DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths

Like Shiva, only with more Supermen

In the last 20 years, no single comic has had the same consequences as Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 12-issue mini-series written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Perez in 1985. Other books have been more elaborately written or had more of a rock-in-a-calm-pond effect on the industry. All big, company-wide story events owe a debt to Crisis on Infinite Earths, however. As DC Comics is currently revisiting the storyline with its Infinite Crisis event, those of us interested in comics must ask: was Crisis good for comic books in general, let alone DC comics in particular? Did it accomplish what it set out to do?

Did Crisis work as a story? Yep! Did it neaten up our universe? You bet! Did it give DC Comics a launch pad to the future? Of course! Did we take advantage of all the opportunities presented by the dramatic conclusion of the landmark series called Crisis on Infinite Earths ... ? Well ... yes and no. A full answer would take too much space here, and I don’t want to spoil our celebration.

(Editor Dick Giordano, 1998 afterword to the trade paperback collection of Crisis)

OK, I’ll admit it first: Crisis on Infinite Earths is my favorite comic book story ever. It’s huge, with the superheroes of five worlds uniting to combat an evil that’s destroying whole universes, not to mention the Guardians of the Universe, the Weaponers of Qward, the distant past and the far-flung future, Atlantis, and Apokolips. It’s the first comic book I can remember with a true sense of scale of the universe, both historical (as when heroes from the Golden Age stand shoulder-to-shoulder with more familiar modern ones) and in terms of the breadth and depth of the superheroes involved. I mean, there were two Supermen and a Superboy in this story!

However, Giordano’s quote above does not truly consider the effect Crisis had on comics that followed. This isn’t Crisis’ fault. Clearly, Wolfman had different intentions when he wrote the series, but many following writers used Crisis as a convenient excuse to reboot their titles, which made sense in the case of George Perez’s Wonder Woman, but wasn’t as necessary in most other cases. Bad ideas in the hands of John Byrne, such as revamping Superman to abandon the Silver Age charm, were an absolute hash when applied to characters like Hawkman. Revision led to a lot of babies thrown out with the bathwater, and, even worse than that, the sudden explosion of company-wide crossovers as an exercise in forcing readers to buy every single comic book put out during the event, which led to such nadirs as Millennium and Marvel’s Secret Wars II.

Likewise, Crisis did not neaten the DC universe, at least not in the sense of making it more interesting. It may have tidied it up a touch, but it also stripped the more fascinating elements from characters who’d been around for decades, got rid of the excellent ’parallel worlds’ conceit, and promoted a cult of redaction that led to muddled, confusing comic books. Instead of promoting a more concise, comprehensible universe for new readers, it created a contradictory sea of unclear backstories that only became more complex as new writers sought to untangle them. While a few comics like Animal Man got some mileage out of the changes, few fared as well.

With my biases out of the way, here’s the whys and wherefores of Crisis, and the history it simultaneously created and destroyed, like Shiva, only with more Supermen.

When I was growing up in the ’60s, the super-hero team comic to read was The Justice League of America, a book featuring seven or eight of DC’s super-heroes. Occasionally, the JLA would meet the Justice Society of America — their 1940s counterparts from Earth-Two, which was in another dimension — and we’d have maybe fifteen or sixteen heroes in a special two-part JLA/JSA story. But, being the greedy fan that I was, I always wanted to see a single story featuring all the DC super-heroes from the past, present and future.

(Writer Marv Wolfman, 1998 introduction to the trade paperback of Crisis)

Although the DC multiverse was theoretically infinite. In practice, it focused on only a few worlds, which grew out of a throwaway moment in the origin of the Silver Age Flash.1 Barry Allen, fresh from his electrified chemical bath that gave him superhuman speed (ah, the Silver Age, when origins were simple and totally insane), decided to take on the name and mantle of the Flash, inspired by a character in a comic book he’d read as a kid. That character? The original Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick.

