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10/8 The Multiversity annotations Pt 1
LIBRARY artefact #024
To celebrate last week’s release of THE MULTIVERSITY ABSOLUTE EDITION with extensive notes on his brilliant Multiversity Map by Rian Hughes, it seemed somehow appropriate to venture a club-footed waddle down memory lane with a few annotations and recollections.
It took decades but together with partners in crime Keith Giffen, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and editor Steve Wacker, we were able to use the conclusion of the weekly series 52, on which we all worked, to restore a limited multiverse of 52 worlds, regurgitated by Mister Mind in his ‘Cosmic Butterfly’ form and left in vague readiness at the end of 52!
At a celebratory dinner in Las Vegas, the team talked about a follow-up project where we’d explore the new multiverse, each doing a book or two set on a different alternative earth, all done in different styles.
Greg Rucka was assigned to a gritty contemporary super-espionage take on the Charlton characters of Earth-4. Waid was keen on Earth-5 Captain Marvel. Geoff Johns had ideas for Earth-2 and I had something for Earth-prime and Earth-10, as I recall.
In the end, the collaborative multiverse series didn’t pan out, but the idea sat in my notebooks and after Final Crisis, in 2009, I decided to start developing something for my own amusement, eventually titling it The Multiversity, so that it referred to a place of gathering and learning at the centre of the Orrery of Worlds.
The project felt like a natural follow-up to my Final Crisis series - a way of extending Nix Uotan’s story and keeping the Monitor mythology in play while consolidating the existing worlds.
I started work in 2009 – Frank Quitely was already drawing Pax Americana pages by 2012 when we showed them at MorrisonCon in Las Vegas. Cameron Stewart may already have finished his Thunderworld story.
We knew Quitely would be the slowest of the artists assigned to the books – he was trying to work around his commitment to Mark Millar’s Jupiter’s Legacy and quite frankly prefers not to juggle simultaneous projects – so we gave ourselves years of lead time on that book.
I wrote most of the scripts in one big blast, much as I did for the Seven Soldiers books, which were written one after the another in a torrent of unstoppable invention.
The individual issues that came to comprise The Mutliversity erupted out the same way, titles and all, direct from mind’s eye to page…
With the hard work done, I was able to spend years tweaking and tinkering with the books rather than the usual days or at best weeks afforded by the monthly schedule with its first draft ethos.
This opportunity to polish the dialogue and correct minor details at a leisurely pace was ideal for more complicated story structures like Pax Americana, Thunderworld and Ultra Comics where I was grateful for the opportunity to spend time fine-tuning - while other issues like SOS, The Just and Mastermen tumbled into being almost fully intact from beginning to end, dialogue and all.
It also helped keep the project current – although mostly composed in 2009 The Multiversity wasn’t completed and released until 2015, so it was helpful to go in with a regular polish.
The framing issues came last – once I’d decided to take on the project, I had to create a context and some narrative connecting tissue to link the separate worlds in one story. Material and characters from Final Crisis, like Nix Uotan and President Superman of Earth-23, remained to be re-explored and served as a direct bridge from Final Crisis to The Multiversity as well as to 52, Infinite Crisis and the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In the original multiverse story Flash of Two Worlds from 1961’s Flash #123 Barry Allen is shown to be reading the comic book adventurers of his predecessor – Jay Garrick, the ‘Golden Age’ Flash whose adventures quite literally ran from 1940 to 1951.
This fundamental idea at the root of DC’s multiverse, that the worlds of the multiverse could read about one another in comic books suggested a way to make that a feature of the project and a way for the worlds to ‘talk’ to one another.
The other primal consideration is the DC multiverse is the notion of vibrations – editor Julius Schwartz suggested that the original Earth-1 and Earth-2 shared the same physical space but never touched because they ‘vibrated’ at different frequencies. With his superspeed powers, the Flash became the first human to shift his vibrational frequency so that it matched that of a nearby alternative universe. Once he had mastered the trick, it became commonplace and led to the ‘Transmatter Cube’ technology that allowed the League and Earth-2 Society to have regular team-ups in the ‘70s.
The idea of entire continua resonating at different celestial frequencies harked back to the Pythagoerean notion of Musica Universalis or the Music of the Spheres and conjured a DC multiverse that was one immense orchestral performance of the ultimate heroic symphony.
From there, ideas about harmonics and the octave gave us a structure on which to build the series around the number ‘8’.
THE MULTIVERSITY #1
Themes are established on page 1 an extreme zoom from microscopic mites living on the nits that live on hair of Nix Uotan’s landlady, to the people that live in cities and then the scale collapsing back again to bugs in the cracks in the urban landscape while the narration warns of life seeking to find purchase wherever it can – perhaps even in your mind…
As above, so below. From the tiny and ordinary to the vast and celestial.
