Thursday, January 5, 2012
Up until 1985, the story continuity in the DC Comics universe was all over the place. Origins changed without much explanation, there were multiple Earths (which I actually like), and with acquisitions of properties from such companies as Fawcett and Charlton, more characters than you could shake a stick at. There was Earth-1, the regular Earth; Earth-2, the original Golden Age Earth; Earth-3, where villains' and heroes' roles were reversed...so many more Earths.
See what I did there?
So DC made the huge decision to consolidate ALL of those Earths into one, essentially rebooting the universe and streamlining the continuity. This would be a task. This would be a monumental task. Fortunately, this task was placed in the hands of one of the best writers of the era, Marv Wolfman. Art-wise, who else could you get to draw hundreds of different characters but the legendary George Perez? Finishing the art would be a real crew of the best inkers in Dick Giodarno, Mike DeCarlo, and Jerry Ordway, someone who was also accustomed to drawing loads of characters. This all-star team was set to craft a truly all-star event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, a saga that would span 12 issues in what was called a "maxi-series." Taking its name from past DC crossovers like 1963's Crisis on Earth-One (which saw the first meeting between the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America), this particular Crisis would change everything.
Now prepare thyself. This quasi-synopsis will make your head spin.
The story begins with a mystery: a white anti-matter wall is sweeping through universes, sending countless worlds and people into oblivion, including Earth-3, where good and evil have been switched (Ultraman = evil Superman, Lex Luthor is the only superhero). A mysterious being watches all of this and dispatches a young woman named Harbinger to collect certain superhumans from so-far-untouched Earths. Splitting herself into multiple selves, she summons heroes and villains from several Earths. After a quick battle with shadow demons, the ragtag team meets their summoner, The Monitor.
Back on Earth-1, things are getting wacky. Caveboy Anthro sees a futuristic city despite being thousands of years in the past. The Legion of Super-Heroes in the far-flung future deal with a herd of mammoths. Batman encounters a ghostly image of The Flash. The Monitor explains that he can stop the anti-matter wave with devices scattered throughout history. His assembled team is to protect the structures, then activate them when needed. Of course, that's not easy as they're set upon by shadow demons again. Oh, and The Monitor? Seems he rescued Alexander Luthor - Earth-3 Luthor's son - from his escape pod (fired in the same manner that Superman's parents used) and the kid is not only growing at an incredible rate, he houses anti-matter energy. During this time, the unstable Psycho Pirate gets whisked away by some malevolent force.
The anti-matter wall reaches Earth-1, as witnessed by several heroes like Batman and his Outsiders and the Teen Titans. The Flash vibrates himself back in time and appears to them before disappearing again. In space, Brainiac witnesses the wall and races off to find some help in the form of Lex Luthor. The tower protection team dispatched to World War II battle Nazis alongside Sergeant Rock and his Easy Company as well as The Losers before shadow demons show up, resulting in the deaths of The Losers and one of Rock's crew. Another team sent to the Old West witnesses a wall - which is advances through all time at the same time (a concept I absolutely dig) - resulting in the death of Nighthawk. More death as, in the 30th century, Kid Psycho of the Legion of Super-Heroes is consumed by the wall. On top of all that, Monitor's assistant Harbinger seems to be possessed and goes all dark-eyed evil on her master.
On Earth-6, the mysterious man named Pariah - forced to appear whenever a world dies - rescues the only survivor, a superheroine named Lady Quark. Around Earth-1, the shadow demons coalesce into larger creatures, plunging the world in darkness. Harbinger murders The Monitor as the universes of Earths-1 and 2 are cast into limbo. Turns out Monitor knew this would happen, and his death released enough energy to activate the structures and bring the universes into his being. On those Earths, though, time and space is compressed and begins to scrunch together. As heroes and villains join together to save the universes, the big bad is revealed to Psycho Pirate and the kidnapped Flash: The Anti-Monitor.
Now everything that is good about The Monitor is evil in his opposite, this Anti-Monitor. He knows The Monitor sent heroes to the remaining three worlds, so he grants his toady Psycho-Pirate vastly increased power to use his emotion-controlling ability on the entire populations. Earth-X, Earth-S, and Earth-4 see their respective heroes (all characters purchased by DC Comics over the years from Quality Comics, Fawcett Comics, and Charlton Comics) battle the ones trying to save them until, with one last burst of massive energy, Harbinger brings the last three worlds into phase with Earth-1 and Earth-2. Meanwhile, Brainiac and the Earth-1 Lex Luthor begin recruiting every single super-villain from the five worlds.
Harbinger gathers representatives from six worlds to hear the origin of The Monitor and Anti-Monitor, which intertwines with that of the strange Pariah. All origins stem from the beginning of the universe, an event that is so catastrophic that to view it creates anomalies and paradoxes that can destroy any timeline. It's a given that the Anti-Monitor is hiding out in the...yep...anti-matter universe. The most powerful heroes of the remaining worlds gather as a strike team and dive into the underbelly universe thanks to the grown Alexander Luthor. Battling the Anti-Monitor's fortress itself, only Superman of Earth-1, Supergirl, and the new Doctor Light make it in. Supergirl takes on the villain alone to protect her cousin, and she really tears into the creature. But in a moment of hesitation, the Anti-Monitor strikes Supergirl down before escaping, providing the first major casualty.
