Well. Here we are. The penultimate issue of the Multiversity event. If we are to take anything away from this issue it is the realization that, contrary to my initial impressions and predictions, the greater narrative of the series probably isn’t going to have too much of a happy ending. As the series has progressed Morrison has shown us a variety of worlds under threat from an equally diverse assortment of evils. From The Gentry and evil counterparts from another world, through the Sivanas of the Multiverse and Darkseid himself to the still mysterious Empty Hand and back to The Gentry again. In hindsight I’m surprised it has taken me this long to realize just how the series would play out. Sadly, a combination of the naive belief that Morrison would follow the same narrative formula he has done on various prior occasions, mixed with a reading of the text that was confused by my own vague notions and theories, left me feeling Multiversity would end well.
With the Multiversity series and, in particular, Ultra Comics, Morrison takes many of the theories he has related to the enduring appeal of the concept of the superhero and the comics medium but uses them to nefarious ends. Grant appears now less like the signpost guiding us through the abyss, and more like the Zen Rōshi displaying ‘grandmotherly kindness’ by beating us around the head each time we ask what enlightenment is. In Ultra Comics, he explores the idea of the comic book hero as an enduring sigil or thoughtform, that is a being powered by the very act of reading and the hope and faith we place in them. Whereas before, in such works as Flex Mentallo, All Star Superman, and Final Crisis:Superman Beyond, we see the hero overcome adversity and therefore restore our hope in them, ourselves, and the medium. In Ultra Comics, the opposite occurs. On the face of it, Ultra fails and evil triumphs no matter how many times we read the text. As Intellectron tells us, we are trapped as much as Ultra is.
Or so The Gentry and perhaps their Oblivion Machine, or their Anti-Death Equation, would have us believe. These are not just fancy zany names for concepts; one could argue we’ve seen them in action. In Ultra Comics we are seeing them in action. These, alongside the resurrecting power of the Empty Hand, can be read as maladaptive forms of Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence. Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence as I interpret it is intrinsic to his idea of Self Overcoming and should be a life affirming experience. However the Gentry weaponized this idea and wielded it as a prison, a trap, and a torture. Will is very important in Nietzschean thought and in the practice of magic, if not crucial, and Ultra himself however is powered by will. Our will. Intellectron could be seen as hinting that Ultra may actually be the Oblivion Machine, but I very much doubt that. As Ultra points out we are in the Oblivion Machine, so in theory the comic book is this nefarious trap. Suggestions to the contrary are just an example of Intellectron trying to subjugate us into a despairing belief of his singular and absolute interpretation of things.
Ultra is exactly the only hero that could exist in our world. His nature and creation matches that of any magically summoned entity. The initial despair we feel after our first reading of the book is in fact the perfect gnostic state for charging or firing off the sigil that is Ultra. Indeed, without even broaching the oft mentioned subject of the fiction suit, Ultra is a new iteration of that archetypal entity previously seen as the homunculus of the Alchemists or the Golem of Jewish folklore. On the credits page, Grant, by paying his dues once more to Siegel and Shuster, solidifies the link not only between Ultraa and Superman, but also Ultra as well. (Superman himself could be argued as another form of this idea, especially when written by Morrison.) Grant has dabbled in this territory before with Flex Mentallo and of course the Monitor’s thought robot from Final Crisis, and Ultra Comics isn’t the first time Grant has given us superpowers and united all of humanity against evil.
There are also two other significant heroes, born of the collective will of others in previously published DC works, with whom we can draw parallels and comparisons, both of whom I would wager have found a fond home in Grant’s heart. The first is summoned by the Forever People uttering the word Taaru! whilst the other is summoned by the collective utterance of the word Shazam! I’m talking of course about Jack Kirby’s Infinity Man from his Fourth World saga and Captain Thunder from the Flashpoint event. Skilled writers can make us a part of that collective summoning as much as the characters we observe. That is exactly what Morrison aims at and achieves with Ultra. Ultra’s birth and infancy, and of course the trauma of his journey, are so evocative as both literary and magical processes that, even when we’re not reading the comic, he persists. The book is haunted and possessed, but in some magical paradigms these can be a positive phenomenon. Ultra is so persistent that he can be evoked and empowered by aesthetic association also. I mentioned before how it seems to be no accident that Ultra, particularly in the composition of Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy’s art, evokes images of Moore’s Miracleman or DeConnick’s Captain Marvel.
I guess the crux of the matter is that can we get a happy ending from the truly qlippothic horror of Ultra Comics Lives! and has Grant utterly abandoned the concept of the happy ending? Yes we can and no he hasn’t. So how do we make the reading of this book a positive experience? Our choice is whether the book is ultimately about Ultra’s emergence or the Gentry’s invasion. We could simply do as cover implores us and not read it at all. However we wouldn’t meet Ultra and be awakened to our collective will to power and its application in wholly plausible magical manner. As Jacob wrestled the angel so we and Ultra in a manner wrestle The Gentry and this book’s focus on them could well reveal their weakness.
Forgive my naivete once more, but I refuse to believe that, even with these recent dark turns in his work, Grant Morrison has at his heart become dystopian. If anything, he has become more acute in his ability to conceive and portray allegorical evils and the triumph thereof. So ignore the covers initial warning like you know you want to, read Ultra Comics once, overcome the ennui, if you feel like it read it again and again. Perhaps only read it a few times? To get the concept of Ultra firmly embedded in your mind. Believe in heroics, believe in happy endings, romanticize yourself and enchant reality, you are Ultra and Ultra is you. Visualize and demand your happy ending.