Up until that point, the only Golden Age icons DC had given titles were Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. When editor Julius Schwartz2 revived the Flash as an entirely new character in the Silver Age, he created an opportunity to reboot other bygone heroes. Hot on the heels came a new Green Lantern (now given his power ring by a dying alien rather than the mystical train lantern of the Golden Age character), Hawkman (now an alien policeman come to Earth), and the Atom (now a scientist with a size-changing ray).

With the Justice Society of America reborn as the Justice League of America, the writers soon created JLA/JSA team-ups. The excellent “Crisis on Earth-1” began the trend in Justice League #21, and Crisis on Infinite Earths clearly stands in this tradition. Whatever his intentions, Marv Wolfman drove a stake into the heart of the parallel worlds concept that made such intergenerational team-ups possible. Some people consider Dark Knight or Watchmen to be the end of the Silver Age of comics, but for me, it’s Crisis. I’ve always been painfully struck by the fact that writer Gardner Fox and his greatest creation, Earth-2, both died in 1986.

While writing Green Lantern I received a letter from a fan asking about a mixup in DC continuity. In my reply I said, “One day we (meaning the DC editorial we) will probably straighten up what is in the DC Universe ... and what is outside.” At this point in its history DC Comics had Earth-One, Earth-Two, Earth-Three, Earth-B, etc. There were super-heroes on each Earth and though old-time readers had no problem understanding DC continuity, it proved off-putting to new readers who suddenly discovered there was not one but three Supermans, Wonder Womans, Batmans, etc.

(Marv Wolfman, introduction to the trade paperback of Crisis)

Everything Wolfman feared was driving new readers away was, in fact, attractive to them. People were reading comic books in record numbers in the 70s and 80s, and they are not doing so now. This proves little, of course. There are many reasons why fewer kids read comic books than when I was a child sneaking them into my room. However, DC’s continuity was simply not a barrier to understanding. Most kids newly exposed to Superman didn’t know or care about Earth-One, Earth-Two, etc., and wouldn’t until they were already hooked. And when they did find out, it was no more off-putting to the young reader than the exotic costumes, super-powers, or brawls with criminals. Instead, it was cool to see a collection of super-heroes from two worlds gather together to battle some extraordinary threat. It was certainly cool enough to draw Marv Wolfman in, by his own admission. These stories didn’t confuse young readers; they delighted them. The parallel worlds were only complicated to the most obsessive every-duck-in-a-row fans.

Crisis, therefore, is an anomalous story. It’s a grand, sweeping epic designed to make grand, sweeping epics impossible, an all-inclusive story with a catholic breadth and reach that strives to weed out the very characters it intends to include in the first place. Its setting is the tableau of infinite worlds it seeks to destroy, like a parody of the ancient algebra of the occultists mentioned by Alastair Crowley who were trying to work the infinite equation of God down into a single number. Characters in the story, like Pariah and Krona, act as an objective correlative to this quixotic intent: they sought to break down all the mystery and wonder in the universe to a single primary access point and learn how it all works, even if, in so doing, they destroyed the very beauty of creation.

The only differences in what I’d do today as opposed to 1985 are: 1. I would have insisted all characters had no memory of the Crisis — which was my intent, but I was overruled by the other editors at the time. 2: I would have insisted all books began over with issue #1 starting in Jan. 1985, which was the original intent. 3: I would have stayed in New York to make sure all this was done instead of immediately moving to Los Angeles. If that had all happened then nobody would have been able to veer from what we accomplished. Under the new and current DC editorial, they have worked hard to fix what was done wrong by those who were there immediately after Crisis, but the mistakes never should have been made in the first place. But the Crisis, in and of itself, did the job it was intended to do. What followed wasn’t always good.