The dastardly Anti-Monitor constructs a new swanky set of armor while Psycho-Pirate considers escaping. Darkseid regards the threat the Anti-Monitor poses, but bides his time. The Flash, however, bides his time just enough to set about striking back at his captors. He uses Psycho-Pirate to cause Anti-Monitor's underlings to turn on him while he sets off to destroy the nasty anti-matter cannon. Using his insane super-speed, he runs fast enough to destroy the cannon, but flashes back through time...no pun intended. This causes the apparition of himself to appear in earlier issues. As he runs, he disintegrates, turning into the very lightning strike that caused his origin so many years ago. Oh, and right about then, everyone's favorite embodiment of the Wrath of God - The Spectre - returns. And he ain't happy.
Brainiac and Lex Luthor set about their plan of taking over the weakened worlds, sending teams of villains out to decimate the ranks of the heroes. The heroes mount a huge comeback, but not without casualties on both sides. The Spectre makes his presence known and stops the fighting. I mean, hey, he's the Wrath of God. When he says stop, you stop. He convinces both sides to join forces and stop the Crisis at all points. The villains head to Oa to stop the mad Krona from witnessing the beginning of the universe. The heroes travel to the beginning of time to face an enormous, powered-up Anti-Monitor. The Spectre shows up to grapple with Anti-Monitor. The villains fail in their quest and Krona opens the window in time...
All suddenly seems normal. Earth is pretty much as it should be...except for some little things. Turns out the Earths merged...there is no more multiverse. People from Earth-2 like its Superman (the original from the Golden Age, mind you) seem to have lost everything, but still remember it all. The Spectre lies comatose. And the Anti-Monitor? Well, he's bigger and badder than ever and is determined to destroy this combined universe. The final chapter (called "Final Crisis"...hmm...) sees Anti-Monitor let loose all his shadow demons on the world. Loads of casualties occur. In space, a band of ragtag heroes join Brainiac in convincing Darkseid to help. No easy task there.
The heroes put together a bold final strike on the Anti-Monitor. The mystics lend a hand, and the heroes going up against the big bad get in some great shots in the anti-matter universe. Thinking he's down for the count, they manage to ensure the safety of the world. The last ones behind are Supermans 1 and 2, Lady Quark, and Superboy of Earth-Prime (where there are no superheroes). Superman 2 and Superboy force the other two out and take on the remains of the Anti-Monitor on their own, finally destroying the god-like creature. But now they're trapped in a collapsing universe. Yet...here's Alexander Luthor, who can take them to a pocket, heaven-like universe where he has already taken the Lois Lane of Earth-2.
The timeline is then streamlined and there's now only one Earth, and it's "always" been that way. The only one who remembers the multiverse is Psycho-Pirate, and he's locked away in an asylum. He was a few capes short of a Justice League anyway. Wally West matures from Kid Flash to Flash in honor of Barry Allen, who sacrificed himself earlier. And all is well...at least until the next big crossover.
Trust me: I didn't even provide all the details in this story. It's that huge.
Crisis on Infinite Earths was truly one of the biggest milestones in mainstream comics history, a huge undertaking by all involved. Writer Marv Wolfman had to juggle a zillion characters, and George Perez had to pencil them all with inking from Dick Giodarno, Mike DeCarlo, and Jerry Ordway. It was exhausting, I'm sure.
I had the good fortune to run into Jerry Ordway at the comic book store I now frequent, Cave Comics in Newtown, Connecticut. I tried to think of something witty to say, but mostly spit out "Crisisoninifiteearths!" Really, though, he did say that it was a herculean effort from everyone, and he had significant praise for Perez who has since become known for drawing slews of characters at a time. Ordway, by the way, is a very nice guy and it was awfully cool of him to chat with me for the few minutes I was there.
But this particular Crisis (there would technically be two more in the series over the years) was significant to me as it - in a way - reintroduced the DC Universe to my eyes after a few years of not keeping up with comics. It ended up being like playing Where's Waldo with a couple hundred characters spaced across a few universes. The body count was high, and they weren't fooling around when they killed off popular characters like Supergirl and the Barry Allen Flash. Several duplicate characters were removed, such as the Earth-2 versions of Superman, Robin (both a little grey around the temples), and Green Arrow, among many others. The streamlined "one universe only" rule would stick around for many years until the notion of a multiverse began to grow more popular until about 2000 with Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's JLA: Earth 2, which featured a new anti-matter universe based on the old Earth-3 "everything is reversed" idea. There were probably other stories, too, but that's when I started thinking, "hey, isn't there just supposed to be one universe here?" About five years later in Infinite Crisis, followed by 52, the multiverse would begin making its comeback.
I highly recommend picking up this piece of comic history, whether in individual issues (which might be a tad costly) or in trade paperback form, which features a great introduction from writer Wolfman. My dizzying synopsis does not do it justice, it really is a wild, superheroic ride as one era ended at DC Comics and a new one began.
Pick it up, or the Anti-Monitor will find you.