We're Gonna Have A Crisis Tonight!
With all the talk of DC’s latest continuity reboot Flashpoint, let’s not forget the first time they tried to re-launch the company. Yes, we’re talking about the continuity fixing Crisis on Infinite Earths. They may have had other major crisis (Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis, I’m looking at you), but my favorite was the original.
But before we get to that, let’s go over the backstory.
Since its inception, there were some continuity problems in DC. Characters’ powers and origins were changed back and forth as creative staff came and left the books. Things like Clark Kent as Superboy and how Robin never aged caused some early continuity headaches. But all of this was acceptable; this is super hero comics we are talking about.
In the late 1950s/early 1960s, DC began revamping their Golden Age characters under the direction of Julius Schwartz. The new Flash, Green Lantern and atom had nothing to do with their predecessors, other than their names and similar powers. Then in 1961’s Flash #123 everything changed. The current Flash, Barry Allen, wound up getting stuck in a parallel universe inhabited by the original Flash, Jay Garrick, and the heroes of his era. Since Barry’s Earth was the current one, it was called Earth-1 and Jay’s became Earth-2. The two earth’s respective super hero teams, the Justice League of America and the Justice Society of America, would visit each other’s universe from time to time, as would their villains. Everything seemed to make sense…
As time went on, other Earths were introduced thus creating the DC multiverse. Earth-3 was ruled by super villains. Earth-C was straight out of a funny animal cartoon and inhabited by Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew. And that was just the beginning. As DC bought out its competitors, the characters formerly from Quality, Charlton and Fawcett would each get their own Earth. To make things confusing, not only were there multiple versions of the characters (Superman of Earth-1, Superman of Earth-2, Superman of Earth-324) but they would “switch” universes making everything way to complicated.
To celebrate DC’s fiftieth anniversary and to solve the continuity questions once and for all, writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez (with help from Len Wein) had the duty of putting together the ultimate crossover, called Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The story, in brief, was that originally there was only one universe. The Oan mad scientist Krona winds up travelling to the beginning of time to see how it all began. Unfortunately he messes up and causes the then forming universe to split into a million parallel versions of itself. This winds up also creating two godlike beings, the matter loving Monitor and the anti-matter loving Anti-Monitor.
Anti-Monitor goes on a bender destroying the universes and makes him more powerful. It’s up to Monitor to recruit the super heroes—and the super villains—of all the various Earths to team up and stop the Anti-Monitor, saving their realities. After twelve issues of battling the Anti-Monitor, this quantum physics violating cosmic epic ends with the Anti-Monitor being thrown into an exploding sun, resulting in a Big-Bang like effect that merges all the Earths into one. Everything is merged back together into just a single universe and none of the characters are the wiser about their past alternate versions, creating a perfect starting point for the new DC.
This George Perez cover has become one of the most iconic images of Supergirl.
Along the way, Supergirl and Barry Allen are among the many characters that sacrifice themselves to save the universe. The cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 is one of the most well-known comic book covers of all time, showing Superman’s anguish as he carries the body of his fallen cousin.
What was I talking about again?
Anyway, I love Crisis because it’s a great problem solving story. It resolved the issues of having a multiverse in a tidy manner, all the while giving a fresh start for characters. The resulting John Byrne run on Superman and the Justice League International are some of my favorite comic stories of all time.
Crisis also leads to the History of the DC Universe two-issue series, where Monitor’s assistant Harbringer chronicles the new history of the universe. It’s by Wolfman and Perez, and is a series of splash panels with paragraphs explaining the new continuity of DC’s Earth.
Let’s hope that Flashpoint works out this well.