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13/9 The Multiversity Annotations Pt 11
LIBRARY artefact #047
This, the grand finale of The Multiversity project was my attempt, alongside peerless superhero artist Ivan Reis, heir to Neal Adams, to do something new with the ‘operatic’ style used by Roy Thomas - writer of many, many things but, specific to this discussion, The Kree/Skrull war storyline in Avengers #89-97 in 1971/72 – with its confidently deployed overload of captions, thought balloons, sound effects and multiple spaces for text to gather, resonate and propagate into wild feedback!
So too we begin The Multiversity #2 with a chorus of interweaving voices. On page 1 an unidentified narrator picks up where we left off at the end of Ultra Comics in a nihilistic black void that is here, now pricked by light and brings a reminder that the story goes on, with or without us.
A second voice joins in, done in declamatory quasi-Biblical idiom suggestive of a choir singing the hallelujahs of a visionary experience using the language of comic books.
Then a 3rd voice, that of Jason Blood, chimes in with a rhyme that talks about the beginning of Creation, the Fall, and the binding of demons, all in terms of the Word and its propagation through time!
A multitude of voices are heard as the story proceeds. Stories are being told in every nook and cranny of this episode!
The profusion of Gothic architecture that defines the twilight skyline of Necropolis (the Metropolis variant on Earth-13) comes from real life sources.
The graveyard in foreground is based on the Necropolis in Glasgow, the best-looking cemetery in Europe. Batman fans may be familiar with the place from the opening sequence of Matt Reeves movie The Batman, and it’s appeared in various films in recent years.
Other famous Gothic structures we used here were Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Glasgow University building with its iconic steeple, as well as St. Pancras Station and the Houses of Parliament in London, among others.
The moon is BIGGER on this world. Or CLOSER. You decide!
We hear the halting words of Jason Blood, the Demon’s human host, talking us through the origin of demons, bound by rhythm and rhyme, with a short verse about the origins of the word itself, the Fall of the Angels, and how words became prisons to trap and define creatures of chaos. From there, he goes on to remind us that all bars and cages must inevitably decay, such is the fate of material things – and with free form verse slipping into classic Kirby Kouplets, he summons Etrigan, the Superdemon!
Next comes the dialogue of the vampire soldiers, wearing protective blood-filled helmets.
I tend to judge comic book writers, perhaps unfairly, by their ability to compose verse for Etrigan, the demon. Kirby’s original used rhyming couplets to effect his transformation from Jason Blood to Demon, but Alan Moore raised the bar when he brought the character into his Swamp Thing run and had complex, intricate and metered rhymes spill from the Demon’s slobbering lips.
Neil Gaiman experimented with various verse forms and held his head up high. Alan Grant and Garth Ennis usually stuck to basic couplets or sometimes limericks, in a kind of Hillaire Belloc cautionary tale style, intended more for humour. Although the rhyme schemes were basic, the rhythm was sound, the stresses and beats fell in the right places and the words had wit.
Otherwise, and for some reason, a surprising number of writers falter when it comes to the Demon – some prefer to ignore the whole rhyming conceit altogether, probably for the best, while others take wild stabs that strike me as oddly tone deaf. No flow, no rhythm, no metre, just every now and again a word that rhymes in clumsy fashion with some other word preceding it from anywhere in sequence. Reading the verse aloud should be enough to identify any problems!
I discussed this curiosity last year with Superman writer Philip Kennedy Johnson; his theory was that writers who played musical instruments or who wrote songs perhaps had a better grasp of rhythm and where the stresses and beats fall in a rhyming scheme. Who knows? It’s conjecture at this point and pedantry.
Here, though, was my own chance to shine with this one and only crack at the Demon, or at least an analogue, in the form of Superdemon, leader of the spooky Earth-13 League of Shadows.
When he assumes his infernal form, Etrigan slips effortlessly into an Elizabethan sonnet with some Nordic wordplay - ‘wyrd’ – as ‘word’ and as magical ‘weird’ or spell again - ‘skald’ in its double sense of ‘scalding’ heat and Viking poet or ‘skald’, the Rhymer inflicting wounds with words alone! Just as ‘inflicts’ here suggests both ‘inflicts’ and the double meaning of ‘inflect’ as a change to a word contingent on its grammatical use, and as a modulation in voice pitch!
Trapped and confined by his enemies, Jason Blood talks of demons bound in chains of narrative and rhyme used as a terrible demonic weapon of death. Demons loving the complex deranging tangles that our language gets us in!
