Thursday, June 08, 2006

Crisis in the DC Comics Universe

In 1961 the Silver Age, Flash whose secret identity was Barry Allen met his Golden Age counterpart, Jay Garrick in Flash #123. Talk about a can of worms? To explain this paradox the writers came up with a very inventive concept, Earth-2. Earth-2 was the earth in the multiverse (are you listening Brian Greene?) where all the Golden Age characters in DC comics’ history lived. The stories and adventures of those heroes were recounted in alternate comics and annually the Justice League of America crossed over to Earth-2 to team up with the Justice Society of America. I remember reading these tales and I looked forward to them every year.

This would confuse a lesser comics reader. A meek geek would be frightened. Not I. I kept notes. See, Earth-2 was where the heroes of the 1940s lived and their children were the superheroes of modern (circa 1980s) times. It was cool. I actually read about the Earth-2 heroes with more passion than Earth-1 (except Teen Titans, but that’s for another post!) The All-Star Squadron was the team of heroes on Earth-2 who came together to fight the Axis powers in the 1940s on their earth. The JSA was an organization of heroes within that larger group.

On Earth-1 you’d follow the stories of the “real” Superman and Wonder Woman and Batman. They were part of the JLA. It could be considered that these characters were the ones you were familiar with and the JSA characters were the ones your grandfather read about. (Your Dad being too cool to ever have read comics.)

Again, to me, keeping all these Earth straight wasn’t a problem. I had the charts right there up on my bedroom wall.

DC Comics didn’t stop there. They had absorbed all the popular heroes through the years as smaller comics died out. To be honest there is really only room for one “super” character on each world. Shazam, the World’s Mightiest Mortal, originally published by Fawcett Comics, AKA, Captain Marvel, resided on Earth S. (How convenient!) On Earth X the Nazis had won World War Two and the Freedom Fighter struggled to fight their oppression. On Earth-3 the Superheroes were villains and the villains we are used to seeing on Earth-1 were Superheroes. Actually, Lex Luthor was the only Superhero, fighting against the Crime Syndicate that included Ultra Man (Superman’s counterpart), Owl Man (Batman’s counterpart) and Johnny Quick (Flash counterpart). On Earth-4 the character like the Blue Beetle and Captain Atom from the former Charlton Comics lived. On Earth-6, whose only appearance was for the convenience of the storyline in Crisis, Lady Quark was the only survivor when the Anti-Monitor begins destroying all the parallel Earths. Wikipedia has a great chart showing some examples of heroes from each alternate earth. (Much like the one on my wall. Where is that chart anyway?)

I hear ya’. Only a great big geek would know this much about each alternate earth in the DC Comic Multiverse. (Still with me Mr. Greene.) It would take Quantum Physics to figure this out. Nope, just the ingenuity of Marv Wolfman and George Perez.

OK, time to tangent. (Insert Tango music here.) Marv Wolfman and George Perez are my favorite all time comics duo because they understand me. At least that’s what I thought when I read the angst ridden stories of The New Teen Titans. They captured teenage superheroes like no other writer and artist team has ever been able to do. Marv Wolfman was able to spin a tale of a group of misfits who lived, fought, laughed, loved and cried together all while wearing tights. And he made it believable. Not only that but George Perez rendered Starfire almost too well. I read those comics thinking how it would be great to get a glimpse of what Robin, turned Nightwing, saw when he had a few moments alone with Starfire sans metal bikini in his dorm room at Titan Towers. She was voluptuous, she had great hair and she was na├»ve. Did I mention she was orange? Everything a young superhero fan would want in a female super idol! Ok, enough of that.

After they made The New Teen Titans an event of comics in the eighties, DC trusted them to do the ultimate comic series. This comic would reign in all those multiverses (Brian Greene has now left the building!) and bring continuity to the DC Universe. A tall order indeed.

Did they succeed? Well, like anything in life, it has its good side and its bad side. The story was biblical in proportion, the arc lasted for 12 issues and affected every single character in the DC Comics stable. Every single one. (I want an animated series dammit!)

