“Nobody Actually Believes This Comic is Haunted or Cursed, Right?”:

Multiversity #1 and The Past, Present and Future of Grant Morrison’s Grand Narrative

Whenever one reads a Grant Morrison title one ends up contemplating his other works in varying degrees. His separate tenures on a variety of DC titles, alongside his creator owned titles, and even works for other publishers in hindsight, become aspects of one rich tapestry. Although it is essentially heavily tied to DC, Multiversity is certainly no exception. To those fascinated and familiar with his past body of work, the first issue of this event, House of Heroes, serves as not only as the perfect scene setter, but also a textbook example of Morrison’s creative style. As with many of Grant’s headier works, it may alienate some readers jumping on at this point, or reinforce the prejudices of persistent curmudgeons and detractors, but it will hopefully for others be the first of many steps into Morrison’s worldview.

In case you didn’t know already Grant assaults not only the limits of comic book convention but also the narrative fourth wall. (It’s sometimes subtly so. Often it’s safe to presume it barely exists in his works, if at all.) Morrison is therefore no stranger to higher dimensional abstractions and hyper-real deconstruction (and revision), not only in his creativity but also in his personal philosophy and worldview. Thematically rich in themselves, these are but two of the many inspired notions permeating his entire body of work that often cause a reader to investigate Grant further. Generally there are two reasons why a reader ends up contemplating Morrison’s works as a whole. First, being new to him and having not dismissed him entirely, readers are eager to understand him further. Second, there are those familiar with his conventions and motifs, the concept of hypersigils, fiction suits, and what not. These readers are generally keen to see how their current reading material reinforces Grant’s proverbial Indra’s Net [1].

Basing an entire article for a series with only a single issue published thus far may seem tenuous, but taken on its own merit there really is enough in the first issue fit for exploration. I realized early in the drafting process that this article could easily turn into a synopsis or a page by page annotation. I wouldn’t mind writing either but there are far better examples out there [2].

That is not to say we won’t be looking at House of Heroes in some detail, nor will we neglect the wealth of information about the series available to us before the release of House Of Heroes itself, in particular the Multiversity map. The first version of the Multiversity map I saw was in hindsight only the merest fraction of the final form. Found as a splash in the pages normally dedicated to Channel 52 news strip was this.

Immediately I began contemplating this simple tease’s implications. Long term DC readers will of course be familiar with the Rock of Eternity, Orrery of Worlds, and the Bleed. Avid acolytes of Morrison will be tickled to see the inclusion of Wonderworld, as featured in his widely acknowledged JLA run and the world of KWYZ from a story both he and Mark Millar wrote for The Flash.

The week prior to issue #1’s release, a far more detailed Multiversal map was revealed. Much more of the Multiverse was divulged as a cohesive vision of DC’s past and current output emerged. Content from the previously published map remains but bolstered now by a metaphysical expansion of almost Kabbalistic proportion [3]. Unsurprisingly, in an interview for Wired [4], Morrison mentions the equally meticulous mandalas of Paul Laffoley as the inspiration for his and illustrator Rian Hughes’s final work. With this map alone Morrison seems to affirm his stewardship and the validity of every DC property he has ever dabbled in, stretching from Final Crisis‘s Limbo to the realms of the New Gods and The Endless that, like Wonderworld, can found in the aforementioned JLA run. The left side of the map lists a detailed breakdown of the various abstract realms whereas the right lists the various types and purposes of craft used by the Monitors, including the class of ship Final Crisis‘ Ultima Thule belonged to. Comprehensive though this map is there are still areas unknown. Perhaps the nature of these unknown areas will be revealed as the series plays out, or in the forthcoming guide book Grant spoke about in the various interviews he gave around the time of this year’s San Diego Comic Con.

Beyond his ability to instantly create characters and concepts that seem like they’ve been with us forever (examples of which will be found in House of Heroes), if there is one thing Grant is good at, particularly recently, it is this: He knows the darkest depths of the human soul. He takes us on journeys to the sickening pit of hopelessness and ennui and then, just when we are about to give up all hope, he redeems everything and we and the world around us are reborn. His comics are often the shamanic Dark Night of the Soul made pulp. This is a theme most recently explored in his more adult orientated and less mainstream titles The Filth, and Happy. However you will find it in almost any of his works. In his run on Batman, it is a trope played out several times over, most notably in the R.I.P. arc wherein Batman himself is subject to this existential journey into death shortly before he experiences it physically at the hands of Darkseid’s Omega Beams in Final Crisis.

