If the above cover is any indication, the Monitor, and the entire Multiverse, is doomed! Comic Book Classics Revisited is going to take a look at the pivotal fourth issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths…
In the first three issues, the mysterious Monitor has pulled heroes from what Earths remained of a slowly disappearing DC Multiverse to help fight against a shadowy evil-looking to destroy everything with his wave of anti-matter energy. Aside from these lesser known heroes, we’ve already seen the problem spread throughout all time as well. Characters like Jonah Hex and other old west characters have been in the same issues as the Legion of Superheroes and Kamandi. Two heroes, King Solovar and Blue Beetle, have already been sent back to their proper places due to injuries suffered when the heroes faced off against shadow demons attacking particular towers placed by the Monitor in these different times in Earth’s (in particular, Earths 1 and 2) history. One of those champions, the insane Psycho Pirate, has defected tot he enemy’s side. Even the Flash came out of retirement, but his warning to Superman and Batman held an ominous tone as he decayed before their eyes. As the yet-to-be-seen villain upped his game, the Monitor was pressed into action ahead of schedule. Unfortunately for him, his daughter-like assistant, Harbinger, is being controlled by the villain and is ready to kill the Monitor before his plan to save the remaining Earths can take hold!
In July 1985 Earth 1, the red skies seen over the planet pale in comparison to the unusual snowstorms and electrical activity. Sunspot activity is higher than ever. The public, and even the villains, are staying off the streets preparing for the end times. Batgirl and Supergirl have a heart to heart about what it is to be a hero. When Supergirl sees a small plane crumbing in the sky as it nears the anti-matter field, she saves the pilot. When asked why she did this because everyone is going to die anyway, Supergirl says the only way to live is to keep fighting to the end. It will be the only way anyone can live with themselves. (NOTE: This is some heavy foreshadowing as Supergirl does indeed fight to the end. We’ll be seeing more of that before long.)
On Earth 6, Pariah appears as he always does – to witness the death of yet another Earth. He finds this planet to be very different from what he’s seen. There are no duplicates here. There are only about a dozen on this version. Only three remain. The three remain are the royal family of this Earth – Lord Volt, Lady Quark, and their daughter, Liana. Volt believes Pariah is the cause for the destruction, but when he touches the stranger, Volt has his own power discharge against himself. Their daughter, who calls herself Princess Fern (Liana being her birth name) and can control nature, plans to attack Pariah herself for hurting her father, but does not see the anti-matter wall coming closer. She is eventually killed by despite Lord Volt trying to save her. Getting too close himself, Volt is also taken by the anti-matter wave. Despite her protests, Pariah takes Lady Quark with him as he fades away from the destroyed Earth ultimately making her the last survivor of an entire universe.
The Monitor, knowing his enemy is closing in, decides to create a new warrior to help in the fight. He sends a beam of energy toward the Vegan star system and into a star that is about to die. In Japan of Earth 1, in a research facility, the scientists realize this is the end of everything as nothing is able to stop the spread of the anti-matter wave. They are reminded, rather harshly, by Kimiyo Hoshi, the lead researcher, that their job is to catalog the phenomenon, and not give into their own personal feeling of what’s happening. She even is able to publicly ridicule her own father in front of the scientists. She looks through a telescope and realizes something odd is happening to Vega. A feedback of sorts comes through the telescope and strikes her. Looking on, Harbinger is now ready to act against the Monitor. However, young Alex Luthor, who she was originally going to destroy, already knows what will happen. The Monitor told him previously that she would kill him and it would actually serve his needs for her to obey his enemy. That doesn’t stop Alex from feeling terrible for the confused and controlled heroine, but she must do as she must as he will do what he must later.
Meanwhile, the Monitor’s enemy is observing the Red Tornado, one of the most powerful of the Justice League of America, and a very important part of the villain’s plans. The shadowy figure pulls Red Tornado out of his time and to his ship where Psycho Pirate and this unseen foe tell the android it is time for them to destroy a universe.
On Earth 2, Firestorm and Killer Frost arrive in the time of King Arthur to guard one of the Monitor’s tower just outside Vandal Savage’s castle. They are soon met by Shining Knight, flying about on his winged horse, Victory. Since Firestorm and Frost are both from a different time and Earth, Shining Knight believes the two champions as being evil sorcerers. It doesn’t help that the shadow demons start pouring out of the tower to attack pretty much everything. Just when Frost believes they have won, Firestorm points out something horrible. Across all the remaining space and time, the shadow demons are merging into one, giant shadow creature to attack the Monitor’s towers. The champions can only stare in horror as they realize their worlds are coming to an end.
On present day Earth 1, the Monitor’s final tower rises from the center of what appears to be New York City. When the Outsiders and Teen Titans decide to bring down the tower, a new Dr. Light (which is what became of Dr. Hoshi after the Monitor’s tinkering) rudely repels the heroes telling them 1) these dimensional tuning forks are the only thing that will save the universe and 2) everyone, Superman included, are idiots (seriously this chick is a “hero” but acts like a real douche). Eventually, everyone is hip to what the new Dr. Light’s telling them mostly because the Outsider Katana is Japanese herself and is able to translate what Hoshi is telling everyone (probably leaving out the “all you are idiots” parts).
