Kyle Garret: The true genius of Crisis #11 is this: It’s the step in between. We don’t generally see things like this in comic book storytelling. Look at the transition from Flashpoint to the New 52, for example. One minute it was the old universe, the next it was the new. There was no stop in between there, no moment where the two realities converged and conflicted. There was no “half-way” reality where we saw both universes together.
But that’s exactly what we get in Crisis #11.
And it speaks directly to the audience. It’s saying “yes, I know you want us to keep these characters and their histories, but look at what you’d get if we actually did that.” This was before the internet made fan response readily available. Wolfman and Perez knew what they were getting into and they addressed it head on in this issue.
“Do you want two Supermen? Two Wonder Women? Do you see how convoluted it is to have these character share the same space?”
Crisis #11 was every first issue any new reader purchased from DC prior to Crisis.
It’s brilliant in that it’s incredibly metafictional, yet still essential to the story that’s being told. We, the fans, need to see this transition. We need to know what goes into making the sausage or we will always wonder. We need to know why these changes are being done, why they can’t be done differently, and how horribly wrong it could all go.
Earth-2 Superman is the old DC fan, trying to find his place. And Crisis #11 is Wolfman and Perez saying “don’t worry, we’ll work this out…together.”
Daniel Gehen: You hit it right on the head Kyle. What Crisis does that Flashpoint (or the initial arcs of the New 52 series) failed to do is directly address reader concerns. That comes mostly from Wolfman, who unlike many event writers of today, seems to actually give a shit about giving his story a strong finish rather than leave threads dangling for other creators to pick up afterwards.
Zack Davisson: Not to mention Convergence. That series didn’t even bother to end. It all happens off panel. I was talking to Dan Elkin about this, when he said that Crisis was just journey work, and not really worth of critical study. And that’s true. Crisis is a tool; a series created with a very specific purpose in mind, to demolish and reconstruct a fictional universe in order to streamline it and bring on new readers. My counter-argument is that yes, it is a tool. Yes, it is journey work. But it is also a tool exceedingly well made, and journey work done by master journeymen. It’s probably the best of it’s kind. I can’t think of any other reboot done as elegantly, and with as much craft and passion and skill as Wolfman and Perez brought to the table.
DG: Crisis #11 is not so much an issue of a comic book event as it is a blueprint for the DC Universe going forward. We see how characters either fit into the newly formed DCU (Jay Garrick, Alan Scott) or are space-time anomalies (Earth Two’s Superman, Wonder Woman, and Power Girl). Granted, it’s far from a perfect layout for the future. Power Girl’s origin was tinkered with so many times that it began to approach Donna Troy levels of complexity. But’s a solid foundation to build the universe on.
Can we also mention how great Wolfman’s character work is? It’s probably the best work of the series since issue #8. Earth-Two Superman’s story is heartbreaking, as Helena Wayne’s. Their realization that they essentially do not exist is this issue’s emotional center… at least until Harbinger shows up and reminds us that they have to give the Anti-Monitor one last beat down.
Jason Sacks: Dan, you’re so right that the character work in this issue is brilliant because it thoroughly emphasizes the horror of these characters’ experiences and helps to show us how their lives are profoundly upset.
In fact, I think there’s a case to be made that Crisis #11 isn’t a super-hero story. It’s a horror story, in a phildickian way. Can you imagine anything worse, any more of an exhausting, emotional devastation than being told clearly and unambiguously that your entire world no longer exists? In this tremendously powerful issue, we witness the terror of losing your wife, your job and your lifelong friends in one great cosmic event over which you have absolutely no control.
As our dear friend Daniel Elkin shares in the newcomers review, this issue tells the story of what happens when the very basis of self is lifted away. It shows us that moment of shock when everything you know in your life, every foundation of your ego and your happiness and your relationship with the world suddenly… ends. What happens when every aspect of your life is simply no longer there? When every single thing that once shaped you has disappeared, then who are you? How are you changed by that profound existential change? Are our egos shaped by all the things around us or by who we fundamentally are?
Of course, as comic fans we all have some insight into that question because that’s the fundamental basis of many heroes’ origins. When Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed, his existential pain drives him to become a caped crusader and turns him dark. When Frank Castle’s family is murdered, he becomes a guns-blazing Punisher of criminals. The loss of one’s roots is an inherently dramatic event, a moment of profound change, and explains why people change their lives.
But real life ain’t comics and comics sure ain’t real life. Many of us have experienced profound existential change in our lives. Maybe we moved to a new city where we didn’t know anybody in order to start a new job. Maybe we lost one or both of our parents, or a child, or divorced or went broke. In those moments of profound change we can either crack and become metaphorical Bruce Waynes or can find an unexpected reservoir inside ourselves and become more the person we want to become. And in those moments we find our own origin stories and build our own legends around ourselves.
Crisis #11 is the moment after; as you say, Kyle, it’s the step in between. It’s the moment after you sign the lease on your new apartment. It’s the hour after the hospital calls with terrible news. It’s the moment your spouse walks out the door of your former home and you know she will never lie beside you in bed again. Life is profoundly changed. Things will never be the same again. Existential dread has taken the place of complacent self-confidence. Can you feel that nervous anticipation? That’s the post-Crisis universe tingling at the base of your spine. And though it’s an overused cliché in comics, after this brilliant comic book, things truly will never be the same again.
It’s interesting, because reboots are a dime a dozen these days. They don’t really carry the same weight. We know now (as we technically always should have) that this is all temporary and worlds live and day on a regular basis. DC didn’t even make it three years without showing us the pre-Flashpoint universe again and now they say all universes exist and then some.
