Hello and welcome back to Multiversity’s annotations of “The Multiversity,” our ongoing look at Morrison’s magnum opus/ode to the DCU. Just as we did last time, we’ll be going into the book pretty deep and seeing what we can find out. However, unlike last time, there will be a lot less theorizing; instead, we’ll be more trying to figure out where this issue fits into the bigger whole, and attempting to point out easter eggs and references. We’ll get back into the heavier stuff probably more towards the end, given the one-off nature of these releases.
So those of you who have their copies of “The Multiversity,” lets dig in. And, of course, spoilers are abundant not just for “The Multiversity” but for previous works of Morrison’s that “The Multiversity” references.
Part 1: The Earths We Knew
Just like we did with the first issue, we’re going to start by looking at all the Earths relevant to this issue. Of course, given that the first issue was a bookend it made a bit more sense to break it down and try and cipher information from it, but never the less we’ll keep it as a staple of this column to keep the Earths fresh in our mind as we begin our looks at the series.
Without further ado, here are the two Earths featured in this issue:
|Earth-20||Home of the Secret Society of Super Heroes, a pulp team featuring Lady Blackhawk, Doc Fate, and Abin Sur.|
|Earth-40||An alternate Earth in which Vandal Savage took over the world, now invading Earth-20.|
Part 2: Page by Page Analysis
As we kick-off, we have a splash page and some prose narration that opens this issue up. I am sure most people “figured this out,” but it’s a rather overt reference to pulp comics — a single (not-quite-spot) illustration with some text to go over it. That the issue opens and closes with it is no doubt a direct reference to the type of pulp adventure that the issue spends its duration imitating.
The windowless Manhattan skyscraper we see before us sort of evokes two things to me. The obvious reference would be the Tower of Fate, given that it is the home of Doctor Fate. The other, less obvious option could be a reference towards the Obelisk from 2001; a lot of this issue will revolve around knowledge and how it corrupts, and given the inclusion of Vandal and Anthro and how Morrison wrote them in “Final Crisis” (something we’ll discuss a bit more in a sec), it seems like it could be a nod to the famous opening scene of the film and the dawn of man.
In terms of what is discussed, I’m not quite sure. “V-Radio” seems like a reference to something, but if anything the “V” looks like the “V” from the Venture Industries logo, which makes no real sense in context (well, kind of — Venture Bros is certainly a pulp riff, but it’s not in any way associated with DC). I’m also unsure of who Professor Rival is supposed to be.
As for our humble narrator…
Say hello to the super suave iteration of Anthro, here assuming the name of the Immortal Man. Of course, it stands worth noting that in DC, these two characters are separate; Anthro is Anthro, Immortal Man is Immortal Man, but now they’re amalgamated together.
What’s interesting about the reference to Anthro, of course, is that Antrho was a central figure to Morrison’s “Final Crisis” — to a specific point. As Anthro is, in some ways, DC’s ‘first’ character, “Final Crisis” both started and ended with Anthro, something that Morrison has made note of in interviews as thematic choice towards both the ideas of stories and their roles as well as their relationship to the DCU in its entirety; first Anthro was given the gift of knowledge (which led to the “invention” of fire) from Metron, and then at the end of the series Bruce Wayne laid Anthro to rest before finishing his transcription onto a cave wall. So including Anthro in this issue as a lead? A pretty on the nose nod.Continued below
Not only that, but I’ll remind you of the battle of Anthro against Vandal Savage that opened “Final Crisis”, and Vandal’s role in “Return of Bruce Wayne” (which opens where “Final Crisis” ends and features Bruce vs. Vandal) — both of which sets the stage somewhat for the confrontation present in this issue.
So Anthro received power and immortality the same way Vandal Savage did (via a meteorite), and we’ve basically combined the role of Anthro (which has importance to Morrison’s bibliography) and Immortal Man, who is Vandal Savage’s main nemesis. Morrison has used the Immortal Man in the past, such as with “DC One Million,” but I’m going to hedge my bets on Anthro being the more important part of the equation here.
