The Multiversity #1

September 15th, 2014

There’s always a danger in reviewing the first [issue] of anything, of course, said the wise man. Yeah but fuck it mate seriously who cares? There’s your fair warning so. What follows may get silly.

Page 1 of The Multiversity issue 1 is on a nice nine panel grid. The layout and reverse-zoom perspective recall the first page of Watchmen, a comic written by evil beatnik exterminator Dr Saxondale. Anxiety surrounding Watchmen‘s influence over the superhero genre is, crystal balls out, one of the overriding concerns to be explored in this and coming issues of The Multiversity.

In its allusions to the hermetic maxims of microcosm and macrocosm, sly doggie refs and the borderless corner panel bleeds out into the background of the page, this opening gambit also recalls the opening of Flex Mentallo, Morrison’s previous grand unifying field theory of superhero comics, ma cherie.

Panel 1

Wherever life can take root.

Wherever life can flourish.

It’s good to get everyone on your side at the start, so open with a joke, or failing that a pun (‘root’/root). On this opening panel we learn that life in its rooting is not always pretty. Life in its flourishing can appear to be corrosive to physical or even metaphysical existence itself.

It’s difficult to clearly see, but it looks like this sub-nano lice-louse is one of the bad bugs released into reality by The Gentry later on page 12 or so. These Hourman Virus buggers get literally everywhere, and are going to be hell to shift, you can just tell.

Panel 2

As we pull out, we see that these tiny little horrors are living on the back of something… else.

In every available niche.

No matter how great.

No matter how small.

For ‘niche‘ here, emphasis in original, we might think about the many universes we’re going to be zipping through as the series progresses; but also the genres (one in particular) that we’re exploring and the markets and media (increasingly more) that those genres manifest through. Morrison & Hughes’ well-inspected map of the DC Universe, for all its managed diversity and aspirations to imagination and ‘space’, is a reworking of the now retired DC ‘bullet’ logo: an illusion of infinity, bounded and prescribed entirely within the horizons of corporate presence and capitalist value.

As suggested by these opening panels, the way economics informs human thoughts about and descriptions of nature, and nature’s transition to super-nature, will become another of the serie’s preoccupations.

 

Panel 3

Life will thrive and life will prosper

Given the need. [emphasis added]

Giving requires a giver. Despite the effort to de-subjectify these panels, rid them of any immediate identifiable human objects, the process being described by the narrative voice in these initial moments isn’t spontaneous and emergent, but deliberate and agentic.

Zooming out further into this panel, we realise that the strange living landscape is a comparatively cute and harmless Pediculus humanus capitis, or common head lice. Ivan Reis gets the look just right.

And yeah yeah they prefer clean hair or whatever, I’m not superjudging anyone’s personal hygiene, but we’re seeing six lice and dozens of nits within just a few millimetres of scalp: this head is absolutely heaving. It’s pretty gross. A stern letter needs to go out to the parents of this school.

(A narrow tooth comb is best, once a week. Fuckers can’t evolve their way out of a narrow tooth comb. Shaving the head isn’t necessary, despite what mystics might tell you.)

 

Panel 4

Given the opportunity.

Open this door!

The language shifts from biology to economics with the abrupt appearance of something recognisably human – a pair of fingernails*. The open-opportunity pun brings us right into business speak, the language of commerce and economics, emphasising The Multiversity‘s primary thematic obstacle.

Doors and windows and things, the curvature of speech balloon running abruptly into the hard edge of the panel border, and all manner of liminal spaces are important here, as we’ll see.

*The Nail is a JLA Elseworlds book (plus sequel) that came out around the time of Morrison’s original JLA run, named for a legend inspired by recent royal revenant Richard III’s death: ‘For want of a nail the kingdom was lost’. Reasonably enough, the nail holding together the DCU in Alan Davis’ decent little story is Superman. We’ll hear more of him in about a panel’s time.

Rumour has it the alternate universe of The Nail is one of those retained in the cosmic uberstructure of the Nu52, but I don’t think anyone’s got its number yet.

Panel 5

 I know you’re in there! [I know you’re in here]

I looked the other way last month when you showed kindness to Andy, my little Shih-Tzu.

