Some kind of scarab crawled into me and put this suit on me and now… I’m in space with Batman. Looking for an invisible satellite.
--Blue Beetle, evidently having one of those, don’t ask sorts of days.
The saga that began with DC Comics' Infinite Crisis #1 comes to a somewhat disappointing conclusion in the sixth and seventh issues. The finale promises some interesting developments for the DC Universe, but nothing that required this highly confusing story as their harbinger. In the end, Infinite Crisis represents the comic-business as usual; routine retcons, super-hype, and a few good moments.
Expects spoilers and geeky commentary.
Title: Infinite Crisis #6 and 7
Released in April and May, 2006.
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, George Pérez, Jerry Ordway et al.
The old multiverse reappears. However, with each division of the worlds, the fabric of things grows weaker. We’re treated to the sight of worlds past, but we know they are only temporary and, as is so often the case in event comics, the heroes’ failure to stop this process will result in the End of the Universe! One team of heroes destroys the cause of the divisions, the tower Alexander Luthor constructed as part of his plan to create a perfect universe. The ever-multiplying earths immediately reform into one planet. Unlike the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, this reconstituting of multiple earths leads to minor continuity tweaks, rather than a reboot of all reality. Indeed, many of the changes have already happened, since the "reality ripples" created by Alexander Luthor and Superboy-Prime’s past meddling apparently explains several continuity glitches and tweaks that have occurred over the past two decades.1
Meanwhile, Batman’s team takes on Brother Eye, Villains United take on Metropolis, and an assortment of characters with "S" on their chests take on the now adult and scarily psychotic Superboy-Prime. The heroes win the battle against this villainous version of the Man of Steel, but their victory costs the lives of the Golden Age Superman and the present-day Superboy. They die, of course, heroically. We hear about the planned mourning of Conner Kent, and the original Superman and Lois Lane receive a single, simply-drawn memorial panel which nicely recall their comic-book pasts.
The series ends with DC’s Big Three—Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman—taking the year off to rediscover themselves.
The idea of DC’s big three exploring and rebuilding their identities works, and has been handled differently than most other metafictional moments from past event comics. I especially like the idea of Bruce Wayne going wandering again— this time accompanied by Dick Grayson and Tim Drake. He retains his dark edge, but he does not sacrifice his humanity.
As the series ends, we see the various superheroes who will continue to protect the world. Some are entirely familiar; others cannot be precisely identified. Who is, for example, the white-clad variation of Captain Marvel who appears at the end? If the original, Jay Garrick Flash is the only speedster left, who’s that man wearing a Silver Age Flash uniform? Can Uncle Sam succeed as a character, even if he’s wearing a more restrained costume? To what degree has Black Adam—a longtime villain who started his career as a hero-- reformed?
How interesting are any of these questions, when the much-hyped series that introduces them lacks a story that holds together?
If you’re going to make a mini-series to advertise in-house changes, why not make it a good story? Unlike Identity Crisis, the DC event comment which preceded it, Infinite Crisis does not justify its seven issues.
Crisis on Infinite Earths, the series which inspired Infinite Crisis, was confusing and messy, but the idea of a comic-book universe providing an elaborate, internal justification for the tweaking of its continuity seemed original in the mid-1980s. It’s not original now. Crisis on Infinite Earths also presented other novelties to fans; nearly every DC character from a half-century of history, from Superman to Sugar and Spike, appeared somewhere in those panels. It also featured the deaths of two major characters-- a rarity at the time. These elements saved it when the storytelling failed to engage (or even make much sense), and when character depth and development proved lacking. Infinite Crisis lacks these advantages, and needed to work on its own merits, separate of the changes it announces.
The artwork is generally good, though uneven. The writing often falters, especially in these final issues.
Even for a comic, the final issue features some spectacularly ridiculous and unnecessary dialogue. At a critical moment, Alex Luthor starts listing off minor continuity tweaks of the reformed earth, apparently feeling we require this narration. Superboy-Prime, on his way to destroy the entire universe, laughs a goofy "heh" when he thinks he has escaped the two Supermen.
Perhaps the worst instance of unnecessary, ill-suited dialogue occurs at the end of a conceptually interesting scene. Several pages into #7, both Supermen take on Doomsday. If DC wants to distance itself from the darkness that has pervaded comix in the last twenty years, having Superman triumph over the creature that killed him trumpets that intention. In the comic, this victory becomes a rallying point, and Superman leads the heroes into battle with a legion of villains. All of this works reasonably well, as such things go. Unfortunately, Johns felt the need to end the scene by having Superman deliver a brief expository speech that ends with “like hell.” A single, suitably heroic line would have worked better here, if anything had to be said at all.
Post-Infinite-Crisis, we’re clearly in some variation of the Silver Age. Heroes aim to be heroic. Green Lantern and Green Arrow act like best buddies again, and discuss the Yankees’ next seasons. Lex Luthor2, who has spent the last two decades as a corporate manipulator and corrupt politician, has become overtly evil, and is running with the Joker.
Of course, the Joker kills someone in a highly unpleasant fashion in #7. Identity Crisis hasn’t been retconned away (so far as can be determined), Hal Jordan’s recent dark moments get referenced, and the final issue shows more blood than ever would have been allowed by the old Comics Code. DC clearly seeks to find a compromise between the gee-whiz optimism of the older comics and the cynical darkness of the last two decades.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but they didn't really need Infinite Crisis to take them there.
1. DC editor Dan Didio confirms that hypertime, the most recent explanation for continuity tweaks, no longer exists in the DC Universe. In effect, they have retconned away an explanation for retcons. Didio goes on to say that:
We have gone to great lengths to drive one, single cohesive universe. This is our way to acknowledge the past, reconcile its differences, and put the incongruities behind us for good. Now, our primary goal is to maintain a one true continuity for the DC Universe.
Anyone want to take bets on the length of time before this version of things unravels?
2. You know, I still chuckle over Luthor’s transformation from American President to purple-and-green-suited supervillain. How do the DC Universe’s Encyclopedia Americana or high school history teachers or Disney’s Hall of Presidents handle that one? "Lex Luthor, probably our most controversial president...."
A variation of this review first appeared at Bureau42.