The good side was that the story was well told and well illustrated. Marv had quite a job corralling all those heroes into one story without seeming contrived. Also, it was supposed to be big, Big, BIG! That meant some people had to bite the big one.

…they did.

The Barry Allen-Flash died. Supergirl died and Wonder Woman died. Many other villains and heroes died or disappeared into the purgatory of continuity. Most of all, the Mutiverse died. (Brian Greene? You still there? No? Good. Come on in Einstein.) It’s all relative because what’s dying when, in essence, you never existed in the first place, according to the newly rebooted one true universe. (Dr. Freud’s here too great.)

Editorially, this comic series achieved its goal: To make the DC Universe (DCU) more accessible to new readers. (Although at one time I was a new reader and I got it! What’s wrong with you people!) It also revived the DC line. There were some readers who felt that the DCU was confusing, archaic and ridiculous. Marvel was gaining ground over DC for years and it was time that something was done about it. Enter Marv Wolfman with his dream project. Marv pitched the idea to DC Execs and they bit.

From a marketing angle, this was a phenomenal victory. It excited existing and new readers alike and delivered on its promise of changing everything. Readers came back to DC and revitalized the line of comics. Everything that they wanted to accomplish with this series they had accomplished. The future was open to reinvent on the new singular timeline. New readers need not even know there was a Crisis event to enjoy the DCU. No charts necessary.

The series was not just a linear storyline. It started before Issue #1 and in some ways is still ongoing. Hints and little appearances of the story crossed over into all the DC books. Then after the series ended, DC spent years restarting their character lines and lives. Both Zero Hour, published in 1994, and Infinite Crisis, published 2005-2006, are attempts at fixing certain continuity errors and again rebooting the DCU.

The failures are few but important. One major failure is that DC Comics did not seem to have an exit strategy. Some heroes were left to linger for as many as ten years before addressing their new identities, like Hawkman. Also, the future Legion of Superheroes had to deal with their roots meeting Superboy, who never existed.

My personal gripe is that although confusing, they could have melded the alternate histories better. DC had a fifty-year history and they wrote out most of it with Crisis.

Then there’s Supergirl. She was supposedly killed defending the heroes but in the new continuity she never existed. Her heroics went unremembered. Some people feel that because of this it lessened her sacrifice. Not to me. I read the comics and just because the characters don’t acknowledge the act her sacrifice while unremembered did make a difference. It was one step in a long chain that created a new world.

Here is a list of heroes who died in the comic series (I got this straight from Wikipedia):

Alexei "Lex" Luthor of Earth-Two
Angle Man
Aquagirl I
Barry Allen
Bug-Eyed Bandit
Clayface II
The Crime Syndicate of America
Dove I
Farmer Boy of Sgt. Rock's Easy Company
Green Arrow of Earth-Two
Huntress of Earth-Two
Icicle I
Immortal Man
The Justice Alliance of Earth-D (in Legends of the DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths, released in 1999)
Kid Psycho
Lex Luthor of Earth-Three and wife Lois Lane-Luthor
Lori Lemaris
Lord Volt of Earth-Six
The Losers (Johnny Cloud, Gunner, Sarge, Captain Storm)
Maaldor the Dark Lord
Mirror Master I
Prince Ra-Man
Princess Fern of Earth-Six
Robin of Earth-Two
Shaggy Man II
Starman IV (Prince Gavyn)
Supergirl of Earth-One
The Ten-Eyed Man
Wonder Woman of Earth-One

The Crisis series of comics was a major feat of comics publishing. George Perez did a fantastic job of illustrating the multitude of heroes involved in the tale and Marv Wolfman developed a great plot that handled the unwieldy event with style and drama.

It is now available as a Graphic Novel and a large $100 version with extra features. Like a Special Edition! No matter what you think, this series changed the DCU forever and its effects are still being dealt with over 20 years later.


1 comment:

The Phoenix said...

Whoa...that was too much to keep track of. The easiest way to tighten things up is to kill everybody.

Did you see Marvel's latest gimmick? Spiderman took his mask off in public!

How cool!