"Innocent lives are an oxymoron."
Infinite Crisis #1 began perhaps the most publicized "event series" in comic-book history. The story continues on its confusing path through issues #2 and 3, establishing the basis for the latest revision of the DC Universe, and incorporating a debate about what comix should be.
It has become impossible to review this series without spoilers dropping like pieces of the Rock of Eternity1. You have been warned. I also will write little about artwork and transitions, since my comments on the previous issue hold for these two.
Originally published: November and December 2005.
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, George Pérez, Jerry Ordway.
These issues continue with the complicated, fragmented storyline and hordes or characters (or, perhaps in this case, hoards of characters) expected from an event comic. The universe continues to fall to pieces, Power Girl learns that she’s actually a survivor of the pre-Crisis DC Universe, Wonder Woman loses the Amazons for good (yeah, right) when Themyscira (Paradise Island) is moved to another dimension, Possible Token Minority Kid Jaime2 finds the Blue Beetle’s scarab and will no doubt assume that recently-vacated costume, the Spectre continues to go Old Testament, the newly-formed Shadowpact discover how they might be able to stop the spectral rampage, the Golden Age Superman decides it's time to bring back the old DC universe, Superman and Batman debate ethics, and we learn the identity of the second Lex Luthor whose been wandering around the DCU these past few months—- at least, we’re led to believe we’ve learned his identity.
Meanwhile, several captured heroes and villains have been harnessed to power what appears to be one of the Anti-Monitor’s towers from Crisis on Infinite Earths (the Anti-Monitor’s body has been incorporated into the tower, too, which seems odd, given how thoroughly it had been destroyed), and the agents behind the conspiracy Ted Kord had discovered in Countdown to Infinite Crisis are revealed to the readers and to Gotham’s Dark Knight—- again, possibly.
We’re not yet halfway through this story. Comic books love the dramatic but misleading revelation. We can expect additional twists.
At present, however, it appears the conspiracy has been orchestrated by two survivors of the DC Universe’s rebirth, Earth-3’s Alexander Luthor and Earth-Prime’s Superboy. Luthor has been passing himself off as Lex Luthor and organizing earth’s villains, for his own purposes. To enable his plan, he has been wearing a rather absurd outfit/hologram over his body and his costume. It’s a small point, but he could have disguised himself more effectively in a number of other ways. I don’t buy the Lex body suit, nor do I see how his associates could have been fooled by it.
Of course, we’re left wondering if he is, in fact, Alex Luthor. He claims to be, but elsewhere, he claims the presence of two Lex Luthors in one reality is causing problems. Such that this notion makes any sense, it only makes sense if the character is, in reality, a Lex Luthor, rather than Alex Luthor, who is the son of Earth-3’s Lex Luthor, and not a true Lex Luthor at all.
In any case, they’ve manipulated the original, Golden Age Superman. While he does not know the depths of their plotting, he has decided that the universe-- the one created after DC rebooted their entire history in 1986-- is too dark to survive, and that they need to reboot again, and that the original DC Universe, the more kid-friendly, morally simplified one created in the 1930s, must be brought back.
Yeah, they’ve had Superman turn evil in alternate worlds and when under the influence of plaid kryptonite or what have you, but here, the Golden Age Superman effectively plays the villain role while remaining more or less in character, and that’s a fairly original twist. Comic book villains who want to destroy the Entire Universe are commonplace; those who have a morally ambiguous reason for doing so are rare. It seems clear that Alex (or whoever he is) and Superboy have been manipulating events, and I’m fairly certain Big Blue won’t end the story as a villain. While Alex and the Earth-Prime Superboy have been heroes, they have rather brief histories, and they more easily can drift into villain territory. DC has always kept Superman fairly clean.
The confrontation between the Golden Age Superman and the Post-Crisis Batman ranks as an interesting high point. Both have been through trying circumstances; Superman has come to a point where he is willing to see the universe destroyed and replaced with another. Batman has come near breaking over the fact that his technology is being used for destructive ends. In these states of mind, they debate the future of their universe: in effect, debating the future of DC Comics, which this series hopes to shape. What are the ethics of replacing one universe with another? Is it murder, given that characters will have retroactively never existed? All right, that’s too much a fanboy question, since the scenario is rather unlikely to occur in real life.