(Marv Wolfman, from an interview in Redoubt magazine)

Crisis on Infinite Earths redacted and reduced the many alternate Earths of the Silver Age DC multiverse conception down to a single one to mollify a few overly anal-retentive fans obsessed with seamless ’continuity.’ The modern mania for continuity grew out of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s first big success with Fantastic Four and the growth of Marvel Comics as one single interconnected entity with Stan firmly ensconced, for those first few years, as ultimately in charge of everything. It was a bold and interesting idea for the time, and it helped make the setting of the early Marvel comics feel dynamic: Hawkeye could debut in Iron Man’s comic as a villain, move over to the team book Iron Man was vacating and become one of the Avengers, and fight alongside former X-Men villains the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, creating a sense of scope. You can imagine Iron Man fighting either alongside or against the X-Men more easily because they were part of the same world, and it was easier for the writers and editorial staff to coordinate this kind of cross-comic continuity. Stan was always there in some capacity for all that Marvel was doing. He knew what each of his characters were doing in their own books and could seamlessly weave them together.

Meanwhile, the DC multiverse had a different secret origin, one with a divided editorial approach. Julie Schwartz consolidated the DC editorial offices when he took over in the Silver Age, but DC had years of discontinuity to contend with at that point. With no Stan Lee in control, the Superman books did not coordinate with, for instance, the Justice Society books. And there were two surviving cities of Atlantis, one the home of Aquaman and the other where Superman’s mermaid girlfriend Lori Lemaris came from.

This difference of approach gave DC comics a messier internal continuity. However, when the Barry Allen Flash was inspired by the Jay Garrick Flash’s comic book escapades, the DC editorial staff hit upon a brilliant way out of the mess: they embraced the contradictions. If some Superman story published in 1952 contradicted what they were doing at the time, hey, it simply took place on Earth-2. If DC’s big three icons hadn’t aged although other characters like Green Lantern and the Flash were totally different, well, these stories were happening on a whole new world. It was the opposite approach to that of continuity-obsessed fans grown up on the Marvel House, with its smaller-scale cosmos. Instead of deciding which story was true when a writer would accidentally (or deliberately) contradict an older story, the multiple-Earths approach argued that they’re both true.

Crisis attempted to remake DC into a Marvel-style universe. While Marvel had its What If? series and occasionally allowed characters to jaunt to alternate worlds with different histories, these were never taken very seriously in comics fandom. Marv Wolfman had been editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics before switching to DC in the late 70s and preferred that style of continuity over the cobbled-together DC house style. Marv knew that he would need to create Earth-0 and start over from scratch, and that’s exactly what he did.

Worlds will live. Worlds will die. And the universe will never be the same again.
(Frontispiece quote from the trade paperback of Crisis on Infinite Earths)

It opens perfectly. The first page of the book is gorgeous: a depiction of the theogony of the DC universe, with the black infinity of nothingness pierced by the explosion that creates the multiverse. From there a two-page spread introduces us to Pariah, one of several characters Wolfman created for the series, as he helplessly watches yet another Earth die in an antimatter wave inexorably destroying the positive-matter universes.

In Wolfman’s overwrought, bordering-on-purple dialogue (and the art on these pages is extraordinary, some of George Perez’s best), Pariah says:

Don’t you people understand that there is no hope in running? Or maybe they do understand. They see their world fraying, fading away before their terrified eyes. Ten thousand years of civilization stolen without explanations or alternatives. Oh, they understand all too well. But they run because they fear prayer is not enough.

The story moves to Earth-Three, the home of the Crime Syndicate, the criminal analogues of the Justice League. Earth-Three is latest victim in the path of the antimatter wave. The Crime Syndicate desperately tries to save their world although doomed to failure. Wolfman shows his mastery of DC lore and his willingness to evoke it in new ways in the exchange between Power Ring (the Green Lantern analogue) and Ultraman (Superman analogue). Earth-Three’s Power Ring is a pessimistic defeatist who believes, correctly, that they can’t save their world. Ultraman is an aggressive combatant who shares with Superman that quality of indomitable courage. Ultraman throws himself into the antimatter, trademark spit curl dangling over his forehead, while Earth-Three’s Luthor places his infant son in a cross-dimensional escape rocket just ahead of the antimatter wave that destroys his entire universe.

