Nearly a month ago the Multiversity event kicked off in grand fashion. Not long after that I took a lengthy and in depth look at the first issue. With the release of The Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World I hope you’ll once more take my figurative hand as we take another leap into the maelstrom that is the mind of Grant Morrison.
Though I began to appreciate comics in my late adolescence, my first encounter occurred as a child. My late grandfather had kept all of my now also sadly deceased father’s boys annuals. I remember fondly the hours I spent pouring over titles such as Lion and Eagle. Through these I read reprints of early Batman strips, the adventures of Dan Dare, and the stories of Doc Savage and Robot Archie among many others.
These imprinted on me quite profoundly and as I have grown up I developed a fondness for these eternally retro, pulpy, jingoistic tales. Another aspect of this era’s cultural milieu holds a special place in my heart as well, something almost intrinsically linked to those early Batman strips: cinematic hard boiled detective stories and Film Noir. As I read this book, I was reminded of some of the happiest memories of complete immersion in an art form. The title of the comic itself, and its alliterative composition, is pure Golden Age stuff, as is Kari Story and Chris Sprouse’s standard cover art. Opening the comic we initially find a monologue piece. Were this a Film Noir this would be a voice over delivered directly by our male protagonist. The monologue is placed over a bustling street scene, like other Film Noir. Like many comics of the Golden Age, the cityscape reflects the post-war ambiance typical of the Golden Age, but also contains elements of utopian science fantasy. Another convention of Film Noir present in the introductory panels is a technique called Chiaroscuro. This is the utilization of the contrast between light and dark, and on the first page the presence of Fate’s monolithic black tower foreshadows the use of Chiaroscuro throughout the book’s spectacularly composed art.
Grant shows deference to his influences, as he often does, by having consistent focus on Anthro’s characterization in the monologue, casually referencing his name. Throughout the issue he continues to do so, injecting revival history into the multiverse. The Golden Age Reverse Flash, for example, is alluded to when Anthro mentions a Professor Rival. Previously we had looked at the idea of Multiversity being informed by prior Crisis events, in particular Crisis on Infinite Earths and Grant’s own Final Crisis. Anthro appears in both of these; encountering the Anti-Monitor’s shadow demons and receiving the gift of fire from Metron respectively. However the Anthro of Earth-20 is not quite the same as these prior portrayals. Anthro also refers to himself as the prehistoric protagonist The Immortal Man, all the while looking like a Vandal Savage, only better represented and likeable. This will foreshadow later events in the issue as Anthro and his companions face off with their evil counterparts from another world.
However, before we get to that, let’s have a closer look at our Society of Superheroes. As good manners dictate we’ll look at the ladies first, which in this case would be the Blackhawks. In their original conception the Blackhawks were a Golden Age team of maverick male pilots, with a Lady Blackhawk being added into the mix much later on. Grant opts for an entirely female team lead by Lady Blackhawk herself. This is a reversal of dynamics found in the older Blackhawk comics, where Blackhawk would often face off against various flying femme fatales, and reflects Grant’s obsession with the Spice Girls. Earth-20′s blending of the early 20th century aesthetics with early 21st century ideals offers a progressive look at the rogue WW2 squadron.
We are introduced next to Al Pratt or The Mighty Atom who is essentially his Golden Age self relatively unchanged. Grant however name drops again when Al speaks of his sensei, Iron Munro. I spoke before of Grant’s use of the fiction suit and Al is, even in this relatively short tale, a potential fiction suit for the younger reader. By contrast one could imagine Anthro as an avatar for the more mature reader. Doc Fate reflects Grant’s presence in this book, whereas in the previous issue we had Captain Carrot exemplifying Morrison’s sentiments as a hopeful author. In Doc Fate we have a character very reminiscent of King Mob from The Invisibles. Both are occult superspies, gentlemen at heart, but able to get stuff done when things go awry. Doc Fate is a cross between Doctor Fate and Doc Savage, which is inferred from Fate reffering to himself as “Doc,” his Aztec hideaway, and his bronzed skin. Incidentally, Earth-20, Doc Fate, and Lady Blackhawk, have cropped up before in Final Crisis (Superman Beyond 3D #1). Doc even recalls the experience when he talks about a ghost airship in the sky, in reference to the Ultima Thule.
Finally we meet Abin Sur, the Green Lantern who I will presume many are reasonably familiar with as Hal Jordan’s predecessor. The subtle changes Grant makes are that he is dressed more like the Golden Age Lantern Alan Scott, and as Doc Fate points out, he looks more like some Goetic demon than an extraterrestrial Buddha.
Another premise of Multiversity is that each one shot is in essence a work in its own right, part of a wider fractal, but intact on its own. SoS: CoCW exemplifies this more so that the bookend tale, House of Heroes. This is a classic tale of interdimensional invasion by SoS’s moral inversion. This is a classic trope found in Justice League of America Vol. 1 #29, Grant’s own Earth-2, and, more recently, in the New 52′s Forever Evil event. While those events tend to deal with the more widely known DC characters and their doppelgangers, SoS: CoCW takes relatively obscure (but loveable) characters and matches them up with equally obscure antagonists who share similar attributes. Grant matches Lady Blackhawk with Lady Shiva, The Mighty Atom with Blockbuster, another character who epitomizes youth and strength, and Doc Fate with Felix Faust. Felix Faust is conceived as a bracing, nefarious Arab, an idea typical of the Pulp era. The exception perhaps are Abin Sur and Sinestro who are a pretty obvious pairing, although Sinestro is now a Count it would seem. This gift of aristocracy is bequeathed by Vandal Savage after Sinestro helped him conquer Earth-40.
SoS: CoCW is so well crafted that we forget the issue is a single piece of a wider event. Only through the subtlest of nuances and hints does the reader remember the greater narrative at play. The most apparent of these are the appearances of Ultra Comics, which is treated as a cursed relic as in The Multiversity. Doc Fate wards others away from it whereas Felix Faust eagerly eats up its revelations. Through Faust’s obsession we learn a little more of the Gentry, a throwback from Grant’s earlier work Seven Soldiers. Grant further cements the Multiversity’s place in DC’s decades long grand narrative and advances the Gnostic interpretation of the Monitors, when Doc Fate expounds upon the origin and powers of his Helmet of Nabu.
When the conquest implied in the title actually occurs, we are treated to a veritable plethora of evil hordes that stretch from the kitsch to the wonderfully retro. Pseudo-Nazi zombies, elite forces, saucer like fighter planes, all these and more descend alongside robotic hordes that may well be the source of the alien robot Earth-23′s Superman encounters back in last month’s House of Heroes.
Whereas House of Heroes may have proved too much of a Morrison cliche for some, this issue is a great tool to introduce someone to the Multiversity event, if not Grant Morrison himself. I will just add if you want to go deeper into SoS: CoCW, you are guaranteed a rewarding experience. Helpful annotations of the event can be found here at Comics Alliance and at Deep Space Transmissions.
The Multiversity: The Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World #1 is available now from all good comic vendors.