I’d finished with comics by the end of elementary school, and ignored them through secondary. In university, I found a copy of Marvel’s The Avengers, the issue where they go on Letterman, in a bus station. I read it; it brought back the bubblegum joy of comix. Awhile later I started hearing about things called graphic novels. A nerdy acquaintance kept telling me to read something called The Dark Knight Returns, but I didn't, not for a few years.

As exam pressure mounted, I wandered into something called a "comic shop" and picked up Crisis on Infinite Earths #11. DC had been publishing a 12-issue mini-series, you see, that would forever alter their continuity and re-establish their pre-eminence in the comic-book world. Supergirl and the Flash died, along with an apparently infinite number of universes.

I started picking up titles, now and then. They paled beside my other reading, but they were better than most television, and offered a unique junky pleasure. DC, which I had considered second rate in my younger days, produced some impressive titles after Crisis..., which had freed them from past continuity.

Twenty years later, DC is dramatically altering their universe once more.

Title: Infinite Crisis #1

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Jeremy Cox and Guy Major.

"And eternal gratitude to Marv Wolfman and George Perez for building the foundation that all superhero epics have come from."

Expect some spoilers.

The story begins with DC's big three-- Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman-- dealing with the destruction of the Justice League's headquarters and Wonder Woman's murder of Max Lord, the corrupt industrialist who had taken control of Superman and planned to bring down the superheroes. They fall to internal divisions; the Justice League, in the wake of Identity Crisis and Project OMAC, appears to be history. Back on earth, chaos reigns. Villains United take down the Freedom Fighters, brutally killing some. Captain Marvel survives the events of Day of Vengeance, but the wizard Shazam has died, and physical incarnations of the Seven Deadly Sins have been unleashed from the demolished Rock of Eternity. An infiltrated Project OMAC has unleashed technology created by Wayne Corporation against an unsuspecting world. In Smallville, Superboy refuses to take up the mission of his mentor.

Chaos spreads off-world. The Green Lantern Corps and the armies of Rann and Thanagar face a void reminiscent of the anti-reality that threatened the universes in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Guardians, who have dedicated themselves to preserving the universe, have become as fractious a group as the Justice League.

A surprising number of established characters die in this first issue, with little or no dramatic preparation. It's sort of like war. DC’s heroes begin the tale in disarray-- dispirited, distrustful, and divided.

One hope appears, in a group of mysterious figures who watch in shadows, somewhere outside of the known universe. The final pages reveals their identity; it's a nice moment for comic fans, and may make the series worthwhile.

Infinite Crisis features some impressive images and layout. It delivers what one expects from an overhyped event comic: effective, conventional superhero art. And, given the number of threads the story must tie together, it’s an accomplishment that this issue flows at all. Both writer and artists create a number of effective transitions.

DC planned this to take place twenty years after their landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths; even at this early stage, comparisons are inevitable.

Plot-wise, Crisis on Infinite Earths is a mess. Whole episodes occur for no other reason than to bring in various DC characters, often to no good end. Kamandi and several war and western comic heroes turn up and then do pretty much nothing. They might as well have made Easter Egg cameos, as Ambush Bug and Sugar and Spike do. The Creeper gets a dramatic entrance, and then doesn't do anything at all for a few issues, when he delivers one line of no real consequence. Major events take place which later developments render meaningless. Supergirl dies, and then retroactively never exists, robbing her death of any real meaning (if the death of a comic-book character can be said to have meaning). Still, the series managed to be unlike anything that had come before, and in its wake, DC produced some of its best comic-books, which balanced essentially juvenile escapist fantasies with the demands of an increasingly older, more mature readership.

Crisis on Infinite Earths, despite its many, many characters, non-sequitur Easter Egg panels, and dreamlike plot, could be understood by someone who hadn’t studied DC’s history. Granted, you might not recognize Booster Gold or Earth-X, but if you had a passing familiarity with the concept of a superhero, you could wade in. You may not have been aware of the Monitor’s appearances in various comics during the previous year, but that didn’t matter, because those were largely promotional cameos that had no meaningful connection to the mini-series. Crisis made mainstream headlines; even those with no interest in comics could grasp the notion of a pop-culture event that involved the death of childhood icons.

By contrast, Infinite Crisis has been planned in detail. DC has devoted the last year to various mini-series and a special Countdown to Infinite Crisis comic with pointed plots all converging in this series. They’re so intertwined, in fact, that Infinite Crisis #1 makes little sense to anyone save the fanboy (or girl) who has read at least some of the predecessor material. Reading this first issue is the equivalent of starting A Tale of Two Cities with Chapter 12 of Book the Second. It begins in the middle of all those loose ends created by Identity Crisis, Countdown to Infinite Crisis, The OMAC Project, The Rann-Thanagar War, Day of Vengeance, Villains Unlimited, The Smurf-Care Bears Feud, The Return of Donna Troy, and various regular titles. The surprise twist that ends the first issue, meanwhile, holds significance only for those who know the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Granted, this introduction might work for others as a kind of mystery; more will likely be explained in future issues. And, in the wake of this Crisis, as in the wake of the one that swept away Infinite Earths back in the 1980s, DC may well produce some impressive, innovative mainstream comics. Judging from this first issue, however, the series itself won’t likely grab new readers. Only those familiar with DC’s recent and past history will find this first issue even remotely comprehensible.

The original Crisis on Infinite Earths also contains a strong element of metafiction. The whiteness that devours universes resembles a blank page, an erasure. The final two issues have heroes wrestling with their changed or even non-existence in the new universe. Their comments come close to suggesting that they know they are fictional characters who have fallen victims to marketing and editorial policy. The final panels of the series, meanwhile, put in the mouth of the crazed, defeated Psycho-Pirate words that might belong to those readers who opposed the sweeping changes at DC:

I remember all that happened, and I'm not going to forget….You see, I like to remember the past because those were better times than now. I mean, I'd rather live in the past than today, wouldn't you? I mean, nothing's ever certain anymore. Nothing's ever predictable like it used to be. These days... y-you just never know who's going to die... and who's going to live."

Infinite Crisis features similar metafictional flourishes. A group of characters watching the action from behind the scenes make comments that could be coming from readers disturbed at the directions DC has taken in recent years, people who would like to see certain changes. "It has to be done, doesn't it?" asks one.

Indeed. Comics, and DC’s characters, have lasted so long because they have reinvented themselves, every ten or twenty years, with and without mini-series to mark the fact. Infinite Crisis will create the changes that will characterize DC's next ten or twenty years; whether it will entertain as a series remains to be seen.

Next: Infinite Crisis #2-3

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