A Crossover to End All Crossovers? (Crisis on Infinite Earths Review)

CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Penciller: George Pérez
Inkers: Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo, Jerry Ordway
Publisher:  DC Comics

Journey back in the history of DC Comics and witness one of the most earth(s)-shattering (literally) crossovers in the history of comic books. A mysterious foe is threatening the existence of the multiverse and everyone from Arion to Zatanna joins forces to save the day, but will that be enough? Nothing will ever be the same.

What You Need to Know:

As a reader: Honestly, if you are a human being with even a passing interest in comics and are aware of current or past DC movies or TV, you’re probably okay. If you know any version of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, The Flash, or any of the rest of the Justice League, you’ll have a foothold. The more you know of DC comics before 1985, the more references you will catch and the more characters you will recognize, but the story should still be accessible to almost anyone. I will write this from the perspective of someone that is familiar with pre-Crisis earth.

crisis 5.jpgDC’s universe at the time:
DC had acquired or created several different universes at this time. The major two are: 1) Earth-1, with the classic 60’s-80’s characters, and the most commonly used popular versions. This is the Earth of the Justice League, the “main” Earth. 2) Earth-2, the earth of the “original versions” from the 1940s of Superman, Batman, the Flash, etc., i.e. the earth of the Justice Society. There are other major earths like Earth-S, Shazam’s Earth, and Earth-3, home of the Crime Syndicate – an evil version of the Justice League, but those get some exposition. The crossover is written with some assumption that the reader knows Earth-1 and Earth-2.

For the Story: For months characters (and readers) across time, space and universes have been encountering different strangers – Harbinger, Pariah, the Monitor, hinting at a major disaster and a hidden enemy approaching on the horizon. We’ve seen the Monitor mostly in the shadows, the others have been recruiting or outright kidnapping heroes and villains for some coming conflict.

What You’ll Find Out:

At the beginning of the story we see several alternate realities that are plagued with an expanding void that seems to destroy everything it touches. As we shift from world to world we witness the destruction of familiar characters and the introduction of some new ones, several of whom die about as quickly as they’re introduced. The mysterious man known as Pariah manages to warn some, save a few, but for the most part just bears witness as world after world dies. Meanwhile, the Monitor sends his assistant Lyla(Harbinger) to gather the heroes and villains he will need to defeat the world-killer.

As part of the narrative, they explain the existence of the anti-matter universe, a sort of negative version of the DC multiverse, which is a long-standing staple of DC’s mythos especially the Green Lanterns. The primary world there is Qward, and we learn that a new power in Qward has come not to conquer, but to destroy. The Monitor stands as the only obstacle to the anti-matter universe for reasons revealed during the story. He has a plan to halt the destruction of the multiverse which is disrupted by sudden but inevitable betrayal.

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Throughout the rest of the story, there is a bid to stop the destruction of what’s left of reality outside the anti-matter universe. The multiverse is slowly merging together, leaving each of the remaining earths in danger of catastrophe. The fight takes place across time and space and eventually to the beginning of creation itself. There are showdowns with the anti-matter universe, bids for power by groups of super-villains, battles of cosmic and magical scales, and more characters than you can shake a stick at. If you’re new to the DC universe, you might need a score card.

At the end of the day, the universe survives, though not all of the heroes, but only the universe. There is no more multiverse. The heroes literally awaken to a new world where some of them have new histories, some have new abilities, and some of them don’t exist anymore. The people at the final battle in some cases learn that their worlds and everyone they’ve ever known no longer exist, though they remember everything. The crossover deals with some of the iconic characters that have been affected, the longer narratives of others are left to continue in their own books.

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What Happened:

DC dared to do what no one else had up to this point: They radically altered the face of their company and they made it stick. The changes, the deaths, the rebirths, they were as real as fiction gets. In the current era of revolving-door resurrections and reboots it may seem a minor thing, but these battles pulled no punches and in fact landed a few hits to the gut as iconic characters on the level of Supergirl (and a few others) are cut down in the melee. This story pulled every character in the DC universe in and made it clear that no one and nothing was safe. On a personal level, as a tween when this story came out, I was devastated by the loss of several of my favorite characters at the time. Supergirl’s end was nothing short of shattering for me, and I still count that as one of, if not the, most powerful stories I’ve read. (I’m not getting into arguments about Dark Phoenix, yes, it was powerful too. Let’s continue.)  Some of the late in the game deaths came out of nowhere, and were equally impactful. Others were foreshadowed but still compellingly-written.

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The story itself especially for its time was well-written, well-illustrated and incredibly daring. The superstar team of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez does not fail to deliver on their respective fronts. First, the writing. This was no small task, writing the entire company into a coherent a single 12 issue arc that justified the presence of so many characters and still made a compelling story. For those that didn’t read this in real time or haven’t read other books from this era, it may not be apparent how well the company as a whole did with building up and tying in each book at the time without making it a requirement to buy a million other books or really even necessarily Crisis itself. Or how adeptly Wolfman wrote pretty much every character DC had to offer and brought their personalities to life.

The art is nothing short of amazing. I won’t hide a deep love for George Pérez in general, but looking back through these pages, I’m still amazed at the quality of his work. And the detail throughout, giving each character a distinctive look deserves as much praise as possible. Even Earth-1 and Earth-2 versions are distinct, Pérez conveys ages, body-types, and just individuality in general so beautifully. And that ability is only magnified by the sheer number of characters he was tasked with drawing. The designs of the new characters were impeccable, the cosmic scenes, the backgrounds, action, all of it. This event truly sets a gold standard in quality.

The historical setting can’t be ignored. When the story closed, every character in the universe was on uncertain ground, most of the ‘big guns’ were being completely rebooted. And this is where the success of the crossover comes into question. Many of the reboots were wildly successful, Pérez hits another one out of the park with the new Wonder Woman. But some books, such as the Legion of Super-Heroes, never quite seemed to recover. Who remembered the pre-crisis world and how people were affected by it seemed to vary from book to book, and there were rumors of creative  disagreements that led to convolution and sometimes disasters for books. DC seems to have never quite managed to get itself back on track and is now on its third or fourth reboot. All of that has taken a little bit of shine off this gem, but as a whole this is an event that really holds up.

I’m not sure I would suggest this as a first jump into 1980s DC, starting with something like the Justice League or even Teen Titans or one of the major solo books like Superman, Batman, or Green Lantern would help give context. A reader could still manage, but they won’t get quite as much out of it without something to relate to or some emotional investment in the characters. Either way though it’s definitely a ‘do-not-miss’ for anyone wanting to really get to know the best DC has to offer.

Rating: 10*/10,8^/10
(*Read in the context of the other books by someone with significant knowledge of DC history. ^Read by someone that doesn’t know much about Pre-Crisis DC and is coming at it with no context or tie-ins.)

Final Thoughts: In the era of continual resurrections and continual crossovers, this event may seem commonplace now. But for its time, this event was a major shake-up for the DC universe, which, love it or hate it, persists even today. Taken on its own merits as a book, Wolfman’s writing and Pérez’s pencils highlight the pinnacle of what is arguably one of the best eras for DC comics.

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