What, then, of real-life situations which resemble those raised by our primary-color-clad pair? When, if ever, can ostensibly evil acts be justified? Can we ever know the consequences of our actions in advance, know them so well that we can defend our actions solely on future results? Can we ever separate selfish from selfless goals? Batman and Superman actually touch on such issues. Batman’s question about Dick Grayson echoes (no, seriously) Abraham’s question to God regarding the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18. Now and then, this series does raise issues that have bothered human thinkers for centuries, but it never becomes overly pretentious.
Of course, these characters are also debating the nature and direction of the genre, which was a critical part of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths and has been a major concern of DC in the last decade. Concerns about what comics should be, for example, were central to Kingdom Come, which showed a future DC universe dominated by superhumans who eschewed the moral scruples of past heroes. Identity Crisis, the prologue to Infinite Crisis, explored the dark side of the Justice League.
Were comic-books better when they presented overly-simplified visions of heroism and villainy? Some recent comics that treat darkness and "edge" as maturity are ultimately just as juvenile and simple-minded. The question raises others. Which of these approaches, or which combination of these, better suits superhero comics? Do comics (and pop culture generally) have social responsibilities?
Why are these matters so important, apparently, to comic book creators and readers? Why have they become central to DC's remaking of their universe?
The concerns, of course, have dominated debates over mainstream popular culture. I don’t honestly know to what degree we can be affected by the culture we consume. I do know that taking simple-minded visions of heroism too literally might make it easier to accept wars being fought and lives being lost for dubious causes. However, not having a concept of heroism may lead to despair and inaction. And reveling too much in darkness, deciding that "keepin’ it real" means celebrating humanity at its worst, raises issues of its own.
Are people raised on the black-and-white values and violence of American action movies more likely to swallow simple-minded propaganda? More likely to overlook abuses of power if the abusive parties use the right words, wield the right symbols?
What about those whose media of choice celebrates thuggery? Days before this comic was released, a teenage girl became the latest to die of a gunshot wound in the heart of a city that used to think itself safe. She happened to be in the area when some other young people opened fire on each other, acting (or so goes the popular interpretation) out a gangsta lifestyle some media have been glorifying for the last decade.
Any example I could give would have far more complex, and far more significant influences than anything anyone grew up reading, or watching, or playing. Still, media and literature and art inform culture as well as reflect culture. And, while we may try to separate our favorite pop culture phenomena from the ideologies they embody, their ideology informs us, and forms part of our response to them.3
Comic books are hardly the dominant media of our time but, as Gerard Jones notes in Men of Tomorrow, the same principal superheroes have been successfully reinvented for readerships since the 1930s. They have cultural relevance. Their visions reveal something of how we as a culture see ourselves. Do they also influence their readers? Possibly.
Infinite Crisis want to comment on these matters, even while it determines what form the DC Comics will take in years to come. These issues therefore become fair when discussing Infinite Crisis, for they are at the heart of DC's real crisis, whether they are making the correct decisions-- commercially, but also, perhaps, ethically-- about the forms their characters will take for their next generation of readers.
1. Destroyed in Day of Vengeance.
2. Is Jaime/ Blue Beetle III a minority? Well, he’s a Texan, which would make him a minority among superheroes. He's drawn sort of Hispanic, and there’s a definite lack of Hispanic characters in comics. The rumor is making the rounds that he’ll be gay, which has led to fanboards being riddled with the predictable "the new beetles gonna be a homo that’s like so gay dont make me deal with diversity please" comments. At present, all of this remains speculation. Better questions might include (1) Will he be any good as Blue Beetle? And (2) Do we even need a new Blue Beetle? It’s not as though he’s ever been a terribly interesting superhero.
3. For the record, I do not believe that anyone, say, listens to some gangsta rap and decides to deal drugs, pack a gun, and dress in oversized clothing. However, someone who exposes himself or herself heavily to one kind of media, and lacks other influences, may well be guided in a direction suggested by that media. Others may be influenced in more subtle ways. No one has demonstrated that exposure to violent films makes one violent, but studies indicate that those who watch a lot of violent media grossly overestimate the actual rate of violent crime. This would then influence their response to the world. The media also can shape the way we perceive the world. Again, this necessarily has some influence.