Crisis on Infinite Earths
Marv Wolfman, writer,
George Perez, artist
(DC Comics, 1998/2000;
reprinted from Crisis 1-12, 1985)

DC Comics changed everything.

Not only was their own superhero universe changed, but there were repercussions throughout the comics industry when, in 1985, DC published the 12-issue mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths. Tired of the many cross-continuity storylines and numerous conflicts throughout their distinguished history, the publishing giant employed writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez to remake the universe.

That involved eliminating countless redundant universes, where variations on familiar characters lived and breathed. (For instance, the Superman of Earth-1 was young and single, while his Earth-2 counterpart was older and married to Lois Lane.)

To do that, Wolfman made something of an all-powerful hero of the Monitor, a minor villain (apparently) from DC's past, and made a new arch-villain out of the Anti-Monitor, his counterpart from the antimatter universe. To increase his own power, the Anti-Moniter is destroying all of the positive-matter universes one by one. The Monitor, working with new heroes Harbinger, Pariah and Alexander Luthor, gathers champions from throughout the multiverse to fight the Anti-Monitor's shadowy minions and, eventually, the Anti-Monitor himself.

The tale spanning 12 issues is long and complex, dealing with numerous characters both famous and obscure in the process. Suffice it to say, by tale's end the universe is left with a single Earth and just one version of the various heroes and villains involved. The story by which Wolfman gets there is good stuff; strong storytelling combines with a what was, in 1985, a very daring approach to comics. Perez's art is fine -- I've seen better artwork since, but at the time of publication it was ranked among the best.

Many heroes and villains died along the way, including the original Golden Age Flash, Barry Allen. Amazingly, DC hasn't resurrected him yet, as they have so many other characters who have died over the years. Which brings me to the biggest problem of the series....

Unfortunately, the writers left to deal with the aftermath of Crisis didn't know what to do with the new DC world view and frequently fumbled the ball, destroying much of the impact of an otherwise bold stroke by the publisher to redefine its focus. For instance:

• The Huntress, previously identified in an alternate universe as the daughter of Bruce "Batman" Wayne and Selina "Catwoman" Kyle, carried on the vigilante tradition after her father's death at the hands of the Joker. She died heroically in this series ... only to be reinvented shortly thereafter as an entirely new Huntress who looks the same but is instead the daughter of a murdered mob boss. Of course, no one remembers the original.

• Wonder Woman's de-evolution into a pile of pre-animate clay was simply ignored by writers when they rebooted her own title.

• Supergirl's extremely valiant demise was one of the series' most powerful moments. It wasn't long, however, before she, too, was replaced by a shapeshifting blob of protoplasm from -- here's the kicker -- an all-new alternate universe. Writers still don't seem sure what to do with the character, who has undergone a succession of identity crises, becoming villain Lex Luther's sex toy for a while, then merging personalities with teen-ager Linda Danvers (restoring her pre-Crisis alter ego), gaining fiery angel wings and, most recently, borrowing a costume from her TV cartoon counterpart.

• While Barry Allen's death remains a constant in the DC universe, no one really seems sure how he died, since no one really remembers the Crisis.

• DC writers have, since 1985, created a few too many new alternate universes, which rather defeats the purpose of Crisis in the first place.

On the other hand, DC took advantage of Crisis to begin an ongoing process of rebooting its primary characters. The likes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Batgirl and more were, over the next several years, revised and in some cases drastically redefined. This effort to reignite interest in those books has been, to DC's credit, largely successful.

But all this is moot, really, when considering the merits of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Fans can debate forever the pros and cons of subsequent decisions by DC writers and editors. But Crisis continues to stand apart, even 15 years after its original publication, as a strong, bold publishing move which did what comics were intended to do: tell a good story, filled with action, excitement and suspense.

[ by Tom Knapp ]



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