02.17.2010

My Love-Hate Relationship with DC’s Multiverse

The multiverse is one of my favorite aspects of DC Comics, but it’s also one of my least favorite.  I found myself thinking about this after yesterday’s post on Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.

My first exposure to the multiverse was in the 1979 issue Justice League of America #171, “The Murderer Among Us: Crisis above Earth-One!”  The comic was a gift from my older sister and I must have read it a million times.  It was one of the first superhero comic books I ever owned.  Remember being seven years old and reading the same comic over and over until it literally fell apart?  I watch my kids do that nowadays and it brings a smile to my face.

Justice League of America #171

This issue was one of those classic JLA/JSA annual crossovers by Gerry Conway and Dick Dillin.  Having watched numerous episodes of the Super Friends, I was already familiar with most of the JLA.  However, these strange doppelgangers called the Justice Society of America were confusing to me.  I didn’t understand why there were two guys both named Hawkman.  They looked similar and had the same powers, but were different folks.  Hmmm… now what about these Green Lanterns and Flashes?  They didn’t look similar at all and yet they shared the same name and powers.  Weird.  So I went back and re-read the first page several times until I began to grasp that two parallel Earths existed at different vibrational frequencies.  Once I got it, I thought that was pretty cool!

In this issue, Golden Age hero Mr. Terrific was murdered!  After an investigation it was determined that the murder was committed by a member of the JLA or JSA!  But who?!?!  I was kept in suspense for nearly 15 years.  It took that long before I managed to get my hands on a copy of issue #172.  Sorry, I can’t tell you who the murderer was.  I don’t want to spoil it for you.

So there I was, officially indoctrinated into the philosophy of the multiverse.  In particular, I was fascinated by Doctor Fate and the Alan Scott Green Lantern.  Sadly it would be another six years until I encountered a multiverse crossover again.  It was 1985 and I was buying some comics for a long road trip.  I was already a Marvel zombie by this point, having read Secret Wars, Uncanny X-Men, Power Pack, and many more.  The only DC comics I was buying at the time were The Fury of Firestorm and Blue Devil.  While looking for road trip reading material I spied Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 on the shelf of the local drug store.  It featured both Firestorm and Blue Devil on the cover so I decided to give it a try.  Little did I realize at the time that I was opening a door into a whole new level of comic geekdom.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 - my gateway drug

I was instantly hooked.  As we made our way across the country, I searched for other issues of Crisis at every stop.  I began making lists of all the characters, categorizing them by the Earth they came from.  While Secret Wars vol I #2 may have started me on the path of collecting comics, Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 started me on the path of comic book fanaticism. It was my gateway drug into the DC pantheon of characters.  Then I started picking up Who’s Who, devouring each issue and learning more about obscure characters and further worlds in the multiverse.  There was no turning back after that.

Crisis on Infinite Earths brought the multiverse to a close in 1986.  Around that time I began buying back issues featuring old cross-world adventures.  In particular the All-Star Squadron and the annual JLA/JSA crossovers were some of my favorites.  The story “Crisis on Earth-Prime” which ran through both Justice League of America and the All-Star Squadron is still one of my all-time favorite multiverse stories.  Curiosity drove my interest in these old adventures.  I was starting to appreciate the legacy of the Golden Age to the Silver Age, so I was intensely curious about the JSA.  Also, it was fun to read some of those kooky Silver and Bronze Age tales.  A fair number of the multiverse stories were just plain far-fetched and the resolutions were sometimes hilariously out of left field.

Since I started with DC hardcore in 1985, I was pretty much a post-Crisis reader (or a Tween-Crisis reader if you like).  Any story I read featuring the multiverse was a back issue and was read with the benefit of hindsight. I grew comfortable with the idea that the multiverse was a thing of the past.  When DC started publishing Elseworlds in the late 1980s, I was fine with it.  After all, these were basically DC’s answer to Marvel’s What If.  By the mid-90s I was reading the majority of DC’s superhero line.  I felt invested in the DCU as it existed at that time.  Many of my favorite titles used formerly-multiverse aspects incorporated into the singular continuity like the JSA, the Shazam family, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Huntress, Power Girl, and more.

