(2006) Geoff Johns and Phil Jimenez, Titan Books, £19.99, hrdbk, 264pp, ISBN 1-84576-328-9
I've been reading comics all my life, which I doubt seems all that sad to anyone reading this review (but to the general public might seem lame), and over around forty years I've been through a Crisis or two with my favourite heroes of the DC Universe (DCU). The big one, of course, was the Crisis on Infinite Earths 20-odd years ago and there were, seemingly, good reasons for it - though I'd question some... One reason I disagreed with was that it was then thought that the multiple parallel Earths of the then-DCU were making continuity difficult to follow and everything was just a bit too messy. Not only was that stupid, since anyone who could suspend their disbelief enough to read stories about superheroes in longjohns and pants could easily handle multiple realities, but it was totally unnecessary and undesirable, since proved by the plethora of "Elseworlds" tales and other stories which explicitly took place outside of DCU continuity. In that sense nothing got 'tidied' and readers, as they always had, just took on board whatever 'background' was appropriate to the stories being told. However, a reason I did agree with was that, if some of the heroes had the origins they had had pre- the mid-eighties Crisis, then by the mid eighties most of them would be of retirement age and it seemed only sensible to somehow re-jig their origins to keep them young enough to continue to have adventures. Obviously this problem is most troublesome for DC's 'flagship' characters - Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman - since the company can hardly retire their cash-cow iconic properties (at least, not without getting lynched!). Accordingly that Crisis, which collapsed the multiverse into a single timeline, saw the demise of the Golden Age heroes and placed their origins firmly in the Silver Age or later (especially for 'newcomers' that were the bought properties of other comics companies). All well and good. And, depite the expected numerous tie-ins across the DCU, the story all made sense. Of course, some people were disappointed in the "who lives, who dies" stakes - did Barry Allan really need to die? Did Supergirl? - but it did make sense, and the subsequent 're-imaginings' of various heroes' origins that took place post-Crisis took care of all the tidying up. Some of the work since then was poor (Justice League, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and Blue Demon all spring to mind), but some of it was very good (and here I'm bound to say a lot of it was from the British writers and artists who invaded American comics at the time, though the yanks still had plenty of home grown talent, such as Frank Miller for instance).
Of course, DC do not live in a vacuum and the mid-eighties revolution in comics publishing saw all kinds of new companies and properties and, not unlike the events of the Crisis, some lived and some died and some merged and some were taken over... And, more to the point, DC and Marvel started having to fight more than each other to maintain market share. Well, surprise surprise, chaos eventually achieves some form of equilibrium and things eventually settled down. One of the consequences was that Marvel and others seemed to tend more to the 12-14 age group and DC and others tended more to the 15-17 year olds and, for the older fans, there were other imprints or publishers producing more 'adult' oriented material. Still all well and good. But. Time does not stand still and now it's twenty-years-later. The heroes were getting old again, the universe was becoming cluttered with all the 'new' characters and, most importantly of all, DC decided to reposition themselves in the market to a) attract new readers, and b) appeal to the younger age group above and compete more directly with Marvel and the like. The first reason makes sense, just as it did in the mid-eighties, the second reason does not - your product will appeal to whoever it appeals to and either it will be supported enough to be profitable (if, for instance, you write and draw good stories) or it will not (in which case you dump the lame ducks and try to do better). Whatever the reason, and with 'anniversaries' being irresistable, it seemed time for another monumental Crisis, perhaps tied in to the previous one, and the ball was started rolling with the excellent Identity Crisis to give a year's lead-in, set the whole thing up with various mini-series, sort out all the tie-ins and then come up with the Infinite Crisis. Needless to say, the whole thing was 'eagerly awaited', and some of us old fogies particularly wanted to see what would happen (especially as we had the context to really judge it). And it all started out promisingly enough - Identity Crisis in particular was excellent - and while the various mini-series were frustratingly incomplete (Rann-Thanagar War, Villains United, Day of Vengeance, etc.) at least they seemed to be setting up something of the required monumental scale. And other good lead-ups occurred, some 'righting' historical post-Crisis 'wrongs' - here I'm thinking particularly of, say, the Hal Jordan Green Lantern being brought back, since the plot that got rid of him was totally stupid, so lots of good things appeared to be happening, and it was long telegraphed (not least through the fan-press) some of what was to occur and why. Then, finally, Infinite Crisis arrived...