The Monitor, growing weaker, continues his plans to save what he can of the universes in peril. Soon, Pariah arrives on board the Monitor’s ship. Pariah is surprised the Monitor knows who he is. In fact, it is the Monitor who cursed Pariah long ago. Despite Pariah being angry at the losses he’s had to endure by watching each Earth die, the Monitor tells him his never-ceasing life and what he must bear witness to is for good. The tuning forks placed on Earths 1 and 2 are designed to pull the two universes into one, thus making them stronger than they were split. The Monitor then goes on to tell Pariah to not harm “her” until all is made clear. Uncertain who the Monitor is referring to, he gets his answer in the flesh as Harbinger arrives. The Monitor tells her to do what she must. She blasts the Monitor in the chest before falling into an abyss on the ship. Pariah, desperate to find out how to activate the tuning forks, gets no answers. The Monitor is dead and all Pariah can do is cry as Earths 1 and 2 are wiped out by the anti-matter wave….
So… The only guy who knew how to activate the things the heroes went to defend is dead. Earths 1 and 2 have faded into nothingness. Harbinger, a girl saved and raised by the Monitor has killed her father figure. For the most part, I don’t think things could get any worse for anyone involved. Well, there is that shadowy bad guy who controls the anti-matter that is wiping out universe after universe. He’s happy about what’s going on, but that’s probably about it.
Let’s take a moment here to talk about a couple very important things about this series before the next issue goes into the second act. The first would be that the story is bursting at the seams. This series will eventually have issues with higher page counts to fit everything in. This was produced in a time in which the story was more important than trying to fit an industry standard for page count. If Marv Wolfman needed extra pages, he gets it. However, in these last few issues, each coming to a page count of 25 or 26 each, he is able to pack it chock full of information. There aren’t many panels, let alone whole pages, of people standing around while info is relayed to them from a more omnipotent character. Instead, he is able to use George Perez’s talents to still provide action.
Case in point, while the Monitor is telling Pariah of vital information before being killed, it is told in caption over the struggles of his champions defending the tuning forks. Similarly, we could have had pages and pages of Dr. Light being interrogated by Superman about who she is, where she came from, why she is there, what’s the thing she’s defending, so on and so forth. Hell, these days, I think an entire issue would have been devoted to finding out all these things and the eventual debate occurring on whether or not she can be trusted. Not here. She tells everyone what the score is and it’s onto the next thing. For a book that has a much higher page count, with more words, than series of today, it is a complete story with a pretty damn fast pace. Yes, there were crossovers out the butthole for this series, but sit down with these twelve issues, and you get all you absolutely need to know what happened in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
And speaking of Dr. Light, that brings me to my second point of importance. Like Secret Wars before it, Crisis did introduce new characters. Where Secret Wars would not interrupt stories going on in Marvel’s series, they could throw new characters like Spider-Woman, Titania, and Volcana into the mix, but you could get more of their back story later in the series that continued on during the series’ publication. Here, DC did interrupt their series to tell this story, so when someone appeared for the first time, they got their back stories told straight up. Dr. Light and the enemy (whose name I will save until his time to shine) are completely new to the DCU. You may see them in other series, but they are entirely fleshed out in the course of the event itself. Even the Monitor, who had appeared in shadows as early as the summer of 1982, had his history distilled enough for us to understand he was mysterious, and not originally trusted by heroes OR villains throughout the DCU. Allow me to also just take a sidebar here to say that this new Dr. Light is completely unlikable. She’s such a total jerk, but it is kinda cool to see a person who does and wants heroic things, but speak almost identically to Dr. Polaris.
More importantly, there were the lesser known characters that people of my generation (those born in the mid to late 70s and read comics through the 80s) had maybe heard of but getting their books were difficult, if not impossible. I’m talking about people like Jonah Hex and his pals, the Ted Kord version of Blue Beetle (who was in something of a limbo since Charleston sold the character to DC), the Earth 2 characters from World War II like Firebrand, Easy Company, Haunted Tank, the Losers, and Psycho Pirate, and other B-listers like Psimon, and newer characters like Obsidian. I should say that a lot of these characters would not have been difficult to be introduced to because we’ve heard of some of these characters. However, we may know the name of Jonah Hex or Sgt. Rock, and certainly had been aware that there was an older Superman running about, but we likely didn’t see or read the comics that produced them for the public.
What Wolfman did was make them familiar to us relatively quickly. In a few panels, we’d get a pretty good idea of who they were, how they handled situations, and whatnot. That’s not to say they were paper-thin either. They don’t step forward, introduce themselves in whatever way they would speak with accents, afflictions, dialects and say something that was “so totally them” like you saw at the beginning of Secret Wars. Obsidian didn’t step up to Kal-L and say, “You know me, I’m Obsidian! My dad’s an old buddy of yours. You know, the Green Lantern of Earth 2?” No, Kal knows who the hell you are, kid. You guys occupy the same version of Earth. This story is so infinitely better written than Secret Wars because we don’t get Ted Kord’s intro and personality. Instead, we see it play out for each character (with a mild exception to Killer Frost because she’s under a love spell for most of the series).
(NOTE: I should point out that Ted Kord’s departure from the story and his original planned absence from the rest of the story is because DC was uncertain what was going to become of the Charleston characters. You see, at the time, Alan Moore was working on this little book called Watchmen and he originally wanted to use the Charleston characters since it seemed as though DC was not going to need them after the publisher rebooted their entire line. This, of course, would change to characters built off the Charleston heroes because DC did indeed decide to bring them into the new, merged DC Universe instead of keeping them on the back burner. Can you imagine if they used the Charleston characters for Watchmen? I can only imagine it would have only made the story even more awesome.)
Let’s close this out here. Come back on Monday as we go to Issue #5, and deal with the aftermath of the Monitor’s assassination and his enemy seemingly wiping out Earths 1 and 2!