Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Morrison, the Overvoid, and the Multiverse

I've made no secret about the fact that I consider Grant Morrison one of the best writers currently working in comics, and his All-Star Superman stands as not only the best superhero comic in recent memory, but possibly the best Superman story to date. I was in the early stages of writing End of the Century when Seven Soldiers was published, and it was a definite late-stage influence on the novel (along with Paul Grist's Jack Staff, which I was also rereading compulsively at the time).

A few weeks ago saw the release of the final issue of Final Crisis, the Morrison-penned DC comics "event" that's been serializing since last summer.

Just how Final Crisis stands up as an event, as such, I leave to others to debate, and what its lasting impact on the DC Universe will be depends largely on your faith in the vision of DC editorial. But what I can say with confidence is that Final Crisis is a terrific Grant Morrison comic, and works as a perfect expression of the ideas he's been toying with since he first started writing superhero comics for DC some twenty years ago. You can draw a through-line from Animal Man through Aztek and JLA and Flash, through DC One Million, on through Seven Soldiers and All-Star Superman and Batman, straight through to Final Crisis. (With Zenith and The Invisibles and Marvel Boy and others offering interesting parallels and counterpoints.) I think that Final Crisis can probably be approached on its own merits, but I can't say for certain. I know it can't really be fully appreciated unless you've also read Superman Beyond and Batman Last Rites. And I'd recommend that anyone attempting to read it cold would probably be well served in reading at least the Mister Miracle issues of the Seven Soldiers series.

But as someone who has read all of Morrison's other work, Final Crisis pretty much mindblowingly awesome.

IGN has done an interview with Morrison about Final Crisis in particular and the DCU in general, and a few of Morrison's responses encapsulate perfectly what it is I find so compelling about his work.
IGN Comics: I want to get to the Monitors and their overall role in Crisis and Beyond, especially the role played by Nix Uotan - am I saying that right?

Morrison: It's pronounced "Wotan." Every one of them is named after writer gods from different cultures. So Uotan is named after Odin or Wotan from the Norse/Germanic tradition. Ogama is Ogma from the Celtic gods. Hermuz is after Hermes the Greek god. Tahoteh is after Thoth the Egyptian god. Novu is after Nabu from the Babylonian pantheon…there's a ton of them. The women's names, Weeja Dell, Zillo Valla, were inspired by the greatest lost love of them all, Shalla-Bal from Stan Lee's Silver Surfer.

IGN Comics: So that kind of answers my question, which is that the Monitors all seem like analogs for storytellers. There seems to be this never-ending cycle of the stories affecting the storytellers and the storytellers affecting the stories and on and on.

Morrison: Yeah, it's a bit of that. It's also the idea that they're like angels as well. For me, the cool, essential idea of all stories being real creates this great cosmology to play with. It's the notion that the white page itself is a void, and in the context of the DC Universe, well that's God or The Source. In the white page, or the void, anything can happen, everything is possible. As I dug down closer to the very root of the activity I find myself engaged in as a career, I was thinking "what is the basis of the comic book story? What actually is it?"

In the case of comic book stories, it's the war between white page and ink. And who's to say that the page might want that particular story drawn on it? [laughs] What happens if the page is a bit pissed off at the story that's drawn on it? So I thought of the page as God. The idea being that the Overvoid – as we called it in Final Crisis - of the white page as a space is sort of God. And it's condensing stories out of itself because it finds inside its own gigantic white space, self-absorbed pristine consciousness, it finds this little stain or mark, this DC Multiverse somebody has 'drawn'. And it starts investigating, and it's just shocked with what it sees, with all the crazy activity and signifying going on in there. It then tries to protect itself from the seething contact with 'story' and imagines a race of beings, 'angels' or 'monitors' (another word for angel, of course) to function as an interface between its own giant eternal magnificence and this tiny, weird crawling anthill of life and significance that is the DC Multiverse.

I reread the whole series after finishing the last issue, and had to resist the urge to go back and revisit JLA, and Aztek, and Animal Man, to see how this latest addition to Morrison's love-letter to superheroics affected my reading of the earlier iterations. There are broad hints dropped in this interview and elsewhere that Morrison's next big project, somewhere out over the horizon, will focus on the Multiverse itself.

Here's a brief glimpse from that final issue of Final Crisis, to give you some feel for what a Multiverse comic from Morrison might be all about.

Yes, that's "Obama as Superman" literalized (along with some deft nods to Silver Age DC continuity, as with Vathlo Island, the home of the black Kryptonians). And here's the scene a couple of pages later when he and Nubia, Wonder Woman of Amazonia, first encounter the interdimensional ship Ultima Thule and her crew of multiversal superman.

More of this? Yes, please!

It's funny just how much Grant Morrison I've read over the years, even before JLA I read every last issue of Aztek (such a criminally underrated book, a kind of Morrison Starman but so much more and I LOVE Starman). I'll be picking all this up in collection because as it piled up and went along I learned more and more this was the DC story I wanted to read.
There are some older ones I need to get to, Animal Man and Doom Patrol mainly, as well as one errant mini-series in Seven Soldiers and the final bookend, but you know, that makes this fun....
Greg, have you read Zenith? Serial that ran in 2000AD in the late 80s, early 90s. The full run was never collected in trades, and it's almost impossible to find in individual progs or collections (unless you're willing to resort to *ahem* piracy), but well worth seeking out. It was Morrison's first take on a "Crisis," and it's definitely interesting to read it as a precursor to his latter attempts.

If you've not read Animal Man, though, *definitely* hunt that one down. Well, well worth picking up. (I love Doom Patrol, as well, but not as much as I do Animal Man.)
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