29 October 2008

Faster than a DC Bullet, Issue #6: Crisis on Infinite Earths

Comic trade paperback, ~368 pages
Published 2000 (contents: 1985-86)

Borrowed from a friend
Read October 2008
Crisis on Infinite Earths

Writer: Marv Wolfman
Penciller: George Pérez
Inkers: Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo, Jerry Ordway
Colorists: Anthony Tollin, Tom Ziuko, Carl Gafford
Color Reconstruction: Tom McCraw
Letterer: John Costanza

DC Universe Timeline: Six Years Ago
Real World Timeline: July 1985

(We've vaulted straight over the early careers of the modern superheroes-- it's been seven years since Superman For All Seasons and The Superman Chronicles, six years since The Long Halloween. It also happens to be the MONTH I WAS BORN. Coincidence that a multiverse-shaking event happened at that very moment? I sincerely doubt it. Though, going by DC Universe time, it's 1991 and I'm only six years old right now. Or maybe my body was infused with antimatter and I grew at a fantastically accelerated rate. In any case, I must be posting this on Usenet.)

It's a well-known fact that by the 1980s, the continuity of the DC Universe-- sorry, Multiverse-- was in such a state that students of Russian hermeneutics were rejecting it as too confusing. But Marv Wolfman was a man with a plan: destroy it and replace it with something even more bizarre and inexplicable. The vehicle for this transformation was Crisis on Infinite Earths, an twelve-issue miniseries that would change the state of comics forever, subjecting us to poorly thought out crossovers on a regular basis for the next 25 years and beyond, I'm sure. Actually, I've never read any of the other "crises", but my perusal of Internet bulletin boards has confirmed that I'm supposed to hate them.

Actually, I find it bizarrely hard to pass judgment on Crisis on Infinite Earths. It's not so much a work of art as a fact of life. It's not something you can judge, it just is. It's known for what it did, not how it did it. Because even if it had done it all poorly, it still would have been as famous and influential as it is today.

But I don't think it did do it poorly. Sure, it's melodramatic as possible sometimes, but it's a comic book crossover dealing with the collapse of an infinite number of universes, what do you expect? Most of the time, it's just plain fun-- Marv Wolfman has an encyclopedic knowledge of DC characters and continuity, and that shines through here in the ridiculous number of characters who appear in this comic. In fact, he knows so many obscure characters, it frequently becomes a problem-- when the Monitor assembles his team to defend his vibrational forks (whatever), he brings together Superman, Blue Beetle, Dawnstar, Green Lantern, Psimon, Geo-Force, Cyborg, Obsidian, Firebrand, Firestorm, Killer Frost, Psycho Pirate, Doctor Polaris, and a giant gorilla. Who the heck are these people? Obviously I known Superman and the other heavy hitters, but Geo-Force? Firebrand? Doctor Polaris, the Master of Magnetism? I don't think anyone yearning for a crossover of DC's infinite characters was ever clamoring for a Psimon/Doctor Polaris teamup.

The other problem is that when you've got a threat that's big enough to bring all these people together... it's a threat too big for them to actually handle. The protagonists in this story are little more than tools for the Monitor, who is privy to a plot that is never really fully revealed, jerking our heroes from point to point, having them run contrived little tasks, such as guarding his vibrational cutlery. Often, threats are contrived just to spice things up, such as when Lex Luthor, never to be outdone, decides that he's going to take over four Earths at once with the help of every supervillain ever, prompting a protracted battle to fill page space while the heroes fight back.

The deficiency of our own heroes in such cosmic occurrences is really shown fully in "Death at the Dawn of Time", when our heroes stand around watching the Spectre do all of the work that it takes to defeat the Anti-Monitor. Well, one of the times-- the Anti-Monitor comes back from the dead about three times after this, sometimes a mere page after his most recent demise. I was so happy when the Superman of Earth-2 punched him so hard that he exploded. Though why this should have killed him when the power of Darkseid could not, I have no idea.

I guess these are just the natural problems of writing a crossover this big. And most of the time, Wolfman is solid enough to keep you from realizing that the main characters aren't actually doing much other than looking at the oh-so-slow moving walls of antimatter. There's certainly a lot to like here, too. One of the biggest deals that of course happens in this book is that Supergirl is killed off. (Which is convenient, since she doesn't exist in the new continuity at the story's end. Indeed, all of the characters who don't exist in the new timeline are killed off at some point, all of them just happening to get in the way of one of the Anti-Monitor's blasts.) This didn't really affect me a whole lot when I read the story for the first time-- I knew it was going to happen (it's on the cover, for crying out loud), and I've never been attached to the Silver Age Supergirl.

But what did get me was the death of the Flash-- I had no idea! And it's such a great death, too. Despite everything that's happened to him, to his world, he just keeps on running and running and running, doing his best to stop the Anti-Monitor from making a giant cannon or whatever the heck it is, running so hard and so fast that he dissolves. How freaking awesome is that? I was genuinely moved the first time I read the book. Barry Allen, I'll miss you. Even if I've never read another story featuring you.

The other weird thing, but mostly in retrospect, is all the sideplots that were obviously setups for what was going to happen in other comic books. What's all that nonsense about the Red Tornado, anyway? And the blue dude with the horns meeting those guys in space? And you know I'm never going to pick up New Teen Titans #15 to read about Starfire's wedding plans. As for the new Wildcat? Who the crap cares?

I've been remiss-- all this time and I've yet to mention George Pérez's artwork. Because that, more than anything else, is what sells this story. I find it amazing that the man could pump out work of this caliber on a monthly basis-- and some of the issues are double-sized! The level of detail is extraordinary. Some of his panels feature Every Character Ever-- and all of them are recognizable! Well, recognizable to someone much more well-versed in DC minutia than myself. And as for his layouts... some of these pages feature more than a dozen panels! All of them clear and distinct. A Pérez comic does not waste space. He chooses his full-page panels carefully. The destruction of entire universe can sometimes be one panel out of many-- when he does a two-page spread, you know it's important! I wish I could say more about his artwork, but I don't know a thing about artwork, and the best I could do would be to say "It's awesome" again and again. (Oh, I really dig the black-and-white extracts from "The Monitor Tapes" at the bottom of the pages of "Death at the Dawn of Time!" Obviously Pérez was a master of any color scheme.)

Great Rao, this review has been all over the place. But I think that's appropriate for a story like Crisis on Infinite Earths, one so big it could scarcely be contained or summed up in an effective manner, thanks to Marv Wolfman's encyclopedic knowledge and cosmic plotting and George Pérez's masterful artwork and incredible layouts. One can only hope that like Crisis, the legacy of this review will live on... forever! Or at least the next 25 years of Faster than a DC Bullet.

Note that this originally appeared on my old LiveJournal and included pictures back then. Sadly, the pictures are lost in the mists of the Internet.