May 15th, 2015
May 14th, 2015
May 13th, 2015
May 12th, 2015
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).
May 11th, 2015
May 10th, 2015
May 9th, 2015
May 8th, 2015
Synchronicity is a thing that appears to affect Grant Morrison comics more than most, isn’t it? Final Crisis coming with the economic crisis is just the most obvious. There are weird parallels all over the place.
For example, here, Earth-20 and Earth-40 are coming into collision, over and over again, in a cycle. The two universes collide, then rebound from each other.
This comic was published in September 2014.
In October 2014, a new interpretation of quantum physics was published by Michael J. W. Hall, Dirk-André Deckert, and Howard M. Wiseman, in Physical Review X. In this interpretation, the “many interacting worlds” interpretation, there is no waveform collapse, as there is in the Copenhagen interpretation, and nor are there any splitting universes, as in the normal many worlds interpretation. Instead there is a large but finite number of universes, all separate and existing in a gigantic hyperspace, and there are forces acting on those universes to pull them together and to push them apart. Quantum “weirdness” happens, in this interpretation, when two universes bump into each other.
No, I don’t believe it either — the standard many worlds interpretation makes more sense — but isn’t it neat that this would come out just then? Almost like the idea was just…in the air, ready to be plucked out, as it were.
But, of course, we’ve already seen that ideas aren’t in the air. It doesn’t steam-engine when it’s steam-engine time unless James Watt is around. And Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes is, among other things, about creation. But it’s about how creation is also destruction. The very first thing created — “First time I ever took a thought and smacked it so hard into the clay of the real world, it left an unforgettable, indelible, impression” — was a weapon. By bringing ideas into the real world, they become tainted, defiled. We end up with a world in which pulp heroes are living out an obscene parody of Western imperialism in the middle east, torturing and killing, all while appropriating Eastern cultures in a rather clueless way.
Worlds collide. And when they collide, unpleasant things happen.
Of course, Society of Super-Heroes is also a meditation on the pulp genre which the superhero grew out of, and that genre had a very particular attitude to foreigners, and to the unknown. To quote from the rules of pulp storytelling laid out by Lester Dent, who wrote the first 159 Doc Savage novels (but wasn’t Savage’s “creator”; the character was “created” by the head of Street & Smith publications and a staff editor — Dent merely wrote the actual novels, and of course had to do so under a secret identity):
Here’s a nifty much used in faking local color. For a story laid in Egypt, say, author finds a book titled “Conversational Egyptian Easily Learned,” or something like that. He wants a character to ask in Egyptian, “What’s the matter?” He looks in the book and finds, “El khabar, eyh?” To keep the reader from getting dizzy, it’s perhaps wise to make it clear in some fashion, just what that means. Occasionally the text will tell this, or someone can repeat it in English. But it’s a doubtful move to stop and tell the reader in so many words the English translation.
The writer learns they have palm trees in Egypt. He looks in the book, finds the Egyptian for palm trees, and uses that. This kids editors and readers into thinking he knows something about Egypt.
To the pulp writer, there are strong men who are strong, and there are foreigners who are devious and scheming. You don’t need to actually know about the foreigners, and doing so just confuses matters. Pick up a couple of words from the language and you’re fine. You don’t even need to know that the Egyptian language hasn’t been spoken in Egypt for centuries, that it evolved into Coptic which is now rarely spoken outside the Coptic church, and that mostly people in Egypt speak Arabic. So long as you’ve got an unusual murder method, and a menace hanging over your hero like a cloud, you’re fine. Your hero is going over there to civilise them, and so they need to learn from him, not the other way round.
To this genre, the world outside is an invading force that needs to be fought off, even as the hero is usually an “explorer” going to places he’s not been invited, killing people who live there, and stealing their stuff. The whole genre is about projection, about taking one’s own faults and assigning them to an imagined opposite, much like someone reading the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page on Egyptian and then accusing a pulp writer of shoddy research.
Pulp has simple solutions, and refuses to acknowledge complex problems. There’s a reason it’s the favoured genre of fascists — the solution to everything is a strong white man being manly.
Pulp is a Manichean genre, in the pejorative rather than the actual sense. It’s a world in which there are goodies and baddies, and the goodies beat the baddies, and this is right and proper. It admits of no nuance past simple duality. Labour or Tory? Puppy or SJW? Gay or straight? DC or Major comics? Which side are you on?
