How to Pass Through a Portal

April 16th, 2016

Here, the map is the territory.

This is about to get seriously earnest, adjust your sets… I’ve read Grant Morrison comics from the age of 7, on and off (I was too much of a wimp for 2000AD as a teen and Batman: Gothic shat me right up), starting with this one and pretty much consistently every one for the last near twenty years (I didn’t get Final Crisis: Secret Files, a decision which haunts me still, and haven’t been keeping up with 18 Days, which is just barely a Grant Morrison comic), since semi-rediscovering him through The Invisibles.

“Yeah. I guess the fighting never ends, does it? It never ends.”

That’s a mid-1986 copy of Spider-Man and Zoids, no. 18 to be precise – as an aside, the time is completely ripe for a boutique Zoids comic, in the style of yer Copra or Scioli Transformers/GI Joe, get Farel Dalrymple and the Study Group lads to do it or something. Anyway, the point is this: it’s impossible, or nearly impossible, to have that kind of relationship – thirty years(!!) – with an author outside of comics; maybe I could have had with Alexander McCall Smith or something, he writes kids’ books, he writes gentle mysteries in Botswana and Scotland – could maybe have worked, seems a bit mimsy to me. Accept the premise, move on.

Multiversity is a culmination of the writer’s motifs and core interests from 1986; antithesis Alan Moore’s Watchmen and [essentially an unwriting of the monadic] Crisis on Infinite Earths, something he had striven to do since his first DC assignment on Animal Man, pics here from 1990’s #23 (of course)


(note title)

So what was Multiversity all about, how did it function? Morrison comics almost always take a while to process, can seem frustratingly elliptical and so on and the framing – issues 1 & 2 of the titular series, seemed, do still seem on some level, to expose his limitations as a writer – recapitulating everything from the Black Zoid saga that capstoned the Zoids run through JLA, Joe the Barbarian and the end of Final Crisis, in a conclusion I like to call “throw all your toys at the bad thing” and somehow the goodies win… this is quite often preluded by a lot of panels of the heroes standing around on platforms, viz.

an image taken fairly directly from Crisis on Infinite Earths, or Moore’s Swamp Thing tie-in issues

There’s nothing fundamentally dishonest about this, the series’ purpose is and Morrison’s great gift has always been interpolation and extrapolation – “I don’t invent, I innovate”, Two-Face-Two proclaims in the dark future of Batman #700 – it just can become jading over the decades, and the finales unconvincing… the heroes win because, just because. Because they are all there and what could hope to stop them? No great stratagem, just positivist fatalism… but, and hear me out now, there might be something to this – *sounds of a cube unlocking*

What purpose does this endless consumption of conflict serve, what is it inherently between? What is Ultra Comics – the character, the object, the story – the front line of defense against, here on Earth-Prime (33), where you sit reading this now, always now as the words are read…? I’ll tell you, and this is the major key, what every superhero is supposed to stand against, why they do not kill and the grave cannot contain them; Ultra Comics contains your inevitable death. Contains.

One day, when you are still, and I am gone and Grant Morrison is nothing, perhaps in 2240, or 2666, or when these numerals no longer mean anything and some advanced, alien AI hoovers up every distillate of our long since ashen human civilisation like Brainiac, who knows? Ultra Comics will live again, and we who were all him for the purpose of animating this adventure, well, someone will feel something like you or I did then, or now. Bemusement//fascination.

Even still, in pre-death, there is torment:

Ever-diminishing circles, The Gentry are similitude, fixity, ownership, cruelty; a bounded system never opening, value expropriators… the method of combating them is through colour overload, multifacets, sound harmonics, fascination, magic tricks, impossible numbers; all these things you left lying around when you were a child, that you were supposed to put away as an adult – maybe they had value, maybe they engaged your interest for a reason, maybe they made you you and you didn’t forget after all.

Multiversity is iterative, subsists on and contains numerous bifurcations, proliferating… all these tensions and axes of symmetry and arcs, wheels within wheels, a possibility generator, a microcosmology… I want to talk about how traverse works between these worlds extant on different harmonics, almost all predicated on varieties of Justice League or Society, or polarities of – most especially – Superman and Batman… Dayman vs. Nightman

this is the core thrill of it to me, the panoply, these dynamics and synaesthesia where sound = color, the motile numerology and the almost countless interfaces between each Earth-(x), a considerably more complex structure than the Qabbala…

these shapes are the post-hypnotic induction cues:- the tesseract hypercube/the Rubik and the punched möbius strip

two interlocking S shapes with an O in the centre, SoS, save our souls, or the jagged lightning…

which the S of Superman so easily transposes to, in symmetric form on the chest of Ultra, singular in the stylised SS style on Overman and then as a triple bolt on Captain and Mary Marvel and near every multiversal Flash. This is a limitation of dimensionality, you can only have a curved or a straight line after all, and a circle or a square is the only way a sphere or cube translates onto a flat page, but what if they were trying to break out…?

