This one starts in a sleepy farming village called Shinn Corners, a few hours outside Gotham. The residents are up early to get on with their business, but the sunrise brings only death, killing everyone where they stand with its unusually strong red rays. We see a thug in a high-tech control room reporting success to his boss, a guy in a red mask. Later in Gotham, Batman takes out a dope smuggler, but his fun is interrupted when the red-masked dude broadcasts a message. He claims to be the Messiah of the Crimson Sun and that he judged Shinn Corners and found it wanting. He says judgment will be coming to Gotham within 24 hours and the result will be the same … total annihilation of the populace. In Shinn Corners, the doctors announce that everyone in town has had the flesh burned right off them, like they’d been under a giant magnifying glass. They’re shocked to find a survivor, a goofball named Seth who looks a bit like Jesus and acts like him too, spouting prophecies of doom and urging everyone to repent. The doctors get a call from the Shinn Corners hospital, where Batman has found another survivor, a kidney patient hooked to a dialysis machine. The General in charge of investigating the massacre (General Carter) isn’t happy that Batman snuck into town to snoop, but can’t complain too much at getting help from the Caped Crusader. Batman heads home after taking some photos of Seth, who continues his quasi-religious ranting. Seth is checked by a nurse, but it turns out she wasn’t the nurse who was supposed to be checking him, she was an impostor. At the Batcave, Bruce tells Robin he has a plan and shows him a mask he’s whipped up based on the pictures he took of Seth. Bruce wants Robin to take Seth’s place, which he does with a little help from General Carter. Batman believes Seth belongs to a cult called the Sons of Adam. In the Bible, Seth was Adam and Eve’s third son and apparently Adam means “Red Man”, so the Sons of Adam would be the “Red Man’s Sons” … in other words, the Crimson Sun, as the killer has branded himself. Batman is right about the cult and Robin fools the cultists sent to pick up “Seth” after his release. Meanwhile, Batman notices the real Seth is sucking down water like it’s going out of style and figures Seth probably hasn’t had any water for at least a full day. Batman realizes the dialysis patient couldn’t have had any water either, so whatever catalyst allowed the sunlight to kill everyone in Shinn Corners must have been in the water. Batman figures the catalyst can’t be in Gotham’s water yet (since nobody has died) and tells the General to deploy troops around every purification station in Gotham. At the Children of Adam’s Temple, Robin is taken to see the Messiah himself, who rewards “Seth” by unmasking to show him his true face … that of Ra’s Al Ghul. Yup, Ra’s is the one behind this whole scheme and as usual, he’s one step ahead of Batman. Ra’s knows “Seth” is Robin in disguise and has him conked on the head. In the meantime, Batman has realized the Messiah is too smart to use the obvious routes to taint the water and remembers there’s a direct link to the water supply under an old stadium that has a bomb shelter in the basement. He heads over and finds a bunch of thugs getting ready to poison the water supply. He takes some of them out, but gets in trouble and almost gets shot. He has a guardian angel watching over him though, and she shoots some of the thugs, but one of them manages to introduce the catalyst into the water supply. Batman’s rescuer turns out to be Talia, Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter (and Batman’s sometime lover), who is once again opposing her father’s mad schemes. Batman isn’t too surprised, since he recognized Ra’s Al Ghul’s emblem on the guys he fought, but he’s forced to call General Carter and report his failure. Carter sends troops into the Children’s Temple, but Ra’s Al Ghul is ready and takes off in a plane specially designed to reach outer space. Yeah, Ra’s has a satellite HQ hidden in orbit … this is getting more like a Bond movie with every page. Batman and Talia get General Carter to arrange a space shuttle flight for them. Ra’s Al Ghul’s men are ready to blast the shuttle, but one of them has the hots for Talia and she uses that to insure their safety until they dock on the satellite. Talia repays her would-be paramour by knocking him out (or maybe killing him, it’s hard to tell), allowing her and Batman to get inside the satellite. Talia sends Batman to look for Robin while she goes to commit some sabotage. As Ra’s Al Ghul’s deadline approaches, people are leaving Gotham en masse; unfortunately, none of them know the water is the source of their troubles, so they’re taking the danger with them. General Carter knows he’s almost out of time, so he orders a missile strike on the satellite. On the satellite, Ra’s Al Ghul’s men find the shuttle and destroy it, so Batman surrenders to them to keep them from conducting a thorough search and finding Talia. Batman is taken to Ra’s who tells him he wants to cleanse the Earth of sin and vice. To that end, he’s using a special filter (invented by one of his mad scientists) that turns any light into a red ray of destruction (hence the sun’s deadly rays over Shinn Corners, which I assume was filtered through the satellite). Ra’s developed the serum which makes the red rays lethal and proposes he and Batman each drink a dose. They’ll fight in a room with a spotlight that has the red filter over the lens, so whoever steps into the light will die. Batman agrees and they have one of their classic fights … although it pales next to the shirtless desert duel. Talia has rescued Robin and they bust in and start pounding Ra’s Al Ghul’s men. Ra’s is disappointed Talia has sided against him once more, but before he ca get too worked up, the missiles reach the satellite. Robin wonders how they’ll escape, but Batman says he did a little tinkering while he was wandering around the satellite. Ra’s has an escape craft ready and takes off, carefully avoiding the light filtering through the satellite, since he still has the catalyst inside his system. But Batman has wired the escape ship’s controls to a remote and pulls Ra’s back before he can take off. The ship enters the light, apparently disintegrating Ra’s, who congratulates Batman with his last breath. Robin is horrified and Talia is devastated that Batman killed Ra’s, but Batman says he had no choice (and he sounds rather unconvinced of Ra’s’s death). Batman, Robin, and Talia board the escape craft and fly back to Earth, where Talia tells Batman she can’t be with the man who killed her father. Batman actually takes it kind of hard, but Robin reminds him he saved the entire population of Gotham, so that’s something; Batman says it’s everything.
