Kyle Garret: I didn’t buy Crisis was it was coming out. I started buying it a year later, only because I’d discovered Who’s Who in the DC Universe and it was referenced repeatedly in every issue. The death toll alone made it sound like the most epic story ever told.
I think I was 12 then and there was only one comic book store in my town, so I was dependent upon whatever they had in their back issue boxes. I think I managed to find 4 out of 12 issues. It would take me four years to actually get all of them, basically because by then I could drive and could go to other towns and other comic book stores.
But I distinctly remember the four issues I was able to find at the store in my hometown. Crisis #10 was one of them.
And while there’s plenty to talk about with regards to what actually happens in this issue, the various characters who get attention, the splintering off of the DC magical characters, etc., the thing that struck me the most and has stuck with me ever since is the narrative technique that Wolfman and Perez suddenly decide to use. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before and, looking back on it, has the two fold affect of being both awesome and underscoring how padded the series was.
At the bottom of every page, we got a wide panel of Harbinger recording the events of Crisis. She covered it all and often did so in a more poignant way that much of it had been covered earlier in the season. But that’s because we were prepared for this. We’d lived through this story with her, and hearing her retell gave it more emotional weight.
It’s a wonderful storytelling technique and to this day I wonder what possessed Wolfman and Perez to try it.
Zack Davisson: Wolfman and Perez were innovators in many of their styles and techniques, I think. The problem is that enough imitators copied the innovators that looking back on it those techniques are seen as cliché. Which is a shame. Because there is some powerful storytelling going on in Crisis, and some innovations that moved comics forward.
Daniel Gehen: There’s so much truth in what you said, Zack. One of the best ways I’ve seen that described is on the introduction to DVD (and subsequent Blu-Ray) release of Casablanca. That film is one that introduced many famous techniques and storytelling tropes that revisiting it can be laboring, and someone with a modern viewing perspective is likely to laugh at many of the film’s elements that are now considered cliches. The same is the case for Crisis. It is important to remember when revisiting these older works that the tired and cliche techniques were, at the time of publication, fresh and innovative.
Jason Sacks: Don’t lose site that this is also a transitional comic as well. It is wordy because that represents a transition between the old way of creating a comic and the new way. It has small scenes with each character as a nice tip of the hat to DC continuity. It has art by George Perez that provides small nods towards traditional DC cartooning, with small motions and grace notes that help to make the scenes come alive. Thus the book fulfills its dual purpose beautifully: it’s both a look back and a look forward. And it’s got lots of super-heroes with awesome costumes and so much tantalizing mystery that young Zack Davisson was sucked into the world!
ZD: For me, one of the things that I remember about Crisis #10 is it firmly established what was so different about the DC universe–scale. I was a Marvel reader, and Crisis was really my first dip in that particular water. It was an experience and I was lost much of the time, but this issue here, with the The Specter appearing and pushing back Kronos’s hand … that was a goosebumps moment.
This was also the first inkling I had of a “magic universe” that was separate inside of DC. They’re almost planting the seeds of Vertigo in this issue.
JS: Don’t forget that Swamp Thing, who has a prominent part in this issue, was a “Vertigo before it was Vertigo” sort of title. The Spectre had his own run around this time and other DC mystical heroes were revived as a way of exploring the magical side of the DCU. That continued all the way to the formal beginning of Vertigo in 1993: DC released crazy new versions of their mystical characters. Grant Morrison’s take on Kid Eternity is a trip and a half. This all gave DC a sense of scale and majesty that Perez and Wolfman bring out beautifully.
KG: Yes, the scale — and the variety. Unlike Marvel, DC had been around for so long that they had literally published books in any genre imaginable and somehow decided that all those stories took place in the same universe(s). And that’s what I loved about it. It made no sense. It was completely ridiculous. But pre-Crisis DC didn’t care. It embraced how insane it was. That was the beauty.
So allow me to diatribe for a minute…
This is how superhero comics have failed us. There’s a Grant Morrison quote from Supergods where he says something along the lines of adults wanting to know how Superman can fly, while children don’t care because the answer is obvious to them: it’s not real. And I think that as a genre we went from DC to the Marvel Age to post-Crisis/Watchmen/Dark Knight to the extreme 90s and what we got was further attempts at explaining how Superman flies. We got away from the “stop thinking about it so damn much and enjoy it.” We got away from the pure craziness, the unfettered creativity that owed nothing to anyone.
I mean, cosmic treadmill. Cosmic motherfucking treadmill. It’s a treadmill that is cosmic. What does that even mean? Who fucking cares? It’s a goddamn cosmic treadmill! The Flash runs on it and ridiculous shit happens! Enjoy the fucking ride!
ZD: Interesting that you should quote Grant Morrison about that, because I first heard that sentiment from Joseph Campbell when talking about religion. He said that early religion served as folklore and allegory, as guiding stories that informed the human existence. The problem came when people starting insisting that these stories were “real,” that events in the Bible and other religions books actually happened.
That’s the split from when folklore failed and religion and politics took over. No one fought wars over whose fictional allegory was better. No one insisted that things make sense, or that their version of the story was the correct one. Just like you said. Anansi the story-spinning spider. Yggdrasil the World Tree. Cosmic motherfucking treadmill. That’s primal mythmaking magic.
KG: And don’t get me wrong, the Marvel Age was much needed. I am all for characters in comics. The death of Viking in Strikeforce: Morituri #20 has stuck with me for 27 years. I love emotional comics as much as the next guy, and that emotion comes from three dimensional characters. I’m all for it.
But that doesn’t have to be at odds with wonder, with awe.
I love Crisis because it was big and bold and didn’t really make a ton of sense, but it didn’t care.
DG: That’s in part is because, in the years following Crisis, everyone had such a hard-on for comics that could be taken seriously. Even today, we look to and hold up the books which we think have academic value, while those that strive to entertain rarely are held up with the same esteem. I enjoy indie movies that are celebrated, critical darlings, but I also enjoy seeing some shit blow up on screen. I enjoy my comics the same way.
While Crisis #8 may be my favorite issue of the series thus far, Crisis #10 is probably the most enjoyable. That’s probably due to us returning to our regularly scheduled run-in with the Anti-Monitor. With it sees the story return to the aforementioned scale that was lacking in the previous issue. That’s largely due to the layouts and pencils by George Perez. The one thing which we Old Timers have been in agreement with our First Timer friends throughout this Crisis project has been the art. Throughout Crisis, Perez has been a master of using panel structure to expand or contract the scope of the comic to meet the demands of a given scene. When Wolfman’s script calls for an quieter, conversation-based scene, there can be upwards of 20 panels on a given page – each one intricately detailed – to simulate back-and-forth interaction. However, as is the case in Crisis #10, Perez widens the scope to unveil stunning splash pages, squeezing dozens of characters into action against the Anti-Monitor. I would love for DC to release a version of Crisis in its “unwrapped” format, just to stare at the raw pencil work.