Jason Sacks: Oh, you with dead souls and lack of patience, I pity you. I truly do. Because those of you in the newcomers’ camp who decry Crisis #7 for not being as good as Alan Moore’s comics, well, I’m glad I’m not you. I’m glad I’m not dead to the pure joy and heroic transcendence that comes from reading a comic in the context of its time and for seeing the elements of greatness in the midst of storytelling tropes that we’re conditioned not to like. The ’80s were a decade of hair metal and synths, and we’re conditioned not to like those elements in our music (well, I still like “Don’t You Want Me Baby” and “Cherry Bomb” but you know what I mean here). The ’80s were the decade of our worst President, who used decent communication skills to camouflage a truly nefarious agenda and a deeply flawed ideology, and we loved him. The ’80s were about Members Only jackets and parachute pants and jeri-curl and over-groomed hair on women. It was, in short, not the high point of American culture.
At the same time, the ’80s were the decade of “Thriller” and Alan Moore, of Miami Vice, which is way better than it should be, and of some truly great comics. And despite my deep and passionate love for Alan Moore’s work that dates back to his very first work for American comics (I literally have a review of his second American comic, Saga of the Swamp Thing #21 in a 1981 fanzine), I also love Crisis #7.
Sure, this comic is wordy, but if you love Moore you have to love Wolfman here. Moore never wrote anything good that wasn’t wordy — in fact, that’s a good way to tell good Moore from bad Moore at a glance, the wordiness. Miracleman has many words and it’s great; Violator has few words and it’s terrible.
But more than that, you’re allowing the style that you don’t like to detract from the core of this issue, from the essence of what makes it one of the most memorable comics of its era. You’re missing how Supergirl, one of the most despised and mocked heroines of her era; a fashion victim and a woman without discernable personality, truly comes into her own. She shows the essence of herself in this gorgeous comic, shows why she’s Superman’s equal not just in powers but also in personality and perseverance and internal fire, and finally, at long last, we come to love this character whom we once offhandedly hated.
This comic is transcendent not just because of all the continuity bullshit, which is after all the summation of a classic and longstanding universe, but it’s also the recognition of how special that universe was. It delivers an emotion that we didn’t realize what we were losing until we lost it. It paradoxically shows the brilliance of a dying universe.
If you can’t see that here; if you just see the words and not the meaning and power behind the words, then I truly feel bad for you. This is stirring, powerful, delightful stuff that acts as a parable and elegy, telling us what we’ve lost in a way that we never expected. This is change. This is power. This is humanity.
Kyle Garret: Well said, Jason! I can tell how much this issue meant to you, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this confrontational before. But you’re being eloquent about it.
It’s funny because I find the purple prose in much of Miracle Man to be too much for me. I actually like a lot of what Gaiman did better because of it. Let’s not forget that this is the decade where the X-Men by Chris Claremont became a big deal, and that man wrote like he was getting paid by the word, too. This was the style.
The problem, of course, is that the long winded prose is couple with 10 pages of exposition before we ever get to the emotional crux of the story. Even reading it years ago, I remember that being a huge narrative misstep in my eyes. This issue was supposed to be the big one and it just takes forever to actually get going. Did it still resonate with me? Sure. But I feel like it could have had so much more of an impact if I hadn’t been beaten down by “the Secret History of the DCU” for a third of the issue.
But that’s the thing about this series: it seems crazy padded, yet the padding isn’t bad writing, it’s an attempt at being all things to all people. I’m thrilled to see the original Earth-4 and Earth-5 characters here. Do they need to appear in every single issue multiple times? Do all of them need to appear? No. But this is the last hurrah and Wolfman and Perez were trying to give every single one of these characters some screen time. Not for nothing, but I’d much rather have this than something like Flashpoint.
Zack Davisson: You are all speaking my language here. This is such a stellar comic. Such a phenomenal comic. A transcendant comic. This is the essence of what makes the American superhero comic such a beautiful thing, all the agony and the ecstasy writ large. One of the few comic books to actually make me shed tears (Another one, Teen Titans #38, was also by Wolfman/Perez). And I love that fact that it hits you in the face straight with that cover. No attempt at shocking you, no attempt to hid what is inside. It’s right there, with one big crying Superman.
Daniel Gehen: I’m all for covers teasing what happens in the book, but this is a little over the line. I know the cover, featuring Superman agonizing as he holds the lifeless body of Supergirl has become iconic (an nice tip of the hat to Uncanny X-Men #136), but if this came out today there’d be a shit-storm from the fan community. But it didn’t come out today. It came out 30 years ago. I think it’s a testament to the difference in the mindsets between readers with modern and old-school sensibilities. Instead of seeing Supergirl’s rumpled corpse thinking “I can’t believe they spoiled it!” and then proceeding to rage-read the issue, I thought “are they actually going to do this?”
KG: Although, in defense of the cover, if this came out today, Supergirl’s death would have been revealed by USA Today the Tuesday before it was released.
DG: Good point, Kyle! God, I would hate that.