As you can guess from the title, this story involves characters from multiple Earths, specifically the Supermans of Earth-1 and Earth-2, and the Luthors of Earth-1, Earth-2, and Earth-3. To keep from getting too confused, I’ll refer to the young Superman of Earth-1 as Superman and the older version from Earth-2 as Kal-L. Similarly, I’ll call Earth-1’s Luthor (the bald guy in purple and green that we all know and hate) as Lex, Earth-2’s Luthor (the redhead) I’ll call Alexei, and Earth-3’s Luthor I’ll refer to as Alex. We start on Earth-1 with Lex Luthor wreaking havoc with one of his fancy machines. Superman is just returning from a lunch date (in Paris!) with Lois Lane. He has to drop her off fast so he can confront Lex, who uses a Kryptonite ray on the Man of Steel. Superman expects that, so he uses the Daily Planet’s giant globe to take Lex out long-distance. After taking Lex to jail, Superman apologizes to Lois for dropping her off so abruptly, but she’s used to him leaving her to respond to the latest crisis. Superman says the world needs him, but Lois says she needs him too, and reminds him the world managed pretty well before Superman showed up and could probably manage without him now. Meanwhile on Earth-2, Alexei Luthor is indulging in his favourite pastime, trying to get revenge on Superman. To that end, he launches missiles at the Daily Star building where Clark Kent and Lois (who are older and married on Earth-2) are at work. Clark does a quick change and tries to stop the missiles, but Kal-L isn’t quite as strong as he used to be. (And he was never quite as “super” as the Earth-1 Superman, even in his heyday.) Kal-L finally catches one of the missiles and uses it to take out the rest. He follows the missiles’ signals back to Alexei and pounds him. On Earth-1, Lex is thrown into prison but, being a genius, he’s prepared for this eventuality. He peels a flat microcircuit off one of his henchmen who’s also in prison and uses the mini-computer to open a dimensional rift to Earth-2. He pops into Alexei’s prison cell, sending him back through the rift to Earth-1. Lex then calls the guards and when they see Alexei is gone from the cell and a stranger is there instead, they have no choice but to let the “innocent” man out. Lex figures he and Alexei can triumph over their super-powered counterparts, since neither Superman will be familiar with the tactics of his new foe. Kinda like Marvel’s Acts of Vengeance, but on a smaller scale. On Earth-1, one of Lex’s men picks up Alexei, who has intuitively grasped Lex’s plan. He starts causing havoc downtown, which brings Superman immediately. But Supes is surprised when the troublemaker (who he doesn’t recognize) wraps gravity bands around him that sap his strength and drag him off into space. On Earth-2, Kal-L sees a kid about to be run over by a truck and saves her. But the truck driver turns out to be Lex and the “kid” is a robot that blasts Kal-L with a ray that causes him to shrink away into nothingness, lost in the space between atoms. Lois sees Kal-L’s fate and comes running to confront Lex (who she doesn’t recognize). She surprises him by using her martial arts skills to knock him on his ass and grab the shrinking gun. Conveniently, it has a “reverse” setting, so she brings Kal-L back from the microverse, allowing him to deck Lex. Kal-L realizes his attacker is the Earth-1 Luthor and wonders what’s happening to his super counterpart. On Earth-1, Superman tumbles through space until he gets close to a black hole. The extra gravitational pull helps him break free from the gravity bands and he zips back to Earth, where Alexei is about to blast Lois (who he seems to think is the Earth-2 Lois, even though he knows he’s not on Earth-2). Superman takes Alexei down and figures out who he is, so he goes to the Fortress of Solitude to call Kal-L on some kind of dimensional communicator. They aren’t sure what to do about the Luthors long-term, but decide to stash them in inter-dimensional Limbo until they can figure it out. Alexei is pissed off that they were defeated, but Lex has planned for this possibility too. He activates a dimensional warper and takes the two of them to Earth-3, where there are no superheroes at all, thinking it’ll be a good place to plan their next move. Alexei only wants to return and destroy Earth-2, but Lex tells him control is more satisfying than destruction. Before the argument can get too far, they’re confronted by a super-powered denizen of Earth-3; if you’ve read any of the Crime Syndicate stories, you won’t be surprised at who it is … Ultraman, the Earth-3 counterpart of Superman. (As I said, Earth-3 has no superheroes … Ultraman and the rest of the Crime Syndicate are super-villains.) Ultraman gets violent but Lex soon calms him down, offering to help him conquer Earth-3 if Ultraman helps them defeat