It’s not a genre suited to multiplicity, to the prismatic age we find ourselves in, and it’s not surprising that the simple pulp solution of stabbing the bad guy leads to disaster here.
Pulp is a genre of simple solutions, and simple solutions lead to totalitarianism. In a world where nuance is shouted down by partisans of two neoconservative parties pushing the same policies but with opposite slogans, pulp is a genre that should be left in the past.
[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]
May 7th, 2015
It starts with money, of course. A demand, in fact, for rent.
May 6th, 2015
This is happening now. As I type.
The first draft is always the most immediate, isn’t it? That’s why serialised comics are a more interesting form than the graphic novel. You can’t go back and fix things. You can retcon, of course — like the politician’s denial, “what I meant to say when I said I wouldn’t raise taxes is that I wouldn’t raise taxes unless I need to” — but you can’t go back and edit what you’ve already written. (I just wrote “edit the past” and then changed it. You can still do that when you’re writing a first draft). You have to keep pushing forward. Embrace the mistakes. Embrace the errors.
So this is a real-time look at Multiversity. This is the take on it I am writing today, Monday 4th May 2015, 10:53 AM as I type this. From this perspective, here and now, Multiversity is the latest part of a story Grant Morrison, one of the most interesting writers to work in the comics medium, has been working on for decades. It’s fair to say that in many ways he’s been telling the same story over and over — a story of idealism turned to dirt, and of a multiverse that hints at a secret conspiracy behind reality, and of the dirty, bedraggled, idealism reasserting itself. Of betrayal and redemption. Of the difference between the physical and the spiritual. And of the multiplicity of viewpoints.
In Morrison’s work there’s often a struggle between two giant warring factions which are revealed to be aspects of the same thing, while real change comes from those opposed to both viewpoints. The significance of this, in election week, is left to the reader.
But the story has been told in a variety of different ways, and this version of the story is the one that Grant Morrison started in 1988 with Animal Man, and told in the 1990s with JLA, and in the 2000s with Seven Soldiers of Victory, JLA: Classified, 52, All-Star Superman, and Final Crisis. In many ways it’s a leftover from those years — it’s a story that was conceived as a follow-up to Final Crisis, and was originally meant to come out in 2010. It’s a profligate, luxurious, expansive story, of a kind that no-one, not even Morrison, is telling any longer in DC comics. After the economic crash in 2008 we’ve had a kind of austerity of the mind in DC’s work, with the “New 52” comics line that started in 2011 being fifty-two flavours of the same grim, gritty, dull, dim-witted hopelessness.
Multiversity has its darkness, of course, as all Morrison’s work does, but there’s hope in there still. It’s a very 2008 kind of comic, from before hope was revealed to be a bad joke.
But maybe that’s what we need right now. To be told it’ll all be all right. That things can get better.
As I write this, we’re in the middle of an election campaign in the UK. The Conservative Party are campaigning on a platform of austerity, cutting benefits, demonising immigrants, and increased authoritarianism. The Labour Party are, in order to provide people with a real choice, campaigning on a platform of austerity, cutting benefits, demonising immigrants, and increased authoritarianism. My own party, the Liberal Democrats, has had a campaign that has mostly ignored the pretty sensible policies its members have voted for in favour of messaging saying “you know how you can’t get a cigarette paper between those other two parties? We want to be that cigarette paper!”. Everyone wants change, but no-one believes it’s possible. The world has been taken over by the anti-life equation, and we need a way out.
As you may have guessed by now, this is not one of those books that annotates everything, saying “the Batman of Earth-793 first appeared in Batman #793, from 1954, in the story Batman’s Bat-Trousers!”. There’ll be some of that, but this is more a response to Multiversity, a reaction to it, and a guide through the thoughts behind it, rather than a catalogue. Those of you who’ve read my earlier books dealing with Morrison’s work, An Incomprehensible Condition and Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!, know what I’m doing here. The rest of you can either jump off now or come along for the ride.
Do I have your complete attention yet?
Whose voice is this speaking in your head, anyway?
[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, it will be available for Kindle from tomorrow (the link will be in tomorrow's piece), and my Patreons get it for free]