I’d finished with comics by the end of elementary school, and ignored them through secondary. In university, I found a copy of Marvel’s The Avengers on David Letterman in a bus station and read it. Then I started hearing about things called graphic novels. A nerdy acquaintance kept telling me to read something called The Dark Knight Returns.
As the regular university pressure mounted, I wandered into something called a “comic shop” and picked up Crisis on Infinite Earths #11. DC had been publishing a 12-issue mini-series, you see, that would forever alter their continuity and re-establish their pre-eminence in the comic-book world. Supergirl and the Flash died, along with an apparently infinite number of universes. The series freed DC of past continuity, and paved the way for some pretty good comics.
Twenty years later, DC is dramatically altering their universe once more.
Title: Infinite Crisis #1
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Jeremy Cox and Guy Major.
“And eternal gratitude to Marv Wolfman and George Perez for building the foundation that all super-hero epics have come from.”
–Hyperbolic Quotations ‘R’ Us
Where is the DC Universe heading? And why is the Justice League in a hand-basket?
High Points and Low Points: Crisis on Infinite Earths vs Infinite Crisis
Story-wise, Crisis on Infinite Earths was a mess. Whole episodes occurred for no other reason than to bring in DC characters, Major events took place, and then later developments rendered them meaningless. Supergirl died, and then retroactively never existed, robbing her death of any real meaning (if the death of a comic-book character can be said to have meaning). Still, it managed to be unlike anything that had come before, and in its wake, DC produced some of its best comic-books, which (I’m quoting myself here. Sorry) balanced essentially juvenile escapist fantasies with the demands of an increasingly older, more mature readership. Crisis on Infinite Earths, despite its many, many characters, non-sequitur Easter Egg panels, and dreamlike plot, could be understood by someone who hadn’t studied DC’s history. Granted, you might not recognize Booster Gold or Earth-X, but if you had a passing familiarity with the concept of a superhero, you could wade in. You may not have been aware of the Monitor’s appearances in various comics during the previous year, but that didn’t matter, because those were largely promotional cameos that had no meaningful connection to the mini-series. Crisis made mainstream headlines; even those with no interest in comics could grasp the notion of a pop-culture event that involved the death of childhood icons.
By contrast, Infinite Crisis clearly has been thought out in detail. DC has devoted the last year to various mini-series and a special Countdown to Infinite Crisis comic that expressly link to this storyline. They’re so intertwined, in fact, that Infinite Crisis #1 makes little sense to anyone save the fanboy (or girl) who has read at least some of the predecessor material. This first issue is the equivalent of starting A Tale of Two Cities with Chapter 12 of Book the Second. It begins in the middle of all those loose ends created by Identity Crisis, Countdown to Infinite Crisis, The OMAC Project, The Rann-Thanagar War, Day of Vengeance, Villains United, The Smurf-Care Bears Feud, and The Return of Donna Troy. The surprise twist, meanwhile, holds significance only for those who know the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Granted, it might work for others as a kind of mystery; more will likely be explained in future issues. And, in the wake of this Crisis, as in the wake of the one that swept away Infinite Earths back in the 1980s, DC may well produce some impressive, innovative mainstream comics.
But, judging from this first issue, the series itself won’t likely grab new readers. Only those familiar with DC’s recent and past history will find this first issue even remotely comprehensible.
Originality: 4/6 A surprising number of characters die (and others possibly die) in this first issue, with little or no dramatic preparation: sort of like war. Wonder Woman begins the tale seriously compromised. This Crisis will find DC’s heroes in total disarray, dispirited, distrustful, and divided. This makes for a more interesting and original starting point than most previous overblown “event” series.
Artwork: 5/6. The comic features some impressive images and layout. It has what one expects from an event comic of this sort: effective, conventional superhero art.
Story: 3/6. Well, it’s an impressive undertaking. As of #1, however, the plot remains unclear. The twist cliffhanger holds some promise.
Emotional response: 3/6 If you have little background with DC beyond, say, watching Smallville and Batman Begins, you will likely rank it higher in this category, for its effective creation of intense confusion.
Flow 4/6 Given the number of threads Johns must tie together, it’s an accomplishment that this issue flows at all. Both writer and artist use a number of effective transitions.
In total, Infinite Crisis #1 receives a score of 27/42.
Crisis on Infinite Earths (as many have noted) contained a strong element of metafiction. The whiteness that devoured universes resembled a blank page, an erasure. The final two issues had heroes wrestling with their changed or even non-existence. While things had changed in their comic-book universe, their comments came close to suggesting that they knew they were victims of editorial policy. The final panels of the series, meanwhile, put in the mouth of the crazed, defeated Psycho-Pirate words that might belong to those readers who opposed the sweeping changes at DC:
I remember all that happened, and I’m not going to forget….You see, I like to remember the past because those were better times than now. I mean, I’d rather live in the past than today, wouldn’t you? I mean, nothing’s ever certain anymore. Nothing’s ever predictable like it used to be. These days… y-you just never know who’s going to die… and who’s going to live.”
Infinite Crisis features similar metafictional flourishes. A group of characters watching the action unfold from behind the scenes make comments that could be coming from readers disturbed at the directions DC has taken in recent years, who want to send the company’s characters in new directions.
As it must be. Comics, and DC’s characters, have lasted so long because they have reinvented themselves, every ten or twenty years, with and without mini-series to mark the fact.
On a more trivial note: rumor has it that a single villain will emerge. Fine. Just don’t bring back the Anti-Monitor. For a universe-devouring Big Bad, he was incredibly dull.
Reviews of this series will continue with 2-3, 4-5, and 6-7.