“Innocent lives are an oxymoron.”
–Nightshade

Infinite Crisis #1 began perhaps the most publicized event series in comic-book history. The story continues on its confusing path through issues #2 and 3, establishing the basis for the latest revision of the DC Universe, and incorporating a debate about what comix should be.

As it has become impossible to review this series without dropping spoilers like pieces of the Rock of Eternity, I will proceed without spoiler tags. You have been warned.

“The Purple Death Ray has been completed.”
—Anonymous Amazon, operating a really cheesy Silver Age-Style Device

Title: Infinite Crisis #2 and 3

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artists: Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, George Pérez, Jerry Ordway.

Premise:

The universe continues to fall to pieces, Power Girl learns that she’s actually a survivor of the pre-Crisis DC Universe, Wonder Woman loses the Amazons for good (yeah, right) when Paradise Island is moved to another plane of existence, Token Minority Kid1 finds the Blue Beetle’s scarab and will no doubt assume that recently-vacated costume, the Spectre continues to go Old Testament, the newly-formed Shadowpact discover how they might be able to stop the spectral rampage, Superman decides it’s time to bring back the old DC universe, Superman and Batman debate ethics, and we learn the identity of the second Lex Luthor– maybe.

Meanwhile, several captured heroes and villains have been harnessed to power what appears to be one of the Anti-Monitor’s towers from Crisis on Infinite Earths (the Anti-Monitor’s body has been incorporated into the tower, too, which seems odd, given how thoroughly it had been destroyed), and the agents behind the conspiracy Ted Kord had discovered in Countdown to Infinite Crisis are revealed (again, maybe), to the readers and to Gotham’s Dark Knight.

Of course, we’re not yet halfway through this story, and we can expect additional twists.

1. Is Jaime/ Blue Beetle III a minority? Well, he’s a Texan, which would make him a minority among superheroes. He’s drawn sort of Hispanic, and there’s a definite lack of Hispanic characters in comics. The rumor is making the rounds that he’ll be gay, which has led to fanboards being riddled with the predictable “the new beetles gonna be a homo that’s like so gay dont make me deal with diversity please” comments. At present, all of this remains speculation. Better questions might include (1) Will he be any good as Blue Beetle? And (2) Do we even need a new Blue Beetle?

In any case, El Paso, Texas has discovered that the new Blue Beetle will live in their hometown.

High Points

The confrontation between the Golden Age Superman and the Post-Crisis Batman ranks as an interesting High Point. What are the ethics of replacing one universe with another? Is it murder, given that characters will have retroactively never existed? All right, that’s too much a fanboy question, since the scenario is rather unlikely to occur in real life.

What about real-life situations which resemble those raised by our primary-color-clad pair? What cost can be justified if it leads to a good result? When, if ever, can ostensibly evil acts be justified? Can you ever know the consequences of your actions in advance? Can we ever separate selfish from selfless goals? Batman and Superman actually touch on such issues. Batman’s question about Dick Grayson echoes (no, seriously) Abraham’s question to God regarding the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. Now and then, this series does pose some questions that have bothered human thinkers for centuries, but it never becomes overly pretentious.

Low Point

1. It’s a small point, but Alex Luthor could have disguised himself more effectively in a thousand other ways. I don’t buy the Lex body suit/hologram, nor do I see how his associates could have been fooled by it.

Of course, is he Alex Luthor? He claims to be, but elsewhere, he claims the presence of two Lex Luthors in one reality is causing problems. Such that this notion makes any sense, it only makes sense if this is, in reality, a Lex Luthor, rather than Alex Luthor, who is the son of Earth-3’s Lex Luthor, and not a true Lex Luthor at all. At this point, proceed to item #3 in this list.

2. Post-Crisis kryptonite doesn’t hurt the Earth-2 Superman? Has this ever been established before? Isn’t it the wrong can of worms to be opening in a story that’s already really damn confusing?

3.It’s really damn confusing.