After thirteen years in the grave, Mark Waid resurrected the multiverse in the 1999 mini-series The Kingdom.  This time around they called it “hypertime” instead of the “multiverse”.  I was ticked!  How dare they bring back the multiverse after all this time?!?!  Were they simply throwing away the past 13 years of continuity and resetting everything to the Pre-Crisis status quo?  It quickly became obvious that wasn’t the case.  Hypertime was introduced simply to provide some freedom to the writers to tell different stories.  While hypertime was used occasionally (i.e. Superboy in “Hypertension” and the graphic novel JLA: Earth-2), it quietly faded into the background.  I eventually accepted the seldom-used hypertime and became comfortable once again in my Post-Crisis dominion over the DC Universe.

Then in 2005 Infinite Crisis came along.  Here we were again, 19 years after saying goodbye to the multiverse it was being dragged back into existence and to a place of prominence in the DC Universe… oh wait, I guess I gotta say DC Multiverse.  Once again I was ticked.  I felt like the writers were coping-out by resetting everything to the way it was when they started reading in the 70s and early 80s.  They were bringing back the elements from an era they felt comfortable with.  Didn’t they understand, this wasn’t about their comfort zone, it was about mine!

Admittedly my outrage was over the top.  While my emotions were strong, I had my reasons.  First, I felt betrayed.  I felt the past 19 years I invested in reading DC Comics was wasted.  The universe I’d come to know in-and-out was being chucked in favor of a multiverse that existed back when Loni Anderson was a sex symbol and disco was cool.  Second, while I love the old multiverse stories, many of them really don’t hold up under a critical eye.  My love for these multiverse adventures comes from a sense of nostalgia rather than from the quality of the writing.  Often the old multi-Earth plots were outlandish and more for fun than serious storytelling.   Third, I was concerned about the quality of new stories that would be written using the multiverse concept.  If the old ones were often weak, what guarantee existed that new ones would be any better?

Okay, so the last 19 years of DC continuity didn’t get chucked.  However, given the quality of Countdown and Final Crisis stories and tie-ins, I feel my concern about modern multiverse adventures was merited.  Countdown was an abysmal train wreck of a series.  An overall direction for the series was non-existent, the individual stories were weak, and it was far too dependent upon multiverse-hopping.  Like any series, there were certain moments in Countdown that were good, but those moments were few and far between.  In all fairness, not all modern-day multiverse stories have been bad.  Geoff Johns has written some really good Justice Society of America multiverse adventures, like the one featuring the Justice Society Infinity.  However, those good stories are the exception and are heavily outweighed by the bad ones (who isn’t sick of Superboy-Prime?).

Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer

So far, the modern-day multiverse stories have been a let down.  Would the DC Uni-/Multi-verse have been better without the reintroduction?  Has the return of the multiverse really brought anything fantastic?  Sure I’m glad to see Earth-2 Superman up and around again, but have they actually told any really good stories with him since bringing him back?  I don’t think so.

Call me a stick in the mud, but I’m really disappointed with the return of the multiverse.  However, the old school multiverse stories will always have a place in my heart, even if it’s as ridiculous as the Super-Sons of Superman and Batman.

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7 Responses to “My Love-Hate Relationship with DC’s Multiverse”

  1. Chocotaco Says:

    You’re a stick in the mud. ;)

    Other than the abortion that was Countdown and the super-compressed Final Crisis, can you really say that there have been many Multiverse-centric stories? I can think of the Earth-2 JSA story, the Earth-22 Kingdom Come stuff in JSA, and The Legion of 3 Worlds – all written by Geoff Johns.

    Let’s make a list of each and rate them.

    1. Countdown – terrible, a veritable black hole of suck. I’m pretty sure that it was written by committee, because the story seemed to completely change directions a few times.

    2. Final Crisis – not terrible, but so super-compacted that you sort of have to study it in order to get what’s going on. It’s almost like trying to read a Kabbalistic text.