From here, the rest of the first issue is nothing new: a character called the Monitor sends his sidekick Harbinger off to recruit superheroes and supervillains from across the remaining multiverse worlds to help him defeat his antimatter opposite, the Anti-Monitor, then there’s a big fight scene with the Anti-Monitor’s shadow demons

The Anti-Monitor himself is more of a MacGuffin than a villain, a force of nature who keeps reappearing to menace our heroes and their worlds, but he’s never an especially compelling character. He even gets upstaged in villainy by Brainiac and Luthor, who assemble an army of super-villains and cold-bloodedly plan to take over three of five Earths right in the middle of the Crisis itself. The Anti-Monitor is hardly more than a cosmic disaster on legs. In terms of raw power he may be the most fearsome threat ever, but he’s bland for all of that.

Crisis does have a series-dominating presence, though, a figure who, even in an assembly of titans this awesome, stands out. In a way, Crisis on Infinite Earths is a paean to this one figure, an inspiration and an unmatched presence both in comics history and in the series itself: Superman.

The Superman.

Maybe I’m wrong for talking for everyone, Pariah, but I will. Send us back ... let the doubters decide. But I promise you this — if we can save the worlds that remain ... we will!

We fight for what’s right, not for revenge.

We won’t be apart, Lois. I promise you that. But I have to do this. It’s as simple as that.

Kara gave us all a chance to save our worlds ... Don’t let your hunger for vengeance destroy that chance.

(Superman, in Crisis on Infinite Earths)

You can be a fan of the Man of Steel, as I am, or not, but you still have to recognize that this is the swan song not just for the many Earths of the DC multiverse, but of the hero who started it all in the first place, the figure who we all remember holding a car over his head in that long-ago issue of Action Comics. A story as large as Crisis has no one protagonist, of course. Many characters, including the Barry Allen Flash and Supergirl, meet their ultimate fates in it, but it is Superman who stands from the beginning to unify the disparate heroes. It is Superman who refuses to be defeated or to allow his younger self to wallow in grief and despair. It is Superman who, at the end of a long life, embraces his wife and tells her that he has to confront the Anti-Monitor at the dawn of time, showing us the human cost so often lost in such storylines.

And it is Superman who loses not only yet another world, but himself, who has everything taken away from him — his wife, his identity, and even his doomed homeworld, all as if they never existed. Superman willingly makes the supreme sacrifice of his life to fight a being who has killed whole universes and is rewarded with a dubious paradise inside a netherworld (as writer Mark Waid put it in his miniseries The Kingdom, “He deserved heaven, not prison”). Superman proves himself to be the legend from which all others have come, and whether it is in his moments of reassurance and rapport with his younger self (clearly not begrudging in the least the idea of the torch being passed) or his effortless ability to inspire the young Superboy, his presence in the story is a necessity.

I’ve often heard people discuss Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and wonder why no one ever wrote such a series about Superman. He did, and it was Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In a series so large there are bound to be missteps. Wolfman’s dialogue, the feeling that some characters died as afterthoughts, and I’m sure the reader can find their own. However, the format of Crisis trumps those objections, building from the initial fifteen superhumans enlisted by the Monitor to the confrontations across multiple times and universes, to the Monitor’s own death early in the series, to the aftermath of the fusion of worlds (including the Psycho-Pirate’s bid for Most Evil Bastard Ever, as he helps the Anti-Monitor induce a lemming-like urge for death in the native heroes of dying worlds), to the show-stealing evil of Brainiac and Luthor’s army of villains, to the dual strike on Krona’s lab and the dawn of time that leads to the disruption of history and the reformation of the universe (with stops along the way for the heroic deaths of Supergirl and the Flash, two of the most dramatic issues of any comic book series to that point), to the scene of the Spectre grown to the size where he dwarfs the five worlds (an homage to past JLA/JSA crossovers with the Spectre holding the two Earths apart), to the final battle in the anti-matter universe itself, all the heroes of the new Earth against the Anti-Monitor and his shadow demons. And all of it leads up to the final battle, where the first superhero of the DC multiverse stands against the destroyer of that multiverse, and, though perhaps Pyrrhic, defeats him.

