Speak About Destruction: Top 10 Crises in Comics and ElsewhereA column article, Top Ten by: Danny Djeljosevic
Superman: Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite
Boy, that's an unfortunate title.
The 1980s not only saw an invasion of writers and creators from the UK working on mainstream American comics, but also a boom in alternative British comics anthologies in the vein of (or spinning out of) 2000 AD. One such publication Crisis, edited by Steve MacManus and Michael W. Bennent, was a politically charged strain of comics for the more mature readers who perhaps had outgrown Strontium Dog.
Created as 2000 AD publisher Fleetway's response to Brett Ewins and Steve Dillon's upstart magazine Deadline, Crisis featured work from such UK comics icons as Garth Ennis, John McCrea, Phillip Bond, Si Spencer, Sean Phillips, Carlos Ezquerra, David Hine, Paul Neary, Gary Erskine, Paul Grist and even Mark Millar. Basically, a murderer's row of talent including future Vertigo mainstays and modern-day superstars.
Beyond its creators, Crisis produced some classic strips: Pat Mill's Third World War, John Smith's New Statesmen and a trio of works from Grant Morrison: Bible John with Daniel Vallely, the gritty and satirical Dare with Rian Hughes and a reprint of the controversial New Adventures of Hitler with Steve Yeowell. In the book's later days, Crisis even translated the Federico Fellini/Milo Manara joint Trip to Tulum.
Crisis may have burned out after 63 issues, but its contribution to the UK comics scene is unforgettable.
Spider-Man: Identity Crisis
Also known as "that one story where Spider-Man takes on four different identities," "Identity Crisis" is on some level patently ridiculous: framed for murder and with a multi-million dollar bounty on his head, Spider-Man can no longer go out and save people because cops and civilians alike won't stop shooting at him. So he makes up four different superpeople to pose as -- Ricochet, Hornet, Prodigy and Dusk -- because having only one new superhero pop up would be way too conspicuous.
But it's also a really novel premise for a superhero story that plays with the concept of secret identities, and it's something that could only happen to Peter Parker -- he's finally gotten to a point where people hate him so much that he needs to come up with four other superhero ideas to take the heat off of him.
What's even better about this idea was that he made two of those identities operate as criminals to make some underworld connections in the hopes of clearing his name. In essence, Spider-Man created his own fictional superhero universe within a fictional superhero universe. That's some amazing meta shit right there.
Eventually the four identities were adopted by a quartet of teens who called themselves the Slingers. It didn't last long.
Time Crisis II
An arcade staple because it's fun to shoot light guns and Namco GunCon controller cocks back and stuff when you pull the trigger, the Time Crisis series is dumb as hell because it's only about shooting stuff, but that's the charm. Also, to counteract the realism of pointing a fake gun at a screen, you have to step on a pedal to move out from cover.
Time Crisis II is the most delightfully Video Game of the franchise. You play as Blue Jacket or Red Jacket (there is no difference) and shoot your way through all sorts of action movie scenarios: you're in a town square, then on speedboats, then on a train fighting a guy in a helicopter with a chain gun, then you're on an oil rig I think. These games are much better if you don't pay attention and the voice acting is so bad you don't even want to know the story anyway. Which is a very Video Game thing to do.
Surprisingly, you can get some mileage out of the PlayStation 2 port of Time Crisis II, provided you buy it bundled with the GunCon 2 controller (better yet, get two). You'll play through the main game a couple of times, and once you do that you unlock ports of old Namco shooting arcade games that should keep you busy for, I dunno, thirty minutes? Maybe spending a few bucks at a time on the arcade version is the better way to go.
The Iran Hostage Crisis
On November 4, 1979, an Iranian student group called the "Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line" took over the American Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage for during the end of the Carter Administration, due to President Carter's support of the recently overthrown Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The hostage crisis lasted 444 days, and certainly didn't help President Carter with his re-election hopes in the face of Ronald Reagan. However, Iran was at war with Iraq, and needed their money and assets in the United States that had been frozen after the embassy takeover. Using Algeria as a middleman, the US and Iran negotiated the release of both Iranian money and American people -- which finally happened the moment Ronald Reagan was sworn into office, presumably as an extra "fuck you" to Jimmy Carter.
The Ben Affleck directed, Academy Award winning film Argo creates a fictionalized version of the takeover and ensuing "Canadian Caper," wherein the CIA and Canadian government carried out a very unlikely plan to save the six American diplomats who had escaped the takeover and had been holed up in the Canadian ambassador's house. Most comics people only care about this due to the involvement of artist Jack Kirby, but it's a really great picture.
(Polygon Magic, 1999)
So much non-threatening Japanese stuff makes its way to the states that I'm equally flabbergasted and excited when somebody decides that the US can get a taste of true Japanese weirdness. Incredible Crisis (a.k.a. Tondemo Crisis!) is one such game, about a Japanese nuclear family whose daily routines get strange as they struggle to get birthday gifts for their grandmother.
There's nothing "normal" about Incredible Crisis. It's a string of minigames tied together by a Rashomon-like plot based on the mundanity of life -- there's a Dance Dance Revolution style minigame based on rajio taiso -- and all the music is by a Japanese ska band.
Written and designed by Kenichi Nishi, who used to be a cog in Square's RPG machine until he quit and decided to do meta stuff with the genre, the oddball Incredible Crisis is a really fun, kinda really difficult but charming installment in the world of obscure games you should care about more than Heavy Rain or whatever. If you thought the Wario Ware games are manic, you should check out Incredible Crisis, its unhinged older brother.