    3. Earth-2 JSA story – good. It was nice to visit Earth-2 again.

    4. Earth-22 Kingdom Come JSA story – not terrible, but could have been about 5 issues shorter.

    5. The Legion of 3 Worlds – very good, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t know a good bit about every incarnation of the Legion of Superheroes.

    I’m sure I’m forgetting a story or two, but there just haven’t been very many stories about the Multiverse since Infinite Crisis brought it back. To me, the Multiverse is a great thing because it allows for so many story possibilities.

    So to sum up – don’t hate; appreciate! :)

  2. Frank Says:

    Talk about parallel lives:

    I was given a copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 by a Waldenbooks clerk who thought I looked just too cute in my Houston Oilers jacket. I then took it on a bus trip to Colorado Springs to visit relatives. I think it was my introduction to the multiverse.

    I started collecting Secret Wars with #3, the first issue I could find that I could afford, at a flea market booth. I picked up the rest of the series off the newsstand, and it was one of the first I bought consecutively through to the end. Most books, I bought sporadically based on cover or a specific storyline.

    I devoured the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, another series I collected (at least, once the Deluxe Edition rolled out. I only caught the original’s last issue, the weaponry appendix.) I was mostly an mutie lover, though I dipped into other Marvel titles. Titans was the only DC I irregularly followed. I didn’t go hardcore DC until the early-to-mid-90s, after Claremont left Marvel and Image proved to be crap.

    I also regularly followed Uncanny X-Men on the stands, and Blue Devil as a discounted back issue, since I could only ever find it at flea markets. I only bought Power Pack and Firestorm when they crossed over with other books (usually the first two.)

    I didn’t really give DC a chance until after the Crisis, and I was devoted to the new, singular universe. I approve of DC’s move toward embracing the old continuity once lost (Wonder Woman as a League founder, for instance) but the restored multiverse makes everything seem trivial. Kill Captain Marvel on Earth-26, and there’s always another on Earth-14. Plus, it just makes me tired, and marked the final jumping off point for my DC fandom. I still buy DC titles, but often out of habit more than compulsion. I’m primed for another universe, but can’t find another line that suits me.

  3. Shag Says:

    Chocotaco – Thanks for the reply. I appreciate your thought out feedback. And I like arguing with you. :)

    As far as I’m concerned, Countdown wasn’t just one book. It was a series of books and tie-ins. So I’m counting each multiverse titles independently.

    1) Infinite Crisis – 7 issues. The return of the multiverse. While this is better upon second reading, I think the multiverse aspects of the story were forced and didn’t work. If they had to bring back the multiverse, they could have done it without killing Superman from Earth-2 and creating the abomination that is Superboy-Prime. They should have just let those characters rest in peace after Crisis on Infinite Earths.

    2) 52 – 52 issues. Mister Mind eating the multiverse? Seriously? 52 was mostly fantastic, but that ending belonged in some other series. It made me want to throw up in my hat.

    3) Countdown/Countdown to Final Crisis – 52 issues of utter crap. There were a few decent moments, but overall it was terrible.

    4) Countdown Presents the Search for Ray Palmer – 6 issues. For the most part this was terrible. Again, I enjoyed moments, but it was in whole not worth the money or time.

    5) Countdown Presents: Lord Havoc and the Extremists – 6 issues. Do I really even need to say it?

    6) Countdown to Adventure – 8 issues. 4 issues feature segments with Forerunner jumping around the multiverse. While I really tried to like these short stories, they weren’t that great.

    7) Countdown: Arena – 4 issues. Surprisingly, this had some promise. But by the fourth issue I was desperate for it to be over.

    8) Final Crisis – 7 issues. Having Grant Morrison write this major DC crossover, is like asking David Lynch (Twin Peaks) to write a summer action blockbuster movie. It just doesn’t make sense. This story included some multiverse plots, but I’m really not sure why that was needed.

    9) Final Crisis: Superman Beyond – 2 issues. I didn’t read this, but apparently it was necessary to read this in order to comprehend the finale of Final Crisis. Seriously? They couldn’t contain all the major plot points within the Final Crisis series itself? And Superman jumping around the Multiverse recruiting allies? No thanks.

