Tales from the Long Box Vol. 3 # 2: JP Revisits Crisis On Infinite Earths #1

Every week this summer, we’ll be bringing you a new installment of a 12-part series of reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.

These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #1
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: George Perez and Dick Giordano
DC Comics

Worlds will live. Worlds will die. And the DC Universe will never be the same.

Those are the infamous words that harkened DC Comics’ earth-shattering, mythology busting, industry-changing, twelve-issue monthly “maxi-series” called Crisis on Infinite Earths, fist published in 1985.

I spotlight this particular title for a couple of reasons. First of all, this coming Saturday, July 24, 2010 is the first month anniversary of Toronto’s very own Crisis. Yep, my hometown hosted the most recent G20 Summit and, for a few hours, the downtown streets were filled with fire and brimstone and some kind of anarchic, matter-destroying plasma – under the guise, of course, of cowardly, mask-fitted hooligans. I know. It’s a stretch. But watching the events of this riot on live television brought Crisis on Infinite Earths to my head. Like Raymond Stantz famously said at the end of Ghostbusters: “It just popped in there.”

The illustration of real events I describe here actually has some close ties to both the visuals and the narrative of the comic book story, of which, I’ll get into in just a little bit.

One of the other reasons I bring the series up is that DC Comics is currently wrapping up their latest company-wide crossover, Blackest Night, with the aptly titled Brightest Day series. Marvel, on the other side of the fence, is leading up to their next big event series called The Heroic Age, a story that seems to be about legions of vampires versus earth’s resident mutants. It sounds interesting enough, no? Who wouldn’t want to see Wolverine as a member of the undead?

Crisis on Infinite Earths, you see, blazed the trail for the all-encompassing, comic book company crossover series. Written by industry veteran (and, at the time, beloved writer of The New Teen Titans) Marv Wolfman and illustrated in senses-smashing detail by fan favorite, George Perez, Crisis was, essentially, an editorial endeavour. It was a means to clean up various inconstancies, large and small, within DC Universe continuity.

I’m not going to get into those irregularities here since that could very well be a paper worthy of a doctorate degree, but an example for the layman would be: why is there a Superman (whom we all know and recognize in pop culture), an older Superman (with gray hair, seemingly on the verge of pension-collection) and a Superboy (from those bullied farm boy, Smallville days) all interacting and adventuring with one other at the same time if they are truly the same person at different points in a timeline that is that person’s life?

Heady stuff, no?

The quick answer is: when a company has been around for as long as DC had been (fifty years back in 1985), with as many creative writers and artists walking through office hallways, and as many extraordinary stories published as the comic book company had in that length of their existence, these things just tend to occur.

The longer, editorially provided answer (shortened, by me, due to size restrictions) is: there are an infinite number of universes, all with their own inherent version of a “Superman” character. Crisis on Infinite Earths was meant to tell an engaging story and reduce those infinite universes, boiling them down to only one.

And did it ever.

The narrative seeds of Crisis were planted in various comic books twelve months before the first series’ first issue was even published. Not only did it run for twelve issues, (three of which being double-sized), but the “Crisis” story ran in a gamut of DC’s regularly published, monthly titles as well during 1985 and 1986. In an unprecedented event, over fifty other issues were devoted to the end-of-worlds storyline, all bearing the tag line: Crisis Tie-In on their front covers.

The very first scene in the first issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths sets the stage for what readers would come to expect over the following months: as a chaotic energy wave of immense power rips one of the “multiple earths” apart, many heroes and villains, in an extraordinary maneuver, band together in the fruitless cause of saving the public and themselves from oblivion. Not all take this turn, however. Some, be they hero or villain, attempt to save only themselves. Others cower in fear while still others, hopeless, fly off into the maelstrom, committing suicide. If there’s one thing Marv Wolfman and George Perez did in this series, it was humanize the super-powered deities that we call our heroes.

Crisis on Infinite Earths spun off two other series for DC Comics over the last decade. Infinite Crisis, a seven-issue series published in 2005, sought to return the idea of the multiverse – this time in a finite amount. Fifty-two different universes emerged from the conclusion of that storyline. Final Crisis, another seven-part tale, published in 2008, served to bring a sense of order to those fifty-two universes. The after effects of that series are still being felt.

The original tale had been collected in various trade paperbacks as well as a more recent oversized (and gorgeous) Absolute edition, complete with a second book, a compendium of the editorial process and various sketches and scripts. It serves to remind comic book fans of the first, great cross-over series and sets itself as marker for where comic books had been during the middle and latter decades of our last century.

And Toronto?

In my city’s very own crisis, there were those that looted and caused damage to property and person alike. There were also those that helped others and those that protested the G20 Summit peaceably. Actions by individuals employed by the various police forces operating in Toronto at the time have been called into questions. There are also many accounts of these organizations having honorable interactions with the public, employing a mandate of keeping the peace so that we might all live in a safe environment. In a span of three days, it seems, a crisis humanized all those in Toronto. It brought about a gamut of emotions and deeds, a base form of human endeavour, for good or for bad, regardless of age, occupation or affiliated organization.

But for a little while on Saturday evening, June 26, 2010, I thought I saw matter-destroying plasma make its way down Spadina Avenue and onto Yonge Street. I don’t know. Maybe it was just my cable on the fritz. Luckily for us all, the nihilistic energy wave was gone by Sunday, replaced instead by the city’s more normal, casual interest in all things Toronto.

In an alternate universe, who knows what might have happened.

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