As for the hall that he walks into, notice all the Egyptian imagery obviously nodding towards Doctor Fate’s history and relationship with ancient Egypt (the helmet of Doctor Fate is inhabitted by the spirit of ancient wizard Nabu), as well as the Thoth statue to the immediate left, not to be confused with a statue of Horus as I’ve seen in other places. Thoth was the god of wisdom, and held a very important and influential role in Egyptian mythology. Thoth and Doctor Fate have been linked for quite a long time in DC Comics.
Hello, Blackhawks! Seems that on Earth-20, instead of the Blackhawks being all dudes with one female member named Lady Blackhawk so you don’t get confused, we have only Lady Blackhawks, led by Lena. However, Doc Fate will later refer to “Lady Blackhawk,” so I guess Earth-20 isn’t afraid of being redundant.
Anthro references “Al-Wadi” to her, which in DC Comics is primarily noteworthy for its role in the 2011 launch of “Demon Knights,” and was home to Al Jabr, one of the main characters of the series. As for the other mentions (man-eating men in Ghulistan, the eye of the Giaour), I’m not sure of any particular references; according to a google search, “giaour” is actually an offensive ethnic slur used by Muslims in Turkey and the Balkans to describe non-Muslim people but as for why Morrison would mention this the best I can find is a poem by Lord Byron called “The Giaour: A Fragment of a Turkish Tale” (read it here) which is about love, sex, death and the afterlife — relevant because Byron appeared in Morrison’s “The Invisibles.” Well, and the love, sex, death and afterlife stuff seems like it could be relevant to an Immortal Man too.
As for “Ghulistan”, the best I can find is a Persian literature book entitled “Gulistan” by Sa’di, but even when compared to the Byron thing, I think that might be a stretch. Not sure of any famous cannibal cultures in DC Comics, but “man-eating men” is awfully pulp.
I also like that Anthro/Immortal Man is referred to as Stranger. I don’t imagine that this means that Anthro is also the Phantom Stranger on Earth-20 at all, but seeing as we never meet Earth-20’s Stranger, it could be a nod to that.
Last but certainly not least, we get to meet Al Pratt, the Mighty Atom! Al Pratt was also the Atom in regular DC Comics continuity, though he did not wear a sweater vest. I’ve seen it theorized that the circle and dot on his mask is a reference to Dr. Manhattan from “Watchmen,” which seems fair given that Dr. Manhattan was referencing a model of the hydrogen atom and there’s no real correlation between the Atom himself and the hydrogen atom.
Iron Munro! Remember him? I bet you didn’t, because I sure didn’t. Iron Munro is a DC hero introduced in “Young All-Stars,” himself being based on Aarn Munro, who is the hero of a series of short stories written by John Campbell in the 30s. How appropriate then that there is an Iron Munro Challenge in this pulp-y era. That, and the Iron Munro Challenge seems like a nod to the whole Charles Atlas exercise routine (which in turn was a partial inspiration for Morrison’s Flex Mentallo).
There’s also a reference to “the Great War against Herr Hex and his Desert Crescent Allies,” no doubt a reference to this world’s Jonah Hex and his evil Nazi cowboy posse. There is also a famous villain named Herr Doktor Kreuger, a villain to pulp hero G-8, who could be somewhat melded with Hex in this world. Funny how that worked out.Continued below
Ibn al Ghul is a reference towards the Son of the Bat, Ibn al Xu’ffasch. That he is named “al Ghul” here is probably a reference towards Morrison’s Primary Earth canonization of the character as Damian Wayne. The Suicide Djinn is a bit more difficult to parse, but this could be a reference to the DC terrorist organization Onslaught from Qurac, which featured the characters Djinn and Digital Djinn (an updated version of Djinn) and first showed up during “Suicide Squad.” Meanwhile, “techno-etheric” is like something almost directly from the Grant Morrison Name Generator.
