Crisis on Infinite Earths
A couple of weeks ago, I wondered whether we could trace the entire sidekick-derived wing of DC’s superhero-comics history back to Bill Finger. Today I’m less interested in revisiting that question — although I will say Robin the Boy Wonder also owes a good bit to Jerry Robinson and Bob Kane — than using it as an example.
Specifically, this week’s question has nagged me for several years (going back to my TrekBBS days, even), and it is this: as between Alan Moore and the duo of Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, who has been a bigger influence on DC’s superhero books?
As the post title suggests, we might reframe this as “who won the ‘80s,” since all three men came to prominence at DC in that decade. Wolfman and Pérez’s New Teen Titans kicked off with a 16-page story in DC Comics Presents #26 (cover-dated October 1980), with the series’ first issue following the next month. Moore’s run on (Saga of the) Swamp Thing started with January 1984′s issue #20, although the real meat of his work started with the seminal issue #21. Wolfman and Pérez’s Titans collaboration lasted a little over four years, through February 1985′s Tales of the Teen Titans #50 and New Teen Titans vol. 2 #5. Moore wrote Swamp Thing through September 1987′s #64, and along the way found time in 1986-87 for a little-remembered twelve-issue series called Watchmen. After their final Titans issues, Wolfman and Pérez also produced a 12-issue niche-appeal series of their own, 1984-85′s Crisis On Infinite Earths.* The trio even had some common denominators: Len Wein edited both Titans and Watchmen (and Barbara Randall eventually succeeded him on both), and Gar Logan’s adopted dad Steve Dayton was friends with John Constantine.
Three recent bits of DC news are running together in my mind. Cumulatively they may amount to nothing — housekeeping details and/or fallout from the New-52 relaunch — but individually they seem significant, because they may well speak to the proverbial “reset button” which DC claims does not exist. Put simply, I think that reset button exists, I think it affects all of the New-52 books, and I expect it to be revealed within the next year or two. Whether it gets pushed, and/or how much resetting occurs, is another matter.
While it may be overprotective to put a SPOILER WARNING so early in the post, I realize some of you may want to discover these things as they are actually published.
I don’t blame you — I was trying to avoid the Wonder Woman thing, but that’s what I get for reading convention coverage. (And yes, I have seen the recent news about a certain Flash character.)
Anyway, SPOILERS for potential DC milestones big and small….
DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio triggered a minor crisis of his own Saturday when he announced on Facebook that, “after further review, there have been no Crisis events in the New DCU.”
The proclamation sent blogs and message boards into overdrive as fans grappled with the ramifications of no Crises — no Infinite Crisis, no Final Crisis, and no Crisis on Infinite Earths, the 1985 “maxi-series” whose impact was so profound that DC history became defined by “pre-Crisis” and “post-Crisis,” comics’ answer to B.C. and A.D.
But clearly in the universe of the post-Flashpoint New 52 there was a Final Crisis, as Bruce Wayne “died” — or, rather, he was hurled back through time — and was temporarily replaced as Batman by Dick Grayson. There are undoubtedly other loose threads that are best not picked at, but that’s the one that springs immediately to mind. It’s one of the pitfalls of leaving the continuities of some characters, like Batman and Green Lantern, essentially intact, while sending dozens of others back to square one.
Noting the tumult his announcement created, DiDio returned on Sunday with clarification. Sort of: “For those in crisis over Crisis, let me clarify. The topic of Crisis was much discussed among the editors and talent working on The New 52. With so many characters and histories restarting, major events like Crisis are harder to place when they work for some and not for others. (that was one of the problems coming out of the original Crisis). While we are starting aprx five years into our heroes’ lives, we are focused on the characters present and future, and past histories will be revealed as the stories dictate. Yes, there have been “crisis” in our characters lives, but they aren’t exactly the Crisis you read before, they can’t be. Now, what this means for characters seen and unseen…… well, that’s the fun of The New 52, infinite stories, infinite possibilities, with the best yet to come. [...] P.S. that’s the last time I try and answer a Facebook question before rushing out for dinner.”
That should clear things up! Right?
(via DC Women Kicking Ass)
In a well-timed interview with The Village Voice, veteran editor and writer Marv Wolfman, chief architect of the landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths, offers an interesting perspective on DC Comics’ relaunch, addressing continuity, “event fatigue” and how the 1985 reboot didn’t accomplish all that he’d initially hoped.
Wolfman reveals that, similar to DC’s New 52, his original plan post-Crisis was for all the publisher’s titles to start fresh, with a new No. 1 issue.
“When I first pitched Crisis my belief was, at the end, that a new DC universe would be formed,” he tells the weekly, “all the books would begin with number 1 starting with a new origin in each, and Crisis would never be mentioned again because, as I set it up, the Earth would be reformed at its origin and so what had been had never happened as a new Earth was created. The Crisis itself therefore “never happened” though its effects would last. But ultimately the Powers That Be decided they didn’t have enough people to pull that off and so the Crisis was constantly referred to which I always felt was a mistake.”