Mr. Stubbs is the name of the circus chimpanzee in from a serialized story entitled Toby Tyler or Ten Weeks with a Circus collected in book form in 1881. The book, a gritty yarn for kids, was a favourite of both Harlan Ellison and William Burroughs interestingly enough. No idea what might have attracted Burroughs to this tale of lithe wild youths and chattering chimps!
Disney released a film version of Toby Tyler in 1960 and it was this movie adaptation that prompted my beloved cousin Agnes to borrow the name ‘Mr. Stubbs’ for the christening of her ‘Jacko’ chimp toy.
Jacko was a popular Chad Valley ape doll in the early 1960s, when most kids wound up with one of these rubber primates in his rakish striped jersey, like a beatnik bonobo. Like so many of my generation, I had a Jacko of my own and indeed still do – he sits, as he has done for decades, on top of my bookshelf with the same glass-eyed grin I’ve known since childhood – but as a show of eternal devotion to my cousin, there was no option but to name my toy after hers, and so was born Mr. Stubbs 2!
Some combination of the spirit of both our simian pals gives life to Uotan’s faithful sidekick.
I left Nix Uotan, Last of the Monitors, in his human guise at the end of Final Crisis – a cosmic being grounded on Earth disguised as an ordinary human being with everyday problems – like the need to pay his rent, which frames the entire story.
For his appearance in The Multiversity, we chose to streamline Uotan into a more superheroic figure; I asked Ivan Reis to sex up Uotan’s previous A Clockwork Orange look to make it more of a sleek sci-fi superhero costume in black and gold with an impressive cape. I figured he’d have adopted a style more in keeping with his surroundings in the DC Universe.
We never really resolve whether or not Uotan’s unnamed human identity is hallucinating his adventures as he lies reading comics on Xannies and Zoloft. Are stories real? Monitors move in mysterious ways…
Superjudge is an album by psychedelic rock band Monster Magnet. Frontman Dave Wyndorf is a long-time comics fan, often citing Kirby in his lyrics. Dave kindly gave me permission to use Superjudge as Nix Uotan’s official superhero name, and he’s thanked in the last issue of the series.
If Nix Uotan is Wotan, the God of Wednesday when the comics come out, if Wotan, like The Babylonian Nabu, Roman Mercury, Greek Hermes, Egyptian Thoth and many others is a god of speed, communication, language, then Stubbs represents the so-called ‘Ape of Thoth’, the cynocephalus that capers around the silver-tongued mage like the Jester taunts the King, pricking pomposity with humour, obscuring wisdom with inane chatter and madcap interpretation.
Nix Uotan was created to be DC’s Dr. Who equivalent – in this case, a super-powerful black character traversing the many worlds of the Multiverse, solving problems in his cosmic yellow submarine with a wisecracking pirate chimp for company! I’ve always been a little disappointed no-one has thought to pick him up and run with the concept.
As our two heroes travel in their shiftship, the Ultima Thule to answer a distress call from Earth-7, they encounter only ruin and horror and a universe broken and spoiled…
Earth-7/Earth-8 digression ensues…
The first attempt by DC to create its own analogues for recognisable Marvel characters came about when writer Roy Thomas at Marvel introduced to Avengers #69, (Feb/March 1971) an evil parallel world take on the Justice League, in the form of the Squadron Sinister, (later reintroduced as the more benign Squadron Supreme) while at the same time Thomas’ friend and DC writer Mike Friedrich introduced DC’s own Avengers counterparts in Justice League of America #87 from February 1971, drawn by indefatigable Justice League stalwart Dick Dillin.
Silver Sorceress represented Scarlet Witch, with teammate Jack B Quick as DC’s answer to Quicksilver. The tiny Blue Jay and later Lady Blue Jay stood in for Ant Man and the Wasp, and then there was Wandjina…
One can imagine writer Mike Friedrich consulting a book on world mythology for thunder gods, storm gods, gods of lightning, and settling on the interesting name ‘Wandjina’, without planning to do much with it, other than tack the moniker on a throwaway character. ‘Wndjina’ however, does not refer to a ‘god’ but to specific spirits associated with particular areas in Australia’s Kimberley region.
Artist Dick Dillin, under instruction from Friedrich, or perhaps assuming aboriginals would naturally worship a white god, made less of the indigenous origins of the Wandjina spirits and more of popular conceptions of a ‘storm god’, drew DC’s Wandjina as a bald Thor, with a costume recalling that of Marvel’s Thunder God and, with its swashbuckling pirate boots and hairy cape, far more suggestive of a Teutonic or Germanic deity filtered through Hollywood than the mysterious spirit beings of Western Australia.
These thrift store assemblers from Angor who had undeniable potential and would, these days, be the subject of a massive crossover event, were instead quite awe-inspiringly dull from the moment they showed up in the story, lacking the vigour and depth of Marvel’s Squadron characters.
