Welcome back to Comic Book Classics Revisited! Last week saw the conclusion of our first classic to be revisited, Secret Wars, and with the start of this week, it’s time to take a look at a DC Comics classic – Crisis on Infinite Earths. With Convergence, DC Comics’ 2015 event, on the horizon, and with many of the tie-ins dealing with characters from Crisis, I thought this might be the perfect time to take a closer look at this series. Let’s dive right in to the first issue!
For DC’s 50th anniversary, the powers that be decided it was high time to do something quite special. Something that no one else had ever done before. With Secret Wars proving to be truly successful for Marvel, the idea of a large crossover featuring as many characters as possible was what DC decided to order up for their big birthday celebration. However, the roots of Crisis on Infinite Earths actually reach back long before Marvel dreamed up their Secret Wars.
Back in the 1960s, during the Silver Age of Comics, DC created the idea that their characters did not actually inhabit a single universe, but instead a multiverse. This allowed them to go back to their beginnings with characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman hanging out with other heroes of that time, and also exist in the present with characters – some of whom, like the Flash, featured slightly different powers than the originals and different alter egos. The terms Earth-1 (the heroes of the present DC Comics) and Earth-2 (the heroes from the Golden Age of Comics) became commonplace by the end of the 60s. Almost like clockwork, the heroes of Earth-1 and Earth-2 would come together to fight a larger threat (sometimes from even more Earths like Earth-3 that featured evil versions of the heroes we knew and loved). These multiple Earths also gave a home to characters that DC purchased from defunct publishers like Captain Marvel (Shazam) and his family.
The multiple Earths solved some issues with why Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman could be with the Justice Society of America of the 1940s and also with the Justice League of America in the 1960s without confusion that they had already been part of a team a couple of decades prior. It also helped to pass Golden Age creations like the Flash and Green Lantern to different characters created in the 1950s as part of DC’s Silver Age revival. More than anything, it helped DC reconcile its past with its present and told truly unique stories featuring multiple Supermen running about to stop bad guys. On top of that, it allowed them to reintroduce Golden Age characters to new audiences, give some credence to imaginary stories seen in Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson’s series, and opened up the whole of DC’s catalog of characters for use or create stories showcasing stories that were more offbeat plots.
By the time Marvel had risen to prominence, DC found that their multiverse was a scary thing for new readers to face. While Marvel themselves had a multiverse, every character published in their flagship books all existed in the same universe. DC had multiple timelines, multiple universes, and whole series that featured characters from completely different universes than the Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman starring in their top series. With the lines between universes constantly crossing, new readers could easily be confused about who certain characters were, why two versions were running about, etc.
As DC prepared for their 50th birthday party, they thought long and hard about what they could do that would recapture some limelight that had faded a little bit under the glare of what Marvel accomplished over the years. DC showed the foresight to sprinkle clues and foreshadow the coming event that would eventually become Crisis on Infinite Earths as early as 1982. What no one would expect is what this event would ultimately do to their favorite characters and the DC Universe as a whole.
You see, what this series would do is not something that is unusual these days, but in the mid-80s would be particularly unique and risky. DC would completely retcon and reboot their entire universe. You see, these days, if a piece of history would be wiped out or characters were heavily changed or killed, it is incredibly easy to find a trade paperback of the old stories, or find digital copies of the stories through a number of outlets. Obviously, digital comics didn’t exist back then, but even trade paperbacks were not commonplace. Yes, collected stories had been around, but for the most part, if you were a fan of Superman stories of the 40s or 50s, you would either have to find reprints, fork out cash for the old books, or take what was collected in volumes published when DC felt like doing so. So fans of stories that took place entirely on Earth-2 would have to deal with their characters either being incorporated into DC’s new singular universe or deal with their histories being completely wiped out or the characters being phased out altogether.
Some older fans were upset by this, and Crisis on Infinite Earths would be a last hurrah for their favorite books or stories. Interestingly enough, many fans would be gained by the much more streamlined DC, but wiping out the multiverse did cause problems. DC would struggle a bit getting everything and everyone in line and it would take a few more events to sort it all out until the complete and udder reboot of The New 52 in 2011. It almost felt as though DC had a love/hate relationship with their own multiverse through the years. Regardless, Crisis would make good on all the hype as writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez would be skyrocketed into comic book superstardom, and yes, the DC Universe would never be the same again.
(NOTE: While I do plan on going through each and every issue of this series and giving an annotated breakdown of each issue’s happenings and such, Crisis is a beast of another nature. I will do the best I can to cover all the major moments, but I must give credit where credit is due. If you’d like a full, panel-by-panel annotation of who is involved and who appears on covers or in each panel in this massive, universe-changing event, I highly recommend Jonathan Woodward’s The Annotated Crisis on Infinite Earths website. A lot of my own education on DC’s past and all the characters featured in this series came from this very page, or at least inspired me to Google and look up characters mentioned here.)
In the beginning…
In the moments immediately following the Big Bang, what should have been a single universe, vibrated and duplicated into a multiverse. An infinite number of universes sprang to life almost instantly. Many eons later, a lone figure is appears in a city on Earth to see mass chaos breaking out. A white wall of anti-matter is slowing eating up everything it touches. The lone figure can do nothing but watch as this Earth, one of many that have fallen before it, is blinked out of existence. On Earth-3, the Crime Syndicate (the evil version of the Justice League) fight against the same white anti-matter wall. This Earth’s only hero, Alexander Luthor, is also hopeless to stop the wave of destruction. Seeing the evil Wonder Woman, Super-Woman, be wiped out by the wave, he hurries home to his wife, Lois. They send their infant son, Alex off the planet using vibrational technology to pierce the wall between universes. As the figure who witnessed the first universe’s demise appears again, he introduces himself as Pariah and, though, he did not start this, he can only cry as he is cursed to watch universe after universe die. Soon, Earth-3 is completely destroyed, but Alex’s capsule arrives in the Justice League’s satellite orbiting Earth-1 only to find no one has been on the satellite for a long time.
