Grant Morrison, to some, is a pretty acquired taste. His particular brand of comics combines a type of wide-eyed idealism mixed with a surreal otherworldliness. To me, he could almost be considered the pulp version of Neil Gaiman. It doesn’t matter if you discover him through THE INVISIBLES or one of his many projects for DC like ANIMAL MAN. You’ll know almost immediately where you stand on Grant Morrison.
Whether or not you like him, THE MULTIVERSITY #1 (Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis & Nei Rufino) has been consistently hyped by every major news outlet when it finally came down that the series was going to launch. For the uninitiated, THE MULTIVERSITY has been in the works over at the DC offices for more than a few years now. Like the Infinity Egg waiting for our heroes in the pages of this issue, it has been waiting for the right time to hatch.
What is THE MULTIVERSITY? The shortest version of the answer to that question is that it’s more or less CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS but for a new generation, and with a little touch of Grant Morrison’s blend of self-gratifying meta-storytelling. Is it for everyone? Probably not! The thing about stories like THE MULTIVERSITY is that they come in many different flavors. For this particular story, you could read FINAL CRISIS or even 52 for an alternate take on the same concept.
In the same vein, I had been reviewing the video game tie-in comic INFINITE CRISIS: FIGHT FOR THE MULTIVERSE every week for the last few months before finally dropping it. What you can expect from THE MULTIVERSITY is more or less the story that the writers of INFINITE CRISIS wish they were writing. Rather than have an ersatz Justice League, we’re going to get a universe-sprawling story covering many different groups and characters. In a way this series could kind of set to be the most exhausting story to read out of anything DC has published in The New 52. Is it going to be a good exhaustion, that leaves us wanting more? For that, we’ll have to wait and see.
More than most, I’m probably the writer here at DCN that’s the least impressed by DC’s efforts to have a ‘house style,’ because it’s completely killed the visual fidelity of the many different stories’ being published every month. THE MULTIVERSITY almost seems like it takes a shot at that idea- while also probably being the best looking ‘house-style’ story the company itself has published in awhile. Issue one is our framing story – not just in the sense of the story itself but also the themes we’ll be dealing with as we go hopping world to world.
What’s the theme of THE MULTIVERSITY? I’m pretty sure it’s “apartments.” As in, the DC universe is a house and the The Gentry are the metaphorical landlords, going door to door expecting their tenants to pay up. It’s a small part of this issue here, but by the final pages you see how it reinforces the entire theme of the story by the end. It’s someone at DC doing a meta-narrative only the person writing it here didn’t learn what “meta” was from TV Tropes.
As our issue #1 is merely a framing story, I think the most interesting hook being featured in the pages of THE MULTIVERSITY is how the series afterwards – very much being considered a separate series of their own one shots, are going to tie themselves together with that theme. Next month we get Doctor Fate as the 1920’s pulp inspired, gun-slingin’ Doc Fate. Are we going to just go earth-to-earth, seeing a series of different realities only to find out they were somehow connected in the climax of the event – or will each issue be peppered with the kind of referential storytelling Morrison excels at?
MULTIVERSITY #1 has colors by Nei Rufino, who’s been doing interiors and covers over at Zenimax for years now. I often talk about art in my reviews, but not as often do I give time to talk about good color work. The thing that makes THE MULTIVERSITY have such an affected look is primarily do to strong colors all throughout. It looks ‘crisp’ and there’s none of the heavy shadows other books rely on to make detail pop.
Especially of note in the art department is that there’s really good layout use here. Usually the pages are tight and cramped – lots of panels, lots of word balloons. Anytime a something massive happens though, the pages significantly widen so we can see all of it. It’s no less valid a form of storytelling or panel use, but it works most effectively in such a cramped book. You get caught up in the little details only for the story to zoom out and show you a poster-sized shot of what’s happening. If anything, it adds to how cramped and exhausting this issue is.
Yes, cramped. There’s really no other way this story could be pulled off other than absolutely stuffed to the brim. Not just with stuff happening on every page, but characters and plot points being dropped almost every sentence. In the space our protagonists will use as their base, we see shout outs to DC characters old and new, and even a quick reference to 90’s era Image. There are hooks for future stories in every nook and cranny of what is going on here. Clocking in at around 40 pages this is an issue you have to really sit down to read. Maybe with some coffee if you bought it on your morning commute to work.
THE MULTIVERSITY has been called a love letter to everything DC is about, but more than that, it’s kind of Morrison’s send up of everything going on in comics right now – for better or for worse. Every world visited is in the middle of a massive event that would be pushing sales if they were in their own series, and there’s tons of meta-commentary on the direction of comics as a whole. I’m sure there will be more of that in the issues written by Morrison himself, but THE MULTIVERSITY almost reads like a slightly sardonic take on event comics.
Speaking of moving forward, THE MULTIVERSITY is like a first-class seat on a bullet train through the world of comics. Every page in this story is 100% critical to the narrative unfolding, and it shuttles you through plot points at such a breakneck speed that by the time you reach the back cover you’re going to be turning it over so you can read it again.
Grant Morrison books for me are always hard to talk about and bring up any strong points against. He’s got a very particular style of writing and crafting stories. If you’re not a fan of Morrison, THE MULTIVERSITY #1 isn’t going to do anything to endear you to him.If you ARE a fan of Morrison, then you’re going to be very quickly reminded of the things you like about him. Nobody does these kinds of stories quite like Morrison does, and that’s the double-edged sword he wields.
For me? Sometimes he stretches so far, fills his stories with so much symbolism, I think there’s kind of a loss of perspective on how comic book storytelling has evolved. There’s no doubt that ANIMAL MAN was one of the seminal runs on the character, but I think there are a lot of times when Morrison lends his touch to a storyline that it can kind of feel like he’s trying to re-bottle that magic. You can see it grace almost every page of this comic – everything feels like it’s reaching to be part of some deeper symbolism or statement on comic books.
I’m worried that after forty more pages of this framing story, the good exhaustion that came after reading this first issue is going to be the bad kind that leaves me wanting to wash my mouth out with HAWKEYE or something. There’s a lot of ground to cover here – and it’s going to be spectacularly disappointing if the conclusion it comes to is that Grant Morrison still really likes superheroes.
If there’s something this issue’s hop to the world of Major Comics- aka Marvel Comics- makes me appreciate about these sorts of stories, it’s that off-company versions of other companies superheroes always pale in comparison in terms of design to the real deal. THE MULTIVERSITY has a lot of talent involved- give me some character designs for these worlds that look more professional than what can be found on DeviantArt.
Bottom line? THE MULTIVERSITY #1 is a framed snippet of comic book art hanging on your roommate’s wall. It’s a conversation piece, and something that tells anyone who sees it the kind of taste the person who owns it has in comic books. Other than that though, THE MULTIVERSITY as a collection of stories is going to be a ride through antiquated forms of superhero storytelling. Maybe we’ll see why we moved past the ones that will be featured, and maybe we’ll see ideas worth revisiting.