NB there is an erratum in the ebook version of this. I say “Mark Waid” when I mean “Mark Millar”. I hope that doesn’t spoil your enjoyment too much. As it was in the Bizarro section, I hereby decree that Mark Waid is Bizarro Mark Millar. (I’ve still fixed it below).


0 Of course, I’ve been talking about Grant Morrison as the auteur, the origin, of Multiversity, but it wouldn’t be the same comic without the artists. Pax Americana is a Frank Quitely comic first and foremost, Thunderworld Adventures a Cameron Stewart one. Swap the artists and they wouldn’t work.

1 It’s presented as about the “trinity”, of course — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. That ∴ again. The core from which the rest follow.

2 Everything is a variant on them. A “new” Superman, a “new” Batman. Superhero comics haven’t had a new idea, a really new idea, since 1938. Maybe 1963, if you count Major comics.

3 And you have to remember what this origin really is. DC Comics, A Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, have for most of their existence been owned by very bad people.

4 Most of the characters that they “own”, a huge number of “properties” that are now in their “universe”, come from DC being a bigger predator, swallowing the other companies up.

5 Or suing them for having characters that might compete with theirs. You can’t have two characters with capes — no-one could tell them apart. It’s infringement.

6 And then teaming up with the largest competition and filing a joint trademark on the very word “superhero”, just to make sure they have a monopoly forever.

7 And never look outside that duopoly. Remake the Avengers into the JLA. Remake the JLA into the Authority. Remake the Avengers in the style of the Authority as the Ultimates.

8 The two sides rise and fall. The illusion of choice. Motown or Stax? Tory or Labour? Free will or predestination?

9 Ring the changes often enough, go off on enough tangents, and you might find something new. Or not, of course.

10 But little bits of the humanity of the creators bleed through. Earth X was originally Earth [swastika], but the hooks got knocked off the cross. Julius Schwartz wouldn’t allow that symbol in his comics.

11 Of the twenty-six creators (writers, colourists, pencillers, inkers, letterers) given cover credit on Multiversity, twenty-five are men, and one is a company. Zero are women.

12 Of course, the versions of these characters in the comics aren’t the important ones any more. The TV, film, video game versions are the real ones, and the comics have to adapt to that.

13 Although even as the adverts in the comics are advertising Lego Batman, the comics themselves keep getting darker and darker.

14 I wonder why?

15 Perfection can’t exist, of course, but it can be something to strive for. Just because something’s unattainable, doesn’t mean you stop trying.

16 And who would want to live a perfect life, anyway? A life with no struggle, no aims, no goals, nothing to fight for?

17 Well, actually, anyone who has to struggle for the life they’re living would. A lot of people would like a bit of sybaritic luxury.

18 But those of us who are lucky enough to live in conditions most people through history would envy look back on golden ages, on frontier myths.

19 On fantasies of old, dead empires as benevolent rather than repellent. On the oppressors as heroes. Looking to Modernism with a nostalgic eye, ignoring the pile of bodies between us.

20 There’s a constant call from science fiction writers to get back to the future fantasies of the past, two-fisted pulp Aryans beating up the foreign.

21 A look back to a simpler time, when everyone was white. Well, everyone anyone cared about anyway. At least, anyone anyone you cared about cared about.

22 But when the future looks so unpleasant, so horrific, who can blame people for wanting to look back to the past?

23 Well, again, quite a few people could. People who don’t fit into those sterile fantasies of the past. People who can now live life on something like their own terms.

24 Can’t they?

25 ?

26 On a different subject totally, I do wonder if Crafty Coyote from The Coyote Gospel lived on Earth-26. It would be nice to think his sacrifice wasn’t in vain, and their happiness was the result.

27 Wouldn’t it?

28 ?

29 Bizarro am my favourite character. Him not talk annoying at all. Him also definitely written consistently, not not with writers negating things more or less at random.

