But What About The Children?: Graeme on Crisis on Infinite Earths, Part 3

February 11, 2016

And so we return for the final part of my traipse through DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. I’ll shut up after this, honest.

The problem with the second and third installments of what I’ve come to think of as DC’s Crisis Trilogy — well, one of the problems, at least — is that while both learned from the example of Crisis on Infinite Earths, there’s an argument to be made that neither actually managed to learn the right lessons.

zero-hour-parallaxTake 1994’s Zero Hour: Crisis In Time!, for example. Yes, the exclamation point is really part of the title; it’s right there in the logo. As much an admission that Crisis had not only utterly failed to simplify DC’s superhero mythology, but actually made the problem even worse as anything else — why else create a five issue series with that very purpose less than a decade later? — the series, by the team of Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway, apes the breathless melodrama and spectacle of Wolfman and Perez’s series but lacks both its heart and its common sense.

Things just happen in Zero Hour; there’s none of the attempts that the original Crisis did to be self-contained or try to explain itself away. Who is the villain who it seems is trying to destroy time itself? Oh, he’s a former hero turned villain from Armageddon 2001 that then changed his name and look in two issues of Showcase 94, but neither will be referenced here. Who’s Extant and why does he look like Hal Jordan? Hope you read Emerald Twilight, fanboy. And so on, and so on. Why try to give context or motivation when you can have the Justice Society die of old age because they’re old, like losers?

(There is something to be made of the fact that Wolfman purposefully didn’t kill off characters that were older than his career, with the exceptions of those who had younger versions waiting in the wings to take over, but Jurgens happily offs the majority of the JSA with haste. I just don’t know what.)

I’m being too cruel, to be honest. Jurgens tries to bring a sense of personal stakes (and personality) to the series in its final two issues, with Green Arrow distraught to see his best friend so corrupted by ultimate power, and Batgirl struggling to deal with the idea that she’s merely a time anomaly. But it’s too little, too late, and a poor attempt in a series that already far too busy and overstuffed at just five issues.

Whereas Crisis‘s secret weapon was that it had a story hidden underneath the death, destruction and continuity porn, Zero Hour‘s clearest weakness was believing the suggestion that stories are superfluous when you have such high stakes and so many big names to fill your pages. It’s like reading an event comic on fast forward, or only being given a Previously On… recap to a story, instead of the full thing.

The same can’t be said of Infinite Crisis, in which Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, George Perez, Jerry Ordway and Ivan Reis — man, did that book get late, judging by the number of artists responsible for the latter issues — diagnose a problem of cynicism and apathy at the heart of the DCU by creating one of the most cynical responses DCU comic books ever. Unrelatedly, man, is the pacing of this book really slow.

Whereas Zero Hour seemingly lacked any deeper purpose beyond “fix Hawkman” and “make a lot of noise,” Infinite Crisis lays out its agenda in its first issue: Superman is too inactive and unable to lead by example, Wonder Woman too scary, and Batman too paranoid. Oh, and the heroes who escaped to a Happily Ever After at the end of the original Crisis are very disappointed with everyone, thank you very much.

In terms of emotional throughlines, there’s a lot in Infinite Crisis to appreciate or, at least, chew on, but with the exception of the Batman thread, none of them really pay off in any satisfying manner — Superman learns to punch things! Yay? Wonder Woman… actually, I have no idea what her emotional journey is actually supposed to be, but she really had the worst time of all the icons in the story — and, in attempting to build in a surprise villain of the piece, Johns et al manage to (accidentally?) piss all over the original Crisis‘ optimism: hey, remember that Superboy from the old Earth-Prime and the Lex Luthor who was a good guy? They’re both evil, just because.


And the whole thing is inexplicably complicated, as well — even if you go with the “Alex Luthor has been manipulating events for months” theory of events, why did he cause an intergalactic war between Rann and Thanagar? What was with him forming the (basically unused) Secret Society of Super-Villains? Why is magic suddenly falling apart? What purpose does the whole OMAC Project plot actually serve to the greater story?

