These days, a DC Comics event is synonymous with a shift in reality and continuity. All of the big company-wide crossovers in recent times have dealt with that, from Flashpoint which jump-started the New 52 universe, to the mish-mash of realities that was Covergence, and now in the current DC Rebirth that attacks the idea of how events erase beloved characters from a gloriously metacritical way. DC has gotten their fair share of flack for using these events to make changes to the universe whenever something isn’t working. Some critics perceive this as fixing something that isn’t broken rather than focusing on story and character, others are fatigued by the idea of these classic legacy characters being changed in ways that they don’t like, and others remain die-hard DC fans, wholly invested in the various eras of the DC Universe. No matter how readers feel about it, though, it’s become the norm for DC’s events to screw with realities and the Multiverse.
It wasn’t always that way, though. When Crisis on Infinite Earths dropped, it was utterly unique. It was a sprawling, 12-issue superhero epic that addressed DC’s continuity problems and the narrative complications that came with a multiverse. Crisis was DC’s way of turning their problems with their comics into a narrative, and having the characters solve it – similar, in fact, to what DC is doing right now with Rebirth. There have been many Crises since the first, from the grim Identity Crisis, to Geoff Johns’ Infinity Crisis, to Grant Morrison’s punch to the psyche that was Final Crisis, but DC Rebirth is the first of them that really feels like a sequel.
Anyway, I thought I would revisit the first issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths through the lens of what’s going on at DC now. It’s a very different landscape for both the DCU as a whole and event books as an idea, so what better time than now to look toward the past, right? Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 is written and edited by Marv Wolfman, penciled by George Pérez, inked by Dick Giordano, colored by Tony Tollin, and lettered by John Costanza.
To say that there is a lot going on in the first issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths is an understatement. There would be a lot going on if 70% of the content were removed. Each page is intricately laid out, more often than not containing multiple scene changes. Every page but the final splash is dense with text, both narration and dialogue. Wolfman’s prose in the narration is stellar – noticeably better than the dialogue, which also isn’t bad – used not to describe what we’re seeing in the art, as some writers in text-heavy comics like this tended to do, but to add nuance, emotion, and reality to Pérez’s art. Though there is a lot going on, and the cast is absolutely staggering for a first issue, the plot is a fairly streamlined sequence of people being gathered from across realities, as the Monitor and Harbinger watch from afar before tragedy strikes close to home. Not being otherwise familiar with most of the DC Universe from that era – the only full run I’ve read from that time that overlapped with Crisis was Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, which is among my absolute favorites – I feel as if there were a lot of nuances that I missed, but I didn’t at any point feel lost.
Crisis had a lot of narrative build-up in other titles, as DC had been planning the series for a year before the first issue launched, but unlike Infinite Crisis, the first Crisis didn’t feel dependent on stories that came before. It’s a solid narrative with golden moments of brilliant writing, some really strange beats (the suicide joke below was especially odd), and of course stellar art from Pérez, whose stunning page layouts and intricate fight sequences are as visually compelling now as they were when he first drew them.
I will note, in a rare critique of the digital format, that Comixology’s guided view on this issue is pretty jacked. I understand that it’s difficult to apply technology to artwork that wasn’t drawn with these advances in mind, and I don’t want to seem like I’m delving into “print is superior to digital” snobbery, but in this case, the hardcover graphic novel is the way to go to see Pérez’s reality-shattering art in its full glory.
Superhero events might be known for making false promises these days. This changes everything! Nothing will ever be the same! All-new, all-different, now! Maybe those criticisms are valid, maybe not. Maybe the very nature of superhero fiction, these endless stories of legends and people and heroism, is to change. One thing that’s clear is the impact that Crisis on Infinite Earths had on the decades that followed. Say what you want about the hyperbole of marketing, but Wolfman and co. were right. The DC Universe has never been the same since.
Will DC Rebirth have the same impact? Only time will tell. I, for one, am – for the first time in a while – hopeful.
PAT SHAND writes comics (Vampire Emmy, Hellchild, Van Helsing), novels (Iron Man, Charmed), and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). He lives on a diet of late night writing binges and entirely too much coffee. If you wish to distract him, he’s always a click away from Twitter: @PatShand.