Here’s an excerpt from Gerard Jones’ Men of Tomorrow, about the progenitor of these universii, Jerry Siegel, that seems salient

These are the rudiments; the square within the square is the simplest way to mimic depth where none exists, hence the portal boundary – a Rubik is a hypercube, an implicational four-dimensional space, comprising 3 x 3 x 3 cubes, and twice as many (open) facets, 54*, 52 plus an entry and exit, whatever numerical set theory slippage suits, Apokolips and New Genesis if you prefer, these ultimate twinned dystopian/utopian worlds. Morrison certainly played with antinomies in Seven Soldiers, much ruminating on sixes-under-sevens and hidden eighths and the like. Assignation of values and meaning to numbers and colours and orders, the liminal space between potentiality and existence; in solving the cube Nix Uotan opens every mutiversal portal.

*coincidentally one can only ever view, as in the above illustration, 27 of these facets at a time. The others can only ever be implied in illustration as they would be in reality.

Imagine two circles conjoining, revolving, separating, creating a third circle in their Venn;  imagine a square within a square, a depiction of a cube with pliant vertices, the smaller square comes to the foreground, now, and contains what once contained it, then it happens again, and again, until you and everything around you are part of the frame – this is motion, this is extensible context, this is immersion.

Just so, a cover implies a comic, the comic implies its own fictional histories – and that’s where you, the reader, come in! – MK Ultra was some mind control shit, the cordyceps fungus spores and proliferates in brainstems, sometimes the parcelling is better than the present…

“mummy i think i put some bad rubbish in my head and it’s eating me from the inside out”

What happens when the consumer becomes… the consumed?!?

It’s all about interfaces, see? You thought you were pressing your face up against a one way pane but they got in you through your eyes, the middle hole in the triple torus, shot up domino mask

fuck

and so it cycles on in perpetuum

There is something to be said for the series, and Ultra Comics in particular as an attempt to create a Marxist-materialist dialectic about what superhero, or DC if you prefer (although DC always implies Marvel on some level, and the framing sequence here does somewhat prefigure the competitor’s recent Secret Wars Event, both have the joint copyright on the term ‘superhero’ and are the duopoly of this form of Manichaean fiction, which now has leapt onto and indeed dominates mass media and, thereby, discourse in 2016AD with predictably discomfiting results), comics are, physically, what the experience of reading and interacting with them entails, in his typically bananas way of processing these ideas; but it can also be seen as subsumed to a land grab, it’s hard to imagine how a non-extant publisher could possibly create anything resembling Batman or Superman now, as Awesome with Supreme, or Big Bang – two publishers also reconstituted here as Earths- 35 & 36 here – did, given almost every semblance is now trademarked and locked down. This is the nature of capital, I can say, because I am doing this for free (although if anyone wants to pay for my ideas, notions and articulations, well…), and the author is a good liberal who has been well-rewarded for his efforts on behalf of the corporation, unlike Jerry Siegel was.

In this reading, The Empty Hand – also our universe, born as a cube, aka Neh-Buh-Loh/Qwewq – and peppered throughout Morrison’s work from JLA to All-Star Superman via Seven Soldiers – becomes analogous, in the way only a seriously overdetermined metonym could, to The Invisible Hand of free-markets, where trademarks are continually renewable, like the toyetic chibi superheroes of Earth-41 who rise again and again, and ever-higher staked fictional conflict is the resource to be mined. Disaster capitalism is literally the exploitation of perennial crises, and all there is to confront it is the loose idea of “justice”.

Because these ideas are good, because they are enduring, because they are multifarious, and because the membrane between our world and theirs is weakening; I cannot fully endorse really what the series’ apparent idea of “justice” entails, much of it seems like coping mechanisms – like Earth-0’s Nix has his antidepressants – and methods toward self-realisation, but art, numbers, colours and sonics do or can bring joy into a world apparently dominated by profit margins and exploitation, and this is something.

It’s A Start, anyway. The End is not the thing, The Struggle is.

Reading the transitions between narration techniques, from commanding singular, linear instruction, to Immortal Man’s journal, from which characters on other worlds take instruction and the codeword “S.o.S.”, to Sister Miracle’s PDA, to the radio in Pax, the Wizard Shazam, a history of the DC Universe, Jürgen Olsen’s exposé, the interactive reader-addressing multifacets of Ultra and the final symphonic, Monster Magnet/Wall of Sound inspired issue… how do you engage with all of these voices that are your inner voice, in this world, and the character’s voices, and the author’s voice, and the publisher’s voice, they are in your head, all these frequencies, and a great many of them, the ones you liked, the ones you actually cared about and felt affinity for… these are nicer voices than those of hurt, aggravation, distress and the beckoning grave – they cannot exist without the other, which will overwhelm and leave you dissolute, adrift, drowning; there again, neither does it without them. Only listen to them, what are they saying?