House of Heroes starts in a wholly mundane, and therefore already hopelessly sickening, setting no doubt familiar to many of us: the cold empty harshness of supposed reality, banging at the door of a reader hunched over and engorged by his comic book. The threat of a swarming parasitic obliteration of the imagination alluded to here is the core of the first narrative arc of this issue. Essentially we will follow the last surviving Monitor Nix Uotan as he investigates a threat from beyond the Source Wall itself. Nix was one of the major protagonists of Final Crisis and that tale’s loose ends are undoubtedly some of those Multiversity aims to tie up. Nix’s fall from the ascended state of multiversal Monitor into forgetful flesh echoes the Gnostic theory of the descent of the Soul into matter. Darkseid’s descent into the body of Dan Turpin also illustrates this idea, albeit in a more horrific manner. This idea of the universe as a fractal hologram, and the divine descending into the mundane can be best expressed in the occult aphorism “As above so below”. Unsurprisingly, it is an idea ever present in Morrison’s work, and in a recent article I spoke of comics as the modern version of magical Grimoire. A variation of this idea crops up in the initial pages of House of Heroes.

Nix we learn is in receipt of a comic, Ultra Comics, to be exact which he explains is part of that whole “Multiversity thing”. This comic is rumored to be cursed or haunted. Morrison of course is not only tipping the hat to Lovecraft and his use of forbidden tomes, but also hyping up his own work. One of the books to be released as part of Multiversity is this very book, wherein the denizens of Earth-33 will be drawn into the narrative and help to save the Multiverse. Part of the premise of Multiversity has long been the idea of comics as a means of interdimensional communication, an idea found in Grant’s Flex Mentallo. Haunted or not, there is definitely something strange at play. The cover of Ultra Comics seems to feature a composite figure somewhere between Marvelman [5], Superboy Prime, Mandrakk and Ultraman’s vampiric form from Final Crisis framed by imperative commands straight out of issue #163 of The Flash. I cannot help but wonder if this is some kind of narrative foreshadowing. As Nix reads, Ultra Comic’s pages mirror the pages we are reading and therefore the events surrounding Nix in his room. Thus a link between the reader on Earth-33 and Nix on Earth-0 is established before any in-narrative trans-dimensional shenanigans even begin.

What Nix and his companion Mr. Stubbs eventually discover, having descended into the comic aboard the Ultima Thule to answer an SOS call, echoes the nightmarish visions of Universe B found in The Invisibles. Earth-7 and all its heroes who save one godlike being, the Aboriginal Thor analogue Thunderer, are utterly decimated. Not long after, the architects of this demise reveal themselves as The Gentry.

The Gentry it seems come from outside the known multiverse, itself a very Lovecraftian notion and also evocative of the Kabbalistic Qlippoth, all standard Morrison fare when you remember the Archons of Universe B as found in The Invisibles. However it has already been suggested that The Gentry are also Morrison’s satire of what he sees as the flaws of editorial mandate. Mythological, the Gentry was simply another way of addressing the faerie folk [6]. Historically, in England, the Gentry were a form of hereditary landowners often stereotyped as being entitled, exploitative, and indifferent to those in their stead. Is the cyclopean being with bat wings a critique of DC’s fear of deviation from its gritty ultra-realistic interpretation of a certain vigilante? Perhaps. Grant’s conception of such things is often a form of exorcism and rather than an act of in-surrogacy. Though they may seem to gain the upper hand, The Gentry and their inevitable demise are possibly a final farewell to older notions of conceptualization. Another theory is that The Gentry deliberately alludes to the Lloigor as he conceived them in his Zenith series produced for 2000AD [7]. A cursory comparative glance at the manner in which these extra-dimensional entities work towards their own ascension only lends credence to this speculation but may very well inform Multiversity to some degree.

Whatever their true nature and the reasons behind The Gentry’s creation, like any great shaman, Grant is able to take us to hell and summon demons before us. How interesting, then, that he chose to wear a sweater emblazoned with the word ‘evil’ for his interviews at SDCC. Clever indeed, but what about our plausible redemption? Whereas a reading of Final Crisis informs the narrative thus far, the next part of this issue is heavily informed by Grant’s run on Action Comics as well, in particular issue #9. We leave Nix to whatever fate has in store for him and rejoin President Calvin Ellis, the Superman of Earth-23, who is drawn into our story via the Transmatter Sonic Array designed by his universe’s Lex Luthor.

Another thing Grant excels at (being an incredibly well-read and genuinely massive geek himself) is writing inspired and original works that are essentially love letters to his personal creative influences. I choose the phrase creative over comic, as sometimes Grant infuses his comics with themes found in plays, prose, film, or other places generally outside your usual sphere of comics influence. As I write this article, however, it becomes painfully obvious that, though this issue alone is awash with analogues and homages (both to Morrison’s own work and the works of predecessors and peers), the greatest tip of Grant’s hat, after himself and Final Crisis, is towards the granddaddy of all event comics: Crisis on Infinite Earths. Over the years I have come to believe in the power of synchronicity. That is, I have learnt to indulge a certain degree of apophenia, allowing me to perceive incredibly curious coincidences. Having a title with various nods to COIE, published not long after both the appearance of the Anti-Monitor and the as yet unborn Alexander Luthor Jr in Forever Evil, has me wondering just what the ramifications of The Multiversity will be. Particularly with the thirtieth anniversary of COIE approaching. Grant himself has already stated that, although conceived way before the events of Flashpoint and the New 52 relaunch, Multiversity will take into account the title wide reboot. The guidebook, it seems, will explain this further.