We also find that Doug Mahnke’s issue of “The Multiversity” surrounding “Ultra Comics” makes an appearance as one of the artifacts in Doc Fate’s artifact vault, something that Al Pratt picks up and is immediately reprimanded for. In the last issue when we saw Nix reading it, we learned that it was in some way cursed. We also learned that one universe’s reality is another universe’s fiction, so it’s interesting seeing this comic present here; given that this issue takes place in the 1940s, it’s very clearly time displaced.
(I do love that Atom mentions that not reading comics is not like not watching movies — the commonplace of the medium is perhaps a good subject for a longform article later.)
Welcome to the party, Abin Sur. Abin Sur is ostensibly taking the place of Alan Scott (from AS to AS) as his design is fairly close to that of the original Golden Age Green Lantern with a mix of the Demon thrown in. Given the whole pulp revival/Golden Age aesthetic of the issue (and that Abin Sur appears first in a comic called “SOS Green Lantern,” which is very appropriate given the name of the team), it makes a lot of sense to sort of blend the two together. And it appears Abin Sur is still from Ungara and Earth is still in Sector 2814, so we’ve not lost too much.
What is very interesting, though, is that one of the first things Abin Sur notes is that his appearance “evokes fearful cultural associations.” Given that the Green Lantern’s main role is to overcome fear, it seems pretty interesting that the Green Lantern of Earth-20 would instill fear, not just protect against it.
Also of note? Nix had illustrations of this iteration of Abin Sur on his desk in the last issue. I know those particular sketches were actually done by Morrison as his designs, but it is an interesting connection to make note of.
So, on this page we get an explanation of the main premise of the issue: “an entire alternate reality moving in a binary orbit and on a collision course… with our own,” and “the barrier between two worlds is becoming more and more fragile.” I bring this up specifically because it’s interesting to me how Marvel and DC seem to be mirroring each other quite a lot lately, for two organizations that seem to have fallen out of sorts with one another publicly. The explanation given here for the main events of the issue seem to be very similar to the incursion events present in Hickman’s “Avengers”/”New Avengers” run, with Hickman being a Morrison-picked creator of the past at MorrisonCon. The two writers often feature similar traits, and while I would actually tend to think that Morrison’s explanation for the events here to be more of a nod towards your typical crisis, it does seem rather of note how similar it is that two worlds start vibrating on the same frequency and all of a sudden only one can exist.
Another thing that’s rather fascinating to make note of is that, if you look at the Multiversity map, you’ll notice that Earths 20 and 40 are both in the same loop and directly opposite one another, moving very clearly in a diametrically opposed orbit (Doctor Faust will even refer to it as a “mirror image” in a couple pages). It makes their appearance on the map seem rather apropos.
Anthro makes note of being at Camelot, which is pretty relevant to DC Comics. See: earlier referencing to “Demon Knights.”Continued below
Hello, Society of Super-Heroes! The Atom! Immortal Man! Lady Blackhawk! Green Lantern! Doc Fate! Here’s a fun fact for all you Morrison scholars out there: the Society of Super-Heroes actually made a very brief appearance in “Final Crisis: Superman Beyond,” so there’s another aspect of everything come full circle out of that book.
The SOS aspect, of course, seems rather an on-point nod towards the SOS call that was put out in the last issue to assemble heroes of the Multiverse to come against the Gentry.
Good thing that Vandal Savage managed to get Red Skull’s experimental Hydra plane from the finale of Captain America: The First Avenger to invade Earth-20 with.
I kid, of course. Actually, this kind of plane — the Burnelli Flying Wings, designed by Vincent Burnelli — is pretty common to pulp fiction. It was featured in Dick Tracy and Fighting Devil Dogs serials, and is pretty much the standard for pulp villain planes. Not quite sure if that was what Burnelli was going for with his legacy, but it’s become iconic, there’s no doubt about that.
Also, note that this version of Doctor Faust is reading the “Ultra Comics” issue of “The Multiversity” here as well, and using it as a tool to understand how they arrived on this Earth at all.