“Concentrate.”

“Do good.”

“Be kind.”

“Tell the truth.”

“Share.”

“You will endure this”

“You were never alone.”

“Think of something better.”

19 Responses to “How to Pass Through a Portal”

  1. bobsy Says:

    Fuck!

  2. Mark Says:

    Big enjoyment.

  3. Matthew Craig Says:

    “Ultra Comics contains your inevitable death. Contains.”

    Hwooof! No wonder the thing made me feel so sick. Honest to god, I hadda draw a picture of that one lad and scrawl the legend “AUBERGINE NOBLORD” over it to exorcise the karmic weight away.

    Great observations, BB. Pratchett’s another readingbookman with whom it’s eminently possible to spend the better part of a lifetime. And thank QwewQ for that.

    //\Oo/\\

  4. Matt M. Says:

    Well done, BB, as we were all well-done, or at least rendered medium rare by Ultra comics mind-messery. As much as I found FINAL CRISIS frustrating, I found MULTIVERSITY to be rewarding and perhaps the final word (for now) from Morrison on the current situation regarding superheroics and reinvention and how we always want to come back to the core idea of reaching even as all around us, the Gentry is gleefully dreading and dragging things down into mere dross.

  5. plok Says:

    HMMM…!

    You know, I just never thought of it that way before!!

    Damn it, it’s gonna take me DAYS to write a proper comment on this…

    Beautiful massive stuff, Beast!

    CURSE YOU…

  6. Illogical Volume Says:

    Shite mate.

  7. Illogical Volume Says:

    Seriously though, as I’ve said elsewhere, this makes everything I’ve read and thought about comics recently seem tiny and inadequate.

    The way it navigates the limits of the form and the corporate realities of the genre while also remaining open to the way these stories might operate, the way we might operate – I’d say that it was worthy of Morrison’s work, but yet “Only humans could make something kinder and better than themselves.”

  8. Duncan Says:

    awaiting the plok essay with baited breath… it is very Flex-y, innit IV.

  9. Rick V Says:

    At least all the GM comics were worth it because they eventually led to meeting all of you on the internet.

  10. Illogical Volume Says:

    Rick V – yeah, this is a thing I genuinely think sometimes. At S.M.A.S.H. this year, Joel asked Dan if all the Mindless preferred Morrison to Moore, and… putting aside as much as is possible the fact that Moore publicly shat on a friend of mine, Morrison made me Mindless, y’know?

    I don’t know that Nameless really stands up to Providence or whatever, but being Mindless counts for something.

    Duncan lol at you thinking there’s only going to be one Plok essay, come on!

  11. Marc Singer Says:

    Rick: This.

  12. plok Says:

    Hmm, an unexpected concentration on physicality, maybe? “Higher Meaning” in some sense the enemy of bright colours and speed lines and Thrill-Power? This post is making me think of how I’d figured Multiversity, as much as I liked things about it, and issues of it, was just going to be an incoherent Morrison-pastiche by Morrison himself — something with the heart drained out of it, going through the motions, a bit bitter or a bit irrelevant…bit decadent? That was part of the attraction, in a way! But I guess it isn’t so, and he just fooled me again, blast him. Still…

    What do you do with this “sentient universe/superheroes coming to save us” approach, when you’ve already had a President Superman story in which he essentially fights the Nineties or Time-Warner’s lawyers or whatever? My first thought was that you would have to go a bit Howard The Duck on your parody in order to make it a proper critique of something that’s already long since happened…you would have to go at least as broad as the Dave Sim issue of Spawn, even if the critique was crap!…and no part of Multiversity really looked like that to me. I liked The Just quite a bit, and Pax Americana remains the cheekiest comic I expect to ever read period…but what’s it really all about, and what even could it be all about, when the Gentry really won long ago and it’s their world we’re living in? Unending crisis (there has got to be a German word for that!) aligns too well with their purposes to be subversified by merely having a crisis about how Undendingcrisis is terrible…

    And yet Morrison has already satirized that, in Seaguy, so why would he even want to try it here? Seaguy like a multiversal impossibility, because it’s the afterlife of corporate comics, after Unendingcrisis has CEASED, and all has been made perfect product…interesting because hard business realities make it impossible for the Gentry to become Mickey Eye, due to them just not being able to give up that Disaster Capitalism, without which they would die. A vacuous jump of imagination, there! And yet we the readers are as comfortable in Seaguy’s world as in any overdetermined logical continuity scramble — it doesn’t matter to us, because shape and colour and humour are still there, and WE can get exactly what we need from it, and it could even make money for a publisher, but it’d be antithetical to the delightfully-unsubtle representations seen among the Gentry. So it’s not like Morrison doesn’t have a really trenchant, and also entertaining, critique like that in him. But this wasn’t Seaguy, this was indeed just the Pure Product that Seaguy punctures, so what I was thinking was…

    Point?