The symbolism is just too blatant. ‘Andrew’, meaning ‘strong and manly’, an obvious name for a hero.  Shih-Tzu are ‘lion dogs’, lions being the zoomorphic solar-phallic symbol par excellence, and Superman’s widely acknowledged spirit animal.

The temptation to describe the DCnU52 as a ‘shit zoo’ is one we’re all familiar with obvs.

Let’s briefly resist the ongoing punishment, and look at what we’ve got so far: parasites (nth-dimensional space bugs) living on parasites (head lice) living on parasites (landlords). It’s parasites all the way down, presumably on into Nix’s relationship to the comics he obsessively sucks the imaginary matter to build his dysfunctional identity from.

Home rental occurs on a monthly cycle, like human reproduction or mainstream comics’ publishing schedule. When you rent a home you are temporarily accessing the physical space of the property for another month. When you buy a comic you own the physical space of a few leaves of paper, but the consumer value in the transaction generally lies in the temporary access granted to the current intellectual space of the dcNu52 (or Marvel/Image etc equivalent) for another month.

(Picky art note: The light source in this panel is all wrong. Maybe it’s foreshadowing)

 

Panel 6



Now it’s this month! Eight Hundred dollars!

Open the door!

More malignant entities will be demanding entry to personal living space in a few pages time. Notions of territory and boundedness are likely to be another of The Multiversity‘s recurrent themes, repeated in a few pages’ time by The Gentry, cosmic/dreamspace supervillain arsehole versions of the more mundane arsehole speaking here.

Nix lives in room 41. The smart money currently has Earth 41 down as the Image-like Universe (Dino-Cop and Spore from later in the issue), but that’s still open to confirmation. It’s unclear (to me at least, difficult to keep up with these mid-morning fluctuations in DC Editorial’s caffeine supply) which Earth Nix is meant to live on since the Final Crisis and Flashpants events. This might be a giveaway, or it might not. If it is I SPOTTED IT (important)

The crude emphasis on her rounded figure and stuffed grocery bag is intended to signify that she’s just not landlord scum, she’s greedy, lice-ridden landlord scum. A nasty landlord (and a nasty bit of misogynistic fat-shaming too).  The risible implication there can be any other kind – when landlordism is inseprarable from exploitation – is of a piece with the same naivety that presented Batman Inc. as  a ‘good’ capitalism, ignoring the fatal oxymoron.

There’s a couple of interesting issues raised by the dialogue here: It seems unlikely that a member of the landed class has permanently waived – rather than merely postponed – her legal right to profit from Nix’s human requirement for warmth and shelter. Nix’s rent is presumably therefore 400 dollars a month – this not only seems cheap for the area, but if Nix is as much of a loser when it comes to other superhero companies as he clearly is with DC, he probably spends more per month on comics than he does on having a home (home = place to sleep and store comics and write about comics).

Note the embedded number eight in the window frame. It plays a particular note in the composition of the page, where the strict scheme of the zoom-out shifts in order to enlarge the theme…

 

Panel 7

Where a gap is unexploited -

- Life will come.

Life will grow.

‘Life’ (explicitly synonymous here with the brutality of the economic terrorism that dominates Western social relations) has lost the mysterious oedipal father-giver it had in the captions of panel 3. However, in this rhetorical slippage capital has been valorised even further: where before it was granted by an unseen extra subject and hence in some regard still artificial, a construct capable of being given and hence removed, now capital has become simply the spontaneous, fundamental expression of natural existence itself. Arguments about ‘the natural’ are frequently and deceitfully deployed  to support the rectitude of (ethically, morally, finanically etc) bankrupt political economies. Statements such as ‘that’s life’, ‘it’s only human nature’, ‘it’s the way things are’ etc are merely indications the speaker has become so deeply embedded in dominant ideologies that they have entirely mistaken them for objective determinant reality: that the map and the territory have become catastrophically merged.

