Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Multiversity: The Just

Multiversity: The Just depicts a world of superheroes that’s all style and no substance. At least, they haven’t had to have substance for quite a while, but that is due to change. Based, in Grant Morrison’s words, on the reality TV show, The Hills, The Just has TV-style captions that introduce a large number of characters of Earth-16, some very familiar from mainstream continuity, and some variations on characters we’ve seen before.

In tone, this ends up resembling Kingdom Come and its sequel in many ways. The characters are mainly second-and-third generation superheroes and supervillains, but unlike the setup in Kingdom Come, where the super-powered godchildren wreak havoc, these no longer do much of anything besides capture the public attention and play-act past battles as a kind of stage-acting while robots built by the first, and late, Superman solve every imaginable problem. The two main characters are the sons of Superman and Batman, calling to mind the ongoing “Super Sons” feature set in an indeterminate future, published in World’s Finest during the Silver Age.

Befitting the concept, the story arc is very simple but the surface details many. A list of annotations covers the details:

Sister Miracle, Sasha Norman is the daughter of Mister Miracle, Shilo Norman.
Megamorpho, Saffi Mason, is the daughter of Metamorpho, Rex Mason.
Megamorpho commits suicide, much as a similar character, Element Girl, did in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.
As soon as that reference is made, “Neil Gaiman’s Sandman” is mentioned explicitly, reinforcing the theme in Multiversity that comic books describing one Earth exist as publications in other Earths.
The Atom, Ray Palmer, is the only “adult” from the Silver Age seen in The Just.
Damian Wayne is now Batman, wearing the same outfit seen in three Grant Morrison stories set in an apocalyptic future. Alexis asks him if he believes in curses, which possibly reinforces his association with Doctor Hurt, who, as the Devil, gave Damian enhanced life span and invulnerability in those stories.
Alexis Luthor is Lex Luthor’s daughter. She is dating Damian, but
Superman is Chris Kent, using the same name as the adopted son of Superman and Lois Lane who existed between Infinite Crisis and Flashpoint.
Offspring, Ernie O’Brian, is the son of Plastic Man, Eel O’Brian, and was part of the aforementioned Kingdom Come continuity.
Kyle Rayner is the only Green Lantern in this reality.
Wally West is the Flash.
Connor Hawke is the Green Arrow. Cissie King-Hawke is Arrowette.
Kon-El is Superboy. He is beginning to turn into a Bizarro.
Jakeem Thunder is the owner of the Magic Thunderbolt.
Natasha Irons is Steel.
Garth is Aquaman.
Artemis is Wonder Woman.
Pieter Cross is Doctor Mid-Nite.
Bloodwynd, no secret identity.
Cynthia Reynolds is Gypsy.
Holly Dayton is Menta.

As in the previous issues of Multiversity, comic books, in particular the Ultraa story that will end the series, are haunted, bringing a threat from across the Multiverse. It is this infection that causes Saffi to commit suicide. Alexis Luthor takes control of Jakeem Thunder to attack Earth-16. This is another thematic connection to Kingdom Come, in which Luthor plans treachery by controlling that story’s lightning-bearing superhero, Captain Marvel. And as in the previous issues of the series, there is an unresolved threat as of the last page, with the Superman robots wreaking havoc under Alexis’ control, and an Multiversal invasion set to begin.

The basic pattern is clear. The one-shot issues of The Multiversity show us a new world, show more signs of a huge cross-Multiverse threat, refer forward to the very comic book issue that will end the series, and end on a cliffhanger of imminent doom. The concept is not without appeal, but if the pattern isn’t varied much, then we have three more issues before the finale with, like The Just, more style than substance.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Justice League #34

The best team stories are the ones where different characters all have a different role to play in some way that's more sophisticated than whether their superpower is to communicate with sea life or run very fast. Justice League #34, "Unlikely Allies," is a fascinating phase deep into a very deep strategic game with several players representing several different sides. We can't actually see who has what planned, but in this issue, Geoff Johns gives us a glance at a few players' cards.

Aside from the classic heroes whose interests are presumably aligned, we have front and center Lex Luthor, who has been teased as a good guy in stories going back to the Sixties. This always ends with him turning out to be a very dark agent practicing duplicity or a self-interested party capable of serving the greater good when it serves his interests. We've seen the former in 1961's Death of Superman and Kingdom Come and the latter in Final Crisis, Injustice: Gods Above and many other stories. Since Forever Evil, it's been hard to decipher Luthor's game plan, but we know by the end of JL #34 that he is masking his true intentions and is allied with Owlman. This makes it more tantalizing to re-read the scene where he asks Wonder Woman to use her lasso on him but she does not, because he has apparently engineered that interaction very carefully to seem like a conflicted figure in order to keep her from actually using her lasso and discovering his deception.

That revelation, however, isn't the "bwah hah hah" revelation of evil that it might be in a simpler story. Owlman was possibly being forthright in Forever Evil when he proposed an alliance with Dick Grayson against the stronger members of the Crime Syndicate. While we can't expect the best of Owlman's desire to take possession of the super-powerful offspring of Ultraman and Superwoman, he may have some endgame in mind that is not entirely at cross-purposes with the Justice League.

What makes it credible that the moderately-evil characters in this ongoing story might be allied with the heroes is the looming threat of a purely-evil menace as discussed by Cyborg and seen in Justice League #34. The sentient ring from Power Ring, now fighting for control of Jessica Cruz, has indicated that its intention is to lure the being who destroyed Earth 3 to Earth 0 so it can take possession of Superwoman's child, the very same objective that Owlman has. It is unclear, though, how these three sides square off, except that it is unlikely that they are all aligned. Owlman probably does not crave destruction for its own sake, and would prefer to be as powerful as possible on some Earth or another. Luthor, no  doubt, would like that same outcome for himself, a vision that could place them into alliance or eventual conflict.

The spare information we have about the really evil characters is that some unknown character is helping the Anti-Monitor find worlds to consume, which is feeding him energy for an anticipated battle with Darkseid. Darkseid, the conqueror of Earth 2 and would-be conqueror from the DCNU's earliest stories, Final Crisis and countless previous works, has nonetheless been allied with our heroes against the Anti-Monitor in COIE. The win our heroes need to engineer may involve playing the two evil forces against one another. This story is likely to play out on a grand scale over the coming months, with tie-ins galore, certainly including Earth 2, likely the Green Lantern/New Gods Godhead miniseries, and possibly Multiversity, although in the past Grant Morrison stories have maintained separation from other plans other than a few minor points of tie-in.

The heroes see a deeper game, with Batman and Superman planning to snare Luthor, but perhaps not nearly as deep as the game really is. Johns is setting up one of his epic crossovers such as we've seen done – usually quite well – over the past 7 years. Among other mysteries that he's keeping secret is the identity of the character who is allied with the Anti-Monitor. Johns has a flare for going "big" with his villains, which makes me wonder if he'll bring Superboy Prime, one of his regulars from pre-Flashpoint, into this story, or perhaps Volthoom from Green Lantern lore, although he has also used characters as obscure as Nekron and Qull of the Five Inversions, and could possibly draw from just about any story in DC's past, but it is more Johns' style to use an existing character here, whether prominent or obscure, than present us with someone totally new.

The main upshot is that we are approaching a story on a grand scale and this issue is an important one on that path. The action scenes in JL #34 and even the revelation of Captain Cold's duplicity seem like minor sideplots while the grand design moves forward. We know, in the main, that good will prevail, but there could be some wonderful sound and fury along the way.