The Multiversity #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado and Nei Ruffino
Lettering by Todd Klein
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
"My review will be in the form of a live dissection."
I am Nix Uotan. Or perhaps Nix Uotan is me.
Don't worry, I haven't fallen too deeply into my job. Or this comic. But it's important to see what Grant Morrison is trying to do with the first issue of his sweeping epic The Multiversity, which aims to do to DC's multiverse what Seven Soldiers did to the Z-listers of the DCU. Long-gestating in development, this series feels like a return to form for one of the most popular and imaginative - and, in recent years, most frustrating and obtuse - writers in the DC pantheon. This is Morrison's Multiverse, and you're not just living in it - you're helping save the day.
"Whose voice is speaking in your head anyway? Yours? Ours?"
I am Nix Uotan. And so are you.
Last seen in 2008's Final Crisis, Uotan the Monitor reads as almost a complete opposite of another of that series' villains, Superboy-Prime. Whereas Geoff Johns's Superboy-Prime portrayed comic book fans at their worst, as basement-dwelling, Internet-abusing supervillains raging against the comic book status quo, Grant Morrison has a very different take on you and me in The Multiversity. Nix Uotan - the Superjudge - is more like the superfanboy. An artist toiling for work by day, Uotan really is an explorer of imaginary universes, seeking to master the rules of the medium in order to better understand them. Reading this comic in advance, just as Nix does - the perks of being a reviewer - drives the point home, as Morrison's fanboy avatar is a heroic figure, a lone symbol of hope challenging an increasingly claustrophobic medium that seems like it's literally and metaphorically surrendering itself into the darkness.
And then Nix goes away. Will he manage to maintain that positive spirit? Or will eons of pain and disillusion turn him into an embodiment of wrath? Keep reading. Do as you're told. Read the review. Because this is where Morrison's story begins to heat up.
"The hour has come to summon the greatest heroes of fifty-two worlds!"
It's important to note that this series has been in development for years - at least since 2009. It ties greatly into Morrison's often-maligned Final Crisis - a series that absolutely reads better and more coherently as a trade collection rather than a massively delayed series of multiple monthlies. But what's great about this series is that because it goes back so many years is that it taps into Morrison's gift for big ideas without tying into his later penchant for setting up mysteries that have no reasonable solution. Sure, Morrison's dialogue may be flowery as ever, as he harkens back to heady concepts from his earlier books like "one world's reality is another world's fiction," not to mention writes captions that speak directly to you as the reader - but this is actually a pretty simple concept: Nix Uotan has been captured. It's up to a collection of alt-universe DC heroes to get him out.
Morrison's cast is diverse and energetic, bravely embracing the weirdness of Captain Carrot, Dino-Cop and a fanboy Flash alongside a female version of Aquaman, a computer version of Harbinger, and a charismatic black president who happens to also be Superman. Using the conceit of the Multiverse gives Morrison endless room to draft new heroes and establish new foes - in one particularly cheeky twist, he even pits our heroes against Lord Havok and the Retaliators, which continuity snobs like myself will recognize as alt-universe pastiches of Doctor Doom and the Avengers. (It also lets Morrison spin up a delightfully goofy sequence featuring Captain Carrot, who I think along with President Superman will steal the show of The Multiversity.) By using archetypical shorthand almost every comic book fan will recognize, Morrison ratchets up the stakes quickly, and is able to give us something that's both familiar and different - that holy grail of superhero serialized storytelling.
"We're outside normal time and space--between universes. What kind of power could achieve that?"
Having Ivan Reis on the art for this book is the definition of a smart call. Even with Jim Lee and Greg Capullo's resurgence in the New 52, Reis has been pretty much the platonic ideal when it comes to DC Comics. His characters always look clean-cut and iconic, and even if Morrison's verbiage can sometimes threaten to overwhelm his panels, Reis does a heroic job in packing six-, seven-, even eight-panel pages without diminishing in quality - his pages may strain to hold it all in, but hold they do, as it feels like there's even more story than this comic's 40 pages can hope to pack in. (His page economy also looks great digitally - if you're looking for a comic to read on your smartphone during the commute home, this makes for a nice, long, dense read.) With colorist Nei Ruffino lending a wonderful amount of weight and energy to the pages, Reis's character designs look superb, as he channels the serenity and confidence in President Superman's face, as well as balances the cartoony charm and over-the-top musculature of Captain Carrot.
But just because this book is sweeping and ambitious - and by all accounts, a marked improvement for Morrison - doesn't mean it's untouchable. First and foremost, this book is not geared for casual readers, but for the Nix Uotans who live for minutae and are well-versed with Morrison's narrative tics. One line in particular really took me out of the story - a line in which the Thunderer meets President Superman and asks, "Superman, right? And you're a blackfella?" - made me wonder where the editors were, because while it was unclear what kind of dialect Thunderer was supposed to have, it came off as tonedeaf and possibly inappropriate. Additionally, Reis's character designs faltered a bit when it came to the Retaliators - if you're working on a multiverse of heroes, why not make all of them look as striking and powerful as possible?
"They need a geek for this. These guys don't know their DC from their Major Comics."
I am Nix Uotan. I dissect comics for a living. I do it because I enjoy it. I do it because I care. I do it because I want to promote change in my favorite medium for the better. But it's rare for a comic to be so self-aware of the process. The experimental trappings and big ideas make the first issue of The Multiversity a dense, heady but ultimately rewarding read, as Morrison puts his own unique spin on the pillars of the DC multiverse. It's engaging and surprisingly optimistic, almost a time capsule of a legendary writer during the peak of his career, juggling flagship books and event comics all while percolating a series of stories that could capitalize on his philosophies of imagination, fiction and magic while also incorporating to-the-point superhero slugfests. The Multiversity is that dream realized. This could all fall apart next month - it could be literary evil or narrative banality might win the day. But for now, the greatest heroes of the DC universe are being called to the front lines. And they're asking for you.
So listen to the words on this page. Read this book. The fate of The Multiversity may be in your hands.