In honor of the 30th anniversary of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, CB will be running reviews of each issue — two reviews, in fact, one by those who have either never read the series or have read it in the last few years (the “First Timers”) and one by those who read it way back when — the “Old Timers.”
Kyle Garret: Crisis is indirectly responsible for pulling me into the DCU. It’s indirectly responsible because my first exposure to DC Comics was the original Who’s Who in the DC Universe, and many of those entries included things like “First Appearance: (pre-Crisis), (post-Crisis).” Each character was given two first appearances, which automatically piqued my interest. Then there was the fact that a lot of characters were listed as having died in some crazy “Crisis” event. Clearly, Crisis was a big deal.
Truth be told, when I eventually read Crisis a few years after it had been released, I only read half of it. I tracked down issue 1, 4, 7, 8, 10, and 12, but never bothered to complete the run. Back then, we didn’t need every story spoon fed to us — we could fill in the blanks on our own. A lot of times that was actually more fun. Now get off my lawn.
Zack Davisson: I had to do the math, but I was 13 when I grabbed the first issue of Crisis off the shelf back in 1985. I’d been reading comics for years, but I was a diehard Marvel guy. I loved the X-Men, and had a serious crush on Kitty Pryde. The place I shopped at had new issues and boxes of back issues for half-cover, which mean I read as backwards as often as I read forward. And I thought DC was crap. All their characters looked so old. All the covers were so melodramatic and over-the-top. What attracted me to Marvel was the characters, not the powers and fighting. I liked the issues where the X-Men played baseball, and discussed Peter and Kitty’s relationship. I liked the quiet moments. DC was just shouting and punching and big screaming faces.
DC had baited the hook for me a little bit with Teen Titans, and I was tempted. But back issues were basically what was available, and their weren’t a lot of Teen Titans in the bin. So I never made the leap.
I don’t even know why I picked up the first issue of Crisis. Most of it was the huge marketing push–there were adds everywhere. Most of it was meaningless to me. I didn’t know about Earth 1 or Earth 2. I didn’t know what was going on. But I knew it was something big, and for whatever reason that first issue made it into my pile that week.
Jason Sacks: I was a hardcore comics fan when I was in high school, but I also fancied myself a philosopher and a deep thinker. When I graduated high school in 1984, my bookshelf had works by Frank Miller and John Byrne set next to works by Plato, Camus and Vonnegut. So when time came to consider college, I contemplated most of the best liberal arts colleges west of the Mississippi, eventually settling on – and getting accepted to – tiny St. John’s College, a 300-student school set in the mountains around Santa Fe, New Mexico, in which students studied the Great Books of the Western World.
In my freshman year I found myself happily immersed in Aristotle and Aristophanes, studied geometry directly from Euclid, learned classical Greek. I met some very cool people drank too much, took drugs, and thoroughly enjoyed my time away from the suffocating life that I thought I had with my parents (in retrospect not nearly as bad as I thought it was — who has perspective when they’re 18?). I also didn’t read many comics. My workload was crazy (Thucydides’s The History of the Peloponnesian War was massively long and massively confusing) and my friendships were budding, and comics were kind of a nostalgic throwback. Also, I didn’t own a car and it was a chore to get into town from the hill on which the college was situated.
But one day I managed to get into Santa Fe’s lone comic book shop, and picked up a stack of new comics that day. Their beckoning boldness and visual storytelling were delightful contrasts from my studies. Rather than puzzling out the meaning of Plato’s cave analogy, I could spend time considering why Magneto hated the X-Men, and the release was bold and intense.
The best release of them all was Crisis on Infinite Earths #1. That first issue was so colorful, so bold and assured and full of George Perez’s slick designs, that I collapsed into a pool of happy relief as I read it in my room in the Thalia dorm. I felt my brain unclench, felt free and unburdened again, took a half-hour vacation.
Much like a song that reminds you of a certain era of your life, Crisis always resurrects that feeling of pure joy and release in me.
Daniel Gehen: I’m admittedly a bit younger than my fellow “old-timers.” Alas, Crisis on Infinite Earths was among the first comics I ever read. When I was five or six (the exact age escapes me), my parents bought me one of those boxes of assorted comics for Christmas. Though it contained comics from various publishers, the ones from DC drew me in. Detective Comics #641, Tales of the Teen Titans #44, and multiple issues of Who’s Who drew me into a universe which I needed to know more about. There were a few other notable issues in that box of random comics: Crisis on Infinite Earths #1, Crisis on Infinite Earths #3, and Crisis on Infinite Earths #7.
Recognizing the size and scope of the greater story, those three comics drove me insane. The banner across the top was taunting me: “12 Part Maxi-Series.” Where were those other nine issues? The few copies of Who’s Who added fuel to the fire, with character descriptions adorned with “Pre-Crisis” and “Post-Crisis” monikers.
It would be years later when I would finally read the entirety of Crisis, at which point I was already deeply entrenched in the post-Crisis DC Universe. At that point, all the secrets, twists, and surprises from that tale had already been spoiled, but it didn’t matter to me. Flipping through those dense, intricately detailed pages from start to finish recaptured the wonder and awe that had been ignited years before.
KG: It’s crazy how important that first Who’s Who series was. I wonder if the New 52 would have gone a bit smoother had they published something like that?
Also, Zack is older than me. Booyah.
DG: Agreed. Comparing the execution of Crisis to the New 52, you can see how well laid out and meticulously planned the former was, while the latter was clearly rushed. I don’t think DC could have done a proper Who’s Who because even they didn’t know what was really going on with their characters. Frankly, I don’t know if we’ll ever get a series like Who’s Who.
