RearView Review: “Crisis on Infinite Earths” (1985)

(DC Comics, 1985)

Review by Brad Gischia

WRITTEN BY:  Marv Wolfman
INKING / EMBELLISHING BY:  Mike DeCarlo, Dick Giordano,
Jerry Ordway

Greetings from the Wasteland!

*Note and general spoiler alert.  These books are nearly thirty years old so there should be no reason to alert anyone to plot points herein discussed.  On the other hand, I myself read these books with virgin eyes only days ago, so there is a chance that lifelong comic fans have never read this series. Although I will touch on plot points in Crisis, most will be in general terms, so nothing important is given away.  The very next paragraph does spoil some, but no more than cover art is able to do.  Be warned.

This review began in the most childlike way, with a comic cover.  I have always been drawn to the work of George Perez, partly because when I was growing up in the 80’s he was one of the most prolific comic artists on the market.  So the cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, when seen in a long box at the recent C2E2 Event in Chicago, set my heart pumping.  The image is haunting and heartbreaking.  Superman holds the limp body of a bloodied Supergirl while in the background we see the heroes of the DCU in quiet mourning.  I bought it, and the eleven issues that surround it, knowing that I was picking up a piece of comic history but not what its import was at the time.  The theme of the art here though, is judge a book by its cover, as long as it’s a George Perez cover.

So here we are, 2013, and a year and a half after the re-launch of the New 52 from DC.  How has the universe fared after the upheaval at the hands of Jim Lee and Geoff Johns?  I think that there are no more capable hands in which to place the fate of this treasured universe.  Remember though, that this is not the first time that the DCU has undergone a drastic shift in continuity.  The very nature of the comic book industry is that there are multiple authors and artists rotating in and out of positions of power, given the reins to the stagecoach and given the rope to hang themselves if they will.  In 1984, those reins were passed on to Marv Wolfman and George Perez.  Their stagecoach was named The Crisis on Infinite Earths.

When it was first conceived, the Crisis was supposed to be an anniversary celebration, a chance for DC to spotlight their vast array of characters with a 12 issues “maxi” series.  Mr. Wolfman saw the chance to do something more.  He chose to write a story that would fix the continuity issues that plagued the DC universe, and bring each of the books into one time stream, one story that would span the entire line of books.

On the artwork.  Perez was the art director for the series, so although he did do many of the layouts and surely much of the pencils, there are others who dipped their pens in that most critical inkwell, but all took Perez’s direction, and his influence is strong throughout.  Remember, judge that book.

On the story.  Marv Wolfman did a Herculean job in cleaning up the continuity.  The DCU was running storylines from WWII and the old west, as well as the more common super hero line, all synonymously.  This was fine until a writer wanted to do a crossover, and suddenly there were time warps and all manner of confusing jumps.  There were also more than one of the same character, with Kal-el and Kal-l being two different versions of Superman, living on Earth-1 and Earth-2 respectively.  Kal-el is the Superman we know and love, flustered Clark Kent who can’t help but trip over his own feet whenever Lois Lane comes around.  Kal-l is an older Clark, editor in chief and married to Lois.

Wolfman devised a plot where an infinite number of Earths was created through the negligence of a scientist, with an infinite number of timelines.  Therefore each of these universes could exist at the same time.   The Crisis happens when a creature we find out is The Anti-Monitor, tries to destroy each of these universes so that he can absorb their energy, making him the most powerful being in the one universe left, the anti-matter universe.

Wolfman had his hands full, as did Perez.  The comics are a fascinating pairing of heroes throughout the life of the DCU.  The Challengers of the Unknown and Adam Strange team up.  Dr. Fate gathers all of the mystic and magician type characters together.  Kamandi, last boy on Earth, makes an appearance alongside Superman.  And these are only a few of the team-ups.  Wolfman also had the lives of the superheroes in his nimble fingers.  He was given permission to kill Supergirl and the Flash (Barry Allen), two of the more popular characters in the DCU at the time.

By the end of the series, there are five worlds remaining from the infinite that were created, and the remaining heroes band together (along with some villains, don’t forget them) to fight the Anti-Monitor and ultimately defeat him.

Wolfman did an extraordinary thing in 1985.  He took each of the strands that were the DCU and pulled them all together, cut out the frayed cords, and wove them into a cord that would withstand conjecture and criticism.  The character Harbinger answers any questions regarding continuity after this point. “It is the irony of cosmic rebirth.  There are many paradoxes, and not all can be explained.”  With these magic words Wolfman absolves future writers and artists of the choices they make regarding continuity, almost as if he’s saying, “that’s just how cosmic rebirth goes.”

So is this revamp of a universe better or worse than what happened in 2011?  I don’t know if it’s better, time will tell if those comics cancelled by the New 52 will again emerge (likely) and change everything again.  (Double likely).  That’s just the way comics work.  I really enjoyed Wolfman and Perez’s work on Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Where the New 52 simply Control/Alt/Deleted the DCU, Wolfman tried to do it in continuity, to write his way out of a jam that hundreds of writers and artists had put him in, and as a writer myself, I have to admire that.

Follow Brad Gischia on Twitter:  @comicwasteland

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