The superheroic parody version of John Constantine, known simply as Hellblazer has appeared before with his ridiculous Dick Van Dyke Cockernee accent, showing up first in the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four pastiche I did with artist Ken Steacy in Doom Patrol #63, then again in a great short story parody of the Teen Titans by Mark Millar which appeared in The Books of Magic Annual 1999, drawn by Phil Jimenez.
Fate is the short-lived extreme ‘90s version of Dr. Fate. Jared Stevens threw himself into the spirit of the times when he melted down the distinctive Dr. Fate helmet to reforge it as a deadly demon-hunting blade in those halcyon days of semi-shaven psychotic heroes.
The coffee gag on page 7 – ‘DOOLB TON EEFFOC EVARC SERIPMAV!’ is one of my favourites. It’s the smart, instant way to disarm bloodsuckers if you have Zatanna’s backwards-speaking magical powers! Vampire Batman snarling ‘Americano for me!’ seals the deal.
The heroes of the Western world of Earth-18 were created by mashing up DC’s cowboy characters with different superheroes - combining Hawkman and Tomahawk as Tomahawkman, for instance, while the Trigger Twins are fused with the Tornado Twins from Flash continuity. Firehair and Firestorm combine. El Diablo is the Batman of the group. Madame 44 is from the Amazons Paradise Island of Themiscyra. Bat Lash is crossed with the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, and so on.
As we pay some final visits to various universes, there’s a moment of pitiful horror from Earth-17, where we can see they’ve lynched the brave little Batman from Earth-42! Tragically, they ignored his chirpy personality and identified him immediately as a robot spy drone of the Empty Hand! The post-apocalyptic world of the Atomic Knights of Justice is a harsh and ruthless one!
I love the Shark-Men in the Kamandi pic! There’s a whole story there!
The Earth-36 sequence – this is one of those shadow continuities I’ve been running for years – Optiman first appeared in Final Crisis #7 as one of the league of multiversal Supermen. He was intended to reference Ultiman, the Superman expy from the Big Bang Comics universe, which has for decades functioned as a loving and inventive tribute to DC characters and continuity. We heard that Optiman had been killed by Superdoomsday way back in Action Comics # 9 in 2012 and here we see Optiman resurrected during what appears to be a Blackest Night style crossover event!
Optiman later turns up in ‘Love’s Lightning Heart’, my story with Hayden Sherman for DC Pride 2023, restored to his traditional heroic self!
The Zoo Crew versus the Justa Lotta Animals! Rubberduck vs. Elongator! Fastback vs. The Crash! Yankee Poodle v Wonder Wabbit!
The Justa Lotta Animals were characters in a comic book created by Rodney Rabbit, alter ego of Captain Carrot! It was soon discovered that these characters were also ‘real’ in a sub-Earth formerly known as C-Minus, now 26-Below.
The statue behind the combatants depicts Abraham Linkid, the literal GOAT.
The Forerunners of Earth-48, created by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey, were an idea from Countdown that I ran with and expanded on. In the original set-up, the Forerunners were an all-female super-race bred by the Monitors to protect the Orrery of Worlds. I liked the idea that the Monitors had bio-engineered an entire world of superhumans as a kind of immune defence, the marrow of the Multiverse making white cell soldiers to protect it! When the Monitors disappeared at the end of Final Crisis, I imagined the Forerunners free to develop their own rapidly evolving super-culture! Then from there a whole world where everyone and everything is super from birth, including animals, bacteria, and day to day events! That idea goes back to the Monty Python sketch ‘Bicycle Repairman’ from 1969, where the only famous hero on a whole planet of Supermen is ‘F.G. Superman’ secretly Bicycle Repairman! Python’s other great superhero sketch is ‘Mr. Neutron’, and both were massive influences on how I thought about this kind of stuff.
We chose then to relocate on Earth-48 the superheroic royal family of ‘fundamental force’ characters, Lady Quark and Lord Volt – who first appeared in Crisis On Infinite Earths #1 as inhabitants of Earth-6 where the USA had lost the Revolutionary War and was ruled by a superhuman monarchy! Earth-6 was destroyed in the Crisis, but there was something about the super-royals concept that seemed worth preserving.
I’m partial to Adam Familiar, the Adam Strange of the Bizarro Universe who shows up here trying to explain himself!