The first appearance of Faust’s necro-men, who could be a reference to Nick Necro, a villain linked to Faust in the New 52 who Faust resurrects as a main villain of the series.
So, Atom claims to have been in battle against something called “The Fear-Thing.” While we don’t see it for some pages, we’ll learn that this is this Earth’s version of Parallax, still a somewhat ethereal yellow fear monster. It’s a little bit different on Earth-20, but seems to serve the same overall purpose — and even supposedly overcomes Abin Sur’s ability to overcome fear and kills him. It stands worth noting that in Geoff Johns’ re-written history of the Green Lantern mythology, Parallax is at least part of the reason Abin Sur died in the first place, specifically due to the introduction of idea of the yellow impurity into Hal Jordan’s origin story.
We also get another reference to that comic being cursed. Man. I can’t wait to read it!
Atom also mentions the music of the spheres, which was discussed at length in the last issue when we learned about how the various multiversal earths all vibrate on different frequencies and can be visited via playing the right tune on a multiversal space harp. We don’t really have to go into it a whole lot again, but seeing as I didn’t mention it last time, I figured I’d throw in here that that music is something you can actually sort of listen to — here’s Jupiter, for example; as the YouTube page explains, “The complex interactions of charged electromagnetic particles from the solar wind , planetary magnetosphere etc. create vibration “soundscapes”.” I used to actually listen to this a fair bit in college, because I was a cool kid. Musica universalis is a very fascinating thing if you’re into harmonic philosophies.
Doc Fate also makes reference to the Makara, which is a Hindu sea-creature, often depicted as a crocodile-esque creature. While there are a number of things that Morrison could be evoking towards religious or mythological references here (the Makara is used as a vehicle for the goddess of the river Ganges, is a symbol of protection for Hindu and Buddhist temples and is the astrological sign of Capricorn), I would imagine he is more directly referencing the beast-like nature of the Fear-Thing, which we will later see as a dragon-like being, Makara being a Sanskrit word for “sea-dragon.”
Now, here’s some important information: Doc Fate tells Atom a story about the Monitors. In this story, Doc references that there was a race of being before gods called the Monitors, and that “when the Monitor race died, things from outside came to occupy the vacuum they left behind.” This seems like an obvious nod towards where the Gentry came from, but we also get to “learn” a bit about Nix Uotan, the last Monitor who is protecting the multiverse. While those who have read “Final Crisis” or “Countdown” certainly know the story of the death of the Monitor race and Nix Uotan’s origins, this is the first in-story nod we’ve had towards who Nix is, thus sort of clarifying things for us as to how Nix is involved.Continued below
Doc also makes reference that Nix was “imprisoned long ago, fighting an eternal battle for all mankind.” This could be a reference to “Final Crisis” again, sure, but it could also very well be a reference to “The Multiversity” and why Nix was seen with a bottle of pills on his desk. Nix does seem to be aware of his dual role as a citizen of Earth and the last Monitor in the first issue, but I also speculated that the way that Morrison is telling this story could be akin to “Joe the Barbarian,” in which we are deliberately not really supposed to be able to say whether he’s actually a Monitor or just some delusional kid, and everything else is just the fallout of his having some kind of mental breakdown.
However, while that’s obviously up for debate, Doc points out that they are in the Temple of Niczhuotan, which explains the Mayan symbolism of the Pyramid that they’re in and sort of reiterates the point of reality elsewhere becoming fiction on other planes. Nix Uotan is a story on Earth-20, and has become ingrained in their historical culture and mythology by way of Niczhuotan. So for people who have not read all of Morrison’s grand oeuvre, you can still see the seeds planted that explain who is what and why.
Also, just keep in mind how important it is that Doc Fate is telling a story at all, as the power and impact of stories was the central thesis of “Final Crisis,” and seems to be a recurring thematic element in “The Multiversity” as well (if not, once again, the point of it all).
Doc Fate also unmasks here. I don’t think we’re supposed to recognize him (although Kent Nelson will later be referenced), but if we are then it was lost on me.
