The villain of Grant Morrison’s perplexingly good Multiversity sits atop a throne of ruins while his comically ridiculous henchmen, the Gentry, labor to construct the Oblivion Machine, what the dark villain calls “the final chapter of your never-ending story.” The villian’s horned darkness is brightened only by the sign of a downward arrow on his forehead, the sign, also, of the strange and beleaguered hero of last issue, Ultra Comics.
It has all been a tease, the villain informs the heroes. The threat that hung over the far-flung characters in the diverse and cacophonous chapters of this series was not as imminent as it had appeared. The comicbook villain was doing what comicbook villains do, testing the strength of his enemies, posing an insurmountable threat only to withdraw it on the eve of victory so that the heroes can live to be threatened another day, so that the never-ending story, the perpetual fiction of the comicbook universe, can go on and on and on, forever and ever.
I have loved most of the installments in this series, with the exception of Ultra Comics, which I loathed as much for what it wasn’t as for what it was. This final chapter is good, too good perhaps, for it shows us what this series could have been, what many of the readers wanted it to be. Finally, we return to worlds and heroes that we have met before.
Captain Carrot fighting alongside President Superman. That’s what we were promised. That’s what brought many of us along for this ride that was almost always as brilliant as it was murky and unclear.
Not that everything is clear here, either.
The Gentry come from our Earth? That’s what Superman wants us to believe? Despite the warnings, we’ve never been in danger, always been the danger? Morrison is making some point with this, I suppose, but by this late date I’m not sure what it is. One of my biggest problems with Ultra Comics is that the threat that was delivered was never as big and bad as it was made out to be. Now, it appears, we were never in any real danger at all.
And the all-important cubes, the doorways into other worlds in the multiverse, turn out to be a silly game from the 80’s? Clever, I suppose, in its reference back to what we all thought was a throw-away scene in The Multiversity #1. But clever for the sake of clever is finally just distracting.
And the villain? The villain turns out to be the Open Hand, the heart of the DC Universe, the creator, the source?
And the heroes? The heroes really want to call their new team Operation Justice Incarnate?
There are so many unanswered questions. So many unresolved storylines. Of course, I’m sure this all makes sense to Morrison, or will make sense if Morrison ever gets around to writing the sequel that he has in mind. I’m sure I have missed all the important clues that he buried here and there throughout this series and probably in every other single comicbook that he has ever written. But it is all too much for me. In the story itself, it takes a speedster to read through the series quickly enough and, I’m assuming, time and time again, in order to “make connections we don’t have time to make.”
Way back in The Multiversity #1, these ambiguities looked like strengths. Here, at the end, they are clearly weaknesses.
There are things to love here, however, and love them I do.
Ivan Reis brings all these heroes together with the finesse of the great George Perez. His page layouts bridge the flat world of the page and the 3-D world of the reader. His panels form the structure of the story and provide the framework, the cage, from which these heroes and villains struggle to escape. I love the image of Superman reading Ultra Comics while looking and speaking directly to the reader, all the while with Captain Carrot glaring at us over his shoulder.
And Morrison’s dialogue and action is, at one and the same time, both menacingly serious and downright hilarious. Solving a Rubik’s cube has never been more tense and at the same time more laugh out loud funny.
Overall, the The Multiversity has been a compelling series, stronger in its individual installments than in its overarching storyline. Though I, for one, would have liked to have seen more of the band of heroes featured in this issue, would have liked for it to have been more of a story and less of an anthology.
This series was both more and less than I had hoped it would be. At times it felt hollow. At times, deep and sincere. At times, both, marvelously and maddeningly, at once.
At times I felt like Morrison himself had nothing but an empty hand. At times, like he had something wonderful up his sleeve.
What drives me mad is that here, at the end, I’m still not sure which is true.