JLA: Crisis Times Five
Taking influence from the yearly Justice League and Justice Society crossovers of the past, Grant Morrison and Howard Porter modernize the concept for the JLA/JSA crossover "Crisis Times Five," in which the two teams must deal with a threat from the Fifth Dimension (the one Mr. Mxyzptlk comes from) and also Triumph, the forgotten "Fifth Beatle" of the original Justice League, who's bent on overthrowing the current team with fifth dimensional power.
The result is as crazy as you might expect from a Grant Morrison comic -- there's attention paid to characterization, there's an element of continuity that's fun rather than confusing, there are crazy ideas like Zauriel and Green Lantern freeing an imprisoned Spectre by letting the society that built a city on him naturally rise and crumble at incredibly fast speeds and there are new characters that only work when Grant Morrison writes them, namely Jakeem Thunder, a foul-mouthed kid who's inherited a magic pen that conjures a genie made of pink lightning. Jesus Christ, comics are weird.
And this was not some fringe book like Doom Patrol. JLA was DC's runaway hit -- after several years of diluting and disregarding the Justice League franchise, Grant Morrison and Howard Porter came in to deliver the craziest ultra-mainstream comics DC ever produced, and "Crisis Times Five" is indicative of that run, which was full of iconic superhero moments as well as cosmically drug-fueled ideas.
Dino Crisis 2
The basic pitch for Dino Crisis is "Resident Evil but for dinosaurs," but make no mistake, Dino Crisis is as far from survival horror as you can get. I should clarify -- before Resident Evil 4, Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6 and AMC's The Walking Dead, zombies were impossible to shoot in the head, which necessitated lots of running away, conserving ammunition and solving preposterous puzzles in order not to die from being bitten to death. Dino Crisis is the opposite of that. It probably has a lot more in common with later installments of Resident Evil.
I'm not going to explain the plot of Dino Crisis because that above video makes no sense to me, but Dino Crisis 2 involves a time travel thing and a girl with red hair, a Slim Shady with 1999 hair and a guy with a hat and no sleeves. You usually play as the girl with red hair and you shoot all sorts of dinosaurs -- big ones, little ones, water ones. It's a really simple pleasure and, like any video game produced by Capcom, the voice acting is nightmarishly bad. It's great!
Bubblegum Crisis: Grand Mal
(Adam Warren, Dark Horse, 1994)
The best-named thing to come out of Japan, the anime Bubblegum Crisis presents a Blade Runner-esque future where a team of color-coordinated ladies in power suits protect Mega Tokyo from renegade Boomers, which are basically replicants but not. I got a thing for '80s anime mainly for aesthetic reasons -- it has a look different from stuff produced after the fact and liking old anime helped me to never make friends with people who liked anime when I was in high school.
It helps that Empowered creator Adam Warren, himself an early adopter of anime fan culture, made a Bubblegum Crisis comic for Dark Horse called Grand Mal that uses all the elements of the universe for a brand-new story that involves rock stars and cyborgs and evil megacorporations.
Warren's style is decidedly influenced by anime, but he's not some generic cat on DeviantArt drawing generic cat ladies -- his linework and characters have a style so distinct that you can always point out a proper Adam Warren illustration. Usually it involves big lips and huge hair and that mondo expressiveness that so few western artists seem capable of pulling off. Looking at Warren's art is never not fun, and Bubblegum Crisis is an amazing pairing of artist and property.
(Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Doug Mahnke, Carlos Pacheco, Matthew Clark, DC, 2008-2009)
In some comics circles in which I desperately hope never to be a part of, the seven-issue (plus three essential tie-in issues) event Final Crisis is regarded as a failure -- a huge crossover that makes no sense and contradicts a bunch of other dumb comics that came before it. To others it makes no sense because it's stuffed with characters nobody's heard of. Because, y'know, you can't get into a story unless you have pre-existing, intimate knowledge of all the characters contained within.
Nobody gets the DC Comics universe like Grant Morrison does. They came into his life at a pivotal time, but since then he's read things other than DC Comics and had experiences that don't involve reading comics, allowing him to approach the comic world from a different angle -- one that views the DC Universe as a living entity that, in Final Crisis, is having the life force sucked out of it.
In the process he shows us everyone in the DC Universe -- not just the superheroes, but the in-universe ancestors, the alternate universe variations, the hero-worshipping subcultures, the street level detectives, the extra-dimensional string-pullers, the secret societies and the supernatural operatives. The narrative gets increasingly fragmented but because of the meta-threat that's killing the world. Morrison's made a mainstream comics career out of depicting heroes overcoming massive threats and Final Crisis is his biggest statement on that, feeling big and cosmic and bleak but also full of Morrison's trademark characterization, strangeness and, in the end, hopefulness.
It's easy to understand why Final Crisis failed with readers -- it came out in an age where Geoff Johns and surface level attention to continuity reigned supreme -- we don't want to see a universe at work, we want acknowledgement that the people making these comics know the same trivia we do. But for some of us Final Crisis is one of the genre's greatest achievements -- one that doesn't refute or wallow in superhero comics, but embraces them to create something big.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions) and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic with Mike Prezzato, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his Tumblr. His webcomic The Ghost Engine, with artist Eric Zawadzki, recently ended, so now you can read it in its entirety.