What a load of crap!
Goddamn but it sucks! ((I now interrupt the scheduled rant to put in the customary 'Spoiler Alert'. Bearing in mind that in terms of the original comics coming out the Crisis is long since over, and we've seen plenty of "1 Year Later" stories, there may be some people out there who still haven't read any of it - presumably waiting for this very collection - so, if you don't want to know the score, look away now! Back to the rant in progress)) ...cking rubbish!
There are two levels to the problem presented by Infinite Crisis, though they are closely related. One is with the tale itself, in terms of it actually making any kind of sense, and the other is with what the lynch-pin tale is supposed to do, which, among other things, is to resolve all the plot-threads that dovetail into the main story. Let's start at the beginning. Who are the villains here? Alex Luthor of Earth-3, son of that Earth's only superhero, Lex Luthor, instrumental in the resolution of the previous Crisis; the Golden Age Superman of Earth-2; and the Superboy of Earth-Prime! Is this really credible? Bearing in mind the huge injustice done to Hal Jordan, and the efforts made to set that right, are we really supposed to believe that some of the multiverse's greatest heroes, having survived being wiped from 'history', in a virtual paradise no less, after just 20 years of watching from the sidelines just suddenly decide that Earth's 'future' has turned out all wrong and, furthermore, that wholesale death and destruction are acceptable methods of putting it 'right'? I ask again, is this really credible? Perhaps a better question is, is that the best you can come up with? Even if we accept the villains, how about their methods (in terms of their stated over-all objectives); do they make sense? Superboy, at Alex's urging, changes the centre of the universe (oh really - clearly no cosmologists on the plotting team, but let that go), but why? One reason seems acceptable enough - if you tie up some of the heroes in the stupid resulting Rann-Thanagar war, there are less of them to oppose you. But. Given that that's the point in space where Alex is going to examine and combine various Earths in his "petri-dish", then surely all he's done is to attract heroes to the one place he'd care to keep them away from! Obviously the war itself has no value to Alex, but seemingly no value to the writer either since it is in no way resolved by the events of the Crisis. The second reason for changing the centre of the universe is to render the Guardians of Oa powerless. And this makes sense how, exactly? Power is power, and either they've got it or they haven't. Certainly all the Green Lanterns involved seem to have their power intact, so why are the Guardians rendered powerless? Or, if they were actually needed in the fight (unlikely, given their history in previous conflicts, but if they were) then what would stop them from simply travelling to the new centre? It makes no sense, even in the (admittedly) credulity-stretching DCU. So the whole Rann-Thanagar plotline is utterly wasted and Alex's method here seems counter-productive.
What about the Omac Project? Any point to this? Let's see... Batman creates Brother Eye to keep tabs on heroes he's since lost faith with having discovered that they'd mind-wiped him, as they had done some villains. Max Lord steals and subverts this and, seemingly with help from Alex, creates the Omacs. The mini-series and their appearances in other titles show them as a force to be reckoned with and, we are told, there are 1.3 million of them tied to everyone carrying the meta-human gene. OK, so Alex has control of a huge (compared to the number of superheroes against him) and extremely powerful army, capable of taking out some of the most powerful of the heroes and villains. Why? Well, that's self-evident. But what happens? Nothing much; they're assigned to guard duty on Alex's tower of power which utilises the 'energies' of heroes and villains originating in the various alternate realities now gone. And their defeat? Simply enough achieved, once you've got a new Blue Beetle who, for some unfathomable reason, is the only person able to locate Brother Eye. Really? With a Superman and a bunch of Green Lanterns around? We're supposed to believe instead that a Booster Gold from a future (which future? One where, seemingly, the heroes must have triumphed - else no Booster - but didn't defeat Brother Eye - in which case surely the Omacs weren't all defeated, in which case...?) somehow knows something about Blue Beetle's scarab that no one else has ever known, including the previous Blue Beetle himself, and which has never even been hinted at before, just conveniently turns up with this bit of deus ex machina plotting and helps save the day! Come on! Does this really pass for plotting? Give me a break.