The Brooklyn Bridge in the background helpfully locates Nix’s home. Note the white faces enjoying their ostentatious hipsterality in this perfect example of gentrified space. The pressure they’re exerting on Nix’s unsustainable lifestyle expresses current disquiet about the colonisation of so much urban space, and with good reason.  The artistic/cultural industries which used to be a feature of such areas, and formed the basis for the lifestyles sought by immigrant middle-class populations, require access to cheap living and performance space. The neoliberal city replaces culture industries with software manufacturers who produce digital tools that simulate ‘artistic’ affective responses. Required serotonin, adrenaline and dopamine surges in human nervous systems can be produced on demand by sufficiently advanced user interfaces. Under these conditions, art as practiced and understood by post-Enlightenment societies comes to resemble a local craft, a) whose practice primarily fulfills a therapeutic benefit for subjects still capable of generating surplus value and hence still employed in their non-spare time, or b) commodity production, cottage industry manufacture of appreciable assets/accessories of fab interior design for wealthy elites.

As a comics blogger Nix works to produce brand engagement content for superhero marketing departments, and generate online behavioural data to increase the predictive power of stack algorithms and resultant advertising revenues. As his rental arrears make plain, these contributions are unfortunately not deemed valuable enough for him to receive sufficient remuneration to successfully reproduce his modest living conditions. Economic reality deems his motivating passions effectively worthless: No wonder he’s depressed.

Panel 8

 There!

You felt it didn’t you?

That’s them.

The shift to direct address of ‘You’ the reader is a nice, smooth pivot in the narration that owes much to Stan Lee’s frequent and effective demands of brand loyalty from Marvel Comics readers of the sixties and early seventies. Apparently it’s a hypnotic induction, or ‘marketing’ technique, as they’re commonly understood. Remember – the entire activity of the Nu52 occurs within the compass of the DC brand. Nothing exists inside this comic book which isn’t directly related to or derived from business strategy.

A potential endowing-actor, a deliberate generative force, a them is revealed/reintroduced: more parasites unfortunately, the cosmic ones from panel 1 back again no less. ‘We’re all parasites of something’ (spoiler). Perhaps these parasites’ shit, piss and other waste products are the building blocks of existence. It’ll be something like that.

The attack upon the bridge is an early indication of the subsequent attack upon Nix, who is a tutelary spirit of transitional spaces and objects such as roads, walls and bridges. (Especially suspension bridges.) Key Wotan referents for help here: One. Two (trigger warning: Nazism).

In this eighth panel the page’s nine-panel grid breaks down and mutates into something subtly different. Within the local cosmogony of The Multiversity (and by extension the DC Universe) as described by Morrison, Pythagoras and probably some other people, eight  is a magic number, to do with musical scales or something, repesenting the number of fundamental essences from which all reality(/ies) are generated.

As we land on the eighth panel a further page- or panel-like structure forms within the body of the panel itself, and emerges in enlarged form in the position where a hypothetical ninth panel would be expected to appear. The borders of this ninth panel, as we’ll see, are merely sketched in, white and insubstantial compared to the heavy inked borders used in the other panels, drawing an insubstantial and arbitrary space over the represented ‘background’ of the page.

Panel 9

They’ve found a way in.

But if you look at it the right way, why shouldn’t there be some happy bugs feasting on the moss under a bridge? That’s not terror, horror, excitement or mystery – it’s just normal ecology, working the way it does. The way it should.  The preceding panels have already made a clear connection between these wee beasties and the icky but inescapable normality of what they represent within the text: the functioning of current social-economic relations and mode of material production. The same one incidentally that here on Earth-Here immiserates and impoverishes billions of humans, and is destroying the global biosphere.

There is no alternative to the normal functioning of the machine… Or, perhaps, the alternative you want to explore is an alternative to normalness, to life itself? If so, are you mad or just bad?

There will be a superhero comic along in a few months to help you out with that one.

 

Page 2

 

14 Responses to “The Multiversity #1”

  1. Zakaria Says:

    Your Super-Lion is faulty.

    You may want to remove the last (http://) part of the “Spirit Animal hyperlink”.

    Is the lack of a “Page two” below the previous text an anti-subtext?
    Why do the bridge-bugs and the sub-lice look so remarkably different if they are/symbolice the same thing? The b-bugs look more like reg-lice at least by their colour, though they are a third species.

    You may also want to add a trigger warning for Communism you filthy prole.