their enemies. Lex assumes Ultraman is a musclebound moron and plans to betray him, but Ultraman isn’t quite as stupid as he acts. As they leave, we see the Earth-3 Lois Lane lurking in the bushes; I guess she’s a busybody on every Earth. In a secret lab, Alexei sets up an ion projector which he plans to use to destroy Earth-1 and Earth-2. Lex is upset, since that wasn’t part of the plan. Meanwhile Lois has gone to an observatory to tell a dude named Alex Luthor (who’s bald but has a red goatee and mustache) about the other Luthors. Alex detects heavy concentrations of ions and knows something big is about to go down. Lois begs him to save the world; she seems to have a thing for him, but he’s kinda oblivious. On Earth-2, the Supermans have a talk and Kal-L tells his young counterpart that marrying Lois was the est thing he ever did. He had the same doubts as Superman, wondering if getting married would steal his focus from helping people, but he says he needed to look after the “man” part of Superman, since he already had the “super” part taken care of. Kal-L says getting married renewed his commitment to helping people and kept him from going nuts worrying all the time. Before Superman can respond, a dimensional warp opens to Earth-3 and Alex pulls them through. Alex and Lois explain what’s going on and Alex says he’s decided Earth-3 needs a superhero of its own. He doesn’t have powers, but he’s a genius so he’s come up with a costume and weaponry that basically turn him into a superhero (although he looks a bit more like Flash Gordon). The three of them fly off to confront the Luthors, leaving Lois to wonder if her causing the appearance of a superhero on Earth-3 will ultimately be a good or a bad thing. In the secret lab, Alexei is making Earth-1 and Earth-2 intangible so he can bring them together and rematerialize them, destroying both. Lex is pissed off, saying he only wants Superman dead, not billions of people, especially on his own planet. Alexei has apparently been planning this for a while, sneaking over to Earth-3 to set things up (hence the fully-equipped secret lab) and tells Lex he’s going ahead with the plan no matter what. Ultraman notices Alex and the Supermen approaching and goes out to face them. Ultraman (whose power comes from Kryptonite) pounds the two Supermen until Alex challenges him. Alex has no powers except his mind, but manages to use his super-science to turn Ultraman intangible so he can’t hurt anyone. Alex tells the Men of Steel to stop the Luthors while he deals with Ultraman. Lex has turned against Alexei, saying he doesn’t want all the people on Earth-1 dead, especially his sister Lena. The Supermen bust in and confront the Luthors. Kal-L tells Superman to stop the planetary alignment while he deals with the villains, so Superman takes off to get something from Alex’s lab. Kal-L gets blasted by a double dose of ion rays but won’t give in. He gives a big speech about justice (proving long-winded speeches are universal) and wrecks the lab. Meanwhile, Superman has projected himself into Limbo where he intends to use Alex’s intangibility ray to let the Earths pass through each other unharmed. The ray doesn’t work and Superman realizes he has to cut off the ion beam that’s moving the Earths, so he blocks the beam with his body and tries again. This time the Earths turn intangible and pass through each other, allowing Kal-L to restore them to their proper dimensions with Alexei’s controls. Alex decides to keep playing hero on Earth-3 and sends the two Supermen home with their prisoners. Kal-L and Lois are thrilled to see each other again and on Earth-1, it seems like Superman is considering making a deeper commitment to Lois. But before he can tell her, she accepts an assignment in Europe and Superman misses his chance. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to show that Lois is a bit of a hypocrite (since she’s just as career-driven as Superman in her own way), or if it’s just saying that Superman may have waited too long to say something. Or maybe it’s that there’s no perfect time to talk about something like that, because something’s always going to come up. Either way, we’re back to the status quo.
- It sometimes gets a bit confusing when the two Supermen are on panel together. Usually the Earth-2 Superman is shown with white hair at his temples, but in the long and medium shots, the white is often left out, so you have to figure out who’s who through dialogue alone.
- When Lex is explaining the parallel Earths concept to Ultraman, Ultraman says “Any Earth I’m on is Earth-1”.
- This Alex Luthor is the same one from the opening pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths, also written by Marv Wolfman. I don’t think Crisis was even a glimmer in Marv’s eye yet, but it’s interesting that he gave Alex a cameo there.