Multiversity: The Just #1 by Grant Morrison & Ben Oliver
This week, Grant Morrison’s journey through the Multiverse arrives at Earth 16. For this story, he takes two common tropes of alternate worlds and meshes them together with fascinating results. First of all, this is a world of legacy heroes. Batman is Damian Wayne, Superman is Chris Kent, even the supervillains, such as Alexis Luthor, are second generation. There is an occasional cameo appearance by one of the originals, notably Green Arrow, but for the most part this is a world of legacies. The second familiar element is that there is no need for any of these heroes an longer. One of Kal-El’s last contributions to the planet Earth was a crime fighting force of robot Supermen. Operating on pre-set programing and entirely self-maintaining they are able to neutralize any threat (planetary or otherwise) before anyone else has a chance to respond. The result is a world full of heroes who are completely redundant.
Morrison takes this set-up and uses it to depict the heroes as the bored children of privilege. They obsess over hook-ups and party invitations. Some of them band together as the Justice League and reenact previous triumphs in the Nevada desert. Even after a mishap involving one of these training sessions, the various League members seem rather detached. They all appear to be functioning under a uniform of dispassion. No one wants to admit to what they are really feeling because that would be way too much of a downer. So, just keep laughing and partying and maybe someday there will be a point to it all. And if not, why not have a good time at least? It is an intriguing take on heroes which feels both fresh and recognizable at the same time.
The plot, as it were, of this issue centers on Batman and Superman’s investigation into the suicide of the hero Megamorpho, which opens the book. This leads them to the “cursed” DC comic book which has also popped up in the previous installments of Multiversity. The idea that comics tell the true adventures of heroes on other Earths dates back to the introduction of DC’s Multiverse Flash #123. What has become clear by now is that Morrison is delving further into this concept, hinting that every Earth has its heroes’ adventures chronicled in a comic book elsewhere. (In addition to the “cursed” comic, the previous issue of Mutliversity, The Society of Super-Heroes, makes an appearance). This is a fascinating idea and one, which I suspect, will hold the key to how all of these various one-shots link to the bookends.
Overall, the tone of this issue is more arch, less rollickin’ than the previous two. There is still a sense of humor in places, such as Batman ribbing Superman about the latter’s team-up with Sandman (“What Sandman . . . Neil Gaiman’s Sandman?”). There are reoccurring in-jokes, especially in regards to the whole “Batman is gay” fan-debate. However, these moments are more snarky than good-natured. As befits a world overseen by a cabal of spoiled brats, the mood is more resigned hedonism than anything that feels like a natural good time. Thus while still engaging this installment is not as fun or thrilling as Society of Super-Heroes. Then again, I believe that is part of Morrison’s point.
Ben Oliver’s art is sleek, detailed and rather sterile. In other words, it fits well the world it illustrates. Rooms are uncluttered, largely bare of any decorations. What at first glance may resemble hyper-naturalism, increasingly seems more generic. These are characters without much in the way of individual features. They inhabit a world of comfort without personality. Oliver gives everything a coating of glamor, while reminding us that such sheens are rarely more than skin deep.
All in all, another intriguing visit to the Multiverse.