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Crisis on Infinite Earths

From Academic Kids

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Cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #1. Art by George Perez.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was a 12 issue comic book mini-series produced by DC Comics in 1985 in order to simplify their 50-year-old continuity. Written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by George Pérez, Dick Giordano, and Jerry Ordway, the series eliminated the concept of the Multiverse in the fictional DC Universe, and depicted the deaths of such long-standing superheroes as Supergirl and The Flash.

The title of the series was inspired by earlier crossover stories involving the multiple Earths of the Multiverse, such as "Crisis on Earth-Two" and "Crisis on Earth-Three", but instead of lasting 2-5 issues and involving members from as many superhero teams from as many parallel worlds, it involved virtually every signficant character from every parallel universe in DC's history. It has in turn inspired the title of the late-2005 DC crossover series Infinite Crisis.

The series (usually referred to as simply Crisis) was highly successful from a marketing standpoint, generating renewed interest in the company's books, enticing readers with the clichéd - but in this case accurate - promise that "things will never be the same". The story itself was rooted firmly in the cliché of "superheroes battle to save the world", but its unprecedented scope and its great attention to both drama and detail satisfied most readers with its story. Along with Alan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, it contributed to the commercial and creative revitalization of DC Comics, which had been dominated in the market by Marvel Comics through the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Crisis also helped popularize the formula of the line-wide "crossover" comic book series (a concept first seen in Marvel Comics' Contest of Champions (1983) and Secret Wars (1984)). Since 1985, superhero publishers such as DC and Marvel have had frequent "summer crossover" series designed to tie many of their comic book titles together under a single storyline (and thus sell more comic books).

Contents

Plot summary

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Crisis on Infinite Earths #12. Earth's heroes fight the Anti-Monitor.

The story introduced readers to two near-omnipotent beings, the good "Monitor" and the evil "Anti-Monitor". The Monitor had made cameo appearances in various DC comic book series for two years preceding the publication of the series and at first appeared to be a new supervillain, but with the onset of the Crisis he was revealed to be working on a desperate plan to save the entire Multiverse from destruction at the hands of the Anti-Monitor. The Crisis series highlighted the efforts of DC Comics' superheroes to stop the Anti-Monitor's. Under the initial guidance of the Monitor, a select group of heroes was assigned to protect massive "tuning forks" designed to hold off the antimatter that had already annihilated untold numbers of alternate Earths. Eventually the conflict grew and nearly every DC hero became involved in the battle.

The Monitor was murdered, but his death released enough energy to save the last five parallel Earths (the homes of the known DC Universe) long enough for the heroes to lead an assault on the Anti-Monitor. The villain retreated, but at the cost of Supergirl's life. This lull in the war provided some breathing room for the heroes, but the various supervillains joined forces under Brainiac and Lex Luthor to attempt the conquest of Earth, while the second Flash died stopping the Anti-Monitor's back-up scheme of destruction. The Spectre halted the hero/villain conflict, warning that the Anti-Monitor was traveling to the beginning of time to prevent the Multiverse's creation. Heroes and villains joined forces in response with the heroes traveling to stop the Anti-Monitor, and the villains traveling to the planet Oa in antiquity to prevent the renegade scientist Krona from performing a historic experiment that would have allowed Anti-Monitor to succeed in his efforts.

The villains failed, and Krona proceeded with his experiment, while the heroes supported the Spectre, whose battle with the Anti-Monitor created an energy overload that literally shattered space and time. With that, a single universe was created and all the superheroes returned to a present-day reality where the various elements of the five Earths were fused into one. The Anti-Monitor attacked one last time, but fell to a carefully planned counter-attack with some quiet help from the New Gods' adversary, Darkseid.

Post-Crisis

Characters and other elements established before Crisis (especially those eliminated by it) are considered "Pre-Crisis" and revised ones are considered "Post-Crisis".

Crisis was used by DC as an opportunity to wipe much of its slate clean and make major changes to many of their major revenue-generating comic book series. Frank Miller's revamp of Batman with Batman: Year One, George Perez's relaunching of Wonder Woman, and John Byrne's reboot of Superman (see The Man of Steel) all took place shortly following Crisis on Infinite Earths, and changed substantial elements of the characters' backstories.