Still, coming in at well over 40 pages of 1980s-style writing, Perez and Wolfman make readers work hard for that payoff. I’ll admit that over the course of this Crisis revisit, the dense, exposition-based writing is almost a chore to work through. But if this exercise has proven anything, it is that we Old Timers are able to see the forest for the trees. Alan Moore’s works are undoubtedly great, but holding every work up to the transcendent efforts of any era is a fruitless endeavor. The “challenger” will always pale in comparison to the timeless piece. Stuck on their dislike for the details, the reader will miss out on a lot of material that resonates on a big-picture scale. There is a ton of material to unpack here, and the 1980s’ version of Wolfman makes reading any issue of Crisis a big time commitment. This issue was twice the length of a regular issue, and it honestly read like two issues smushed together into one.
ZD: The wordiness complaint drives me a little crazy. Like music, like art, writing styles change with time. A change in style shouldn’t invalidate everything that came before it. I had the same conversation about reading old novels recently, and about the wordiness of writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens. These were written for a different audience with different attention spans. You need to set your expectations properly when you dive into them, and see the craft and genius there.
Like Jason said, I’m pity those whose short attention spans limit what they can appreciate to the post-modern sound bite and easily consumable culture. I like a writer who paces a story slowly without needing to fire it at you like a machine gun.
DG: I’m glad that Wolfman took the time to finally lay out the main plot points of this event. Since issue #1, we’ve seen the Anti-Monitor and the Monitor’s cosmic chess game, but their motivations remained unclear. To be honest, the idea that one was inherently good while the other was inherently evil is the only element that stood out as relic from the past, which in a weird way was even more refreshing. I can see Geoff Johns in Justice League‘s “Darkseid War” giving some psychological motivation to the Anti-Monitor’s actions, when just having him be a force of evil is sufficient.
ZD: I was just talking about that recently about older comics, how there were less forced explanations. Mainly with Tawky Tawny, the talking tiger of the Marvel Family. So many modern writers feel the need to create convoluted explanations on why he exits, but the older, simpler explanation actually works best–he’s a tiger who found a suit and a book and decided to put them on and start talking. That is pure, uncomplicated genius.
DG: Pariah’s origin is easily the most trope-ridden; the bold scientist who is forced to atone for his sin of seeking knowledge and explanation for theological constructs. It is something that has been done many times, but were those tropes clearly defined back in 1985? I’m reminded of the introduction on the home-release of the classic film, Casablanca, where it describes the film as establishing many of the storytelling cliches that would pop up in hundreds of films since its release. I would argue that it isn’t fair to refer to a work as full of cliches if such storytelling elements were in their infancy. “Pioneer” might be a more appropriate term.
ZD: The same with Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. So many of Kurosawa’s innovations have been infinitely copied and re-copied that people seem to forget they weren’t tired old tropes from the beginning. Someone had to invent them.
DG: The second half of this issue is the real reason I read superhero comics. It’s full of big, cinematic artwork and heroes being heroes. It is this issue where George Perez truly earned his status as a comic book legend. The sprawling, double-page spread as the heroes descend upon the Anti-Monitor’s fortress informs readers that some serious shit is about to go down. I could spend time talking about the team dynamics and how futile their efforts against the Anti-Monitor are, but the reason we’ve gathered for this issue is the death of Supergirl.
I’ll be honest, I had never read any of Kara Zor-El’s adventures prior to diving into Crisis. In fact, my only exposure had been the 1984 movie, and I was too young and stupid at the time to realize how bad it was. But in the span of 10 pages, Wolfman and Perez made me fall in love with a character, and then ripped my heart out. As celebrated as Barry Allen’s death is, the DC Univerese would not have been saved if not for Supergirl’s act of self-sacrifice. In taking on the Anti-Monitor alone, she enables the other heroes to regroup and destroys the Anti-Monitor’s corporeal form. And she does this knowing that she is not coming out alive. Though Crisis effectively erased Kara from continuity, the in-story effects from her death are moving and powerful. It’s truly a great work from two of comics’ legendary creators.
KG: And credit to Wolfman and Perez for realizing that Supergirl (and Barry Allen) had to die well in advance of the conclusion of the series. We needed to be able to see the reactions from the other characters to really feel the weight of her death. Had Supergirl died in #12, we never would have gotten any of that. Her death would have been irrelevant, really, as she was erased from existence, anyway.
ZD: That’s a good point and one I never thought about. Her sacrifice and death is ultimately rendered meaningless as here entire existence was wiped away. Although it wasn’t really, because her death is what gave her meaning.
KG: The only down side to that is that part of me wishes Crisis didn’t end the way it does. Imagine if we didn’t get the reboots. Imagine a Superman who was now dealing with the death of his cousin. They keep trying to get Superman to be more human — that would have done the trick.
ZD: But it had to end the way it did. DC’s comic universe really was a mess, the hard reboot of Crisis was exactly what was needed. Look at all the great stories that have come since then, not to mention all the wonderful things accomplished by writers and artists who were given essentially a blank slate.
Although some of the characters never really recovered. I am hard pressed to think of a single Supergirl story that rises to the same power and resonance as this one–her last.