Hey kids! It’s Blockbuster! [Appluase.]
Blockbuster is a pretty classic DC villain that I’m sure many people were/are familiar with. He featured in various animated DC cartoons, was rumored to be a villain in Super Max (David Goyer’s Green Arrow film), and this kind of marks his first appearnace in the New 52. If we count “The Multiversity” as part of the New 52, anyway. Which I don’t.
I don’t think Buddhakh-Amun or Ra-Amida are specific references to anything in DC’s history, though they are a mix of various Eastern spiritual icons — specifically Buddha, Amun, Ra and Amitābha. Doc Fate has always been sort of linked to Egyptian mysticism, but it appears that in Earth-20 he’s much more diverse.
We now get our first look at Savage’s team, the Anti-SOS, which consists of the previously seen Faust, his necro-men and Lady Shiva (as well as two other characters, one of which is only seen for a single panel later). A martial arts master and assassin-for-hire, Lady Shiva did make it into the New 52 as a member of the League of Assassins, but I think I prefer her more here as a pulp fatale. We also learn the names of the rest of the Blackhawks (Killah, Pixie, Red, Monkey and Princess) and get what is just an absolutely stunning aerial battle sequence from Chris Sprouse. Like, wow.
Also of note is that Vandal Savage mentions summoning “a god from hell.” I don’t want to flash-forward too much, but this does seem a nod towards who was discussed a couple pages ago and what we’ll see in the finale.
Here is the first actual mention of the Gentry in the issue, creating a bit of a link between the overall premise of the series and this specific issue and how it relates. Here, Faust mentions that Doc Fate is a pawn of the Gentry and he is one of their prophets, which seems to sort of nod to Faust being a representative of the Gentry on Earth-40. Given that we know that the Gentry moves from world to world destroying things, it actually kind of makes sense that the way that they get into the world is through an emissary that can help bring them in. In the same way that our heroes shoot out an SOS call, the Gentry must do something of the opposite — and once they have someone there to bring them in, half the battle is already over.Continued below
That said, it also stands worth pointing out Faust’s possession of the cursed comic from earlier. We know that it is an all-powerful item, that it is cursed, but if Faust is an emissary of the Gentry then it makes sense that he’d have the comic; it’s perhaps a communication tool of sorts. Not only that, but what Doc Fate is doing with it is another point of conversation. Fate has been in a lot of battles and has his trophies, so it stands to reason that whoever was the Gentry’s emissary on Earth-20 was someone Fate managed to stop. If that’s the case, then Faust and Vandal Savage coming over from Earth-40 to Earth-20 — two direct mirror images — makes a lot more sense as to why they’d be trying to crossover in the first place.
So it seems fair to me to believe that whoever has the cursed comic is perhaps being used by the Gentry as an infiltration tool. It would probably be wise to see who is in possession of the book in later issues of the series, as they’re probably key components towards the overarching narrative of the book.
Doc Fate’s comment about zombies not being original is also pretty funny, given the excessive amount of zombies we’ve been inundated with in pop culture. I chuckled. Maybe my favorite scene of the issue.
We also get to see the aforementioned Fear-Thing/Makara, named here as Parallax once more. Here he appears to be a bone dragon instead of a space bug, but at least part of the design of this Parallax appears to be as a mirror of Abin Sur, which makes a lot of sense (specifically the yellow circle in the chest of the beast).
Pages 30-31, 33
I have nothing particular to add to this sequence other than it is the most pulp-y of pulpy pulp we get in the issue. A sword fight over a pit of alligators seems like it has come straight out of a trope-filled pulp dream. All we’re missing is a Doc Savage-esque guy loaded with muscles, a ripped shirt and a billion quips.
Also, the Eye of the Giaour makes its return as the Chekovian gun of the issue.
