Digital Femme

Commentary on geek culture, race, and gender by Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Multiversity.

August 21st, 2014

This is for writer David Uzumeri. The rest of you may ignore. You will not—for curiosity gets the best of us—so come on in.

Uzumeri has launched a series of annotations dissecting the work of beloved “comics god” Grant Morrison, examining the freshly released The Multiversity #1 from DC comics. I had planned to skip the series, assuming the work would only be of interest to historians of DC’s lore, but Uzumeri’s annotations have made the work enticing. Of course, the work of Morrison and Reis helps considerably in luring one in.

Upon reading the work it is more than evident that Multiversity is akin to a well-written children’s cartoon, providing entertainment not only for delighted youth, but also slipping in tidbits of information for experienced adults chained to the television, enslaved by the whims of their children. Multiversity is a fun read for kids excited by flashy costumes and earth-shattering confrontations. The work also provides a wealth of references to dated DC comics, delighting older fans of Crises past. But even more exciting than that is that Morrison has deftly inserted critiques of the comics industry in its entirety into the series—and that is extremely attractive to entertainment analysts more thrilled by sales charts and editorial changes than title launches.

And so here we are—me, in particular.

The Multiversity 10

My interest lies in the title’s villains—the Gentry—introduced on page 8 and seen here on pages 10 and 12. Gentry is a loaded word to give to any antagonist in times when American people of color, black people in particular, have raised concerns about the gentrification of their urban neighborhoods by middle- and upper-class upwardly mobile white people. Children simply see a dastardly group usurping a world that does not belong to them. Those interested in the history of comics and the history of America see something more.

The Gentry is representative of the worst of the comics industry. Lord Broken, a demonic house loaded with eyes and composed of haphazardly stacked stories, can clearly stand for a distorted Marvel, “the House of Ideas.” Note that artist Ivan Reis has chosen for each story to be thinner and less stable than the last, perhaps a nod to Marvel’s continued mining and refining of the work of Stan and Jack, producing weaker results with each incarnation—broken visions. Intellectron, a bat-like figure with one eye, is clearly the worst of DC—a single vision dependent on references to Batman—dark and myopic.

The Multiversity 12Note that this warped symbol of a company criticized for its lack of staff diversity—a company wholly dependent on a rich, white businessman, striving to tie all books in service to his—demands that two young black heroes, American and Aboriginal, give up their dreams to become like the Gentry. Instead of bringing their unique dreams—and what is a dream if not a story?—to the table, they are to cast them aside and assimilate in order to belong. For one who has critiqued the comics industry for scrambling to include black characters while shunning black creators, the panel is poignant. The worst of the comics industry wants black images but not black stories. The dearth of black writers today provides evidence of that. The scene is also a nod to the comics industry of yesteryear, which effectively chased out black creators like Orrin Evans and frequently used anti-black caricatures such as Ebony White to draw interest and delight white children with misshapen imps while reinforcing the idea that black people are decidedly different and inferior.

I do not believe the other Gentry members are direct correlations to companies, though Hellmachine could perhaps be a quick nod to a distorted Dark Horse—Hellboy becoming the sole engine that keeps the company afloat. Dame Merciless is no one company but indeed a symbol of the entire industry’s depiction of women—barely cloaked and deformed beyond belief. She is shown as a zombie—a puppet—voiced by the Gentry with none of her own, her life force robbed from her. Note that Nix Uotan appears in a similar zombie-like form once he has succumbed. Perhaps Dame Merciless was once a hale woman who had also given up her dreams, her stories, to be a part of the Gentry—an emblem of a comics industry where women are seen as monstrous aberrations—the “opposite of everything natural”—but not heard.

But all is not lost! This is comics, folks, where the good guys eventually win and there’s an assembly of heroes from “the rainbow of worlds” to battle the Gentry back from whence they came. If the Gentry is the worst of comics, the collection of heroes that have come together is its best. Multiversity is clearly a love ballad or ode created by Morrison and Reis to celebrate the industry. What the team appears to adore is diversity of race, gender, religion, body type, and sexuality; the inclusion of humor and child-like discovery; and the pioneering spirit of independent creators. There is also a deep love for the history of comics and the inspiring tropes created at Marvel and DC that we all hold dear. It is interesting to note that while comics history is represented in the Gentry and in the team of heroes gathered, the best of comics allows for the inclusion of one’s own personal history; the worst of comics demands that what makes you you be stripped away.

The battle of the multiverse will be a battle of multiple realities—multiple verses, multiple visions—fighting against one lone vision that has surrounded itself in facsimiles to provide an illusion of growth or change. And via annotations we can add our own realities as well.

Join in.

Digital Femme

Commentary on geek culture, race, and gender by Cheryl Lynn Eaton