There is so much going on in Crisis that I will leave out someone’s favorite bit. Wolfman juggles his immense cast fairly well, and even throws in a few scenes just for the fans, such as the conversation between Superman and the Spectre where they casually discuss previous efforts to change the flow of history or the scenes with the Guardians of the Universe, helpless before the destruction they’ve caused and divided on an appropriate response.

It’s a huge, sprawling, chaotic mess of a storyline. I was in awe when I first read it. I don’t love what happened after, though. Later writers would ignore its clear intentions. Crisis did what it set out to do with style and affection for the very universe it systematically dismantled. It set out to gather all of the vast complexity of the DC multiverse and then slashed it away mercilessly. It included minor characters like the Metal Men and the winged Titans second-stringer Azrael while seeking to rein in the tendency of the DC universe to provide a haven for such figures. It’s both a love letter to — and a eulogy for — the multiverse, a story that could never be told again, a grand curtain call for the forty years that went before.

What would come after? In the aftermath, there were plenty of missteps in the rebooted DC universe, and DC’s haphazard continuity was only made worse by reboot-happy writers and artists. Crisis eats its own tail: by redacting the DC universe, it says that every issue of Crisis from #1 to #10 is false. This is a strange thing to keep in your head, that the various heroes so fundamentally altered or deleted by Crisis didn’t even experience it. Clearly, there was a change of plan between Marv Wolfman’s first conception of Crisis and what happened after it came out. However, assuming that Crisis appeared entirely as intended and performed exactly as was meant, what about the stories born out of it? How good were they?

As Crisis wrapped up, Julie Schwartz, the editor of the Superman family of titles, was told that the character was being restarted. As a result, Julie attempted to get Superman creator Jerry Siegel to write “The Last Superman Story.” When that fell through, he tapped Alan Moore (or, rather, was tapped by Alan, in a rare display of fervor consisting of the words, “If you get anyone else to write that story I’ll kill you”) to write “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,” an unmitigated masterpiece of Silver Age storytelling that wouldn’t have happened without Crisis. To this day, it’s been repeatedly reprinted and honored as a classic. Unfortunately, the Superman reboot never managed to bottle the lightning. Compared to the Wonder Woman reboot, which was even more drastic, continuity-wise, the Superman relaunch is just kind of ... there.

George Perez went back to the original conception of Wonder Woman and worked in as much as he could while emphasizing a more dramatic presence for the Greek gods. His Ares was an exceptional redesign, imparting new menace to the character and making Wonder Woman’s struggle against him worthwhile. Perez connected the character to a profound mission to man’s world to help stop Ares’ plans now and in the future. It’s a good example of positive mythmaking in a comic, and the absolute opposite of John Byrne’s Superman revamp, which killed as much of the Superman mythology as he could.

Byrne took away the loss of Superman as the last survivor of doomed Krypton by revealing the planet to be a cold, sterile wasteland, a planet without personal contact and where the greatest mind of his generation is ineffectual. Byrne’s Luthor is petty and small, a smug little man who can’t handle a moment of humiliation and decides to exact an equally small, petty revenge for it. Even worse, he’s a man who pays other people to make inventions for him. The Silver Age Luthor was an eccentric genius who went from seeking to humiliate Superboy by exceeding him to a frustrated criminal madman so intelligent he could decipher and improve alien technology. Similarly, Byrne’s Krypton is a pallid reflection of the Silver Age planet, a lush, grandiose world with hundreds of thousands of years of grand history. In Byrne’s conception, Superman didn’t miss Krypton; he didn’t even know about it until he was an adult. I can’t fault everything John Byrne did, such as having Jonathan and Martha Kent live into adulthood, but that was only necessary because of the next consequence of the reboot.

In the early ’80s, DC had two unequivocal hits so popular that they were given prestige-format books: The New Teen Titans and The Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s clear from reading the last issue of Crisis that the Legion was intended to have survived it intact. It’s also clear that John Byrne’s drastic reboot of Superman’s continuity made that no longer possible.

