When I was a young nerd and actively reading comics, I followed artists rather than writers. George Perez was one of the artists who earned a place in my pantheon of great artists early on, with his work in the 1970s on The Avengers. In the early 1980s, he was involved in DC’s New Teen Titans, and I enjoyed his work on that title as well. But, by the time the mid ’80s rolled around, I was no longer buying comic books, since most of my money was going to tuition, rent, books and beer—lots of beer. So, I missed the entire Crisis on Infinite Earths run. Over the years, as I occasionally dropped in on the comic book world, I heard about the twelve issue maxiseries that forever changed the face of DC comics, but I never read it.
My path to the series was a circuitous one. It involved the introduction of The Flash on the CW, which led to the collected The Flash: Rebirth by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver (2009-2010), where Barry Allen was reintroduced to the DC continuity after being absent for 23 years. Barry Allen was my Flash when I was a kid. Why was he gone for 23 years? Because he was killed off in Crisis on Infinite Earths and replaced by Wally West, who had been Kid Flash up to that point. Then, in a crossover event involving all four of the DC Comics shows on the CW, at the time, there was a story that was called Crisis on Earth-X. Since I suspected that this would be related to the mid-’80s series that I never read, I ordered the hardbound deluxe-edition of Crisis on Infinite Earths. I didn’t get around to reading it before the CW crossover, but eventually I began reading it. By the way, it had almost nothing to do with the television shows.
Now, I am caught up. Well, not really. I’m current on the DC continuity up to early spring 1986. So, now I’m only three decades behind, give or take. I understand that sequels to this ’80s ground-breaking event have been written by both Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison, both since the beginning of the 21st Century. Since that time, DC has gone through “the New 52” and most recently “Rebirth.” The idea of “rebooting” the comics universe has become old hat these days, just another excuse to come out with more #1 issues. I have also heard that the “heroes” from Alan Moore’s Watchmen, who were themselves homages to classic heroes, have also now been incorporated into the DCU.
But, the original Crisis served a utilitarian purpose, not just a marketing one. It was house-cleaning.
The concept of the multiverse in the DC Universe was the result of the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, during the 1960s. Barry teamed up with Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, and it was explained that Jay was the Flash in a parallel universe. Jay Garrick wasn’t a product of the 1960s like Barry Allen, however. He had been around in comics form during the 1940s. Jay Garrick’s Earth was dubbed Earth-2 (though Earth-1 may have been more accurate) and eventually became considered the home universe of all the Golden Age superheroes, including Golden Age Superman, who had been around since 1938. This retcon allowed the Silver Age comics to be set in what was then “modern” times, while the decades of continuity could be ignored or relegated to a parallel universe. The Silver Age was followed by the Bronze Age (usually stated as 1970-1985), which was followed in turn by the Modern Age of Comics (which is now three decades old and will probably be called something else in the future). The heyday of my own collecting was Bronze Age comics, but I had Silver Age comics in my collection as well.
But, I digress—
My point was that the introduction of the multiverse led to more Earths in addition to Earth-1 and Earth-2. In theory, an infinite number of universes where any type of story was possible. DC also acquired characters from other comics companies, and tended to store them in their own universes as well. For instance, Shazam! (or Captain Marvel, if you’re nasty), used to be owned by Fawcett Publications and the Marvel Family was initially licensed by DC and later outright owned by them (I think). In Crisis on Infinite Earths, all of these multiple universes were eliminated, with some DC characters killed off and some integrated into just a single universe. Shazam! (not to be confused with the MCU’s own Captain Marvel, who was not the original) was successfully integrated.
Over the years, the idea of the multiverse became complicated, and it became increasingly difficult for even the comic book creators to keep up with the continuity with the weight of decades of comics behind them. Writer Marv Wolfman was not the first person to talk about cleaning it all up, but he’s the one, along with artist George Perez, who did it. The result was this series. And, now, this book, which I own.
The impact of this series was felt by every comic book company. It’s place in the grand history of superhero comics is secure, and it is still respected for what it accomplished and allowed to be accomplished afterward.
The art is George Perez. Which is saying enough if you know his work. I don’t think he was inked as well as he deserved for the entire run of the series, but his artwork shines through. Perez got to draw virtually every character in the DCU, past and present. One of the great parts of the deluxe edition is that many pages of his pencil work are reproduced, and they are beautiful to behold.
That being said, I can’t say I was that big a fan of the story. Apologies to Marv Wolfman here, because I know it was a giant task. But, in trying to clear up the confusion in the DC universe, he managed to confuse me about every other page. I had some trouble keeping the characters straight. The story itself was not that complicated. Cosmic badguy channeling dark energy, or antimatter, or midichlorians or somesuch pseudoscientific magical powers who is consuming one universe after another. It seems inevitable that, sooner or later, he’ll get to our universe, right? Which is Earth-1, I think. But, we also have friends on other versions of Earth, so we’re worried about them as well. There are characters called The Monitor, who is mostly a good guy, I think, with the bad guy being his evil opposite, The Anti-Monitor. There’s a character called Pariah who may have set the entire disastrous chain of events into motion. And the Monitor’s protégé, Harbinger, who is possessed by one of the Anti-Monitor’s demons and assassinates her mentor, having to serve as his stand-in for the rest of the series, while all of the heroes (and villains) band together to kill the Anti-Monitor. In the end, reality is reshaped, Anti-Monitor is destroyed, and some characters die and some live on. But, there is only one universe now.
Lots of characters died. The ones you hear about the most, however, are the Barry Allen Flash and Supergirl, both of whom became hit CW television series. Barry Allen remained dead for 23 years, until Geoff Johns brought him back. Have I mentioned this before? As in soap operas, no superhero character stays dead forever, it seems.
I’m not going to describe the individual issues of the series, except to say that they all contain beautiful and dense artwork, and even more dense writing. There are a lot of words in this book. The deluxe-edition extras are nearly worth the price of the book itself. In addition to the pencil art that I previously mentioned, there are character sketches, internal memos describing the plot, “death” lists proposing which heroes will be killed off, and a reprint of History of the DC Universe, which came out after Crisis and is essentially a primer explaining all of the characters and history up to that point. Since DC Comics didn’t quit making comics in 1986, this “history” has continued to grow and change, but this is still an interesting addendum to Crisis. If I had read it before reading the maxiseries, I may have been less confused through most of the story.
Bottom line: I recommend this for anyone who loves the DCU, or wants a little more background into DC’s history. In spite of its long-reaching effects, it is not the most engaging or exciting story you’ve ever read, so begin it with that in mind. But, you can’t deny its place in the history of comic book superheroes. I also highly recommend the deluxe edition for its many extras.