and Steel.
Incidentally, the Image planet Earth-41 is exactly on the opposite side of the Map as President Superman's Earth-23, which is probably significant, as we'll see next issue.
Superman's Brainiac belt buckle makes contacts with the computer which is ... Harbinger. Or "Harbinger Systems," with a big floating Lyla "Harbinger" Mychaels head. Of course, she's been dead for a long time, and even showed up as a Black Lantern in "Blackest Night." She refers to herself as having been sleeping, but ... oh, who knows? Can't have a Crisis without a Harbinger, I guess.
Harbinger says "Earth-4. Earth-5. Earth-10. Earth-16. Earth-20. Earth-33. The Multiverse needs you!"
However, the team that goes to rescue Nix Uotan are not from those planets, so I don't know what that means.
ADDENDUM: Since Earth-20 needs help in the next issue, maybe those are the six Earths we're going to see imperiled in issues #2-7.
The rescue party will consist of Superman of Earth-23, Thunderer of Earth-7, Red Racer of Earth-36, Aquawoman of Earth-41 and Captain Carrot of Earth-C. (I wonder if Earth-C is Earth-26, the one with the cartoon eyes on the Map? Seems likely.)
We learn that the Ultima Thule is made of "frozen music."
We learn that Red Racer, like Barry Allen, is a comic book fan.
We learn that the adventures of the various heroes appear in other universes as comic books, just like Barry Allen reading about Jay Garrick back in "Flash of Two Worlds."
We learn that Red Racer's civilian name is Ray (Palmer?) and Power-Torch's is Hank (Hall?). Their good-byes are very intimate, and one assumes they are gay. Their world's Superman was named Optiman, and he's dead.
The Justice League on Earth-36 is called Justice 9.
Marvel Comics on Earth-36 are called Major Comics.
Morrison drives home the Music of the Spheres bit.
Red Racer: "-- vibrations! Of course -- the worlds of the Multiverse vibrate together! Separated only by their different pitches."
Thunderer (who has gotten his powers, and his front teeth, back): Fifty-two worlds occupying the same space. All ringing. It's all one big song."
Superman discovers the Ultima Thule is a trans-dimensional yacht powered by sound vibrations. "A musical engine for traveling between universes." He powers the ship by playing music, and selects destination by alter the pitch.
The crew sees a horrible monster in the Bleed between universes. Remember life taking root wherever it can, filling in every niche? I think that's what is happening here -- and possibly with The Gentry as well.
We see Lord Havok (Dr. Doom) facing off against the Future Family (Fantastic Four) on Earth-8. He has the Omni-Gauntlets (Nega-Bands? Infinity Gauntlet?), the Genesis Egg (no idea) and the Lightning-Axe of Wundajin (hammer of Thor) which he claims will give him the Power Eternal (Power Cosmic?).
It should be noted that a Thor analog named Wandjina first appeared in Justice League of America #87 (1971) as part of the Champions of Angor, which included Bluejay (Yellowjacket), Silver Sorceress (Scarlet Witch), Captain Speed (Quicksilver), Bowman (Hawkeye) and Tin Man (Iron Man), all of whom are dead, at least they were.
We meet the Retaliators (Avengers) of Earth-8, which include Wundajin (Thor), Crusader (Captain America), Machinehead (Iron Man), David "Behemoth" Dibble (Bruce David "Hulk" Banner), Bug (Spider-Man) and characters that look suspiciously like Falcon, Captain Marvel, Black Widow and Hawkeye.
The Behemoth isn't just childlike like the Hulk, he's actually a giant, blue, super-strong baby in a diaper (like Baby Huey).
Red Racer is the one who knows the names of their foes, from reading Major Comics (Marvel Comics) and seeing their movies. He also mentions the G-Men (X-Men) and Stuntmaster (probably the Daredevil analog, given that the Stuntmaster was a DD villain, but he rode a motorcycle, so he could be a Ghost Rider analog).
Captain Carrot is governed by cartoon (Tex Avery) physics, which appears to be a super-power of sorts.
Lord Havok cracks open the Genesis Egg, apparently killing him (with the help of "Hawkeye") and the Future Family. He dies saying "I saw their faces," which I'm guessing is a reference to The Gentry.
Nix Uotan is now calling himself "The Judge of Worlds" and has apparently been corrupted by The Gentry.
Once again the captions speak directly to the reader. If nothing else we should assume that the comic book we are reading is telling true events from elsewhere in the multiverse, and that it is, perhaps, haunted.
I agree with Travis. The series has been interesting but it's lacking something. I appreciate the Easter Eggs and the return of the multiple Earths and its myriad of characters but ending each issue with a cliffhanger and starting over in the next chapter is risky. You lose the intensity of the plot
Right now, (and this may change) this is not Morrison's best work.
I tend to agree. As I said, it took me three tries to get through this issue. It seemed to be all exposition.
Wow, nice catches! I wish I still had time to try to do my own annotations. Now, I have to wait to see what people write online and then say, "Oh, yeah. That was awesome in retrospect..."
Philip Portelli said:
Shrinking Violet was "cried out" of Superboy's body in Adventure Comics #350.
In Fantastic Voyage, the three surviving Voyagers escape through the patient's tear duct.
I think it's awesome, too. I KNEW I had read/seen/experienced such a thing several times, but I couldn't remember where or when. Philip came right up with them.
I dunno if this issue should be considered coasting. It had a lot of good ideas. But it seemed to come across in a rather static manner, with almost no action to speak of. Just lots of dialogue, mostly expository. That's actually one of Morrison's flaws in my opinion -- he sometimes forgets to include an engaging story while he's throwing all his clever ideas at us.
Or it could just suffer from Saturday Night Live syndrome: A clever joke that goes on long enough to stop being funny. Maybe after "Wouldn't it be cool to have slacker, hipster superheroes!" he had nothing left to say.
But I agree with you that he pushes envelopes. Just creatively, he's set himself a huge task in Multiversity: He has to build six different, entirely new worlds in six different issues, introduce them, tell his story, and get out. It's like six origin stories, with no issue #2 to take advantage of the set-up. He really hit a home run with issue #2, but more of a single with issue #3.
That's still a heckuva batting average!
Hit the nail on the head here. Perhaps that's why I think he's tremendously overrated.
Captain Comics said:
That's actually one of Morrison's flaws in my opinion -- he sometimes forgets to include an engaging story while he's throwing all his clever ideas at us.
Captain Comics said:
That's actually one of Morrison's flaws in my opinion -- he sometimes forgets to include an engaging story while he's throwing all his clever ideas at us.
That is something I've been saying for years. I don't care about all of his hidden meanings and Easter eggs, when some of the actual stories are garbage.
He had a lot of good ideas in Animal Man then dropped them to have the character talk to him. Maybe he should be an editor and let other writers develop his ideas.
You just picked out one of my favorite events in modern comics: that issue totally worked for me, and I thought it was a great way to end his run on the series. FWIW, when Brian Bolland signed my copy a few years ago, he said that issue was the one that convinced him that Morrison could write. Different strokes and all that.
But he dropped ideas that could have been further developed before getting to that issue.