STK658452By Molly Jane Kremer. Every once in a while, between mind-bending temporal paradoxes, and witty asides within comics about comics, Grant Morrison takes the time to write from his heart a little more than his mind. He never completely dismisses that brainier side (and we wouldn’t want him to), but sometimes he lets his love of the medium shine even brighter – like in his Eisner Award-winning All-Star Superman, and now in Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures #1. The result is lighter than his usual fare (in mood, not substance), and offers a more optimistic look at funny books and their many mighty marvels.

It’s funny that a writer like Morrison would have such an obvious and huge soft spot for a Golden Age throwback like Captain Marvel. This is one of the writers known as being responsible for elevating the superhero genre to a more mature and (dare I say) literate level, and here he is writing (and writing well) a character oft-jokingly referred to as “the Big Red Cheese”. This isn’t to say that Thunderworld is “simple” – although one could argue it is, in a way, but only in the sense that it’s pure: a concentrated, joyful essence-of-superhero, unadulterated by the cynicism and trivialities that seem to creep up from the gutters of nearly every comic being published nowadays.

The effortless impression this comic gives might be due to the fact that Morrison (and possibly artist Cameron Stewart) have been working on it for nearly four years. It and the ludicrously amazing Pax Americana issue were the first two Multiversity titles mentioned by Morrison, back in those heady post-52, pre-Flashpoint days, when so much still seemed possible. (Before the dark times… Before the New52.) But a comic like Thunderworld, both a tribute to and translation of a comic-genre that approaches anathema for DC nowadays, tastes even better after having choked down the sourness it’s emerged from.

Cameron Stewart’s art is fine as ever, with a playful aspect we don’t always see in his work of late. His style, bordering on the cartoonish but with a sharper edge, communicates an innocence and joy in the Marvel Family kids. He gives the entire comic the feel of being light and fun without being frivolous or silly; everything, despite being goofy and off-the-wall, means something. There’s one of the Sivanas, blood-spattered and sporting a Hannibal Lecter-style face mask, who jars from the rest of the comic in a more mature level of creepiness, and Stewart adds these few grim panels seamlessly.

MULTIV-5-2-3-dcb55Nathan Fairbairn’s coloring aids immensely in that as well, sliding effortlessly from evil Sivana on his gritty, static-screened television to the oh-so-bright, primary-colored fisticuffs that abound in this book. In the scenes that take place outside, in sunshiney broad daylight (what a concept), Fairbairn’s bright blue skies and diaphanous sunrays further emphasize the luminous quality, in both the visual and the story, of Thunderworld.

Morrison definitely digs deeper into the Marvel Family history here, much deeper than most have dared to delve of late. Thunderworld takes place on Earth-5, and we have a seemingly much different Billy Batson than his current New-Earth (New52) counterpart: instead of being written surly, snappish, and desperately “current”, he’s wide-eyed, quick, and inquisitive, with an endearing all-around timeless quality. Billy is even brought back to his roots of radio-broadcasting, but uses a smartphone and wonderfully retro headphones (and an antennaed backpack) to do so, paying homage to 40’s and 50’s nostalgia while still retaining a contemporary look and feel.

We have our villain, Dr. Sivana, who – amongst other mad scientists – seems to be a favorite of Morrison’s; he wrote a few of Sivana’s DCU appearances in the past few years (funny that Captain Marvel’s nemesis would have shown up so much more frequently than the hero himself). Thunderworld brings bits over to Earth-5 that were touched on in 52 and Final Crisis: Sivana’s children, and his invention Suspendium (a great old-school retcon-mcguffin if ever there was one). The Suspendium is integral in a fittingly off-the-wall plan – made by a Multiverse-worth of alternate Sivanas – to stockpile time enough to create a new day, Sivanaday, and insert it between today and tomorrow.

MULTIV-5-5-e5635Like the rest of Morrison’s Multiversity this ties in with the other issues in the series via comics within the comic, allowing direct commentary about the medium from the characters themselves (it wouldn’t be a Morrison comic without someone breaking the fourth wall and speaking to the reader now, would it?). As in previous issues, these characters reference and read the comics that came before – Thunderworld using the Society of Superheroes issue, the pulpy reworking of the Justice Society of America on Earth-20 – and it’s hard not to feel a twinge of glee seeing a character reading (and talking about) a comic we have already read in a book we’re presently reading.

Sivana waves around a copy of the comic as he’s taking over the Wizard Shazam’s magical Rock of Eternity, while his robots assemble sterile cubicles and roll beige carpeting onto the floors. The Wizard then makes the most apt comment about comics (and, honestly about corporate-owned entertainment in general) I’ve heard in a while: “They’re digging out the magic–when it’s gone–when it’s all hollowed out–when nothing remains but cogs and wheels–pipes and bright lights–the universe will lose its secret heart. You’ll have it all but none of it–none of it will be worth anything.” Morrison innately knows the level of fantasy DC comics need (and that they used to have so much more of) and is somehow able to keep the pure escapism constant while still finding time to poke us into awareness.

Captain Marvel asks, while perusing that selfsame Society of Superheroes comic (appropriately near the last page), “what happened to happy endings?” right before he, Freddy and Mary fly above the city and into the clouds, big grins across their faces. And, yeah, maybe it’s a little cheesey. It’s also beautiful, and entirely without pretense – a blissful ode to superheroes, an expression of love for the classic tales they came from, and a gentle reminder that putting some heart into comics might not be such a bad idea after all.

DC Comics/$4.99

Written by Grant Morrison.

Art by Cameron Stewart.

Colored by Nathan Fairbairn.

9.5 out of 10