It starts with money, of course. A demand, in fact, for rent.

When Multiversity was first conceived, the credit crunch, brought in by the rentier class’ insatiable demand for unearned money, had only just happened and the full extent of it wasn’t really known. It was the kind of shakeup that might lead to systemic change, but it has so far spectacularly failed to do so.

But of course in 2009 there was a big change — a big symbolic change, at least — as one leader was replaced by another. As anyone who knows the way that the News Quiz style pull-back-and-reveal joke works knows, I’m not talking about Barack Obama (although we’ll get to him later), but about Paul Levitz being replaced as publisher at DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, by the team of Dan DiDio and Jim Lee.

I bring this up because in economics rent-seeking is a term that’s used rather more widely than just in collecting rent for housing. Rent-seeking is any economic activity that doesn’t create new wealth, but extracts wealth from others for non-productive work. Creating Superman, or writing and drawing a Superman comic is, in this view, productive economic activity that deserves reward — a new thing exists upon the Earth as a result of someone’s actions. Engaging in protracted legal battles with the heirs of the creators of Superman in order to ensure a continued monopoly on the use of the character, long after those creators are dead and many decades after the character would have lapsed into the public domain if the laws hadn’t been changed by lobbyists funded by large media conglomerates, on the other hand, is rent-seeking. Nothing new is being produced, and in fact you’re blocking other people from creating. No matter how good a Superman comic by, say, Dan White might be, he couldn’t create and sell one without DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company collecting rent from him.

And this matters in the case of Multiversity, because the context of DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company has changed since 2009, as Gerry Conway set out in this blog post a couple of days before I wrote this.

DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, “owns” a lot of intangible assets, called things like Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Brother Power The Geek, Space Cabbie, and so forth. Legally, as well, DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, created all those characters — with one or two exceptions, they were created under “work for hire” terms which mean that the humans who put the words and the pencil and ink lines on the paper weren’t creating anything; only DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, created anything.

However, DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, in what is either its great magnanimity or a desperate attempt to stave off lawsuits which could lead to the destruction of its entire business model, has for years given acknowledgement to the interchangeable content-production units who merely brought into tangible form the creations of the great creating ubermind that is DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company. It has said, in a completely non-legally-binding way, that any time a character who was first instantiated by one of these content-production units is used in non-comics media, that content-production unit would get paid.

However, as Former Content Producer Designate Conway points out in that post, the attitude shown by DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company has changed somewhat since Paul Levitz stopped being the publisher. In particular, they have a rather unique idea of what “a new character” is.

When Content Producer Designates Sterling Gates and Derlis Santacruz wish to be paid for the character Caitlin Snow, the new secret identity of the character Killer Frost, they are told that they won’t be paid, because the character of Caitlin Snow is a derivative of Killer Frost. Yet when Former Content Producer Designate Conway wishes to be paid for Caitlin Snow, as the non-legally-recognised no-financial-obligation incurred “creator” of Killer Frost, DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, claims that Caitlin Snow is a unique creation, for which Former Content Producer Designate Conway deserves no credit or monetary reward.

This does, of course, put Multiversity into a different light. Multiversity is, after all, a project that was conceived and largely written when DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company still acknowledged that Former Content Producer Designates Kanigher and Infantino, for example, had a hand in the creation of Barry Allen, the second Flash, rather than him springing fully-formed from the noncorporeal brow of DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

Given that all of Multiversity is about the possible variants one can create — within carefully-delineated limits, naturally — of Superman, Batman, and the rest of the DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company stable of intellectual property brand-like non-substances, it does, to say the least, seem like this subject is one that had to be addressed given that it dramatically affects how the comic is received now in comparison with how it would have been received when it was conceived. Where six years ago Nix Uotan and Calvin Ellis were new creations by Content Producers Designate Morrison and Jones, now they’re derivative works of the Monitor and Superman, although in a very important way completely legally distinct from those characters, and thus created by DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

But then, Multiversity is, by its very nature, a comic about the disjunction between the ideal and the physical, corporate, reality. When the first issue came out, I reviewed it by only looking at the non-comics matter — the indicia, the adverts, the physical stuff in which the comic is embodied. Two months later, in Multiversity: The Just, Batman is seen checking the indicia of another issue of Multiversity for clues. That’s the kind of comic this is.

It’s a comic which raises more questions than it has answers for, not least of which is “should I continue to support DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, financially?”

Handily, the rest of DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company’s increasingly depressing line of comics answers that question for us…

[Over a ten-day period I will be posting my long piece on Multiversity. Those who want it in one piece can buy the whole thing as an epub from Smashwords right now for $1, on Kindle (US) and (UK), and my Patreons get it for free]

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