Here we get the first reference to the origin of Anthro/Immortal Man and Doc Savage and the meteorite that gave them both powers. While it was never the case in either of their real origin stories (depending what is canon or not on parallel Earths, I suppose?), I did get a strong vibe that the meteorite shards were similar to Kryptonite, in that the only things that could hurt or destroy either of them was a piece of rock from related to how they have some kind of power.
That Anthro mentions “on his world it became the first murder weapon” does also nod to the notion that Vandal Savage is also Cain of “Cain and Abel” fame, which Vandal Savage believes he truly is. I suppose now is as good a time as any to once again bring up “Final Crisis,” where in Vandal Savage became Cain during the “Revelations” tie-in.
Doc Fate has created a gateway to parallel universes! Now we know how Abin Sur ends up in the Cosmic Neighborhood Watch, as seen on the cover of “The Multiversity” #1, and we also somewhat know what this world’s iteration of the transmatter cube is now (not counting however Faust and Savage got in).
Also of note: Abin Sur is not dead, and beats the heck out of Parallax. He also turns him into an agent of the Green Lantern Corps, which is an interesting transition. It would appear that Parallax here is not so much the actual embodiment of fear, but rather a name given for an agent of whatever exists of the Count Sinestro Corps of Earth-20. In turn, when Abin Sur takes over the use of the bone dragon creature, he refers to it as the Makara Plasma, and not Parallax. We also get to see Count Sinestro being dragged in by Abin Sur, and I am pleased to note that he is as Snidely Whiplash-esque as I would’ve hoped. Easily my favorite little referential moment of the issue.Continued below
Here we learn a little bit about the new Doc Fate as well. He was adopted, assumedly by Kent Nelson, who was the original Doctor Fate when the character first appeared. We also see that Doc Fate is somewhat aware of the issue that plagues the rest of the heroes in “The Multiversity,” in that he seems to be aware of the general cosmic threat and has been assigned to be Earth-20’s hero to actually do something about it — y’know, besides just creating a superhero team and calling it “S.O.S.” The referencing here is pretty overt at this point.
Abin Sur also mentions that the Watchers of Earth-20 are aware of the threat and have alerted him to it, so I do kind of wonder how Doc Fate got his dreams.
We also learn that Al Pratt is afraid of his face becoming disfigured, which is strange to me; I don’t seem to recall any particular previous correlation between Doc Fate and his face or any kind of issue or disfigurement that could’ve or did occur in his history.
The confrontation of Anthro and Vandal Savage, who likens himself to Cain. Anthro stabs Vandal with a spear, which reminds me of Vandal being stabbed with the Spear of Destiny in “Final Crisis: Revelations.” In return, Vandal beats Antrho and draws blood from him with a rock, which is a nod to Cain beating his brother Abel to death with a rock. In this scenario it is Anthro who kills Vandal (which still accomplishes Vandal’s goal), but that play on the original story of how evil was born now leading into evil being unleashed on this world seems rather on-the-nose. Appropriate, though.
As a side note, that Anthro mentions here “the first thing I made was a weapon” does also seem like a nod to how Metron giving Anthro knowledge in “Final Crisis” did lead to Anthro creating fire in battle against Vandal Savage in the opening of the series. That is, perhaps, the more obvious and direct nod towards that past interaction.
Finally, wrapping it up we see the stone-carved head of Niczhuotan. Given that Vandal Savage wanted to raise a “god from hell” earlier and here calls him “the destroyer of worlds,” it seems apparent that when Nix became the Vampire Monitor (or what we’ll refer to as the Vampire Monitor) in the finale of the first issue, Nix’s corruption spread through the Multiverse rather quickly. Anthro doesn’t seem particularly pleased to see the head of Niczhuotan “(coming) to life with a gear-grinding cacophony of immense, rotating limestone cubes.”
Oh, and we also once again come back to the S.O.S. It is no longer the Society of Super-Heroes. It is once again the call for help shouted out in the first issue: save our souls.
That’s all for this month’s annotations. If there’s anything important that I missed, please do sound off in the comments below. Together, we can save the universe!
Special thanks to Keith Dooley for contributing notes for this issue.