Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Crisis On Infinite Earths

This was the start of DC's modern era, a huge crossover event that completely remade the DC universe and inspired many of the big events that would take place in the company's comics for the next 25+ years. DC's history and continuity, far more than their competitor Marvel's, was always incredibly complex and convoluted, with multiple versions of various characters and parallel universes that represented the many smaller companies that had gradually been absorbed into the shared DC continuity. Crisis sought to fix all this, to streamline and simplify DC continuity, to consolidate or eliminate the multiple versions of characters and worlds, to bring it all together into one, presumably simpler continuity.

To perform this simplification, they concocted, of course, a ridiculously complex and mind-bending 12-issue event that stars nearly every character DC owned at the time, and that spans all the alternate universes that the event was dedicated to eliminating. It's dense and at times utterly baffling to a DC newbie, and its massive cast is full of faces that are likely to be familiar only to hardcore DC fans. But it's also really compelling, much to my surprise, and it's a much more entertaining read than I expected it to be. Marv Wolfman's story is sprawling and ambitious, but despite the huge cast and cosmic stakes, there are great human-scale character beats spread throughout the epic, especially at the midway point, when an entire issue is dedicated to the Flash and the curiously pitiful villain Psycho Pirate.

George Perez's artwork is nice too, slick and suitably epic. The cramped, dense layouts sometimes do an effective job of conveying the story's manic pace and sprawl, but at other times they're just cluttered and difficult to follow, an inelegant jumble of panels. At his best, Perez can cram a page with details, and uses all those tiny reaction panels and small insets to convey the multitude of perspectives and layers that epitomizes this saga — it's probably best in the first issue, with Pariah hopping around from universe to universe as they're each destroyed in turn, but Perez displays flashes of brilliance throughout. That he just as often verges into incoherence is perhaps unavoidable given the scope of this tale and the sheer amount of stuff he has to cram into every page. The story itself is over-long, too. There's no way this needed to be 12 issues long. After the Anti-Monitor is defeated the first time, there's a lag and a few issues dedicated to more-or-less unrelated fights between heroes and villains before everybody gets back to the main threat again, and all of that is pretty dull and pointless. Wolfman's not the most subtle writer, either, and when he aims for pathos — as in Supergirl's grand sacrifice or Uncle Sam's speech to prepare the heroes for battle — he often goes overboard with the sappy melodrama. Most of the time, though, his purple prose is well-suited to this story's overblown action.

This is far from a perfect book, to say the least. It's often silly, and at times it grinds to a halt in order to deliver some obvious editorial rejiggering, since after all one of the stated aims of the whole project was to remake and smooth over certain characters and parts of the DC Universe. This becomes especially obvious towards the end, as some of the more problematic characters are killed off or shunted off into alternate realities — after all, it was pretty obvious DC wouldn't want a universe with 2 Supermen or Wonder Women running around at the same time, in the same universe. Still, for all its problems, there's a real sense of energy and emotion in this book, which prevents it from feeling like a mere exercise in corporate restructuring. It's weird and epic and full of good moments. For its impact and influence on the future of DC's comics, it would be an important book no matter what, but I was happy to learn that it's also a pretty good book.

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