There's a new crisis in the Multiverse, as the Gentry travels from world to world, killing superbeings and razing planets. A comic book has alerted mad scientist Dr Sivana to the fact of his other-dimensional counterparts, and he's been gathering them in a bid for multiversal supremacy. Can the L'il League of Earth 42 stop them?
But last kid standing L'il Batman is going to have a darned good try, alongside a new arrival, the Batman of Earth 17. Helping them is a comic book tossed aside by a departing Sivana, The Multiversity: Guidebook ... the very thing we're reading. It tells them of a quest by Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, and as Kamandi learns, so, too, do they discover the origins of the DC Multiverse, the role of the Monitors and the relationships between worlds. They meet the heroes and villains who inhabit the 52 planets. And so do we.
🔸Earth 38, home to the heroes of John Byrne's two Generations mini-series, an utter treat for fans who grew up with the Silver and Bronze Age Superman and Batman.
🔸Happy Da Vinci, hero outfitter of Earth 39's Heroes of W.O.N.D.E.R.
🔸The very notion of 'the local multiverse'.
And, as the phrase goes, much, much more - writer Grant Morrison is a perpetual motion ideas machine, inventing new concepts, revamping earlier ones, unravelling and expanding the tapestry of the DC Multiverse. Several times over the years we've seen editorial regimes decide their comics cloth is too large, perhaps unwieldy, and hack it back.
'The JSA members are too old, the kids won't relate, kill/banish them!'
'Parallel worlds are too tough to understand, merge them!'
'There's just too much continuity, wipe the slate clean-ish'
And every time, after a few years, they - or a new set of hands - realise what has been lost: the JSA returns; the Multiverse is found to persist; the old continuities survive in these worlds. Currently, we're in a rebuilding phase, with Morrison using his grand adventure to classify and clarify what the 52 worlds of DC's post-2011 Multiverse are. Or at least, what the 52 - that's Earths 0-51 - we're being told about are. I've no doubt that one day we'll learn that the Earths are infinite once again.
As for the strip sandwiching the glorious infodumps, the team-up between Atomic Knights Batman and L'il Gotham Batman is classic DC in that it shows how two incredibly different characters can work together simply because it's the right thing to do - the situation is tense enough without them arguing over who the 'real' Batman is. Marcus To does a wonderful job of drawing the sequence, somehow ensuring that neither character looks incongruous next to the other. And his squadron of Sivanas is, almost certainly, to die for.
As for the Kamandi vignette, that's the work of Paulo Siqueira and it's just gorgeous - if there's a Kirby project in the works at DC, someone give this man a shot.
Throughout the Guidebook, Morrison sprinkles meta-fictional mysteries - what is the nature of the seven Unknown Worlds? The 'great and terrible secret' of Earth 42? And 'the rose that grows in winter'? For whom is Kamandi searching? Why are our eyes directed to a Rubik's Cube, is it something to do with the cube-like Bizarro World?
The biggest question, for me, is: what is the 'dread and empty hand'? Does it belong to us, the reader, always waiting for the next comic, demanding another continuity makeover? Floating cosmic hands have been a DC meme for decades, from the hand viewed by Krona linked to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, to JLA #100's 'cosmic claw'. Look closely here, and you'll spot a directional hand popping out of a narrative box, as popularised by Silver Age Flash co-creator Carmine Infantino. That can't be accidental.. If you've never come across this little irritant, look him up and then be grateful.
I really wouldn't put it past the trickster Morrison, but with luck he's merely teasing.
Hopefully, he's also only playing with us as slasher movie-style Dr Sivana - I call him Dr Saw-vana - hints that he wants to do something terrible to Ms Marvel, also his position in the superb Multiversity: Thunderworld issue; that character has been abused enough down the years.
We'll find out soon, as the project continues with a Freedom Fighters one-off, giving us a better look at this new Phantom Lady. Before that, I'm going to read this comic a few more times, see what other clues can be gleaned. Knowing Morrison, though, I'll turn out to be the villain.