    10) Earth-2 JSA story – It was decent, but not great. After reading it, I felt like there wasn’t any point to it. The story felt incomplete. While I love me some Earth-2 JSA, there could have been a better story there. It was just Power Girl being confused. It would have been better if it was a full-on Justice Society Infinity adventure that Power Girl got caught up in.

    11) Earth-22 Kingdom Come JSA story – Totally agree with your assessment – not terrible, but could have been about 5 issues shorter.

    12) The Legion of 3 Worlds – Again, totally agree with your assessment – very good, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t know a good bit about every incarnation of the Legion of Superheroes.

    13) Tangent: Superman’s Reign – 12 issues. Haven’t read it yet, but I own it. Bought each issue off the shelf and haven’t read a single one yet. That tells you how much faith I’ve got in it.

    14) Multiverse – Grant Morrison’s upcoming project. It could be brilliant, but I bet it’s more likely to be bizarre and incomprehensible.

    There you go, 14 stories. Most of which were crap IMHO.

  4. Shag Says:

    Frank – Wow! That’s bizarre! Maybe we’re long lost twins or something.

    I’m also primed for a new universe but can’t find one. You know what universe I wish was still around? Malibu’s Ultraverse (as it existed prior to Marvel’s buy-out of Malibu). That had lots of promise! Loved that universe and I think of those comics often.

  5. Frank Says:

    I liked Shooter’s Valiant & Broadway. Not so much Triumphant. I’m obviously looking forward to the Gold Key/Western rival at Dark Horse…

  6. Chocotaco Says:

    The Ultraverse was an amazing place to be, prior to Marvel’s purchase and subsequent destruction of it. :(

    You know how I feel about Earth-2 Superman; so, I won’t get into the waste of bringing him back just so he could die. I also don’t like what’s happened to Superboy-Prime, since he initially was a true hero. I think they were trying to make what happened to him at the end of Infinite Crisis a parallel to what happened to the Psycho-Pirate at the end of the original Crisis, but it just didn’t work for me.

    However, counting Infinite Crisis and 52 as stories being placed in the new DC Multiverse is sort of dirty pool, as they were the stories in which the Multiverse returned. Hell, readers didn’t officially know the Multiverse was back until 52 #52.

    Also, counting each individual, sh*tty Countdown tie-in as a separate story unto itself is also dirty pool – as is counting Superman Beyond as something separate from Final Crisis. I don’t even think you can make sense of Final Crisis without reading Superman Beyond, so whatevs. Quit trying to buff your terrible story numbers. ;P

    I did forget the Tangent stuff, which – SPOILERS – was terrible also. So, that’s a legitimate +1 to your “the Multiverse is terribad” analysis. :)

    I get that you’re trying to make the point that DC is just going back to the old pre-1985 continuity that the current writers are familiar with. I just think it’s sour grapes because you want everything to be stuck in the early post-Crisis era that you’re familiar with, since that’s when you really started getting into DC comics.

    I think the DC Multiverse is a great place to be, and I look forward to some good stories that’ll come from it. Sure, there’ll be really bad ones, but there are going to be bad stories regardless of whether there’s a Multiverse or a single universe. Extreme Justice is living proof!!!!

    ;)

  7. James Says:

    Okay.. All or most of you know about these ‘Earth One’ series of graphic novels, beginning with ‘Superman: Earth One’, yeah? Well..I don’t like how Pre-Crisis Earth Two and Earth Three were given near identical duplicates in the Post-Crisis universe and Earth One is replaced with a ‘DC Ultimate’ like concept.. It’s interesting, sure, but not at the sake of the oh so campy Silver Age being given new life too, which to me would be fun, like, a purple jumpsuit wearing Lex and the Lexor plotline? Anyone with me? Well I was thinking that if this ‘DC Ultimate’ universe MUST be designated as an Earth 1, then, there should be another Earth 1 with Silver Age aspects, and both of these Earths would have a notation to differentiate them. So one would be Earth 1 alpha(a) and another Earth 1 beta(b). I know it seems confusing, and some may even say stupid, but I would love to see a Silver Age Earth in this Post-Crisis universe =D.

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