    But I forgot, until just now, that there’s another completely different Morrisonian stance out there: it’s the Invisibles, where there really are no sides no matter what authority Sir Miles thinks he speaks with, and it’s just Jack that knows the score. Not that Morrison has ever kept this approach entirely out of his more mainstream efforts, for whether you’re Luthor or Darkseid or Solaris (or Doctor Doom, or Cassandra Nova!) you will inevitably, in a Morrison comic, find that someone doped your Ultimate Victory with a meme-virus thirty-five minutes ago…right? However in the mainstream books we also have to get back to status quo, too, so on that level it doesn’t really work, you can’t really have transcendence. Uh…

    The Gentry wouldn’t allow it?

    Yes, well, this is where I got all muddled up, because we wouldn’t want that either, which is what made the Calvin Ellis thing, as much as I liked it, so annoying, because…look, what do you think is actually going on here, Morrison? How does this help me (to paraphrase Howard) get my own little piece of Heaven?

    Like, how is all this not just Li’l Abner and the wedding, y’know?

    THERE’S NO WAY OUT, HERE, JUST BY DOING THIS!!

    But now, from reading this post, I think that maybe once again this was all a fake-out. Gonna take this line out of context, but I think it’s worth it:

    “Comics are, physically, what the experience of reading and interacting with them entails.”

    What would Dane say about the idea that the superheroes are coming to save us? He’d probably say it doesn’t really work that way: superheroes fusing into a single giant golden being as they achieve the ultimate speed of story as they hit the Source Wall? Maybe that’s what could happen, but then they’d all DIE, wouldn’t they? Because it’s not what they are that counts, but what they carry: colour, shape! Thrill-power! You know: interest. Which once liberated from all their weird fictional-physics constraints and fussy little rules in their final destruction, skips across the ultimate boundary like it wasn’t even there, and comes into our hands as genuine 3D experience. Physicality, yeah…and in my case the post-hypnotic induction cues in this post are those highly-physicalized scenes of published Crises…for doesn’t the CoIE scene have a certain, uhm…let’s say charged look, to it? As on the bottom there’s the Flex scene with a million candy-colured spermatazoa racing into the ovum of the Sun. In between, we have naughty, smirking John Constantine beckoning to Swampy from slightly deeper into the orgiastic jungle of recombination, possibilistic cosplay ferment that is by turns sexy and stupid, clean and dirty. My God, what a marvellous triggering mechanism you’ve made for me here! Back to old Woody Allen movies, and thence into childhood. We read ourselves into these things as they read themselves out into us, and that’s the only thing that makes them “things” at all. Everything else is crap, the “higher meanings”, all the continuity games and multiversal maps…for there are no continuity games and multiversal maps: there is only the Dalang.

    Although…

    Look at that thing, it’s clearly not a “map” so much as a mandala. A superposition of sigils? It’s not even Hypertime, because Hypertime is about stories, and this is about styles. “The Fox-Sekowsky Axis”, and the Lee/Kirby worlds! It really isn’t about a description of the multiverse as seen from inside it, playing Geoff-Johns-style by its own dubious rules to achieve its own dubious ends. Oh, those rules! They’re such bullshit anyway. Human interest is a fine thing, but sometimes a boy just has to get out and fondle some polygons, you know?

    Uh…

    I had more. Some stuff about Aristotle and Titus Andronicus and WWII?

    But it’s too beautiful a day.

    That Zoids page, man…that’s a thing of beauty, truly. So epigrammatic!

    You’ve totally convinced me!

    Again, again!

    Lovely bit of Mindlessness there, bravo.

  13. plok Says:

    That may have been a bit slapdash and kinda-sorta a bit LONG.

    Apologies!

    Please accept the apologies of a thread-killer!

    I don’t really mean to do it, I just want to pet the rabbits.

  14. The Beast Must Die Says:

    …and hug them and squeeze them..,

  15. Duncan Says:

    this is great plok, I… will think about a lengthier response, perhaps later today

  16. plok Says:

    Goddamnit, there are spelling mistakes in there too!!

    (rips out hair)

  17. plok Says:

    (falls on ground)

  18. RetroWarbird Says:

    Just realizing now that Harley Quinn is the Cosmos’s next Crisis Psycho Pirate.

    Have we reached critical Harley mass yet? Domino mask included.

  19. RetroWarbird Says:

    * Infinity Quinn. Like Athena spawned straight from Zeus, sprung forth fully formed from one Jokerbaptism to the next.

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