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Review | A crisis of infinite Multiverse stories

by  in Comic News Comment
Review | A crisis of infinite Multiverse stories

I hope it was by design that DC Comics released both The Multiversity #2 and Justice League #40 on the same day the two-month Convergence event reached its halfway point. However, it’s difficult to identify a plan in the publisher devoting the bulk of its output for the final week of April to three unrelated stories about the Multiverse. DC released 18 comics this week, and, of those, just five had nothing to do with its Multiverse.

If you haven’t been reading any of those titles — and if you haven’t, I’m afraid you’re not going to find this review terribly engaging — here’s a quick reminder of what’s going on in those three stories about the Multiverse:

1.) The Multiversity is Grant Morrison’s grand final statement on The Multiverse, a two-part bookend series with eight standalone but related one-shots, each drawn by a different top artists in between them, dealing with an invasion of the 52 parallel Earths that make up reality by a mind-boggling force of pure evil from beyond.

2.) Convergence is the publisher’s line-wide event consisting of an eight-issue weekly series, and a bunch of two-issue miniseries set in various geographical locations within four different time-periods. The premise is that Brainiac has collected cities from doomed timelines just before past crises rejiggered continuity, and he put them on a sentient planet that is now making them fight for survival.

3.) And in this week’s Justice League, written by Geoff Johns, we get a dense preview of what’s to come in “The Darkseid War,” a storyline he’s been building to in the pages of Justice League since Flashpoint, apparently. Darkseid’s opponent? The Anti-Monitor, the villain of the original Multiverse-rebooting event, Crisis on Infinite Earths.

It was beyond strange reading all of these comics back to back back on the same afternoon, and seeing characters like the Justice Riders, shown dead in the pages of various Convergence comics, alive and well and riding robot horses in the pages of The Multiversity. And then, at the end of Morrison’s thesis on the nature of the Multiverse, comics, readers and the relationship between the three, to start in on the new issue of Justice League only to see it’s going to be another story about the same topic, a sequence from it repeating the same history of crises — COIE, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, Flashpoint — that Morrison summarized in The Multiversity: Guidebook #1.

But let’s look at this week’s chapters — which, intentionally or not, include the ending of one story, the middle of another and the start of another still — in turn, and try our best to assess them as individual comics stories, rather than part of a trend or obsession.

While The Multiversity #2 is indeed the end of Morrison’s massive storyline, it feels like the Guidebook may have actually been the climax of the event, as it rationalized and crystallized his idea of comic books as individual worlds within worlds, accessible to visitors (which, as I mentioned in my review of that issue, goes all the way back to the birth DC’s Silver Age, when Barry Allen decided to name himself “The Flash” after the superhero Jay Garrick, who appeared in a comic book called The Flash … a character first he and then all of his friends would visit before too long inside the world of those comics).

Here we see perfectly symmetrical conclusion to the events of The Multiversity #1, as Nix Uotan, the last Monitor and the Super-Judge, springs the trap he set for The Gentry in their duel for reality. He chose as his weapon comic books, and bet that an infinite army of superheroes would be enough to triumph over even The Gentry’s impossible forces.

And so DC heroes from some 50 worlds team with the Avengers, The Ultimates and Savage Dragon (of all characters) to save the day through a mixture of violence, optimism, meta-genre criticism and the home-court advantage that comes with belonging to a serial medium (this will probably read great in trade, but because so much in-story was made of the comic books themselves, I’m pretty sure it’s going to lose a lot of impact when read that way).

Before the story finishes, Morrison introduces what looks like a pitch for a sequel or an ongoing series, a Multiversal super-team with the unlikely name of “Operation Justice Incarnate,” which it’s hard to imagine actually appearing again (Morrison ideas tend not to work for very long in the hands, for whatever reason); he gives readers a rather dire warning to be careful what they read; and, perhaps in an attempt to truly make the Multiverse infinite (a word used in dialogue), the villain attached to The Empty Hand mentions “Multiverse-2.”

Is he referring to the previous iterations of the Multiverse (pre-Crisis and pre-Flashpoint), and using the “2” to as version designation, like “2.0”? Or is that designate to parallel those given to the Earths, so that just as there are numbered Earths within this Multiverse, there are numbered Multiverses?

Meanwhile, in Convergence, the fourth issue of the main series (written by newcomer to DC Jeff King, but surely with editorial input as to what’s meant to be accomplished with in) has the heroes of the post-Flashpoint Earth-2 continuing to struggle with and against heroes and villains from The Warlord, with a mess of time-traveling characters being the apparent prize.

The time period covered this month is pre-Crisis, which means the original worlds of the original Multiverse: Earth-2, Earth-3, Earth-4, Earth-S and Earth-X. That alone helps this week seem like the least frustrating, as it frees the writers from having to explain why certain characters are in certain cities they wouldn’t normally be in, but the writers still have to wrestle with the constraints of the crossover series. You know, explaining the domes and the loss of powers, explaining what the characters have been up to for the past year, repeating the call to battle that has appeared in every single one of these things, and setting up a conflict with characters from a different reality.

As a group, these 10 were probably the strongest week’s offering to date, and have featured some of the best artwork so far, including Denys Cowan and Bill Siekiewicz on Detective Comics, Evan Shaner on Shazam, John McCrea on Plastic Man and The Freedom Fighters and Ben Caldwell on Infinity Inc.

And finally, there’s Justice League #40, written by Geoff Johns, the most influential writer at DC (and its chief creative officer), who has been responsible for writing half of the crises covered in this issue. This issue reminded me quite a bit of Brian Michael Bendis’ work at Marvel, as there are some incredibly wordy panels and pages in which Metron talks directly to the reader in narration boxes to dump information on us; there’s an all-star artistic lineup attached, drawing different parts of the story, some of which are set in different eras of publisher history; and, finally, the conclusion echoes that of Bendis’ ongoing “time is broken” plotline from the end of Age of Ultron.

Here it’s not time itself that’s broken, but the Multiverse, although the reason is the same: too many stories abusing it. As Metron explains, Earths are constantly being destroyed, re-formed and destroyed again, and at an accelerating rate. But this has happened so many times now that he fears the next Crisis will be the one that breaks the Multiverse once and for all, so he’s desperately trying to convince The Anti-Monitor not to go through with his task of destroying universes … particularly since the DCU was “once again reborn” following the events of Flashpoint, “but it has yet to solidify.”

It’s an intriguing premise, really, and one that, like Morrison’s, retroactively justifies a lot of the previous crises, but it’s also somewhat at odds with Morrison’s conception of the Multiverse (which, again, was just laid out in a story that concluded this very week). More interesting still is the book’s apparent dismissal of Convergence.

During a conversation between Metron and The Anti-Monitor, the latter assures the former that, ultimately, “Brainiac will do nothing” and that “he will find nothing.” The events of Convergence, the character says, are merely Brainiac’s futile attempt at voyeurism.

Does that mean we should skip the second half of the event then?

Between the three storylines and the the 13 books they’re spread across this week, that’s a lot of talk of the Multiverse for a single evening’s reading. For all their individual pleasures, it’s certainly enough to burn a superhero fan out on talk of multiple realities colliding and coming into conflict with one another before ultimately reshaping the shared-universe setting.

Maybe I should check out some Marvel comics instead next month. I hear they’ve got a huge, line-wide event going on too. What’s the premise of that again …?

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