If I was the multiverse I’d been looking for a new PR agent.
The idea that there are multiple versions of our reality sitting cheek-by-jowl in the wilds of space and time – and yes, I’m not a scientist so this is a fantastically wobbly explanation for the concept of the multiverse that you likely shouldn’t use in your thesis – has proved an irresistibly intoxicating storytelling device for shows like Star Trek, The Flash and Fringe, movies like Interstellar and Twelve Monkeys, and countless books such as The Long Earth series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, and one of my great favourites, All Our Wrong Todays.
But, as you might expect from an idea that promises infinitely malleable storytelling premises, the good old multiverse more often than not ends up as a place of menace and trouble, an devilishly-threatening world of the almost-what-we-know-but-not-quite unknown, an existential “uncanny valley” where there’s just enough out of whack for it not to feel like home.
But help may be at hand in the form of Motherlands, a new darkly-comic series from master storyteller writer Simon Spurrier, illustrator Rachael Stott and colourist Felipe Sobreiro, in which the endless permutations of our reality, many of which are fantastically different, others off by only a fraction, are the least of everyone’s problems.
It’s the people spilling across the various twists and turns on their own reality that cause more problems than the Strings, as they known in the series, specifically Trawl Hunters like Selena and Tabitha Tubach, a mother and daughter “team” (one borne of convenience, not love and existing more in name only than anything else) who traverse the multiverse via portal or “punctures” as they’re known, in search of the scum of the earth whose apprehension, dead or alive depending on requirements, brings in a rich reward.
Selena is a has-been in the world of Trawl Hunters, a once-glamourous woman who swept across the Strings with style, panache and foul-mouthed attitude, accompanied by a reality TV show crew who charted her every move, and made her and her family celebrities in a multiverse with more than its fair share of other mind-boggling distractions.
But what she had in spades as a celebrity apprehender of multiple earth bad guys and gals, she most definitely lacked in mothering skills, a deficit made all the more stark and noticeable when her husband absconds with their son Bubba to worlds unknown – only Tabitha vaguely knows where they are via holo-messages smuggled to her on a sporadic basis over the years.
So when Tabitha, all grown up and more than a little disenchanted with family life, needs help going off in pursuit of her ne’er-do-well brother, she reluctantly, very reluctantly teams up with her now disabled but still brassy and distinctly unlikeable mother, setting in play an Odd Couple-like race across the multiverse peppered with profanity, disagreements and a continuing sense that the the infinite variations of the Strings are less an issue than the flawed humans populating them in multitudinous abundance spurred on what is referred to as an “era of deregulated scientific hybridization”.
Motherlands is not for the fainthearted.
The series is as gritty as they come, with swear words everywhere, violence splayed across most pages and an acknowledgement that humanity is irredeemably awful beyond belief.
All of which for some damn good, utterly engaging storytelling as our two very broken protagonists, only marginally more virtuous, and that’s highly debatable than the bounties they are seeking, created havoc both without and within, proof that while the possibility of endlessly-promising realities could usher in a whole new era for humanity, it’s basically business as usual but on a far bigger, and infinitely variable, scale.
You don’t always have long to appreciate each of the worlds that Motherlands sprints through as breakneck pace, but without exception, the world-building is masterful, the artwork exceptionally evocative and just plain lovely to look at, and the storytelling tight, engaging and immersive.
The action is pretty relentless but this doesn’t mean you end with a vacuous narrative that fails to possess any depth, personality or flawed humanity.
In fact, Spurrier, who is a past master of balancing gung-ho storytelling with rich characterisation, works a minor miracle in Motherlands, by actually making us care about Selena and Tabitha who are more alike than either cares to admit.
It’s highly doubtful they’ll ever share a warm and friendly, Hallmark-card bedecked Mother’s Day lunch anytime soon, but if only to improve their chances for survival, you have to expect that eventually Selena and Tabitha will arrive at some sort of accommodation and form a functional team to get the job done.
The big impediment to this? Not just years of antipathy, bordering on venomous hatred but the fact that the quarry, Bubba, is someone both of them still care very much about it, a family member who for all his misdeeds, is someone they want to see back in the fold.
That’s the intriguing thing about Motherlands – it’s big, brash, ballsy and filthily irreverent, but it also has these tantalisingly heartfelt kernels, remnants of humanity that would indicate that for all the bluster and antagonism, that somewhere down in the depths of their muddied humanity, both mother and daughter actually care for each other and their brother.
It’s not going to ever be a Normal Rockwell Christmas true, but it might be more than what they have know, proof perhaps that the bonds of love and family can endure even the acidity of then relationship between Selena or Tabitha.
Or they could just kill each other – yeah, that could totally happen too.
Stayed tuned … a new String and infinite possibilities await and it will be fascinating and not a little exciting seeing where Spurrier, Stott and Sobreiro might take us next into the imaginative expansive of the multiverse.