But this wasn’t the case when Crisis came out, so its impact was huge.
Or was it?
Because on a day in, day out level, Crisis didn’t actually do anything but narrow the field.
When Crisis came out there, there were exactly two DC comics (of the 40 they were publishing each month, so 5%) that did NOT take place on Earth-1. That meant there were only two books that had to be drastically altered going forward.
Technically speaking, Superman and Wonder Woman could have, more or less, kept on keeping on.
But even if you consider the new wave Superman and a rebooted Wonder Woman, there was still a substantial portion of DC that was relatively untouched by Crisis, untouched because those other Earths hadn’t played an important role in mainstream DC in quite some time.
You can see, then, how DC came to the decision to unify.
DG: Saying that only 2 DC books required drastic alterations is a fairly simplistic way to view the impact of Crisis. I do agree with the point your trying to make, but remember that there was a perennial multiversal “event” in Justice League of America. Jay Garrick and Alan Scott would frequently make an appearance in the pages of The Flash and Green Lantern, respectively. The aforementioned Power Girl was a member of Infinity Inc. And while most of the books DC published concurrently with Crisis weren’t directly impacted, don’t forget the many stories from titles no longer in publication which were still in continuity.
With all that said, DC’s decision to trim the fat from its universe had a huge impact on the storytelling that came out shortly afterwards. There is something about limitations which can foster creativity. Alfred Hitchcock famously gave himself a very limited budget for a movie he was filming at the tale end of the 1950s. Today, Psycho is considered one of the greatest ever made. The same thing can be said for the DC Universe. The publisher cut down the number of worlds to one and, by extension, imposed storytelling limitations on creators, but look at the stories that came shortly afterwards. Ostrander’s Shazam: A New Beginning and Spectre. Perez’s Wonder Woman. Miller’s Batman: Year One. These are industry classics which sprang from the reborn DCU.
ZD: A good point … with a caveat. I think you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who regards Ostrander’s Shazam: A New Beginning to be a classic of any sort. In fact, I would say it was one of the major failures of the reboots, almost instantly swept under the carpet and ignored by everyone. It wasn’t until Jerry Ordway came out with Power of Shazam almost 10 years later that the Big Red Cheese got his due.
KG: That’s the thing, though: I’m not saying only two books required drastic changes, I’m saying that only two books were about non-Earth-1 characters. And all of the things you mentioned still happened. The merging of earths was surprisingly smooth, all things considered, and that was for one reason: Earth-2 was really the only one that anyone actually cared about.
All the other major earths had formerly been lines from other publishers, so erasing that continuity was fairly minimal, as they had histories pre-DC, anyway; fans of Captain Marvel and Blue Beetle had been down this road once before. It was Earth-2 that mattered.
It makes me wonder what would have happened if DC had simply let Earth-2 live and destroyed all the other earths.
Certainly would have made me happy, that’s for sure.
ZD: But not me. One of the jobs Crisis had to do was to bring in new readers, and that’s exactly what it did. By resetting to the beginning for series like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman, it gave readers like me a door into the DCU. As I have said, I started reading DC comics with Crisis. But it was the immediate follow-up series that kept me reading. John Byrne’s Man of Steel was the first Superman comics I had ever bought. Perez’s Wonder Woman #1 was the first Wonder Woman comic I had ever read.
It was precisely because they wiped the slate clean that I became a DC reader.
The integration of those series worked. I never new that Blue Beetle of Captain Marvel came from other universes … or much less that they were formerly the property other companies. I just knew that Justice League was one of the best written, best drawn comics I had ever seen.
And as a new reader, I was also intrigued by the idea of legacy. That was something lacking in Marvel, the idea of generations of superheroes, of passing of mantels. I was glad that there was just one Superman, one Wonder Woman, one Batman. But I was equally glad of the idea of there being two Flashes … not versions of the same person, but two actual characters that had shared the title. It was that sense of combined legacy that would eventually give birth to brilliant comics like Tony Harris and James Robinson’s Starman. That couldn’t have happened if they hadn’t smoothly integrated Earth 1.
I think that has actually been a problem with almost every reboot since Crisis. They don’t go all-in. They don’t create an elegant whole. They reboot some stuff, try to keep others with old continuity, and ultimately end up with a bunch of puzzle pieces that never quite fit.
KG: Although I have to point out that Crisis didn’t really go all in, either. Sacks and I were talking about this a while back and you can actually make a reasonable case that Batman and Green Lantern have never been completely rebooted, only tweaked. The Batman books don’t even blink when Crisis happens. I mean, they change Jason Todd’s origin completely, but just tell down the road, after the fact. We don’t start over with Batman, anymore than we do with Green Lantern. It’s actually kind of amazing, that you can make the case that Batman has been a victim of continuity tweaks for 75 years, but DC has never bothered to restart him.
So the post-Crisis DCU still had some work to do to make it all make sense.
ZD: A fair point, and probably one I missed because I never read Green Lantern. Although as a new reader it seemed like Batman was starting fresh with the rest of them. Maybe because he needed the least of amount of retooling. But Crisis did manage to take all those puzzle pieces, cut them and reshape them, throw some away and keep others, and forge them into a single, connective picture. One that was inviting and addictive to new readers.
But issue #11 is saying goodbye to some of those old pieces. And even though I knew nothing of these characters–had no idea who the Huntress was, or that there even was another Batman–Wolfman and Perez made me acknowledge that the loss was sad.