The Legion first appeared in a Superboy story in Adventure Comics as three super-teenagers come back from the future to test Superboy. A great many stories, good and not-so-good, followed this meeting, but up until Crisis, the Legion was on a creative upswing. Superboy had just rejoined the team after a confusing storyline involving the ’death’ of Ultra Boy, and it was looking like a great time for the Legion.

Then DC published John Byrne’s Man of Steel, and suddenly, there was no Superboy. To clarify, John Byrne whipped up a story involving the Time Trapper and a pocket universe where the Superboy of the past thirty-plus years resided, with all the trappings of the Silver Age (including multiple colors of Kryptonite, the Phantom Zone, and Krypto the Superdog), and said that Superboy was the one who appeared in the classic Legion stories. Superboy was then summarily executed, and Byrne eliminated the Silver Age pocket, shutting the door on Superboy’s adventures with the Legion.

Rather than neatening up the DC universe, Crisis and the Superman reboot served to utterly muddle their origin and history. Where did Mon-El come from, if not an astronaut given directions by Jor-El and placed into the Phantom Zone by Superboy after toxic lead exposure? Was Mon-El from the Pocket Universe, too? DC created a new origin. What about Dev-Em, the Kryptonian delinquent who became a member of the Inter-Stellar Espionage Corps? Now he was a Daxamite maniac. The rebooting itself damaged the continuity that forced the reboot in the first place. If Blok and the second Invisible Kid didn’t exist, who were those two Legionnaires that Byrne’s rebooted Superman met? Why even establish the pocket universe if the Legion makes no reference to it? Superman in the current comic books has met the Legion more times that it’s met him, with members who don’t even exist anymore. All of this comes from the pulling of that first pin out of its history: the Superboy connection.

Although a big reason for the Legion was to provide a setting for Clark Kent to be Superboy, a canvas which served to inform his later personality, to show us exactly how important he was going to become, the Legion could well have survived the loss of Superboy a lot more gracefully than it did. But the real heart of the Legion was its connection to modern comics as the future of the DC universe. The DC rebooting from Crisis forward was felt in tangles of contradictory backstory. But what was a few annoying hitches and shifts in comics set in the modern day became magnified exponentially in the future. In order to continue, the Legion had to consign more and more of their previous adventures to the ash-heap of that-never-happened, leaving writers with little choice but to reboot and retell those cancelled-out stories instead of telling new ones. A comic book that spends so much of its time trying to make sense of its past cannot focus effectively on anything new. It’s a slow death by strangulation. Crisis could have brought the Legion into even more prominence, handled correctly. Instead, it was all swept away with the revisions.

Grant Morrison’s runs on Doom Patrol and Animal Man, though, shine as glorious examples of good use of classic Silver Age characters post-Crisis. Doom Patrol takes the original conception of the team and runs beautifully with it, creating a comic entirely unlike anything that went before without the need for a hard reboot or a massive revision. Morrison took the original idea for the team (freaks and outcasts banded together for support as well as to help others) and cranked it up into a near-dada explosion of unusual characters and situations without once invalidating what came before him. In Animal Man, Morrison played around with the ’this-is-all-a-comic-book’ concept in ways no character had ever managed before, and even dealt intelligently with the fallout from the revision of reality in Crisis, using Psycho-Pirate’s stated memories from the end of the series to good effect.

Morrison is one of the few writers to have gotten the point of Crisis. It was not a free pass to revise everything, but rather a fresh start to make sense of what had gone before. Take the death of Animal Man’s family and Morrison’s admission that he did it “because he was out of ideas.” It was a stunning indictment of superhero comics that kill off characters quickly. While it may seem strange to list a comic that was largely critical of the post-Crisis mindset as an example of missed opportunities, Animal Man would not have happened without Crisis. As for Doom Patrol, it was an excellent comic, and in many ways the pre- and-post-Morrison runs on the book (including a crossover with Byrne’s Superman that was an exercise in brute tedium and cross-character) are examples of a relaunch gone wrong. Morrison’s take on Doom Patrol was far more exotic and strange than Byrne’s Superman could hope to be, but it didn’t invalidate the origins of any of the characters spun off from the original stories, proving that great comic book writing could still separate baby from bathwater.

