Grant Morrison throttles back and keeps the action contained within a mere two worlds in “The Multiversity: The Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World” #1, the second of Morrison’s “Multiversity” issues and already a contender for the multiverse’s longest-titled comic book. It’s also a contender for one of the multiverse’s most entertaining comics, as Morrison mines a vast array of both classic and recent characters and devices, molding some very familiar concepts into some very different incarnations. His imagination is what makes this comic an enthralling and all-too-enjoyable page-turner, and penciller Chris Sprouse’s interpretation of Morrison’s ideas is downright captivating.
If the highlighted icons of numbered earths along the spine of Sprouse’s cover are any indication, Earth-20 is at war with Earth-40, not that the numbers matter, but this simple trick adds an element of excitement for fans of the aficionados of multiple earths. One earth’s bloodthirsty ruler Vandal Savage goes to war with the Doctor Fate of another more magic-influenced earth, paralleling the oft-mentioned but as-yet-unseen Earth-1/Earth-2 war referred to in the “Futures End” weekly series; perhaps all earths eventually go to war with their doubly-numbered counterparts. Such a deceptively simple idea (war between alternate versions of the same world) allows Morrison to unchain his own mind and populate these two worlds with a multiversal multitude of heroes and villains who are both recognizable, but at the same time, completely fresh and new.
It’s Sprouse who brings these worlds to life, blending the familiar with some very stark differences. New York’s 5th Avenue as shown on the very first page is a clean, gleaming metropolis, filled with both retro and futuristic elements that give it a kind of almost-familiar feel, akin to that strange feeling of walking into one’s living room and surprisingly finding all of the furniture rearranged. The briefer look at Vandal Savage’s world is a correspondingly darker one, replete with robot warriors and undead soldiers, with both worlds appropriately colored by Dave McCaig. Doctor Fate is the most recognizably interpreted character, albeit with a fashionable 1940’s-style reimagining of his costume, while Green Lantern is radically altered yet plausibly defined within the context of the character’s origins.
Sprouse and McCaig keep in mind what a cover is supposed to do: capture the essence of the story and entice readers to see just what’s inside. The delightfully pulpy cover image does both, dynamically laid out by Sprouse with the main heroes in the foreground fighting off a hoard of zombie invaders, and elegantly painted by McCaig. The old-fashioned logo, cover blurbs, and text fonts play right into the kind of retro, simpler ambiance that this entire issue evokes.
While the basic essence of the story is simple enough, Morrison embellishes it with countless acknowledgements of classic Silver Age elements that give it a far richer texture. It’s the exact kind of complexity that readers have come to expect, and sometimes fear, from Morrison, but he gets this one right, by using the rich variety of ingredients that comprise DC Comics history as condiments that tremendously enhance a very accessible story. At one point, in fact, Morrison reveals a very early moment of divergence in the history of these two worlds that provides a surprisingly plausible explanation for why these parallel planets are so completely different. The alternate reality concept is wielded deftly here, rather than with the reckless abandon seen in many of the “Countdown”-era multiverse stories from several years ago.
Like its predecessor issue, “The Multiversity: The Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World” #1 is a comic that Morrison and Sprouse just make way too fun for readers to do anything but enjoy.