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Comic books, like movies, have a pervasive blockbuster culture. Much like studios flood multiplexes each summer (and increasingly, the entire year) with big-budget, effects-heavy popcorn flicks, the Big Two publishers—Marvel and DC—churn out “event comics.” These are seasonal miniseries that mash up the biggest characters in the craziest stories. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they don’t—and whether they’re good or bad rarely matters. They sell.
But as easy as it is to wax cynical about both blockbuster movies and event comics, sometimes something comes along that’s worth all the hype. That promises spectacle and smarts and mind-bending twists. An Inception of sorts.
The Multiversity is the Inception of event comics. Kind of. It’s also much, much stranger.
Masterminded by writer and mad genius Grant Morrison, The Multiversity has been in the works since 2009, when Morrison first spoke of the project. Since then, the details have changed a bit—he intended for it to be released the following year, for example—but the goal has always been the same: a wildly ambitious story spanning the 52 worlds of the DC Comics multiverse, which this story effectively maps out for the first time.
A nine-issue miniseries, The Multiversity consists of two framing stories at the beginning and end, a guidebook, and six single-issue stories each focusing on a different universe. One of these comics, the seventh, will take place from the readers’ perspective, promising to make them the world’s first real superhero. Morrison also says, both in interviews and within the narrative, that that comic is haunted, cursed somehow.
This is not your average comic book—unless you want it to be. Taken out of context, The Multiversity functions very well as a propulsive blockbuster of a story, one about a group of heroes plucked from different realms who band together to fight a malignant force that threatens the entire multiverse. It’s like The Avengers, but with quantum physics. And since each subsequent issue sets up an entirely new universe, you could presumably read the whole series as a fun romp through wildly different takes on your favorite DC characters.
But then there are the strange parts. The pages and panels that don’t quite fit. That hint at something more.
Morrison is known for his metatextual take on superheroes. In iconic runs on characters like Batman, Superman, and the X-Men, Morrison has proven himself to be a master at taking decades of stories and compressing them into a single memetic idea that he then explores in five dimensions. In a medium where fans are obsessed about which stories “count” and contribute to an ongoing narrative, Morrison instead holds that they all do. So what if Carver Ellis, the black Superman of Earth 23, isn’t the “main” Superman—he’s just as fictional, and therefore just as real.
“One world’s reality is another’s fiction,” says anthropomorphic rabbit hero Captain Carrot (Earth-26) in The Multiversity’s first issue. Comic books, the characters discover, are the “messages in bottles from neighboring universes,” the glue holding the overarching narrative of The Multiversity together.
Of course, you the reader experience other worlds in much the same way, and Morrison isn’t one to let that opportunity pass him by. As the threat to the multiverse crosses into different worlds across different comic books, it will eventually attack this one—the real world in which you are reading this very article.
“The bad guys in Multiversity who are attacking the entire multiversal structure are also attacking the real world, and this comic [the seventh] is their only way through right now,” Morrison said in an interview with Comics Alliance. “So it becomes the reader versus the bad guy on the page. I think it’s actually quite scary, this thing. It scared me!”
That, in a nutshell, is what makes The Multiversity a one-of-a-kind comic book. It’s simultaneously a celebration of superheroes and the comic book medium, a meditation on the role of fiction in the real world, and an experiment in modern mythmaking. It could be a disaster. It could be fantastic. But it doesn’t start until you read it.