All of which isn’t to suggest that Infinite Crisis has no saving graces — overlooking Geoff Johns’ love for ripped-off arms, the body count is surprisingly low for an event like this (in part, I suspect, to make Connor Kent’s death land the way it does), and I genuinely appreciate the attempt to acknowledge the aspirational failure of the main heroes, even if it goes nowhere after that — but, again, it’s a comic that’s at least as flawed as it is successful in its aims. It suggests the scope of Crisis on Infinite Earths on numerous occasions, but in the same way that Oasis suggested the scope of the Beatles. Which is nice enough if you’re in the mood for it, but otherwise, not so much.

There are, I’m sure, those out there wondering why Final Crisis isn’t part of the Crisis continuum in my head, but despite its title, it feels too separate to belong; unlike Infinite Crisis, it doesn’t share a cast with the Wolfman/Perez series, and unlike Zero Hour, it isn’t a retread. But with the current Darkseid War storyline in Justice League, I do wonder if DC is ramping up for a fourth installment in the series ahead of whatever “Rebirth” ends up being — we have the Anti-Monitor showing up and an explicit reference to the original in the prologue.

If there really is going to be more Crisis in our future, it’d be nice to think that the quieter lessons of the original will have been learned this time around. But, really, how likely is that?


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5 comments on “But What About The Children?: Graeme on Crisis on Infinite Earths, Part 3

  1. I thought the “trilogy” would be CoIE, Millennium, and Zero Hour. All three of those were tasked with cleaning up the continuity that had grown up in the Silver Age, and all seemed to just create a bigger mess in the process. (Millennium did the least damage, as I recall. Just wiped out Wonder Woman’s history.)

    In my mind, there’s then a long gap where continuity is (more-or-less) left alone before the “modern” futzing with it (Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, Flashpoint, et al).

  2. I can see the argument about Final Crisis – despite the name it’s more of a Fourth World story than a Crisis. There’s no mucking about with continuity fixes or multiple worlds, for one thing.

    Except – Superman Beyond. The Superman Beyond portion of Final Crisis feels like an explicit sequel to Crisis – both because it deals with multiple worlds and because its a subtle continuity shift/fix in the way that Morrison handles the Monitors.

    Of course Superman Beyond feels as much a part of Final Crisis as Mister Miracle felt a part of Seven Soldiers. Just like Mister Mirale feels like a prologue to Final Crisis, Superman Beyond feels like the prologue to Multiversity. And, actually, I kind of consider Multiversity to be Morrison’s response to Crisis in so many ways that I’d call it a sequel – after all, you have a group of heroes from all over the multiverse pulled together by the “Monitor” to protect the multiverse from the bad guys out to destroy it.

  3. Brendan Feb 12, 2016

    Ugh, the Omac Project. Were you supposed to read all the green computer text boxes? I’ll give Rucka a huge pass on that series because everything happening around it was pretty dire too, but the Omac project may be the biggest slog of that whole event spinning out to a lead-in to an event that had a spinoff thing.

  4. LAndrew Feb 12, 2016


    What I liked about CRISIS was that it seemed to be celebrating how wild and messy and overgrown the Multiverse was and it it felt like this hodgepodge of things that someone had collected without really any thought to it and it was celebrating it even as it rang down the curtain.

    INFINITE CRISIS brings it all back but it’s dour and there’s no “Hey, wow, this could actually be . . .something.” This is, I imagine why you can’t bring back pre-Crisis DC ever again–there’s no emotional connection to be had anymore. It’s just. . .stuff.

  5. Other Chris Feb 12, 2016

    I’m that weirdo who loves Infinite Crisis, continuity-punches and all. The rationale for SBP and Alex Luthor’s turn is found outside of the main title (Secret Files in particular), but at least it exists. And I do agree that the undercard is better than how the main event ended.

    Zero Hour could benefit from one of those crossover “remixes” that Marvel used to put out a few years ago. There’s the seed of a good story in there buried behind a bunch of boring.

    I always struggle with Final Crisis, because no matter how many times I read it, I still don’t get it. I appreciate it, and even kinda enjoy it! But could I explain it to someone in simple terms? Not yet. It tethers strongly to Morrison’s Batman, Seven Soldiers, and Multiversity, so it’s not the kind of story that can be ignored.

    As far as carrying on the spirit of the original, I consider Avengers/JLA and Legion of 3 Worlds to be slightly better sequels than those with ‘Crisis’ in the title.