Review: The Multiversity: The Just #1
Posted by Seb Patrick at 21:17 on 23 Oct 2014
And it further turns out that The Just, an issue that I have to admit I wasn't necessarily expecting to be much in the way of great shakes based on its cover and its solicit, is Morrison attempting to do something akin to The Kingdom (which is in itself ironic given that The Kingdom brought Morrison's once-abandoned "Hypertime" concept into official continuity for all of five minutes), only actually good. So it's a story of a world in which the Golden and Silver Age DC heroes age in real time, and so by the year 2014 have mostly (but not entirely) been replaced by their offspring and other successive generations. But rather than being made-up possible future heroes, they're all the legacy heroes from the '90s and beyond.
Or, to put it another way: The Multiversity: The Just is a Silver Age-style "imaginary story" featuring 1990s characters, filtered through a distinctly Morrisonian layer of metatextuality. With Damian Wayne in it.
I mean, if there's anything that I could better wave in people's faces and say "this is how I like my comics", I'd like to see it.
Obviously, this isn't going to be for everyone. And in truth, it's not really saying much that hasn't been said by Peter Milligan, or Alan Moore, or even Morrison himself, many times over. But in much the same way as there will have been a certain type of reader who got excited about the Chris Sprouse-drawn Society of Super-Heroes, the way my tastes run means that I can't help but fall for this. Especially when it has Bloodwynd turn up. I mean, Bloodwynd.
And actually, there is a slightly fresh angle here. We've done "superheroes as spoiled celebrities" many times over, but this isn't even really what this is. Morrison, of course, is interested in the idea of superheroes as icons - and in the world he builds for The Just, we see what happens when the icons can't even be superheroes. They're in a post-Miracleman world (alright, so it's not a hundred percent new), a supposed utopia where there's no reason for superheroes to exist (thanks to the extrapolation to its natural end point of that most Silver Age of concepts, the Superman Robot Army) - and yet because they're the offspring or other mantle-inheritors, putting on a mask and adopting a name is all they know to do.
But for all of that, there isn't really a story. I mean, there's a bit of one, a twist that through its own obviousness manages to be pretty much the least obvious thing a comic with as much self-awareness as this could ever have done, so naturally it does it. But there's not really a plot, as this is a comic seemingly far more concerned with building a world. Which it does with remarkable density - if the core idea of The Multiversity is that each one-shot could be the launchpad for an entire new continuity, this is by far the most strongly developed yet, and the one I'd most want to read some more about; and yet by the end it's put itself in a position where I'm not sure it could really ever go.
But if this one issue is all The Just ever turns out to be - an arch, ever-knowing, Nathan Barley-referencing, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for the Age of the Legacy Hero - then I'll love it for that. I love how it looks, and how it feels - much has been made of Ben Oliver's "realistic" style being a strong fit for a story about heroes-as-celebrity-brats, which I think just goes to show how meaningless the word "real" is when it comes to comics art; because yes, while Oliver's characters are correctly proportioned and all of that, the filters on this are still highly fantastical. Like the kind of magazine pastiched by its cover, it's got just enough of the "real" world to make you think you can reach out and touch it, but in truth it's still keeping the reader at a tremendous distance.
(Of note, too, is Oliver's design work - if it is indeed him who's responsible for how the various characters look, I'm not entirely sure how all the details of the issue were conceived. In some cases he's just aping famed costumes with a few tweaks, and I'm particularly amused by Conner Kent still just wearing that t-shirt and jeans combo; but when he gets to play a bit more, such as Chris Kent's Superman costume, it's inspired. No, it's not an especially great outfit in and of itself - that's sort of the point - but in a story that's predominantly about '90s legacy heroes, we have a Superman with no cape and pouches around his waist. Brilliant.)
And I just love that it exists at all, really. It honestly doesn't feel like the kind of comic that post-2011 DC would ever put out - not least because it pokes fun at them pretty extensively, and very little the company have done over the past five years or so suggests they have much of a sense of humour left. And more than that, it's a celebration of a whole bunch of characters - indeed, of a whole way of doing characters - that's been largely rejected and shunned since the last continuity scrub.
(There's one angle of looking at it that suggests that it's a condemnation of these characters, of course. But I don't think it is. Morrison, after all, wrote a JLA that had Wally West and Kyle Rayner and Connor Hawke in it. This is "his" era more than it's not, really.)
It's been arguably Morrison's most sustained agenda since he first pitched up at DC to keep reminding comics readers that just because "the continuity" gets changed every so often, it doesn't mean that all these characters and concepts and stories simply stop existing. And with The Multiversity - with The Just, and the Society, and the upcoming Charlton story, and even with Captain Carrot - he may be riffing on an old theme, but he's doing so at a time when we might just need it more than ever. And that's why this comic, even though it's laced throughout with a certain level of cynicism and ennui and even downright pessimism, actually feels more joyful and welcome than almost anything in a good long while.