Outside the satellite, another craft appears. On board, a mysterious being speaks to a human girl named Lyla about how it is time now to act. They are there to stop the universes from being destroyed, and the being in command of the massive craft has come to the conclusion that heroes and villains must fight together. He does find that the arrival of Earth-3’s Alex Luthor does provide him another option. He dispatches Lyla to do her part of their plan (to summon the heroes to fight against the destruction of the multiverse). She transforms into Harbinger, and splits herself into several copies of herself to gather the heroes. As her duplicates now go forth, the man with the plan is starting to have doubts that he can save the multiverse as he has seen his own death.
Harbinger’s first duplicate speeds to Gorilla City where she gathers Solovar, the kind of the super intelligent city. Despite his protests, she takes Solovar away. Another duplicate speeds into the 30th century and gathers Dawnstar of the Legion of Superheros. Yet another duplicate speeds back to Earth-2’s 1942 where Harbinger enlists the All-Star Squadron’s Firebrand (I might add this is the first person who actually is recruited as opposed to being kind of abducted by Harbinger). When the two ladies disappear, a shadowy figure looks on and laughs. The next duplicate of Harbinger comes to Earth-4 where she finds and recruits the Blue Beetle.
45,000 years into the past, another duplicate of Harbinger is searching for Arion, Lord of Atlantis. Though she cannot find him, she doesn’t realize she’s being watched by a shadowy figure that attacks and possesses her. On Earth-2, Firebrand and Harbinger collect the insane Psycho Pirate. Harbinger is able to calm his mind enough to not be affected as he once was due to the effects of his emotion-controlling Medusa Mask. They leave to make one last stop before their final destination and the reveal of their purpose of being summoned.
Back to Arion’s time, the possessed Harbinger finds the sorcerer and engages him by actually attacking him. She still saves him because Arion cannot die until “he” demands it. This “he” is clearly in reference to whatever controls the thing that possessed this copy of Harbinger. On Earth-1, that version of Harbinger gives Firestorm the location of his most dangerous foe, Killer Frost. After he frees her from an icy imprisonment, Psycho Pirate uses his mask to make Killer Frost fall in love with Firestorm. The quartet now heads back to the Monitor’s home base to begin their planning to save the multiverse.
The Monitor is concerned that his mortal enemy is closing in on him and another Earth that contained a handful of heroes he needed had been destroyed in the time it took Harbinger to pick up these heroes. He laments that despite raising Harbinger as the daughter he never could have, she would ultimately become his killer and he’s concerned for her as he will soon be gone and the fate of the cosmos is in her hands. On the ship, the Harbingers have collected the heroes (and villains) we’ve seen her collect along with Earth-2’s Superman and Obsidian, Earth-1’s Geo-Force, Cyborg, Green Lantern (John Stewart), and the villains Psimon and Dr. Polaris. Soon, the shadow demons that possessed one of the Harbingers spring into action and attack the heroes.
After the heroes struggle to stop the shadow demons’ attacks, a sudden burst of light floods the room causing the attackers to flee. A figure is seen approaching the collected super-beings telling them to not blame Harbinger for the attack, as they suspected when she disappeared (she had to recombine herself or she would have been destroyed from the immense power it takes to split). When he adjusts the lights again, he is shown and introduces himself as The Monitor and he states to them all, “I have summoned you here because your universes are about to die!”
The Crisis on Infinite Earths has begun.
While this series is steeped in DC lore, and relatively complex in nature due to what led to the need of the series, it cannot be said this isn’t written well. Marv Wolfman does an excellent job of setting up the story. He hits you right off the bat with the idea that the multiverse was created by accident (and we’ll see more about this later), then goes into destroying two universes before we see our first hero. One of those Earths, the home of the Crime Syndicate, is quite well known to fans of DC Comics. Once the story starts to progress, we aren’t given something quite as simple as what we saw in Secret Wars but, instead, a mystery about who is summoning these heroes and, more importantly, why these universes are being destroyed. There’s a nice balance to the first issue and is well crafted to make you realize this isn’t just some cash grab of an event. This thing is for real, and will show that the DC Universe is indeed going to be rocked to its core by the end of the series.
As daunting as the series seems on its exterior, what with its multiple universes and usage of characters both famous and minor, it’s really not a hard read whatsoever – if you want to tackle it. I had a few DC books throughout my collecting years. I grew up a Marvel fan. So I really didn’t know much about DC outside what most comic fans know about the teams and characters. I came into this story pretty green. Yes, I had websites to help me know what its purpose was, who were the major players, etc, but this was really the very first full DC story I ever read. I knew George Perez was going to make it easy for me to look at the book, but I didn’t expect Wolfman to give me a story that was truly interesting, easy to understand the point and stakes, and helped me keep turning the pages. So, that being said, even if you only have an interest in the DC characters and want a pretty deep story concerning them, I strongly recommend Crisis because it is one of the few event books that really meant something and served a purpose beyond simply making money.
Come back on Friday as we continue with issue #2 of Crisis on Infinite Earths!