So last week saw the publication of the final issue of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. For reals, this time. Or at least, until the publicity cycle for the next movie is over.
I’m talking, of course, about The Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics’ flagship title, and probably my favorite funnybook series of all time. One of the Marvel movie executives has effectively ordered the comic cancelled. Reportedly, his blood pressure shoots up every time he sees or hears about the characters, because the company sold the rights to another studio and he doesn’t want the publishing arm giving those movies “free publicity.” So in order to prevent the guy from having a stroke, Marvel editorial has brought the series to an end.
Or something like that. I don’t really care about the backstage drama so much, to be honest. I just care about the result of it: my favorite funnybook’s gone, and that makes me sad. Sad, and a little pissed off that the book’s being cancelled because of some kind of movie bullshit. I’ve made my feelings about funnybook movies clear before, and that feeling’s only strengthened in the last week, after reading Gerry Conway’s little expose of DC Comics’ new corporate policies making it harder (or in some cases impossible) for freelancers to claim royalties. If you haven’t read that, in fact, you should definitely go do so now. Here: http://gerryconway.tumblr.com/post/117619743363/who-created-caitlin-snow-on-theflash-according# Go ahead. I’ll wait.
After reading that, I’m frankly pretty disgusted with the whole work-for-hire movie business. I’m done with it all, I think. Screw ‘em. I’ve got my own blood pressure to worry about, after all, and there’s still plenty of good stuff out there to watch that doesn’t involve me putting money in the pockets of people who might give me a stroke.
What’s really bad is that I hadn’t planned to bring up the FF business at all, honestly. I mean, that “free publicity” thing goes both ways, right? But last week also saw the publication of a comic in which Grant Morrison tackles some connected issues, and it seemed like a natural introduction. Speaking of which… I guess it’s time to stop talking about movie-related crap and start talking about something that’s actually important: funnybooks.
Multiversity 2, by Grant Morrison and Ivan Reis
The Multiversity series ends with this issue, and I’m kind of sad to see it go. It’s been a blast watching Morrison tear through the multiverse, coming up with great takes on all sorts of characters, styles, and eras of super hero fiction. I kind of wish it had been an on-going, to tell the truth, with Morrison taking as many or as few issues as he liked to explore, define, and tell stories about the vast array of characters with which he’s populated the multiple Earths.
As I’ve said before, though, that kind of misses the point. While the fun of the series has certainly been the fecundity of the ideas, this has been, from day one, a story with an axe to grind. In retrospect, in fact, it plays sort of like a funnybook political cartoon.
That may be overstating things a bit. The level of humor varies according to the demands of each individual story. It’s most obvious in the inherently silly Thunderworld, with its loving tribute to the Golden Age Captain Marvel. But the kind of humor I’m really talking about here is maybe best exemplified by The Just, Morrison’s take on the super-hero-as-celebrity approach, in which the greatest threat is the heroes’ own overwhelming sense of ennui. Much like real-world celebrity, it’s hard to take very seriously, even though it’s played straight, right down to the ultra-realist artwork.
And that’s how the series goes as a whole. There are moments of levity even in stories as relatively serious as Pax Americana and Mastermen, stuff that gently sends up the excesses of the various super hero storytelling styles as much as it celebrates them.
In this final issue, though, the jokes go from gentle to brutal as the bad guys finally take center stage. The Gentry have been silent villains to some extent, barely appearing even in stories where their influence is most strongly felt. In others, they’ve acted through agents, characters from one type of story invading others in an attempt to break down the fictional integrity of each new world.
That’s still happening here, as we see the Vampire Justice League go after the sorcerous heroes of Earth 13. But that sort of thing takes a back seat to the main action, as the heroes gathered around President Superman and Dino-Cop in the Bleed gather their forces and take the fight to the Gentry themselves. And that’s when Morrison drops the joke-bomb, the one line that hadn’t really occurred to me, but that puts the entire series in perspective:
Heh. Okay, so yeah. YEAH. Multiversity is about the Gentrification of the super hero comic. It’s about taking a marginal fictional ghetto and warping it in the most boring manner possible in a desperate attempt to appeal to the mainstream. It’s about introducing realism to a genre that thrives on wild creativity, and the injection of self-doubt into fiction that’s inherently optimistic. There’s all sorts of stuff bound up in that critique: the demands of the aging super hero reader, the sensitivity of super hero storytellers about working in ghetto literature, and of course the current biggest outside influence on super hero fiction: movies.
I don’t think I’m reading the movie thing in, anyway. Certainly, it’s hard not to see it with this issue coming out the same week as the final Fantastic Four comic. But I think it’s there, anyway. Part of the inspiration for the increased realism in super hero comics, after all, is a desire to make them more easily adaptable to film. Hollywood’s preferred three-act structure has become an expected storytelling standard, as well, to the point that some readers are confused by stories put together any other way (Multiveristy’s anthology structure, for instance, has apparently thrown some people out there in the dark corners of the internet).
But it’s the restrictions and imposed structures that Morrison’s really got a problem with, I think. It’s not that realism or noirish character flaws are inherently bad. It’s the expectation of those things he seems to be attacking, the straitjacket idea that it’s the only way to tell a super hero story. Why throw out the super-presidents and heroic rabbits when there might be somebody out there who could enjoy them?
Granted… Sales in the comics shops would seem to indicate that the market for heroic rabbits, at least, is probably kind of slim. But put in front of the right audience or, for that matter, handled in the right way…
…and you never know.
That decapitation scene is one of my favorites from this issue, I must admit. I was surprised how much I liked it, in fact, considering how much I didn’t like the first issue’s “cartoon physics” line from the same character. But I think that’s because this one’s such a great jab at the grim-n-gritty super-world where dudes get their heads chopped off on a semi-regular basis. Not that I’ve got anything against decapitations, understand (I LOVE Highlander!). But seeing Captain Carrot spend a couple of pages stumbling around comically headless is pretty awesome. It’s almost disappointing when he’s restored by a benevolent Flash.
Speaking of which… There’s a ton of Flashes running around this issue, too, and I’m also awfully fond of their role in the grand scheme of things.
I mean, is this the only comic I’ve ever read in which reality is saved by the amazing power of READS FAST? I think it might be. Hell, it might be the only story I’ve ever read in ANY medium that can make that claim. And I dig it.
Which is sort of the point, I suppose. Done right, all these bizarre concepts work just fine. The trick is finding someone who can do that, and then letting them run with it. Considering mainstream comics’ past track record using Grant Morrison concepts after he’s gone, though, I won’t hold my breath.
It’s been fun under his watch in Multiversity, though. While this final issue is far from his best work (there’s just too much ground to cover in the space allotted), there’s still a lot going on here. So much more than I’ve been able to talk about. Like the way he’s included not only the Avengers, but also Savage Dragon and Hellboy, in his pantheon of Heroes Worth Saving. Or, most importantly, the way the title isn’t just about the multiverse, but about the kinds of characters who populate it. I mean, check out this team he puts together at the end:
That’s two women, two black men, a gay man, an alien, a robot, and a cartoon rabbit. The only straight white male in the lot is Atomic Batman. And he’s… well… ATOMIC BATMAN. So screw DI-versity! The real heroes are all into MULTI-versity these days! And that New 52 Justice League is lookin’ a little weak.