Returning to our story, Ellis, now aboard a satellite reminiscent of the Monitor’s satellite from COIE with its own Harbinger A.I., encounters other heroes from other worlds within the Orrery. Alongside Lord Volt, who also appeared in COIE, these include the previously mentioned Thor analogue Thunderer, an allusion to Savage Dragon in the form of Dino Cop, Aquawoman from the gender reversed Earth-11, a seemingly romantically involved Flash and Green Lantern in the form of Red Racer and Power Torch, and Captain Carrot. Carrot has proven popular with readers, particularly due to the tenacity gifted to him through cartoon physics. This allows him to easily best another Marvel analogue, the Hulk-like Behemoth, later on. What interested me, however, was Calvin’s inability to recall their prior encounter in Final Crisis. A seemingly throwaway bit of dialogue, but does it possibly illustrate that the status quo shifting effects of Flashpoint have touched other universes?

Again we encounter the idea of comics having greater value and purpose than we imagine. Cropping up is that ancient Hermetic aphorism, “As above so below,” when it is discovered one reality’s reality is another world’s fiction. Allusions to quantum theory are dropped once more when the Red Racer contemplates the vibratory nature of the multiverse and its link to music. Again, a seemingly throwaway notion, but this idea, first posited in COIE, ties in not only to theoretical science and chaos magic, but also the way in which Superman defeats Darkseid at the end of Final Crisis.

Another convention of Grant’s work is the idea of the fiction suit. Essentially this is a character that he as a writer and we as readers wear to “descend” and interact with the comic book environment and its denizens. An immediately obvious avatar for us as readers would possibly be Nix Uotan. What I found touching are the moments where the already appealing Captain Carrot echoes Grant’s own sentiments. The Captain’s alter ego turns out to be a comic book writer and a lover of happy endings.

Even though House of Heroes ends in a somewhat bleak cliffhanger that will keep us hooked until the story’s conclusion, those of us familiar with Grant’s work know that to some degree everything is going to be alright. Sure, our assumptions and perceptions might well be radically altered, but that’s half the fun of this and any one of Grant’s other tales. For the reader new to his work, hopefully there is enough in this issue alone to launch them into an exploration of his other works, guided not only by this article, but the others which I cite below.

So what of Multiversity’s effect on Grant’s future work? Well this seems to be a fractal phenomenon in itself. Each time Morrison creates a new artifact that will redefine not only the way we look at certain characters, worlds, or comics themselves, both we and he believe it is his masterpiece [8], the work to end all works. Not only does this work shine through its own merit, but through a sort of retroactive enchantment his entire back catalogue and the work of his major influences, such as Jack Kirby, are refreshed and reinvigorated. However, he who stands still in a forward moving universe moves backwards, and it is in that spirit that Grant will almost certainly find a way to outdo himself once more.

Until the next time that is…

Multiversity #1 is out now with The Society of Super-Heroes following on September 17th. Grant’s (near) entire back catalogue can be found in a variety of trade and, if you’re lucky, original single issue formats from your usual comic outlets both online and offline, as can Crisis On Infinite Earths and any number of the nigh on infinite elements and influences that bubble over in that wonderfully twisted mind of his.

[1] Indras Net is a Buddhist metaphor relating to the interdependence of well everything. A modern expression of this is found in quantum theory whereby to accurately map the position of any component of the universe one would theoretically have to map every other component. Or,  in this case, to truly understand one Morrison comic one must have some grasp of them all.

[2] Morrison related resource hub Deep Space Transmissions have by far the most extensive annotations here.

Which also mentions the annotations found at Comics Alliance.

[3] Compare that which lies beyond the Source Wall, which itself may be comparable with Kether, with the Kabbalistic Ain, Ain Soph and Ain Soph Air for example. Or the mundane reality we find as House of Heroes begins with Malkuth. New Genesis may be comparable with the sphere known as Chesed and Apokolips with Geburah.

[4] Found here.

[5] Marvelman and Grant’s frustrated and ultimately failed attempts to follow on from Alan Moore might well be the beginning of their allegedly fractious relationship. As Grant explains in Sequart’s own Talking With Gods.

[6] Grant is no stranger to dropping in folklore, especially Celtic myth into his modern works. The antagonists of Seven Soldiers of Victory; The Sheeda are named for the Sidhe, otherkin from Scottish and Irish myth.

[7] As postulated here.

[8] He states as much towards the end of the interview found here.

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Hopepunk. Wonderist. Writer. Operating in a paradigm wherein Chaos Magic is the Punk Rock of the Paranormal and Comic Books are our modern Grimoires. A manifestation of Crowley's Aeon of Horus if you will. Dave views his contributing role to Sequart as the opportunity to nurture and hone his craft. All the while celebrating the comic medium and exploring it's interpretation and importance.

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