ZD: Not only Who’s Who, but also the History of the DC Universe series they put out following Crisis. The whole thing was a perfect introduction to the DC Universe for beginners.
One of the interesting things about that first issue is how few hooks there are. They start right out with the C Team. People like Pariah, the Crime Syndicate, Dawnstar, Firebrand, freakin’ Gorilla City and Arion Lord of Atlantis. Who were these people? No one I knew.
One of the geniuses of Marv Wolfman’s writing in Crisis–and you will hear me talk about this a lot, I think–is how he managed to make me care about characters I had never heard of within a few panels. He makes sure everyone’s name is shouted, and then develops their personalities just enough to make me care that they die. Like Uberman. That was brilliant writing. And the Firestorm/Killer Frost dynamic hooked me from the start too, adding that human element I loved so much in Marvel’s X-Men.
JS: It was a risky move, too, because it’s important at the beginning of a story to grab a reader and not let him or her go. It would have been easy to have the story feature some of DC’s big names of the era — the “real” Superman and Batman are conspicuous in their absence.
DG: When you look at the work Wolfman had been doing in the pages of The New Teen Titans, it’s not a surprise that he’s able to forge an immediate connection between the reader and this cast of either unknown or obscure characters. Wolfman had been around for a while, but he was truly able to refine his writing on arcs such as “The Judas Contract.” He was the obvious choice to write this story.
In revisiting this, I marveled at the amount of material that was packed into this issue. The concept of the Multiverse is explained on the first page, we meet Pariah, and then the Crime Syndicate is wiped out a couple pages later. Something like this would never be published in today’s world of decompressed storytelling. The gathering of these various characters for the Monitor would be it’s own “Prelude to Crisis” miniseries.
Speaking of dense material, how fantastic that cover by George Perez? I can’t imagine any artist working in the industry back then that could have pulled off this comic.
KG: And when was the last time you read a comic that not only used the word “infinitude,” but used it multiple times? I think people sometimes forget that Wolfman hung out at the Marvel offices in the ’70s, if you know what I’m saying.
But to Zack’s point, the cast Wolfman decided to focus on is fantastic and I’d love to know how they were chosen. I’m sure if we delved into it we could find a pattern of some sort. At the very least, Wolfman was pushing for some diversity here, something he’d already been doing in Teen Titans. I mean, sure, this was only 30 years ago, but comics haven’t evolved much.
That crazy cast was what sucked me in. Like Zack, I had no idea who most of them were, but I loved that. I loved that I could get to know them. And I loved that they all these extensive histories, which, of course, was probably a bad thing for me to fall in love with, given the entire purpose of this series.
ZB: It’s almost deliberate, as if showing that the DC Universe is so much more vast than the “Big 3.” In fact, compared to modern comics one of the most shocking things is probably the lack of Batman. This was before the modern era of Batman worship. It’s like going back to Bronze Age Marvel before Wolverine appeared in every single comic. There was more a focus on a diversity of characters instead of focusing on a few superstars.
DG: Absolutely. When you look at DC’s biggest franchises in the 1980s, it wasn’t Batman or Superman leading the charge. The New Teen Titans, Legion of Superheroes, and The Outsiders are what people were grabbing off the shelf. Many characters that people would label as “obscure” were getting their own series – or at the very least a four issue miniseries. Red Tornado, Wild Dog, El Diablo, Checkmate, and Hex (Jonah Hex in the far future) were given their chance to shine. In many ways, DC’s plans for their books post-Convergence embraces the diversity of their universe in ways we haven’t seen since the days before Crisis.
The cast that the Monitor assembles for his mission is certainly eclectic. There’s some heroes and some villains. There’s A-list characters and some from the D-list. If anyone read some of the issues leading up to Crisis, this is a precise, strategically picked group of characters. Undoubtedly the diverse cast brings with it conflict that can lead to some fun storytelling. However, Wolfman’s choices are likely to reconcile the Monitor’s villainous portrayal in his pre-Crisis cameos.
KG: That’s so funny, because I’m writing about the tie-in issues leading up to Crisis and a big chunk of the discussion is focused on that very thing — that the Monitor was set up to be this big time bad guy, yet the reality isn’t that at all. I’m not sure that was entirely necessary, either. He was simply gathering information and testing people, neither of which required him to be an up and up bad guy. But I suppose it was entirely more interesting this way.
In just a few pages, we meet Pariah, we meet Lyla/Harbinger, and we meet the shadow creatures who will play a big role as cannon fodder and convenient punching bags as the series progresses. We also see the Crime Syndicate act heroically, underscore how the coming crisis changes everything. But most importantly, we meet Alexander and Lois Luthor of Earth-3, who cast their infant child out into the multiverse, the last survivor of a doomed universe.
I have to admit that this is a nice angle from Wolfman and Perez. Giving a Luthor the same origin as Superman yet on a grander scale is a wonderful nod to how the DCU started and yet how completely different it would become.
ZD: I’ve never even considered that, because the Monitor set-up was lost on me as a non-DC reader. It certainly didn’t affect my reading of the series at all. I just accepted him for what he was right at the start–as someone beyond the “good vs evil” dichotomy.
And it’s great how that works. All those things you mentioned; Wolfman and Perez managed the balance perfectly, satisfying both longtime readers and newbies like me dipping their toe into the DC Universe for the first time with Crisis #1.