Random Musings: Crisis on Infinite Earths— a 30 year retrospective

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Crisis on Infinite Earths #1

In 1985, DC Comics commemorated its 50th anniversary by publishing the 12-issue maxi-series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which not only changed the DC Universe, but comics in general.

The house ads proclaimed “world will live, worlds will die and the DC Universe will never be the same.” They weren’t kidding. Crisis, written by Marv Wolfman and penciled by George Perez, “rebooted” the DC multiverse into a single universe. This multiverse consisted of the following Earths (among others I might have overlooked):

Earth 1 (home of the then-“modern-day” versions of DC’s heroes and villains).

Earth 2 (home of the “golden age” (1930s and 40s) versions of same).

Earth 3 (where analogues of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash and Wonder Woman were villains known as the Crime Syndicate and Lex Luthor was the world’s sole hero).

Earth 4 (home of characters originally published by Charlton Comics, including the Blue Beetle, the Question and Captain Atom).

Earth S (for Shazam. Home of the characters originally published by Fawcett Comics, including Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, Jr., Mary Marvel and other members of the “Marvel family.”).

Earth X (home of characters originally published by Quality Comics, including Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters).

The idea of the multiverse began with Flash #123 (Sept. 1961), when the “modern day” Flash, Barry Allen, accidentally crossed into another universe and met Jay Garrick, who’d operated as the Flash in the 1940s.

Barry Allen meets Jay Garrick.

Barry Allen meets Jay Garrick.

Jay debuted in Flash Comics #1 in 1940. Barry kicked off the “silver age” of comics with his debut in Showcase #4 in Oct. 1956.

In a letter to readers in Crisis #1, Wolfman wrote that DC mythology had become convoluted, with all those multiple Earths causing confusion among writers and editors because they couldn’t always keep straight “who lived where and when.”

He had some valid points, though I never had any trouble understanding the difference between a story set on Earth 1 and one set on Earth 2 (the two Earths most often seen in DC Comics at the time). My first exposure to the multiverse came in 1979 when I bought Adventure Comics #462, which featured the death of the Earth 2 Batman.

Adventure Comics #462

No, he never got better. He didn’t need to; his “modern day” Earth 1 counterpart was still alive and well.

For years, team-ups between Earth 1’s Justice League of America and Earth 2’s Justice Society of America were a regular occurrence, including this issue of Justice League of America.

The Justice League and Justice Society team up.

The Justice League and Justice Society team up.

In Crisis #1, a wave of anti-matter destroys Earth 3. In a parallel to Superman’s departure from Krypton in Action Comics #1, Lex Luthor and his wife, Lois Lane, send their son, Alexander, to Earth 1.

Alexander Luthor is sent to safety.

Alexander Luthor is sent to safety.

An individual called the Monitor, who’d been a shadowy background figure in Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans, is “recruiting” various heroes and villains from the past, present and future of different Earths to band together to halt the anti-matter destroying universe after universe.

The Monitor explains himself.

The Monitor explains himself.

The Monitor is opposed by his anti-matter opposite, the Anti-Monitor, who seeks to destroy all positive matter.

As part of his plan to save the five remaining universes, the Monitor arranges to have the partially-merged Earths 1 and 2 placed in a “netherverse” in issue #5, removing them from immediate danger. However, past, present and future intersect.

Lois Lane and Tomahawk

People on one Earth can see events on the other, as if through a glass door. In one scene, a distraught elderly couple on Earth 2 glimpse their late daughter’s Earth 1 counterpart.

Eventually, Earths 4, X and S join with Earths 1 and 2 in the netherverse. But they continue to merge and still face annihilation.

A contingent of heroes cross into the anti-matter universe to battle the Anti-Monitor in Crisis #7. They won that battle, but at a great cost.

The death of Supergirl.

The death of Supergirl.

Kara Zor-El’s death was hardly a surprise, given that it was advertised on the cover.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #7

It’s a cover image that’s been the subject of several homages over the years, including this one:

Supergirl #79

Supergirl wasn’t the only hero to fall in battle. In issue #8, Barry Allen died destroying the Anti-Monitor’s anti-matter cannon.