Batman got off easy. Before Crisis, Batman was one of the few DC heroes who never met his Earth-Two analogue. The closest he came was a team-up with the Batwoman and Robin of Earth-Two after his counterpart had died and a couple of interesting run-ins with the Huntress, an Earth-Two character who was the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, the Catwoman. However, Batman suffered a few bumps on the road from revamp-happy writers and editors at DC. One of those bumps was excellent, mind you: the very worthwhile “Batman: Year One,” which restated Batman’s origin and showed a dark, gritty Gotham City in a pulp/noir vibe. Both Batman and Superman (and Wonder Woman too, since she now was said to have never existed) were taken out of the original line-up of the Justice League, and all those old Batman/Superman team ups were invalidated. The relationship between the two characters was summed up by Byrne in Man of Steel as one of wary hostility, if also grudging respect. Even that, however, paled compared to what happened to Jason Todd.

Remember Alan Moore’s “For The Man Who Has Everything?” Published in 1985 near the end of the Silver Age Superman, it features an appearance by Jason Todd as Robin. Moore presents Wonder Woman, Batman (shown to be a good friend to Superman, one willing to spend a fortune crafting a unique rose in memorial of Superman’s dead planet), and the Jason Todd Robin saving Superman from the villainous Mongul. It’s a portrayal of Jason Todd in line with all his pre-Crisis appearances as a young man striving to live up to the responsibility of being Batman’s partner. Following Crisis, Jason Todd was reintroduced as the son of a petty criminal, a cocky, arrogant jerk who was eventually killed in a ’vote-in’ event called “A Death In The Family.” Still, for the most part, Batman’s pretty unscathed post-Crisis, compared to our next contestant.

I’m torn on this one myself. I love Green Lantern, and I like a lot of this series, with Hal Jordan going to Oa, training under Kilowog, fighting an alien menace and proving himself a suitable replacement for Abin Sur. But it succumbs to the urge to change a character, make him ’relatable’ to a modern audience by introducing flaws that are incompatible with the original conception of the character.

Making Hal Jordan a cocky drunk does not make sense.

Maybe giving a character flaws makes him more identifiable or gives him or her something to overcome. In the case of Hal Jordan, a little goes a long way. In the right hands, Jordan, one of 3600 of the finest the universe has to offer, is one of DC’s most powerful character concepts. Making him a cocky drunk — even a recovering cocky drunk — takes the character flaws too far. If Hal Jordan had a character flaw, it shouldn’ have been arrogance or alcoholism, but fearlessness and a willingness to do right over personal good.

It seemed reasonable to the editorial staff at DC comics to have Hal Jordan kill individual Green Lanterns in combat and walk into the power battery to usurp the power of the Guardians, leading to the deaths of countless Green Lanterns and the disbanding of a fellowship Jordan himself had fought numerous times to save. This is the same man who once willingly offered himself up in expiation of a crime he ultimately didn’t even commit? It’s this fundamental disconnect between the years of DC history followed by the scourge of revamping for the sake of revamping that’s the problem. Hal Jordan as a merciless killer is as out of character as Superman punting bassinets across the horizon.

Marv Wolfman intended Crisis on Infinite Earths to prune away the DC multiverse into a unified single universe with all the strengths of DC’s classic Golden Age combined with the Silver Age renaissance as a launching pad for new stories. In some cases (Starman, Animal Man) it did just that. In a great many others, writers took Crisis as license to disregard the past or twist it entirely out of shape. Some of the blame for this has to fall on Crisis itself. While new creators and editors may have taken the revision too far, the goals of the series encouraged them. They’d just seen icons killed or relegated to the trash in the name of consistency. It may be ironic that this obsession with continuity created more contradictions than it ultimately fixed, but it may also be exactly what we should expect when we pull loose threads on an elaborate tapestry.


1Yes, comic books have ages. “Golden Age” means X. “Silver Age” means Y. See Leonard Pierce, “X” in these (virtual) pages.

2As fictionalized in Michael Chabon’s Kavalier & Clay.