Comic book fans have known of Grant Morrison's "The Multiversity" project for over half a decade, but with the debut issue of the series finally released, it's time to decide if it lives up to the anticipation and hype. Morrison has flirted with the concept of a multiverse for as long as he has been working with DC Comics. In playing with that concept, Morrison has already created a few alternate realities and heroes prior this series. Now, however, Morrison is able to do more than tease out concepts or leak out character designs.
Like the first issue of the historic "Crisis on Infinite Earths," "The Multiversity" #1 gives readers a series of introductions to a wide assortment of characters and their homeworlds, including Thunderer from Earth-7 and (President) Superman from Earth-23. Morrison reveals that the canvas for adventure is not as limited as it was once believed to be. "The Multiversity" #1 visits Nix Uotan, from the Morrison-written "Final Crisis" and introduces readers to his chimpanzee colleague, Mr. Stubbs. It also brings in Captain Carrot and Dino-Cop, but those are just a few of the characters delivered to readers. Captain Carrot's appearance here might be a trademark safety, but Morrison gives the character ample room to shine and even hits on the rich, fun history of Earth-C's greatest champion. Of course, it isn't stated which Earth he now hails from, but at least he's here and has an active role replete with dialogue.
More than simply introducing readers to heroes from strange other universes, Morrison also sews in a story within the story -- or around the story, or maybe even under the story. It is not immediately evident here, but there is clearly more story being told than just the salvation of the multiverse. Like "Coyote Gospel" from his days on "Animal Man," Morrison offers up his thoughts on the comic industry, life and existence. Or maybe he's just asking readers to challenge their own thoughts on those concepts. Morrison breaks the fourth wall more than once, but does so in a manner than doesn't seem unnecessary or ridiculous. It works into the story and the story works through it.
As readers learn in this issue, "The Multiversity" is much more than a simple, cute title for a series spanning a range of universes. Morrison gives the title purpose and builds upon it in "House of Heroes," the first installment of the sprawling series. The map released earlier this summer might shed some light, but Morrison holds a lot of this story in reserve, giving readers just enough for one humdinger of a debut.
As first issues go, there is no better art duo to draw up the emergence of a new world than Ivan Reis and Joe Prado. The duo bring their very best and their most heartfelt homages to "The Multiversity" #1, giving readers lots of visual spectacles to absorb, from a chimpanzee dressed up in pirate garb to the attack of a blue-skinned behemoth baby set on crushing Captain Carrot. Every single panel is packed with detail and masterfully constructed in storytelling, delivering hints about the characters' personalities (Captain Carrot gestures a lot when he talks) and details for fans to drool over. When Nix Uotan arrives on Earth-7, the backgrounds are filled with stuff: characters and costumes, rubble and smoke, but the story hits a lean beat there, giving readers a chance to linger as long as they want, absorbing everything Reis and Prado put down. Nei Ruffino takes all of it and shamelessly colors the heck out of it. While Earth-7 has certainly seen better days and is awash in dull tones, the House of Heroes is colored like a fun-filled, action-packed, extra-sized comic book should be. Todd Klein's letters seal the deal. In Uotan' dialog, certain words are popped throughout the tale, perhaps clueing readers into Morrison's subtext or, more likely, simply providing dramatic emphasis and identity. It all comes together nicely and serves as a wonderful example of the type of unreserved excellence comic books can be, and DC in particular. While Frank Quitely is slated to make a mark on "The Multiversity," I cannot help but think this comic book deserved to be created and presented by no other visual crew than Reis, Prado, Ruffino and Klein. The bar is set pretty high in this initial chapter, here's hoping the visual spectacles continue.
"The Multiversity" #1 takes the spirit of Morrison's work on "Animal Man" and blends it with the unknown excitement inherent in a universe- or, rather, multiverse-spanning event comic book. I was in my pre-teens and very malleable as a comic readers when "Crisis on Infinite Earths" hit the stands. The sense of the unknown, but the richness and depth of history I encountered in those pages continuously opened my eyes, dropped my jaw and blew my mind. The satellite scene in "Crisis on Infinite Earths" #5 presented a tapestry wherein every character brought their own personal thread to the story and it all wove together at that moment. Morrison, Reis, Prado and Ruffino hit the spirit of that moment on the head and give readers a scene worthy of study and reflection, re-reading and replication.
I'll admit to being hypercritical about the potential success of this story. Five years, after all, is an insanely long time to wait between stories -- just look at what's happened to the DC Universe in three years. If Morrison and company can keep up the quality, adventure and fun they brought to "The Multiversity" #1, however, then this is going to be more than worth the wait. While I'm waiting for the next installment, I'm going to go back and read this one. Again.