One of the things that appeals to me most about comics is the breadth, depth and scope of their world building. Their longevity far outweighing that of say even the most consistently broadcast of television shows or voluminous of film franchises. I also love continuity. The Multiversity Guidebook is an interstellar example of these oft neglected aspects of comic storytelling.
Since the New 52 relaunch way back in 2012, continuity has been a major bone of contention with regard to various DC properties. Though apparently a continuation that assured the validity of the narrative prior to Flashpoint, elements of the New 52 didn’t marry up with what went before, particularly as the new paradigms of Earth’s 0 and 2 unfolded. Take Batman for example. His decade long career, both in print and in continuity, was reduced on Earth 0 to around about a mere decade. The tenures of the various Robins are becoming invariably brief. Grant’s own work with the character, then being wound up in Batman Incorporated, seemed to conflict with much of what was occurring in a plethora of other Bat-titles. The events of recent memory like 52, RIP, and His death at Darkseid’s hand during Final Crisis are particularly conspicuous in their lack of mention.
Something about this scarred me, and projecting that outward I felt as if Multiversity was going to be one of Grant’s swansongs. Having been years in the works, I often wondered if it was to be published at all. This saddened me because Grant’s work with DC, which makes up a significant majority of his body of work, is a wonder to behold—both on an individual level and of course as part of his hypersigil. He has made Superman more human, and turned Batman into a god. Even at the close of an individual Morrison tale you can’t help but feel there is yet more to come.
Conceived long before the New 52 reboot, thus far Multiversity has seemed to exist somewhat apart from current continuity but deeply enmeshed within Grant’s elaborate hypersigil. All of this changes within the space of a few pages of the Multiversity Guidebook. Rather than being just a mini-encyclopedia, the Guidebook is an encyclopedia of sorts, but framed within some additional narrative. This narrative not only serves as an almost immediate continuation of events found in Thunderworld, feeding back into the story of Multiversity thus far, but also, more importantly, ties into DC’s near one hundred years of narrative.
In my first article I spoke of the idea of Grant’s work and its function as a retroactive enchantment. The Multiversity Guidebook asserts its canonical validity by bestowing validity on some works and reasserting the validity of others. Further cementing this, by feeding back into not only Grant’s work, with obvious references to his Action Comics run, almost every instance of the Multiverse and the work of such icons as Gardner Fox or Jack Kirby for example are present. Komandi, Omac, Darkseid and the New Gods, all of these comprise the interwoven narrative alone. The more “encyclopedic” pages contain the details of Earth 13, with both Etrigan and Klarion as forming members of that world’s dark Justice League. Or should that be Justice League Dark?
With Multiversity serving as sort of appetizer for this summer’s Convergence event, we have references to the recent events of Forever Evil and Earth 2. Add to this references to Flashpoint, Final Crisis, 52, Infinite Crisis, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Justice League of America #21-22, and The Flash #123 and a whole plethora of Elseworld one shots. There are no doubt references to other events, but those listed are the most immediately obvious.
I also spoke in that first article of the Qlippoth and Gnostic ideas of emanation and descent into matter. These themes occur in the Guidebook once more with the appearance of not only the Gentry, but also a corrupted Nix Uotan releasing the scattered remnants of Darkseid’s Godhead. As if the revelation of Darkseid struggling to resurrect after his supposed death in Final Crisis wasn’t enough we have the introduction of the Empty Hand who it seems is to be the ultimate villain of the piece. Unsurprisingly speculation as to that figure’s true identity spread and, continues to, like wildfire.
Above all of this however, we have the New Gods, seemingly powerless to intervene in the Multiverse’s plight and concerned over the presence of multiple fractal reflections of Apokolips’ master. This in some way mirrors events found in Morrison’s Zenith where the denizens of a parallel universe observe events albeit with a certain amount of disdain and reluctance to intervene.
The layered reality trope that forms the core of Multiversity and the sinkhole analogy from Final Crisis is utilized once more, though perfectly exaggerated. As we read, as inhabitants of Earth 33, we are reading a comic about a comic book character situated at center of the Multiverse. They themselves are reading a comic about other comic book characters reading the comics they find littered around a tomb hidden in the depths of creation. Add to this the fact that we are observing gods observing these events, and are also able to perceive an extradimensional attack on an outpost that lies outside conventional time and space. Then remember, that by flicking a few pages, you behold the map of the Multiverse itself and you have a pretty heady concoction indeed.
The Multiversity Guidebook forms a veritable Akashic Record from the entire published history of DC comics. Reading the book sweeps us up in something like an explicit, but brief, transcendental vision or psychedelic trip leaving us giddy and transformed—having something for old readers and new, spawning theories, criticism and discussion within days of publication. More importantly it places Grant firmly back inside DC’s toybox reasserting him as one of the architects of the Multiverse and bringing the Multiversity event, and everything that entails, closer to being part of DC’s current and relevant narrative.
With three issues left in the event things could indeed go either way and, if I’m to be quite honest, this is the first time I think Multiversity, now seeming less self-contained, might not go for the explicitly happy ending I had been so certain of prior to now. I won’t go as far as to say that we could face and balk at the same bleakness many of the event’s protagonists have already faced so far. More perhaps that we might be left on a cliffhanger.