Four issues into The Multiversity — technically four #1s of different titles — and I’m reminded of the tantalizing but ultimately broken promises of Lost and The X-Files. The individual Multi books all allude to an overarching continuity, and I really want every loose end tied before the series ends. Meanwhile, the voice of reason in my head considers this expectation wildly impractical. Maybe even dangerous.
Will we ever find out if Earth-8 winds up a smoldering pile of corpses and rubble, as was the grim destiny of Earth-7? What happens to Earth-20’s Abin Sur after he enters Doc Fate’s inter-dimensional gateway machine? Now that Alexis Luthor of Earth-16 — rightfully perturbed about not getting invited to Sister Miracle’s pool party rager — tried to kill everyone with an army of robot Supermen, will Batman break up with her? Does the ending of Pax Americana make sense? I WANT TO KNOW THESE THINGS. But there’s only four #1s to go, and one of them is supposedly a guidebook? Is that even enough time to explain how The Gentry figured out they could collapse reality by tricking comic book characters into reading a haunted comic book?
At least now we know what happened in the alternate reality where Grant Morrison wrote 2009’s Watchmen film adaptation. In one scene set about seven years after 9/11, Doctor Manhattan demonstrates his omnipotence and devotion to ‘Merica by instantly reconstructing the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers out of seemingly thin air. While some alternate-reality viewers questioned the good taste of that particular sequence, it still offended far fewer moviegoers than the botched ending of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen in this reality.
Morrison reunites with artist Frank Quitely for The Multiversity: Pax Americana: In Which We Burn — a Watchmen story for everyone who’s sick of Watchmen. On Earth-4, the Charlton Comics characters Alan Moore swapped out for proxies in his sacrosanct tragicomedy reside in the modern United States, though their hassles parallel what Rorschach and his pals went through in the Reagan ‘80s. The Peacekeeper plays a key role in a high-profile and fairly inexplicable homicide. The government bans superheroing outside of the federal umbrella — a circumstance tolerated by all except the ever-anti-authoritarian Question. Captain Atom has disappeared. Nightshade’s mom is real old and kind of sad. The Blue Beatle is sort of a wimp. All this transpires beneath the shadow of a morally ambiguous conspiracy with globe-altering ramifications.
Obviously,Pax wouldn’t be a proper Watchmen tribute if the chronology stayed linear. Not all, but most of the flashes forward and backward feel coherent and necessary, especially when Captain Atom lets us know whether he’s in the present or the future. But Frank Quitely deserves plenty of credit for reigning in, if not refining, some of Morrison’s indulgences on this one. In the case of a two-page spread containing a grand total of 32 panels, time jumps between the events preceding an unsolved murder, the deed itself, and The Question’s clandestine follow-up investigation of the crime scene. Not only does the sequence not come across anywhere nearly as pompous as it sounds, incredibly, it actually makes sense. Quitely also deserves credit for a brilliantly stomach-turning depiction of a man getting the bottom half of his jaw liquidated by a sniper bullet on the issue’s second page.
Gripes: At no point does anyone make any overt reference to The Gentry or parallel worlds. Ultraa Comics #1 appears briefly — Captain Atom reads it, and taps the fourth wall with an insightful appraisal of the comics medium. But whatever the big picture of The Multiversity may be, assuming a big picture exists, this book doesn’t make it any clearer. Plus, anyone who hasn’t read Watchmen, or seen the movie, won’t have the foggiest idea what the hell is going on.