Daniel Gehen: Despite its name, The Multiversity Guidebook is not a typical guidebook – even one for the DC Multiverse. In a recent interview, Morrison stated that he framed The Multiversity – and this issue in particular – like the experience most of us had when we started reading. Publishers make a great deal of effort defining and advertising “jumping on points” to attract new readers, but much of the current readership made the plunge into comics mid-story, filling in the blanks along the way. For me, this is the experience that The Multiversity Guidebook delivers.
We’re thrown into the middle of a frantic battle between the adorable and outmatched Batman of Earth-45 and the various Dr. Sivanas of the Multiverse (and their evil robot lackeys), when another Batman, this one the high-tech version from Earth-42, teleports in to save the day. It’s insanity. The issue goes on to provide a history of the Multiverse, from its birth in the pages of The Flash #123 to its death in Crisis on Infinite Earths and eventual rebirth in Infinite Crisis. Essentially, it’s an info-dump to catch readers up on the story so far.
This brings us to the Guidebook itself, easily the most anticipated (and most marketable) element of this issue. On one hand, some of the disappointment is understandable. Morrison is one of the greatest comic book minds of his generation, if not all time. Given his near limitless creativity, it’s disappointing that so few of the Multiverse’s many Earths are not original creations. He doesn’t even bother to fill in the blanks for seven of the fifty-two! Instead, he opts to pull from the history of DC Comics. With the exception of Watchmen and the former Wildstorm Universe, brings nearly every story dating back to that first issue of Action Comics in 1939 into modern continuity. This ties not only into the overarching theme of Morrison’s DC work – that everything is canon – but also adds to this issue being a microcosm of the comic book reading experience. There is an ever-growing volume of material available, but most it is beholden to the past. And even with the amount of information readily available to today’s readership, there are some things that will continue to elude our understanding.
Expectations drive reactions, no matter how impartial one tries to be. As a result, nearly any book, no matter how widely praised, is destined to be a disappointment. Some are justifiably disappointed in The Multiversity Guidebook, but it is disappointment which I personally don’t share. My expectation was for this installment of The Multiversity to be a continued celebration of DC’s 75-plus year history, which it was. I did not expect was to be reflective on my experience in jumping into the medium.
Jason Sacks: Of course everyone’s reaction to a project like this will reflect their approach going in, as well as their deep knowledge and love of comics history and their tolerance for Morrison accepting the wacky and the weird all juxtaposed next to each other.
I’ve loved just about every bit of Multiversity that I’ve read, but then again this series is really meant for people like me. It’s got callbacks and references throughout to massive sections of DC’s odd and shambolic history, with weaves and wanderings from one idea to the next. Part of what makes this series special is that Morrison respects those weaves and wanderings; heck, he has been responsible for many of those himself. But it also reflects an intriguing take on history and reality, a deeper sort of cosmological approach to the world.
Morrison is doing two slightly contradictory things in Multiversity Handbook. On one hand he’s respecting the loose way that history is created, with multiple and often contradictory cross-current pulling at each other. So he respects the “grim and gritty” creations of the 1990s like Kingdom Come and the Elseworlds comics that turned Batman into a vampire or that explored steampunk versions of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. That’s not to mention all the other worlds that reflect idiosyncratic views of the DCU – Darwyn Cooke’s world where JFK was never assassinated, or a world composed of Jack Kirby creations.
On the other hand, he’s combining worlds, providing justifications and juxtapositions, combining different takes and thereby pulling them together. He’s creating a multiverse of characters in which all creativity is valid on some level, in which universe building is of paramount importance and which combines many different, often contradictory, creative spaces together to create a greater gestalt.
Set in that contact for me, Daniel, the missing seven worlds of the fifty-two are a tantalizing tease. They could be anything from the entire vast history of DC’s creation, or they could be something entirely new. They may be the Amalgam Universe, or the world of Dark Knight Returns, or a world in which Mort Weisinger’s Superman stories (the kinds that had Jimmy Olsen turned into a giant turtle or a robot or something equally inexplicable), or a world composed of a ten-year-old Morrison’s scribbled Justice League stories. The point is, those worlds are tabula rasa. They’re unencumbered, completely open, and welcoming to new ideas or old. Some great alternative universe creation in 2016 might fit well as Earth-49, and some classic world may be Earth-27. They’re blank sheets of paper right now, and that makes them intriguing.
And “intriguing” is the work for this issue for me. So far the mysteries are getting deeper and deeper. Will we get answers to those mysteries? Do we want to get answers?
Ray Sonne: This issue was strange for me not only because I had numerous problems with the new Multiverse, but also because if there’s something I keep on returning to in my reading it’s how I felt while reading Superman Beyond. The connection isn’t random, given that Multiversity is meant to be a prequel of sorts to Final Crisis. Thing is, even though the stories are related, I put too much stock in Multiversity because what I felt when reading the panels where Superman recognizes the reader’s breathing and reaches out his hand was something akin to a spiritual experience.
Needless to say, I am a huge Superman fan. I was before and I am even moreso after reading Superman Beyond. Because The Multiversity Guidebook #1 was so hyped up and supposed to provide structure to the DC “universe”, I had expected to re-experience that feeling somewhere in this issue.
Well, I have no emotional connection to any of the characters present. I haven’t read any Kamandi, although I have planned to for awhile now. I have a dislike of Batman that seems to increase by the year so both Batmans are out. Morrison replaced my favorite universe–the Wildstorm Universe–with some Lex Luthor run place that I’d never read about. I try my best to not be that fan who throws a tantrum whenever something changes in a way they don’t like, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it stung a bit initially.
So, no spiritual experience.
Then I did the math and discovered that 70% of the characters shown in the Multiverse Guidebook were male. This is mostly due to most of them having existed already and historical misogyny, yes, but only Earth-48 out of Morrison’s 13 new worlds has gender equality so he didn’t try very hard either. The implication is that there’s gender imbalance in favor of males in 42 worlds, excluding the Unknown Worlds, the former Perfect Universe, Earth-48, and Earth-11, the gimmicky gender-swap world. Each world provides a sample and the samples show that default in the DC Multiverse is cis male superiority over all other sexes and white people over every other race, assuming that Asian and Hispanic people even exist.
The past is not an excuse, though. Even the older worlds could have been modernized in various ways. There was an active choice to not do this in order to appeal to a limited demographic, which epitomizes DC’s repeated failures to increase their readership.
The sole extraordinary issue of Multiversity is “Pax Americana.” It’s become clear that the rest of the series has nothing to offer me, just like how the grand majority of DC’s books have had nothing to offer me the past year. Thank God there’s always Image Comics.