Golden Age comics/characters tend to occupy a weird niche in the comics market today. Even more so for the pulp characters of the 30s to early 1940s. Dynamite Entertainment has carved out a market for itself by lapping up the publishing rights for pulp characters like The Shadow, Green Hornet, Miss Fury, Zorro, etc. Many of those comics actually end up being way too good for their own right. Even then, retrograde golden-age revivalism is still an entirely niche market in today’s world of comics.
The Multiversity: Secret Society of Super-Heroes – Conquerors from the Counter World is steeped in this trend of golden-age revivalism, but it takes the nostalgic core at the heart of the movement, amplifies it, and yet still gives it a bit of a modernized aspect. But it’s also more than that. My interpretation is that it’s really about the bridging from golden-age comics to the silver-age era, and how the occupying fan-base had slowly changed over time. A lot of what The Multiversity saga deals with upon initial readings is different types of fandom, and a possible recurring, cyclical nature amongst all of them. Dr. Fate, or in this Doc Fate (a combination of Doc Savage and Dr. Fate), and The Atom by way of Al Pratt represent an older, more mythological age of heroes, straight-laced and all tough exteriors. Abin Sur acts as a bridging gap, being a silver age character but sporting a costume not too dissimilar to Alan Scott, the golden-age Green Lantern. And with a sort of finality comes Immortal Man, representative of the coming era of the silver-age. All the heroes of yore have left earth-20 and alone stands the Immortal Man.
To me, that looks like a symbolic gesturing of how the silver-age comics came into being. Most of the characters from the 30s and 40s just sort of up and disappeared out of nowhere as superheroes waned in popularity. When superheroes experienced a wave of revival in 1957 with the first appearance of Barry Allen as the new Flash, it cleared a path and left almost nothing in its wake. It wasn’t until a few years later that any sort of retrograde nostalgia had a place in comics. The end of S.O.S. seems to indicate that the coming of the silver age was both a great and terrible movement, with a cosmic hyper-expansion of zany ideas and truly unique minds coming into play but at the same time a shift towards commonplace duplications of science-fiction themed superheroes that all borrowed liberally from each other.
What S.O.S. also does is that it takes that modernized pulp-revivalism that Dynamite does and flips it on its head. It exaggerates the clean-cut underbelly of 40s comics and shows a darker side like Dynamite does, but more so for humor than an attempt to be taken seriously. It’s Morrison having fun subverting the tropes of giving guys like Zorro and the Shadow darker stories. When Lady Shiva says “As long as I get Doc Fate’s balls to wear as earrings” (pg. 21) it’s so hyper-exaggerated and utterly masculine that it proves to be more humorous than anything else. This is Morrison’s way of giving critique. By magnifying the trends and tropes in the modern incarnation of the comics medium, he effectively subverts it by essentially saying “Look how silly this all is?” When Doc Fate fights Felix Faust, he doesn’t use magic to end Faust. Instead, he uses a decidedly golden-age method of knocking someone out, in this case an exaggerated kick to the testicular area (pg. 27). It’s hilarious in its way of taking all these tropes, subverting them, but at the same time lovingly embracing them for what they are and the roles they’ve played over time.
The most blatant thing Morrison has to say about retro-revivalism is in a segment of speech from Doc Fate on page 35, where he states “I’m afraid Kent Nelson’s fears are only a nostalgic indulgence.” It promulgates the ideas of the cyclical nature of comic fandom, that each generation fears the wiping away of their old favorites in favor of characters that are more relatable to a younger audience. It is in this mindset that comic fans cling onto the old as much as they possibly can, without even considering the new. They judge without reading. Morrison’s ideal seems to be that we can keep reader nostalgia going so long as it doesn’t interfere with the process of making new/newer versions of characters. Legacy is important, but so is heritage. The Multiversity: Secret Society of Super-Heroes – Conquerors from the Counter World acts as the ultimate dual exercise of remembering the golden-age but also closing off the gates to that world so that we as an audience can move on to bigger and bolder things. It’s just the way things are.