He also touches upon the need for comics to change — “they need to evolve, and they need to keep fresh in order to stay relevant” — his dislike for “overarching continuity” — “The line I’ve been using since before Crisis is, ‘Continuity holds the best writer hostage of the worst’” — and the post-Crisis rise of event comics.
“In a way, Crisis spawned an entire industry of mega-events when it should have only given birth to those kinds of events where something vitally important had to be achieved,” Wolfman says. “Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way so these days you often here the term ‘event fatigue’ being bandied about.”
I talk about Crisis On Infinite Earths a lot in this space, and justifiably so, given its place in DC history. However, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with its lead villain, and it starts with his name: The Anti-Monitor.
Now, I know he calls himself simply “The Monitor,” and I know (thanks to various recent DC events) that he’s actually the Monitor assigned to the Anti-Matter Universe. Still, he’s best known with the prefix — and again, the prefix is where the trouble begins.
See, Anti-M (so nicknamed by R.A. Jones, critic for the classic fanzine Amazing Heroes) isn’t the only villain defined as the evil counterpart of a familiar superhero. There’s the Reverse-Flash (and his Golden Age predecessor, the Rival), the Cyborg Superman, the Composite Superman, the Sinestro Corps, Black Adam, and probably some others buried deep in my Who’s Whos. Heck, I can think of three “anti-Batmen” right off: Cat-Man, the Wrath (parents fatally shot by Jim Gordon on the same night the Waynes were killed), and Prometheus (psychopathic-criminal parents also shot by cops).
Anyway, those villains all have the advantage of well-known opponents. The Anti-Monitor is the evil answer to … a guy DC readers barely knew.
Publishing | We noted in late April that Archie Comics appeared to be embracing cultural and political commentary with its upcoming Kevin Keller miniseries, which features Riverdale’s first openly gay character and his father, a retired three-star general. But now the publisher, or at least the character, is going a step further, marching into the middle of the debate over gays and lesbians openly serving in the armed forces by revealing that Kevin aspires to be a journalist, but only after attending the U.S. Military Academy and becoming an Army officer. “Even though we don’t tackle the specific issue of Don’t Ask Don’ Tell, the goal was to show that patriotism knows no specific gender, race or sexual orientation,” cartoonist Dan Parent says. “While it sounds like heavy subject matter, I tried to show it simply that Kevin, like his dad, loves his country. Being gay doesn’t effect that in any way.” [The Associated Press]
Publishing | DC Comics’ line-wide reboot has received extensive coverage by mainstream media outlets, based largely on the original USA Today article or The Associated Press report. But my favorite piece is this one by George Gene Gustines that turns back the clock to 1985 and attempts to explain to The New York Times audience the effects, and problems, of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and the publisher’s subsequent attempts to streamline continuity: “… If the goal was to make the DC universe easier to understand, the end result was the opposite: to this day, fans frequently mention ‘pre-Crisis‘ and ‘post-Crisis‘ as a way to distinguish stories. Twenty years later, in the Infinite Crisis limited series, DC tried to clean continuity up again: Superman’s career as Superboy was back; Batman knew who murdered the Waynes; and Wonder Woman was a founder of the Justice League again.” [The New York Times]
While it might not be much, Saturday’s Free Comic Book Day will bring our first real glimpse at the world of Flashpoint. I’ve been looking at the looming alternate-universe epic as little more than a fun way to spend the summer — which would be fine, by the way — but apparently that is just crazy talk. Everything will change, as it always does; as it did with Brightest Day and Blackest Night and Final Crisis, etc., etc.
Naturally, there are different degrees of “change,” from wholesale reorganization to continuity tweaks. 1985′s Crisis On Infinite Earths gave DC carte blanche to rework characters from the ground up. 1994′s Zero Hour, 2005-06′s Infinite Crisis and 52, and 2008-09′s Final Crisis also allowed DC to tinker with the timeline, mostly on a small scale. More esoteric devices like Hypertime, Super-punches, and plot-specific time travel have produced and/or explained certain changes.
However, in practical terms, the post-COIE changes haven’t upset too many apple carts. Oh, Zero Hour tried to clean up Hawkman’s history, and it also facilitated a new Legion of Super-Heroes timeline, both of which were big deals. More recently, though, Infinite Crisis gave Clark Kent a “secret Superboy” career and restored certain aspects of Batman’s and Wonder Woman’s histories, but those developments stayed in the background. Accordingly, a change that doesn’t affect a title’s regular storytelling practice doesn’t seem like much of a change.
And therein lies the real puzzle of Flashpoint: what room is there, across DC’s superhero line, for the kind of change which excites more than it frustrates? Of the 55 DCU/superhero-line titles DC will publish in July (as the big event reaches its midpoint), 17 are part of Flashpoint, and many of the rest are dealing with their own ongoing arcs. Today we’ll look at who might be flexible, and speculate a little on what might happen.
