What’s The Story?

The Penguin is free from prison, and has taken up a new career — as a crime fighter!


What’s The Story?

The nefarious Catwoman is up to her old tricks

Multiversity: Superjudge

May 15th, 2015

And in the end, the threat is the landlords.

The thing about text is, it’s susceptible to criticism.

For all its grotesque, over-the-topness, Mastermen is still fundamentally a comic that pulls its punches.

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).

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

Thunderworld Adventures is by far the most difficult issue of Multiversity to write about, because it’s just a purely good comic.

If your mum and dad fuck you up, you have to kill them, of course.

Multiversity: #earthme

May 9th, 2015

Let’s talk about celebrity culture.

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]