The death of the Flash.

The death of the Flash.

In his introduction to the slip-cased hardcover edition of Crisis, published in 1998, Wolfman wrote that while he’s one of those who misses Kara, her death was a consequence of the decision to reboot Superman as Krypton’s sole survivor.

Elsewhere, he said he expected DC to eventually recreate a Supergirl character.

As to the Flash (whose death had been editorial fiat), Wolfman said he left a way to bring him back. In brief: Because the Flash was moving back in time as he was dying (he made fleeting appearances in early issues of Crisis), Wolfman reasoned that he might emerge from the time stream at some point, never knowing when it might close in on him again. Thus, he’d be living on borrowed time.

Other heroes who died in Crisis include Dove of Hawk and Dove; Lori Lemaris; Aquagirl; Kole of the Teen Titans and the Earth 2 Green Arrow, Robin and Huntress.

Some villains shuffled off this mortal coil, too.

Death of Alexi Luthor.

The death of Alexi Luthor.

The “final battle” took place on two “fronts.” Most of the heroes fought the Anti-Monitor at the dawn of time, where he planned to destroy all positive matter; while a group of villains traveled back a mere 10 billion years, seeking to prevent the accidental creation of both the multiverse and the anti-matter universe.

It was an interesting division of forces, given that when the multiverse was rebooted as a single universe in issue #11, only those who’d been at the dawn of time remembered that there had ever been a multiverse.

And some found themselves anachronisms in the rebooted universe.

The Earth 2 Helena Wayne and Dick Grayson realize the world no longer remembers them.

The Earth 2 Helena Wayne and Dick Grayson realize the world no longer remembers them.

Within the next few years, however, almost everyone forgot the multiverse (at least it stopped being mentioned in the books I was reading). I always imagined it as the result of a post-Crisis “aftershock” washing over the new DC Universe.

The “rebooted” universe combined elements of Earths 1, 2, 4, X and S. Jay Garrick still inspired Barry Allen, but they lived in twin cities rather than different universes.

It would have been easy for Crisis to have eliminated all that was old at DC, but to its credit the company didn’t do that. Except for those characters who had “present day” counterparts with the same “civilian names”, like Superman and Green Arrow, the “golden age” characters were more or less unchanged from their pre-Crisis versions.

Especially in the post-Crisis universe, DC has been good about creating “legacy” heroes, those who carry on in the name of those who have gone before. In Crisis #12, we see one example. Wally West, Kid Flash, steps into his mentor’s role.

Kid Flash becomes the Flash.

Kid Flash becomes the Flash.

He would go on to star in a long-running Flash series.

As to the original Superman, he and the original Lois lane went into a “paradise dimension” with Alex Luthor and the Superboy of Earth Prime (AKA “our” Earth. Yes, we all died in the Crisis, too; bummer).

Superman goes into a paradise dimension

In addition to a new Flash series (among others), the post-Crisis universe saw major changes to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

Wolfman, who has said he wanted the heroes to have been in the own eras and not at the dawn of time when the universe rebooted (but was overruled), had suggested that every title restart with #1, which might have better illustrated that DC was starting fresh. It did happen in more recent years with DC’s latest “reboot”, known as the New 52 (I can’t say much about that since I’m not reading any of those titles).

Ironically, the multiverse has returned. In fact, a storyline in the Flash TV series involves Jay Garrick crossing over from Earth 2 and meeting Barry Allen. A scene in one episode emulates the cover of Flash #123.

Barry and Jay

Crisis was the first major “event” series published by either DC or its main rival, Marvel Comics. Both companies would subsequently publish “event” titles, usually starting in the summer, on a regular basis.

In his introduction to the hardcover edition, Wolfman wrote that Crisis existed in its pure form “only to bring DC back to an easy-to-read beginning before endless continuity took over. The idea was not to make comics accessible only to longtime fans, but to everyone.”

Crisis didn’t just breathe new life into certain corners of the DC universe in 1985; in my opinion, it’s the best of DC’s “event” titles.

Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.

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