Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1 “Out of His Box”
Written by Grant Morrison
Pencils by Doug Mahnke
Let’s just get to it… This was my least favorite issue of Multiversity, aside from its debut. Yes, there were some decent themes, and I understand where Morrison was coming from, but the execution of the product as a whole, was less than stellar. I’ve mentioned this before, but when Morrison is on, he’s ON! But then there are times where he either tries too hard, or possibly gets too excited, causing him to get in his own way. Unfortunately, this book is the latter.
This installment of Multiversity follows a hero called Ultra Comics. The only catch is, he isn’t real. He’s me. Us. A combination of our thoughts. Created to be an answer to our real world problems. Most of the opening is comprised of Ultra Comics (the character, not the book) describing who he is, how he’s created, and what he’s created from. Honestly, I could’ve done without all of this. In the end, it didn’t come off that thought provoking. I mean, let’s be honest, how many times have we seen artificial intelligence trying to understand their humanity and creation in fiction storytelling within the past ten years? But Morrison doesn’t relent, continuously breaking the fourth wall to tell us what’s going on, what to expect, and how we should feel. He’s ultimately commenting on the tropes and formula of writing comics, but it just didn’t sit well with me, even when he was valid in making some of his points.
Let’s cover the “formula” first. You may not know this, but with various mediums of writing, there are often “formulas” that are viewed as being the “most successful” (or at times, even the “correct”) way to write a story for a broad audience. In film, for instance, they tend to associate plot progression with page count: for example, pages 1-5 introduces the protagonist, pages 5-10 introduces the antagonist, pages 10-20 sets up our environment and conflict, and so on. But rather than Morrison creating a commentary on this approach and structure of storytelling, it, instead, feels like he’s trying to force how we should feel about this book and its characters. I find it rather annoying when Ultra Comics states things like, “I sense we’re bonding. It’s almost as if you want to know more about what’s going to happen to me. I do, too. It’s amazing we agree on so much.” The bad thing is, as I read that, I thought, “Nope, We’re not bonding. I’m trying to figure out why we couldn’t break the fourth wall with a character we already know, because I don’t really care about what happens to you.”
Morrison also plays into other tropes of comics by touching on the different tone comics have presented over the past couple of decades. He hints at this theme by having Ultra Comics reveal that he has been programmed with the mentality of Golden Age comics to Modern Inclusive.
He then continues this discussion of comic tropes by covering other topics such as the hero, how our hero responds with civilians and danger, the pro/con of longer arching stories, special events, etc. After I finished the issue, I felt as though Morrison was making a play at the industry as a whole. If you’ve seen the movie Cabin in the Woods, then you know that Joss Whedon did something similar in that film by paying homage to a number of horror tropes. But here, it feels less like an homage and more like whining (I started to write a synonym that starts with the letter “b”).
So much of this book feels like it’s Morrison complaining about comics. He essentially calls them a life suck without ever actually coming out and verbally saying it. The book pleads time and time again for readers to stop reading: “Don’t turn the page!” “Put this book down!” At first, you think this is just part of the plot – a narrative that has been used a couple of times in previous issues. But then once you start connecting the themes that he’s presenting – quite frankly, there’s a lot – you then begin to realize he’s essentially begging you to stop reading comics due to what they’ve become. I found it incredibly annoying.
Now, you might be thinking, “Josh, you’re a hypocrite, you plead for people to stop reading bad books all the time! (Batwoman, New Suicide Squad, Nocenti’s Catwoman)” And my comment to that is yes, you’re right. The difference here is that I call for this on books where the majority views this as poor or sub-par, and is looking to spend money on a better product. Morrison is commenting on the industry as a whole.
And yet, despite my dislike with most of the book, there are still moments that I absolutely love. For one, there’s a point near the end of this story where the “civilians” demand for a happy ending… and then (spoiler alert) doesn’t give it to them! I personally enjoyed this due to the recent drama around the Joker variant cover for Batgirl. If there’s one thing that I like about Morrison, it’s that he knows he will never make everyone happy, and prefers to tell the best story he can, rather than compromise for others. As a writer, I greatly respect that.
He also makes some pretty brilliant statements about comics and their impact on us as fans and readers. We’re a passionate group. Batman has ALWAYS been part of my life. That makes the character personal and real for me. Yes, I know these stories aren’t real, but they feel real in their themes and the way they – at times – inspire me. So when I read, “Sure I’m just a pen and ink representation, but I’m real enough for you to hear my voice inside your head, right? We can both agree you’re interacting with a real, physical object. And you’re starting to realize this isn’t just any comic book.”
In the end, I find myself incredibly torn with this book. I didn’t cover much of the actual plot here, but its your standard fair of Morrison being Morrison. The book is full of ups and downs, and for the most part is fun, but the negatives barely outweigh the positives for me here.
The Art: Mahnke’s art is really solid! There’s something to be said about an artist that is consistent, and he delivers on that. I also want to call attention to the fact that there was practically an army of people covering ink and color duties here, so it makes it even more spectacular that the book is so consistent visually.
- You’re unhappy with the state of comics today.
- Grant Morrison is the end all, be all for you.
- You love stories where the writer completely breaks down the fourth wall.
Overall: If you’ve been reading The Multiversity then I would say go ahead and pick-it up to get Morrison’s full experience of this multi-world tour before it ends soon. But if you’ve only been picking up issues here and there, then I’d recommend you skip this installment.