Several other titles which were not significantly retconned were taken in very different directions following Crisis. The Flash was relaunched starring a younger main character, the previous Flash's sidekick. The Justice League of America title was cancelled, to be replaced by a new series entitled simply Justice League, featuring a new cast, many of them drawn from what had been different universes in DC's pre-Crisis multiverse. While some of these revamps of classic superheroes were less successful than others, their new beginnings can generally be attributed to the success of Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In the post-Crisis timeline, an epic "Crisis" still occurred in which numerous heroes opposing the Anti-Monitor's intention to destroy the (singular) universe. While the Flash still died, Supergirl did not as she had "never existed".

Although the characters of the present DC Universe are for the most part unaware the Crisis occurred, there have been occasional references to the event. A 2002 storyline in the Supergirl comic book saw the original pre-Crisis Supergirl landing on post-Crisis Earth, for example, and established that the Spectre, being able to see across dimensions and timelines, is aware the Crisis occurred. In addition, Grant Morrison's run on Animal Man, heralded for its deconstruction of the concept of the comic book, initiated a "Second Crisis" in which characters such as the original Crime Syndicate of America from Earth-3 came back to life thanks to the Psycho Pirate, who remembered the original Crisis.

Criticisms

Many readers unfamiliar with the complicated continuity of the DC universe found the story confusing, as it was written especially for readers who were intimately familiar with the countless characters created in the pages of DC comics over the space of fifty years, including multiple versions of characters such as Superman and Wonder Woman.

It is also questionable whether a specific plotline was really required to explain the changes being made, when DC could have easily just relaunched each line from scratch, without tying it to the original continuity, a feat that Marvel Comics achieved much later with its Ultimate Marvel line.

The changes made in the wake of Crisis were not ushered in consistently. The series itself was published over the course of a year with ongoing series continuing at the same time, and several months of stories set in the "old" continuity continued to be published following its last issue. Furthermore, revamped or relaunched versions of series did not debut at the same time, and DC continued to feature the "old" versions of characters until new versions were launched, sometimes or year or more later. The character of Hawkman was one of the most problematic, as a new version did not appear until 1989; this raised the question as to who this "Hawkman" character was who had been running around with the Post-Crisis heroes since 1986. Similar problems faced the Legion of Super-Heroes, which had been affected by the removal of Superboy from DC continuity, and successive attempts to "repair" it had met with mixed results. In 1994, DC produced a mini-series titled Zero Hour, which attempted to resolve these problems by again rebooting the DCU, but this time with fewer wholesale revisions.

Many fans of characters that were eliminated or dramatically affected by Crisis were unhappy with these changes. They argued that the company's five decades of publishing were a rich foundation upon which to build, and complained that the post-Crisis universe was one with which they had no connection. The complete erasure of Superman's cousin Supergirl was particularly controversial, with fans complaining that it rendered her heroic self-sacrifice in Crisis meaningless. (The fact that the Flash's heroic self-sacrifice was remembered by DC characters as almost martyrdom made her treatment seem even less respectful by comparison.) An irregular variety of similar replacement characters named Supergirl were introduced to mixed reactions. DC relented in 2004 and introduced a Supergirl who closely matched the pre-Crisis Kara Zor-El of Krypton.

Parody

Crisis (along with other crossovers and "event" comics of the period) was parodied by Simpsons Comics' Radioactive Man series: Radioactive Man #679 (Sept 1994), entitled "Who Washes The Washmen's Infinite Secrets Of Legendary Crossover Knight Wars?" by Steve Vance.

Bibliography

  • Crisis on Infinite Earths #1-12 (April, 1985 – March, 1986). Reprinted as hardover (1998; ISBN 1563894343) and trade paperback (2001; ISBN 1563897504) collections with new cover art by Alex Ross.
  • Official Crisis on Infinite Earths Index oneshot (March, 1986). Contains a detailed description on each issue of the series, a list of most alternate Earths, and a history of the Multiverse concept.
  • Official Crisis on Infinite Earths Cross-Over Index oneshot (July, 1986). Contains summaries of every comic book issue that connected to the Crisis storyline, descriptions of more alternate Earths, and a list of every character that appeared in Crisis.
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths novelization (2005; ISBN 0743498399). Written by Marv Wolfman from the perspective of the Flash.

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