There’s a weird little sequence in the middle of DC Universe: Legacies #3 when the narration’s timeline goes all hazy and oblique, in order to move the story from sometime in the Eisenhower/Kennedy years right into the “X years ago” of modern continuity. Because Legacies tracks some sixty-five years of costumed crimefighting, this sequence bridges the gap between the Justice Society’s retirement and Superman’s debut.
“Hazy and oblique” are also good words for describing DC’s approach to long-term continuity. The history of the DC Universe is well-settled up to the early 1950s, but past then it becomes elastic. This is something we’ve come to expect: fudging the calendar keeps our heroes both as experienced and as youthful as they need to be. However, each passing year also widens the gap between the end of the Golden Age (early ‘50s) and the beginning of the Silver (thought to be 12-15 years ago). Through reader-identification character Paul Lincoln,* DCUL’s writer (and longtime DC favorite) Len Wein aims to put a human face on all those four-color adventures.
That sounds like the premise of 1994′s Marvels and its spiritual descendant Astro City. Really, though, any halfway-entertaining super-survey needs a narrator with a recognizable point of view. Even 1986′s History of the DC Universe, which was basically a series of George Pérez pinups arranged in chronological order, took its florid prose ostensibly from Harbinger’s meditations on the nature of heroism.
First DC announced (via the May solicitations) the cancellation of five titles. Now it looks like the “First Wave” line is being shown the door.
Blogger/podcaster extraordinaire Al Kennedy suggests that “First Wave” might have benefited from a little multiversal-crossover action. I tend to agree, although I think including versions of Batman (and other pulpy DC characters like the Blackhawks) was something of a backdoor crossover.
While that’s a topic for another day, it made me wonder about the general trends within DC’s ongoing series. Thus, starting today I want to take a much longer look, ‘way back to the start of Big Event comics in 1985. DC has launched hundreds of ongoing series since then, and I want to see what made the difference in those series’ successes. This will take a while — maybe two to three posts — but I hope it’ll be worth it.
[Thanks as always to Mike's Amazing World Of DC Comics, an invaluable source of data for any DC fan.]
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With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s time once again to ask, “Are you ready for the thing called love?” It’s many-splendored, you know. All you need is love, so I hear; and if you are all out of love, you may still be able to make love out of nothing at all. Some say love, it is a river which drowns the tender reed. Others counter that love is a burning thing which makes a fiery ring. One fairly unimpeachable source asserts that love is patient and kind, it bears, hopes, abides, etc.
All that aside, however, I imagine that everyone reading this post feels that particular kind of love we call Fandom. Obviously fannish impulses are not always patient and kind; obviously fandom must take a back seat to more meaningful loves like friends and family. Still, it seems to me that fandom’s affections come from a very sincere place. At some point in our past, our hearts were touched by the charms of Star Trek, Wally West, the Cincinnati Reds, whatever — and somehow we felt better. For whatever reason, we wanted more. Fandom can turn ugly, but at its heart is hope — namely, the hope that whatever-it-is can give us that same lift again.
So today I write in appreciation of us fans. Not that we are always right; not that we always agree; but that we can each point to something which (as my parents would say) keeps us off the streets.
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It’s never boring when I get to catch up with writer/artist Matt Kindt about his creative and marketing process–as well as the film, Donnie Darko (and a range of other topics–including video games, Crisis on Infinite Earth and learning how to drive a stick shift). Had I known we could have talked while at a baseball game (this will make sense once you’ve read the interview), well I was crushed (OK not crushed, but I’m finding out next year if Kindt is partial to major or minor league baseball–and we’ll plan our next interview accordingly). Although I was fortunate enough to read an advance black and white preview of Revolver (his new graphic novel for Vertigo “a tale of two worlds — and how both test a man to his limits”), I’m looking forward to this Wednesday, July 14, when I can buy the book in its final form. While we all wait, enjoy this interview.
Tim O’Shea: How much advanced layouts, given the conflicting narratives that you maintain throughout the tale, did you have to set up at the project’s outset?
Matt Kindt: I lay everything out well in advance. I don’t pencil any pages until the entire thing is layed out. Especially with a book like this where I had a hard page count, meaning I couldn’t go over my page limit, I had to be very precise with everything, including where the page-turns would be for certain big reveals, etc.But I really do that with every book – I don’t start penciling anything until I’ve figured out the entire book.
Although science says it’s not summer yet, I’ve got a nice, bucolic, seasonal buzz going. 2009 will be my twenty-fifth summer collecting comic books (not counting that lackadaisical elementary-school period when I just read the things); and while I don’t particularly like sharing stories from the Olden Days, this time it feels appropriate.
Longtime readers of this space may remember that, after a few years of the obligatory “I am in junior high now; I am mature” disavowal, DC’s Star Trek vol. 1 #9 reopened the door to comics. More importantly in that fall of 1984, Trek led to Tales of the Teen Titans #50, and from there to Crisis On Infinite Earths and its companion Who’s Who. By May 1985 I was not only finishing up tenth grade, I was obsessing over the six issues of Crisis which had since been published.