    I did not catch the rather overt callback to Watchmen. Nice spot.
    I’ll be over here in the corner wearing a cone on my head.

    Parasitic I would really like that 2nd page.
    Please sir, may I have some Moore?

  2. bobsy Says:

    Thanks for the lion spot – fixed.

    I’m not sure the bugs are that different – the bifurcated mandibles and central ridge along the carapace… The main difference is the colouring, and in panel 1 they are grey so as to stand out from the bug-back floor.

    Or perhaps it’s a deliberate flaw in my

  3. Zakaria Says:

    “Or perhaps it’s a deliberate flaw in my (…)”

    Oh gawd, the hole in things, it’s back!

  4. jameswheeler Says:

    The first truth of GMo is you can never rule out “art mistake”

  5. jameswheeler Says:

    Not that that’s a license to just make stuff up, but bobs is right that they’re similar enough that differences could easily be due to (bad?) colour choice and careless design by the artist.

    (Really didn’t like the pictures in this.)

  6. Quantum Says:

    It’ll be something like that.

  7. PapaPopGuru Says:

    So, this 9 panel thing, doubtlessly it’s going to be used in the Charleston Universe, but I find it incredibly interesting that one of Nix’s weapon’s is the Rubik’s Cube, the three-dimensional remodulation of the ol’ 9 panel construct. I’ve got a feeling that it’ll be blindingly obvious on what it represents at the end, but I’m stuck on how it might be used. Any hints or suppositions?

  8. Zakaria Says:

    @PapaPopGuru

    Well the Rubik’s Cube plays a big part in Final Crisis of course.

    And if I’m not mistaken “da cube” shows up in some or other Frank Quietly drawn New Gods story(DC Legacies 8, Snapshot:Revelation, page 1, panel 1?) But that observation may be down to Apophenia since it wasn’t a Morrison written story but a Len Wein penned tale…

    Then again Quitely, New Gods, Motherbox, Rubik’s Cube.. and Quitely will be doing the Charleston characters in Multiversity… And the story was written in 2011, a good deal after Morrison had already written Final Crisis. So Quitely would have been aware of the connection.

    @everybody else

    As for the bugs I’m betting BobbyZs cherub cheeks that those are two different kinds of bugs and that the grey entomophagous parasites on the lice are not the same as the bugs on the bridge/The ones that “attack” Nix Uotan.

    Any takers?

  9. Thrills Says:

    WE R ALL ‘PAGE 2′

  10. tam Says:

    I haven’t read any Grant Morrison stuff for a while, (We3 was the last thing by him I really liked) but enjoyed your discussion about Multiversity on Silence! so much that I gave it a go…
    Sadly the comic itself didn’t do much for me. And again I really enjoyed this article and it makes me wish I liked the comic more than I do but I think I find reading about Grant Morrison comics much more interesting than the comics themselves…

  11. nrh Says:

    who sets this in ny and uses lice rather than bed bugs? not to even touch the rent issue.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    there is no

  13. Arch Stanton Says:

    “…Dana, only Zuul”?

    I love these deep analyses. Many of the observations feel quite tenuous, kind of like apophenia rather than uncovering genuine intentional symbolism or thematic allusions. However, interspersed in the mix are some amazing connections, and it really enhances my enjoyment of the comic (especially the comparison between the Multiverse map and the DC bullet logo…it’s just so elegant, makes my brain crackle happily).

  14. Thrills Says:

    The important thing everyone’s missing about the 9 panel grid is that 9 is 3×3, and is obviously a reference to ’3×3 Eyes’ by Yukio Tada, which though being in ‘juvenile’ art forms such as comics and cartoons, still dealt with adult themes, but in a grotesque and immature way.

    Grant’s commenting on how ‘gritty’ comics are not necesarilly more ‘mature’ or ‘real’ than cartoony ‘classic’ comics.

    It’s like he’s saying to his buddy Geoff that just because he’s got arms being torn off, it doesn’t mean he’s making intense stories for edgy people, and this was all done comprehensively in the mid-80s to early 90s by him and his pals, anyway.

    It is no coincidence that the 3×3 Eyes manga started in the mid 80s, and the animé was made in the early 90s.

    He knows what he’s doing, does Grant.

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