The Scores

Originality: 4/6 This continues with the complicated, fragmented storyline and hordes or characters (or, perhaps in this case, hoards of characters) expected from an event comic. Yeah, they’ve had Superman turn evil in alternate worlds and when under the influence of plaid kryptonite or what have you, but here, The Golden Age Superman effectively plays the villain role while remaining more or less in character, and that’s a fairly original twist—for now. It seems clear that Earth-3’s Alex Luthor (or whoever he is) has been manipulating events, and I’m fairly certain Big Blue won’t end the story as a villain. While Alex and the Earth-Prime Superboy have been heroes, they have rather brief histories, and they more easily can drift into villain territory.

Of course, this simplifies the situation. Comic book villains who want to destroy the Entire Universe are commonplace; those who have a morally ambiguous reason for doing so are rare.

Artwork: 5/6. The trend of strong, conventional artwork continues. These issues feature a number of tributes to the Silver Age, with which a good many of DC’s big names currently have a love affair.

Story: 4/6. The story develops, but it remains overly fragmented and confusing.

Characterization: 4/6 The writers attempt some complexity with Batman and the Golden Age Superman, in particular.

Emotional response: 4/6. For the long-time reader of comix, the emotional response often comes from the ongoing debate over the nature of the genre. See Additional Comments for more on this point.

Flow 4/6 The story remains fragmented, but artists and writer use a number of techniques to create flow.

Overall: 4/6

In total, Infinite Crisis #1 receives a score of 29/42.

Additional Comments

The metafictional debate continues in these issues. Were comic-books better when they presented overly-simplified visions of heroism and villainy? Some recent comics that treat darkness and “edge” as maturity are ultimately just as juvenile and simple-minded. The question raises others: (1)Which of these approaches, or which combination of these, better suits superhero comics and (2)Do comics (and pop culture generally) have social responsibilities? Pop culture, from motion picture to gangsta rap to videogames, has always raised these questions, and DC, lately, has been preoccupied with them. They were, for example. central to Kingdom Come, and DC revisited them in Identity Crisis.

Why are these matters so important, apparently, to comic book creators and readers? Why have they become central to DC’s remaking of their universe?

I don’t honestly know to what degree we can be affected by the culture we consume. Taking simple-minded visions of heroism too literally might make it easier to accept wars being fought and lives being lost for dubious causes. However, not having a concept of heroism may lead to despair and inaction. And reveling too much in darkness, deciding that “keepin’ it real” means celebrating humanity at its worst, raises problems of its own.

Consider the broader culture, outside of comics. Are people raised on the black-and-white values and violence of American action movies more likely to swallow simple-minded propaganda? More likely to overlook abuses of power if the abusive parties use the right words, wield the right symbols?

What about those whose media of choice celebrates thuggery? A few days ago, a teenage girl became the latest to die of a gunshot in the heart of a city that used to think itself safe. She happened to be in the area when some other young people opened fire on each other, acting (or so goes the popular interpretation) out a gangsta lifestyle some media have been glorifying for the last decade.

Either example I’ve just given has far more complex, and far more significant influences than anything anyone grew up reading, or watching, or playing. Still, media and literature and art inform culture as well as reflect culture. And, while we may try to separate our favorite pop culture phenomena from the ideologies they embody, their ideology informs us, and forms part of our response to them.

Comic books are hardly the dominant media of our time but, as Gerard Jones notes in Men of Tomorrow, the same principal superheroes have been successfully reinvented for readerships since the 1930s. They have cultural relevance. Do their visions reveal how we as a culture see ourselves? Definitely. Do they influence their readers? Possibly.

Does Infinite Crisis want to comment on these matters, even while it determines what form the DCU will take in years to come? Without question. These questions therefore become fair when discussing Infinite Crisis, for they are at the heart of DC’s real crisis, whether they are making the correct decisions (commercially, but also, perhaps, ethically) about the forms their characters will take for their next generation of readers.

Reviews of this series will continue with 4-5 (February), and 6-7 (April).