And it goes on. Day of Vengeance? Not resolved here. You need to read JSA for that. And all that happens is, after having conveniently killed off a bunch of magic-users, Spectre is finally bound to a new body (of a character who presumably will take no further part in Gotham Central), which could have been done anytime by the Spectre's boss - unless you want to specifically tie-in the events of Lucifer from the Vertigo imprint, something which is not alluded to there. Villains United? Alex takes the place of 'our' Luthor in order to... er... Create more chaos? Tie up more superheroes? Anything? Why, exactly? It's not like villains need an excuse to try kicking heroes' asses. Did the united villains actually achieve anything they wouldn't otherwise have done? No. Did they play a significant part in Alex's over-all plan? No. Only Black Adam, used to power Alex's tower when no other member of the Marvel family could be utilised (no, not even Mary Marvel). So is there any actual resolution here. No, it just falls apart and is forgotten in the aftermath, certainly by the time of the "1 Year Later" tales. The resurrection of Donna Troy. She doesn't do much. The mind-wiping of villains? Already explicitly given up, despite the fact that it had always gone on (and what are the heroes supposed to do if/when villains find out who they are? Their alter-egos still have loved ones to protect...). Is anything resolved?
Superman-2 dies. Alex Luthor dies. Superboy-Prime is imprisoned by the Green Lantern Corps. All because of the mightiest slug-fest since the last one... And 'reality'? No change. Which means that most origins have not been moved forward in time; which in turn means that most of them are in their late sixties... Superman loses his powers for a year, but gets them back within two months after that. Diana loses her entire heritage and Themiscyra goes missing because...? Batman decides to be nicer to people, though it doesn't stop his "1 Year Later" opening tales from being filled with death and nastiness. And as for tidying up the DCU well, as the final splash-panel from Infinite Crisis demonstrates, it's not like there aren't still humongous numbers of heroes out there. Really the Crisis is little more than a punctuation point in the DCU, yes allowing that all important jump-on point for new readers, but 'resolving' nothing, tidying up nothing, fundamentally changing nothing. It's about as pointless as you can get, has no internal logic or consistency and, consequently, is all the more disappointing for it.
To be scrupulously fair it's worth saying that there were some good bits. Three, in fact. One, I'm glad Power Girl survived, despite the new Supergirl. Two, I enjoyed Batman's line to Superman, that the last time he'd inspired anybody was when he died. And three, Alex Luthor's ultimate demise at the hands of the Joker and 'our' Lex Luthor. Sadly these three little snippets hardly make up for a year's close attention, anticipation and expectation. I hope I'm proved wrong, but I can't say I'm looking forward to the future of the DCU.
Not that it helps much, also available is Infinite Crisis Companion (Titan Books, £8.99, trdpbk, 168pp, ISBN 1-84576-378-5) which collects the "specials" of the various mini-series referred to above, each taking place along various points of the main plotline. Bill Willingham shows us how Nabu finally attracted the Spectre's boss's attention to deal with the runaway spirit of vengeance (the final act, as mentioned, taking place in JSA); Dave Gibbons' resolution to the Rann-Thanagar conflict shows them coming to a truce after it is discovered that the planets shifted orbits due to Superboy-Prime's intervention (like, no one bothered to look before); Greg Rucka gives us a coda to Brother Eye's tale in the Omac project; and Gail Simone sets up the final Metropolis all out hero-villain conflict.
The problem with these Crises is that you have to indulge in all the spin-offs just to try to make some sense of the whole, so you're stuck, basically. Either you buy none of it, or you buy the lot. I know you can make your own minds up on this one...
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