09 September 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part X: Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 6

Comic trade paperback, 207 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 1981-82)
Borrowed from the library
Read August 2013
Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 6

Writers: Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas
Artists: George Pérez, Romeo Tanghal, John Beatty, Keith Pollard, Don Heck, Sal Trapani, Adrian Gonzales, Jerry Ordway
Letterers: Ben Oda, Phil Felix, John Costanza
Colorists: Carl Gafford, Gene D'Angelo

By rights, I should have read this between Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 5 and Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Absolute Edition, but the Interlibrary Loan Office had some trouble in sourcing it, and rather than delay reading what came after, I plowed on ahead. But I'm glad I was able to come back to this: Gerry Conway turns out to probably be my favorite writer of these volumes, able to mix solid character work with great plots that actually have time and space to unfold.

The first story here isn't the greatest, but it's not the worst either: "Targets of Two Worlds"/"Countdown to Crisis!"/"Crisis in Limbo!" features the Ultra-Humanite (now in a gorilla body, apparently long after I last saw him in The Superman Chronicles, Volume One) putting together a new Secret Society of Super-Villains in order to take on ten superheros on Earths-One and -Two, the removal of which will apparently set off an historical chain reaction that will remove all superheroes from one of the two Earths. Why? Science, apparently. This results in one of those formulaic stories where (like in some of the Gardner Fox ones) we see villains take on heroes in turn. It's okay, but where it gets kinda fun is when the Ultra-Humanite cheats half of the villains out on their due and they turn on each other. I don't know why he does it-- it seems like a whole planet ought to be enough to split between ten villains-- but I liked the change of perspective, and the final throwdown in a delight. There's some George Pérez art here, but he's not well-served by John Beatty on inks, who obscures Pérez's trademark detail work.

The real fun of this volume is the five-part "Crisis on Earth-Prime!", which weaves between Justice League of America (set on 1980s Earth-One) and All-Star Squadron (set on 1940s Earth-Two), and also manages to work in Earth-Prime in the 1960s and 1980s and the villains of Earth-Three! It's a blast, and I read the whole thing nearly straight through because I was enjoying it so much. Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas give us a twisting, turning time travel tale, with three different groups of heroes bouncing backwards and forwards through time and dimensions to stop Per Degaton from destroying one Earth (our Earth, actually, the one of the readers!) and conquering another. For once, the time travel logic actually holds up for the most part, and with five issues, the story has time to breathe and not feel like a blob of incident.

There are five heroes apiece from the Justice League, Justice Society, and All-Star Squadron present, and Conway and Thomas prevent them from becoming indistinct; each gets character-appropriate dialogue and actions. (This seems like faint praise, but in the Gardner Fox era, you could have often switched the heroes' word balloon tails around, and I doubt anyone would have noticed.) The Crime Syndicate of Earth-Three even felt more like actual characters than they have in the past. Firestorm's attempts to make it with Power Girl were amusing, and I even felt sorry for Per Degaton at the story's end.

There's even some brief philosophizing here-- Per Degaton (seriously, he's supposed to be an ordinary guy from 1947, how did he get such a weird name?) uses nuclear warheads from the Cuban Missile Crisis in his plan, and the characters of both the 1980s and the 1940s comment on the amazing destructive power this presents-- including President Roosevelt himself. Small moments, perhaps, but nice ones that stop the story from being just another slugfest. This is the last Crisis on Multiple Earths volume (for now, hopefully; one more will collect all the existent Earth-One and -Two crossover stories), and it's nice to see the series end on a high note.

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