30 And Mark Millar am my favourite writer. Him not take all his worst ideas from Grant Morrison, and not be a lazy hack the rest of the time.

31 By the time you get a decent portion of the way through the list of universes in the Multiversity Guidebook, though, a sense of weariness sets in.

32 What should be a joyous celebration of new ideas becomes somehow oppressive. Oh look, Super-bat-lantern, Wonder-Bizarro In Space!, The Flashist!

33 At this point, the acknowledgement that all this is fictional becomes a relief. Although the implication, that we are creating a multitude of near-identical characters doomed to live out the same stories in slightly different forms, is depressing in itself.

34 Analogues of analogues of analogues, photocopies of photocopies, become so blurred that you can almost see a totally different picture in the smudges.

35 The same postures, repeated, over and over, ever more “awesome”, free-floating signifiers, not attached to a story at all.

36 But then bringing the ideas into stories means reifying them, and reification is contamination, is grubbing the gold of an idea with the dirt of matter.

37 But it’s only when ideas are realised, when they engage with the world, that we get material progress, that we get a future at all.

38 If we try to preserve our icons, to keep them in aspic (or in a sealed polybag), we’re stuck with the ideas of the 1930s forever.

39 So why not take ideas from everywhere? Take them from TV, from film, from anywhere except just from other comics.

40 Superheroes are such potent ideas, with such potential. Why limit them to just simple, binary, stories of good and evil?

41 But then, comic book fans have created modern superheroes in their own image. We have no-one to blame but ourselves.

42 We’ve taken these characters, who were created as children’s stories, and insisted they grow up with us. When Elmer Fudd shoots Bugs Bunny, we want to see the guts fly out.

43 We’ve become vampiric on our own pasts, afraid of trying something new, so sucking everything good out of the old things we loved.

44 “There were no superheroes — there was no one to save the world — so I built them” says Grant Morrison.

45 But he’s building them for a megacorporation that doesn’t care about saving the world. It doesn’t even care about giving Gerry Conway the money he’s owed.

46 Does it?

47 It would be lovely to think that DC Comics could change, could become a more loving, caring, organisation, could care about the ideals its characters used to espouse.

48 But instead it’s getting into a tighter loop of appealing to the parts of the fanbase who don’t care about ethics, either in their characters or towards the creator, so long as they get their fix.

49 Could I be wrong?

50 There’s an authoritarianism to comic book fans, a power worship, that I don’t like. The kind of person who thinks that creators are “greedy” for wanting any pay or acknowledgement.

51 But then you look at the hope that these characters symbolise, and the sheer creative joy put into the best of the characters by the best of the creators, and you have to hope that something about that is some of what’s being responded to. Don’t you?

[Over a ten-day period I will be posting my long piece on Multiversity. Those who want it in one piece, and with the two mistakes I fixed in this essay still in it, 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.]

5 Responses to “Multiversity: Maps and Legends”

  1. Illusionator Says:

    That is tremendous work Andrew. Really enjoying these posts. Also it does seem (from Gerry Conway’s tumblr) that there has been some form of dialogue re creator rights on “derivative characters”, though far from rapprochement.

  2. Matthew Craig Says:

    Cosigning all the kudos. Wish I could contribute more.
    //\Oo/\\

  3. Andrew Hickey Says:

    Yeah, the Conway situation appears to be getting slightly better — remember that I wrote these in a burst between Monday and Wednesday last week, so they’re not up to date (spoiler: the last post has me getting ready to go out campaigning for the election). I am, as you can imagine, very, very happy about this.

  4. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Yes, these have been phenomenal.

    This in particular, was quite brilliant: “Analogues of analogues of analogues, photocopies of photocopies, become so blurred that you can almost see a totally different picture in the smudges.”

  5. David Whittaker Says:

    This series of articles has left me profoundly speechless. This one however moves me to these words of deepest gratitude.

    Thankyou. Consider me sold on kindle copies of this series of articles and the Seven Soldiers ebook.

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