Friday, February 13, 2015

Metanarrative as a Roadmap to Parallel Universes: "Multiversity" and "Black Science"

Ahead of Convergence – the event which will bring about “an end” to the current phase of the DC multiverse, but not (we are told) to its New Earth setting – Dan Didio has announced changes in editorial guidelines intended to put diverse storytelling approaches before such paltry things as canon and continuity. Whereas there is little doubt that 75 years of contradicting narratives might stick in the craw of a new reader intent on getting acquainted with the DC multiverse, it would be a mistake to operate under the assumption that a more streamlined setting might make complex exposition unnecessary. To be sure, comics’ most celebrated stories rarely depend on the reader’s acquaintance with lore: following the principle of Chekhov’s gun, writers tend to incorporate only the most relevant references to previous works. Be that as it may, crises and retcons would not have become a genre unto themselves if they did not speak to the interests of a significant portion of the comic-reading audience.

It is therefore not unreasonable to surmise that genre readers experience anagnorisis differently than the audiences of other fictions – the comic-reader, looking for coherence beyond the episodic plots, embarks on a personal quest to piece together the metanarrative of an expanding fictional continuum. The editors at DC have not been particularly consistent about providing clear directions on this journey: the original crisis (On Infinite Earths) is the only one of its kind to have a substantial metanarrative epilogue (History of the DC Universe, in which Harbinger details the consequences of the event on continuity). While Final Crisis is certainly a metanarrative – a story encompassing stories – it also raises more questions than it answers.

Grant Morrison’s Multiversity (especially its latest issue, the Guidebook) harkens back to Final Crisis, in part to tie up some of its loose ends, but mainly so as to connect disparate narratives within a coherent, purposeful whole. Despite the inadequate prose of some of its entries, the Multiversity Guidebook conveys a powerful sense of the explosion of narrative into metanarrative, forcing a reflexion on the relevance (or irrelevance) of canons in fiction.

combines metanarrative with metafiction: multiple elements of the setting call attention to the artifactual character of stories, up to and including the metanarrative. Resuscitating a trope from The Flash of Two Worlds, Morrison shows the DC multiverse is held together by the comics medium in a kind of holographic structure: every realm is represented in every other realm in the form of a comic (interestingly, Batman comes to this realization the same way we do: by reading the Guidebook). Metafiction permeates the whole of DC's metaphysic down to its very nomenclature: the orrery of worlds is suspended in an aether called the Bleed, which is to say, in comic-book parlance, the image that runs off the page.

Metanarrative does not have to be an explicit or central element of plot. Most of the exposition in the first volume of Remender and Scalera’s Black Science is not metanarrative per se: the reader is instead made to dance around the story’s chronology, beginning in medias res (as is customary) before witnessing the chain of events leading to the plot trigger in a series of cleverly interspersed flashbacks. Grant McKay and his fellow dimensionauts are adrift in the quantum eververse, the maelstrom of all possible worlds. Though the action of Black Science focuses on a singular narrative thread (that is to say: it does not have to cope with the narrative entropy of a shared universe) it nevertheless has a highly ingenious way of intuiting that other narratives beyond the purview of the reader are equally relevant, especially insofar as they involve alternate-universe versions of the protagonist. The “reality” of the story is thereby shown to be derived from an arbitrary impulse of the reader, a fortuitous consequence of the inclination to make the first given information the central point of any interpretive scheme.

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