The Multiversity: Guidebook #1
US: Mar 2015
There is a scene near the end of Grant Morrison’s latest entry in his unfolding tale of the DC multiverse.
It is easy to miss. I think that I would have missed it if it hadn’t been pointed out to me. The Batman from Earth-17 has just arrived at Monitor Watchstation—at Valla-Hal, the House of Heroes, the Multiversity. Like the rest of us, he is lost and confused.
Bloodwynd, by way of explanation, says the words that I almost missed. To this newcomer-Batman he says: “We all got drawn here, just like you.”
And I wonder how much this Bloodwynd knows; I wonder what he means by this turn of phrase.
Of course, it is probably nothing. He probably just means that he and all of the other heroes who now find themselves lost between the worlds were brought there by forces beyond their control. Drawn. Lured. Pulled. Persuaded. Forced.
But he could mean something else, couldn’t he?
It is possible that he knows the truth, our truth, that he is nothing but a character in a comicbook. Drawn. Depicted. Portrayed. Pencilled. Inked.
After all, it is something that everyone is quickly learning: The Professors Sivana know; The Batmen know; BIOMAC knows and Prince Tuftan knows and Kamandi knows.
Is that what Bloodwynd means? And is it true for us as well? Was he talking to us, the readers, when he spoke those words? “We all got drawn here, just like you,” he says. And he is looking right at me.
And I know what he means. I’ve read Socrates and Kierkegaard and Richard Rorty. I am familiar with irony, with critical self-awareness, with the mystery that comes from holding deep and heart-felt convictions (in my case, western liberal ones) while all the while recognizing the contingent historical circumstances that put me in this place, that gave me these convictions, that made me who I am.
We all got drawn here.
Yes, indeed we did.
It is hard to know what is going on in The Multiversity: Guidebook #1. It feels as if I have missed something, as if I have been dropped into the middle of things. It’s like picking up a comicbook halfway through a storyarc. You’re not sure who the players are, not sure what has gone before. In that way it is like life, I suppose, into which we find ourselves plunged without preparation, forced to spend our days putting the pieces together, connecting the dots, drawing conclusions on the wall.
It is how I read comicbooks as a child, dropping in and out of continuity. Morrison has made this connection himself, admitting that part of what he is doing is trying to evoke that sense of mystery that he remembers from childhood, that I remember from childhood, when I picked up one issue of The Avengers and then didn’t get back to them for months, when I had to try and put it all together, make up my own back stories, assign my own names and histories to the characters I did not recognize, resolve the stories for myself, imagine my own endings and my own beginnings.
But, of course, what Morrison is doing here is different from that, and different too from life, for in both cases there are back stories to be discovered, even if we have to wait until we’re grown before we can figure it all out, researching our ancestry on some online database or shelling out big bucks for trade editions of those long-ago story arcs. In this case, in the case of The Multiversity there is nothing else to read. The missing issues don’t exist. We haven’t missed anything . We have missed everything.
There is the anticipation of something more, then the let-down of knowing that this is all there is. The back story is just an illusion, a dream in the reader’s mind, like life and the world in the mind of the solipsist.
Morrison lays out most of the 52 worlds of the DC multiverse in this Guidebook. He shows us some things that we already know and some things that we have not yet seen. And I want to feel exuberant, like I did when I first flipped through the Who’s Who of the DC Universe. But then I don’t. Because so much is left out of this telling, so many fictional worlds that I know for a fact exist but don’t appear here, so many stories that have taken place above and beyond these 52, in the long, long history of Superman and his kin.
And, on the other side of this, I feel that too much has been told instead of too little. Worlds filled (no, not filled, anything but filled) with heroes and stories; worlds made (no, not made, anything but made) to fill the 52. But they are not heroes, they are not worlds, until their stories have been told by artists and writers working over the decades, writing and drawing, month in and month out, to meet the deadlines and sell the books and keep the paychecks coming (paid by the page!) and fill the world with stories of supermen and superwomen and supervillians and world upon world colliding and in crisis. Morrison’s Guidebook tells the big stories, but that is no substitute for telling all of the little ones, the thousands upon thousands of little ones that are necessary to build a universe, to build a multiverse. (Morrison surely knows this better than I. He has told countless of those little world-building tales in his day.)
A multiverse can’t be built in nine issues. Can’t be built by one author and one author alone.
But this book is a wonder. Oh boy, is it a wonder.
For more than a moment Morrison made me believe that there was something more to his story, made be believe that there is something more to my story.
It is a fabulous fake.
It is so much less than it appears to be. And so much more.
It is maddening and irresistible.
I read it and find myself and I suspect that you do the same.
I am drawn here. Do you know what I mean?