These ersatz Avengers came from an Earth-like planet called Angor, which was in the process of recovering from a nuclear exchange – the set up felt a little too far from the ‘world outside your window’ to work as a convincing reusable substitute for a DC Avengers and lacking a team name of their own, these lacklustre knock-offs were referred to simply as the Champions of Angor.
The heroes of Angor showed up again in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s when Keith Giffen and JM DeMatteis spun a twisty story of nuclear disaster, reanimated corpses and international intrigue.
In Justice League Quarterly #3, The Champions of Angor became the Justifiers, a name used to better effect by Glorious Godfrey’s enforcers from Jack Kirby’s New Gods. They were at some point known as the Assemblers too, which suggests not super-heroics but Ikea. The originals werte joined by Tin Man (Iron Man), the Bowman (Hawkeye), T.A. (beats me – anyone know who she’s a stand in for?) and Bug (Spider-Man). Interestingly enough ‘Bug’ as a name for the Spidey analogue survives across Champions, Maximums, and Retaliators!
A group of villains based on Marvel’s prime antagonists appeared in 1987’s Justice League International #1 as Lord Havok and the Extremists, with Lord Havok (Doctor Doom) leading a band of robot expy characters like Gorgon (Dr. Octopus) Tracer (Sabertooth) and Doctor Diehard (Magneto)…etc…
For the 2007 series Lord Havok and the Extremists, this concept was relocated to the now-classified Earth-8, Havok and the Extremists became flesh and blood baddies not robot duplicates, and the Champions of Angor/Justifiers showed up as the Meta-Militia. With sensational elements such as Americommando’s torrid affair with Blue Jay’s lover T.A. and Wandjina’s portrayal as a closeted homosexual, the Angor story reached a heated soap opera-ish climax.
When it came to rationalising and streamlining all this convoluted continuity for The Multiversity, I simply never mentioned that Earth-8 might once have been ‘Angor’ and although I populated it with previously seen Champions like Blue Jay and Silver Sorceress, along with Lord Havok, I also threw in a few new analogue characters to flesh out the ‘Major Comics Universe’ as it appears in The Multiversity.
In truth, I’d forgotten about Tin Man being an existing Iron Man sub and Americommando taking Captain America’s place, so I came up with Machinehead, and American Crusader, while wishing now I’d used Americommando instead!
I turned the Champions of Angor/Assemblers /Justifiers/Meta-Militia into the Retaliators, whose sole virtue as a name is to be at least as uninspired as any of the others.
In the tormented skies of the wounded Earth-7, can be seen the shredded vaporous form of Ghost Girl, Earth-7’s Invisible Woman equivalent, joined by shrieking phantom clouds of trapped and dematerialised hero spirits.
Stretched, attenuated, tortured, we see Frank ‘Doc’ Future, a version of Marvel’s Mr. Fantastic unable to move, draped like a sheet across the ruins of a New York he vowed to protect!
Then there’s Golem, this world version of the Thing, welded into the city’s buildings and infrastructure in twisted agony.
While in the sky can be seen a flaming sun representing Earth-7 Future Family stalwart Fireball – now entombed as a living suffering consciousness chained to the deformed and dying sun!
These characters, I hasten to add, are the Earth-7 ‘Essential’ Universe versions of their more traditional Earth-8 Marvel counterparts! The Essential Universe being my take on Marvel’s own Ultimate Universe.
The Ultimate Universe – carefully assembled and established primarily by Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis to plausibly tie into real world politics and entertainment - had recently been laid waste during what seemed an ill-judged stunt by writer Jeph Loeb and David Finch in 2009. Ultimatum was a series that rejected the grounded realism and geo-political credibility of The Ultimates in favour of widescreen disaster porn spectacle more reminiscent of The Authority.
The Multiversity’s analogue of ‘Ultimatum’ is the starkly named ‘Essential Genocide Crossover’, as it’s referred to by Plastic Man’s son Offspring in the upcoming The Just.
Again, I missed an opportunity here – Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness included their own faux Ultimates in 2005’s Superman/Batman #20 as a team called The Maximums, comprised of Soldier, Viking, Robot, etc, with the Avengers reduced to their basic archetypal roles. This bunch were creations of the 5-Dimensional imp Mr. Myxyzptlk, and bore no relation to the Champions of Angor
I’ll admit to kicking myself for not using those characters as the victims of the Maximum Genocide crossover. It would have made more sense, played with existing continuity and acted as a wry acknowledgment of Loeb’s involvement in both stories!
Thunderer, introduced here, was my attempt at a slightly more culturally sensitive nod to Aboriginal mythology. His costume colours, black red and yellow are traditionally used to represent the Wandjina spirits as rock paintings.
To be continued…