Nix Uotan returns, corrupted, compromised by his time spent doing corporate cape comics!
The song Superjudge is another classic from Monster Magnet. Singer/Writer/Guitarist Dave Wyndorf, a lifelong comic fan, kindly allowed me to use the name for Uotan’s superhero identity.
There are a number of Earth-8 counterparts of Marvel superheroes in this scene – some of the original DC takes on the Avengers – for the full backstory check out …. Entry on ????? - can be seen lying unconscious in giant Nix Uoptan’s wake. Blue Jay, the Earth-8 Ant Man equivalent lies beaten. Silver Sorceress, stand-in for the Scarlet Witch, has her hex arm broken, Jack B. Quick (later Captain Speed) lies nearby as the Quicksilver expy.
The Blue Boarder is the Earth-8 Silver Surfer of course.
Nix Uotan is blinded by the trident of Shiva in his moment of initiation where he becomes one-eyed Odin.
‘The awful life that is in the Bleed’ – refers to the inhabitants of the space between universes. Bizarre compound intelligences live here feeding on multiversal detritus.
The panel here with Frank ‘Doc’ Future also depicts a few of the G-Men (alternate X-Men – apparently, they were renamed the ‘Z-Men’ but ‘G’ is for ‘Genome’ and also suggests law enforcement so I’m sticking to that as the better name!) including Stentor/Cyclops who has powerful vocal blasts rather than optical powers.
Ivan Reis’ drawings of Red Racer taking off on his lightspeed run are among the best images of a superhero speedster available to humanity!
Notice how Ivan lets the Rubik’s Cube grid bleed into the storytelling architecture. The elaborating panel divisions were his idea and they’re brilliant.
The Flash used the infinite mass punch against the disguised White Martian Züm in JLA #3 by me and Howard Porter. I believe it also showed up in one of the JLA animated shows.
The Gentry is defeated by throwing all the toys at them! This is the same winning strategy Nix Uotan resorted to in Final Crisis #7!
The Empty Hand is a hypostasis of the reader’s hand after the comic has been put aside. It is what exists before the story begins, and after it ends. It is what activates the story. The Prime Mover. It represents the reader corrupted by Ultra Comics’ ending, demanding endless palliative crises, finding comfort and familiarity in the cycles of cosmic destruction and revelation.
In this way, it also links to the mysterious Hand of Creation that manifested the DC universe itself – first seen in the story ‘Secret Origin of the Guardians!’ from Green Lantern #40, 1965. In this tale of cosmic hubris, the arrogant Guardian Krona develops a forbidden device to look back at the origins of the universe. Delving back to the instant of creation, he sees a vast HAND, the feedback shatters his machine, the universe follows, and the Multiverse is created!
Also, there was that little graphic hand artist Carmine Infantino used to add to his caption boxes! And Hal Jordan was always making giant hands with his power ring…
The Empty Hand is Ultra or what remains when Ultra is gone…
The mythology and the essentially mysterious unknowable appeal of the Hand was later over-elaborated to some degree by other writers. The Empty Hand even returned in a murderers’ row of omniversal destroyers, but his complete lack of a specific personality, power set or any hint of charisma gave him away as something a little different from the traditional multiversal omnityrant superdestroyer!
The Oblivion Machine too was concretized as an actual weapon in later stories. In fact, the ‘Oblivion Machine’ is the name in this story for the entertainment industry – comics, books, mags, film, TV, social media - that consumes our mortal hours, wasting the days of our lives in ‘picture shows’ of all kinds.
The story concludes by setting up a new and diverse Multiversal powerhouse team to defend reality against exceptional threats! ‘Justice Incarnate’, I should point out, means something. The team is literally ‘Justice’, the abstract concept, given physical tangible form! That’s how awesome they are together! When it was changed to ‘Justice League Incarnate’ that meaning was lost. The Justice League is already incarnate! ‘Justice League’ is a team of people not a concept that needs to be embodied! ‘Justice Incarnate’ is precise!
Words words words…
As we end the story, (along with this rollicking look back at the how, why, when, where, and what of it), the entire Multiverse unites in gratitude to say ‘Nix Uotan, how can we ever repay you!’ and there’s nothing our noble hero wants or needs…except… as Mr. Stubbs the Ape of Thoth points out…
… as the grand epic glides to its wrap with a knock on the door and the timely reminder that so many of the great superhero comic books were created by people trying to make money for rent, pet food, medical bills and booze!