It would not be overstating it to say that “Crisis On Infinite Earths” was one of the biggest moments in comic book history. People point to Fantastic Four #1 as changing the course of comics, but if that’s true, then Crisis closed a very long chapter in superhero history, while simultaneously opening one for corporately own comics.
But I’ll let Jason talk about that more in his piece about the historical context of Crisis. What I’m going to focus on is the fact that Crisis created a type of event in superhero comics, one that was recently duplicated at DC with “Flashpoint.”
The “retcon” isn’t unusual in shared universe comics. Both Marvel and DC would change history with reckless abandon, because why not? The larger the universes got, the more inconsistencies cropped up, the more retcons were needed, and the messier the whole thing got. Crisis was DC’s attempt to fix their universe(s).
While Dan Didio may want us to connect Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis to the original, they simply aren’t really anything like it. Neither series had the kind of impact the original had. There were thematic elements across the three of them, but beyond that they didn’t have much in common. It would be easy to disregard Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis altogether, to be honest. Neither is a marking point for DC’s “Convergence” books, yet “Zero Hour” is.
The interesting thing about Final Crisis is that it was initially meant to be the instigating event for the New 52, which means it truly would have been the book end DC pretended it was. Legend has it that then DC president Paul Levitz wasn’t on board with rebooting the entire universe again, so plans for the New 52 were put on hold (until after Levitz stepped down).
Go back and read Final Crisis with this knowledge. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
You can see how much better that story is and how much better the New 52 launch would have been if Final Crisis had ended the old DCU. We would have gotten a new world, formed by the Miracle Machine via Superman’s whistling (god bless you, comics). Perhaps more importantly, we would have actually seen all of the current DC characters fighting for their lives and going out with a bang instead of, you know, not appearing in the comic at all (god damn you, Flashpoint).
A lot of the mistakes we saw with the New 52 may have been corrected, too. A big problem with the relaunch was DC’s insistence on keeping the Green Lantern and Batman books somehow connected to their pasts. Every other series rebooted from scratch (basically), but not these two franchises. This was, clearly, based on sales numbers. DC was afraid to do anything to the GL or Bat lines for fear of alienating the large number of readers they had. But at this point in the Batman line, RIP had just ended, so the massive changes that came with Bruce Wayne’s “death” hadn’t happened. In fact, there was really nothing to prevent them from rebooting the Bat books. Dick Grayson hadn’t become Batman, Damien hadn’t become Robin, Tim Drake hadn’t become Red Robin, and Stephanie Brown hadn’t become Batgirl. They literally could have started over, with Batman as a solo vigilante until a teenage Dick Grayson showed up. Imagine how much ridiculous dancing and retconning could have been avoided.
These are the kinds of things that keep me up at night.
Crisis, to its credit, was story driven. DC’s multiverse had made its history confusing. The problem was that the plan to fix that was by merging the multiple earths into one. At the very least, you could probably keep the history of, say, Earth-1 straight, and you could be forgiven if you weren’t up on Earth-2 or Earth-C or whatever. But post-Crisis, DC had pulled characters and stories from multiple Earths and smashed them into one. How does that simplify anything? How does making the WWII heroes a part of Earth-1 streamline the DCU? Instead of making the universe easier to understand, it complicated it. The theory, I would imagine, is that over time it would work out, much like Marvel’s philosophy on Spider-man’s deal with the devil — eventually, the new status quo will have been around for so long that it will be all people ever knew.
But there were constant reminders of the past. Most DC titles didn’t restart post-Crisis, and many barely acknowledged what happened. Aside from Jason Todd’s origin (and hair color) changing, you’d be hard pressed to notice a huge difference in the Bat books when Crisis was over. Even books that were impacted on a massive scale — like All Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc. — continued with their current numbering and just crammed the new origins in as they went along.
DC wanted to have its cake and eat it, too, which was the problem. If you’re going to reboot your line, either do it or don’t.
Flashpoint was sales driven and you can tell. At least Crisis was an interesting and often insane story. Flashpoint was a ploy. It featured exactly one character from the DCU, one who had only been resurrected a few years earlier, one who hadn’t been a prominent figure in the DCU since…before Crisis. So, clearly this was the character you wanted as the focus for your universe altering story line.
In other words, the DCU was ending and none of the characters actually played a part in it.
Although DC was smart enough to actually restart all their books this time around, they still wanted to eat that cake. This time they wanted to hold on to the Batman books and the Green Lantern books, because both franchises were selling really well. Flashpoint wasn’t meant to restart the parts of the DCU that weren’t selling. So as not to alienate any of the many GL and Batman fans, they decided to keep those books connected to what came before, but to what extent no one really knew.
It’s interesting to note that a reasonable argument could be made that the Batman family has never been completely rebooted, and still exists from its original form. There have been dozens of retcons, sure, but it continued on post-Crisis and again post-Flashpoint, full of connections to stories that happened prior to each event. You could probably make the same case for Green Lantern, too.
Much of the difference between the two series can be seen in how they came about: the seeds for Crisis were planted as early as 1982, nearly 3 years before Crisis would begin. There were no seeds for Flashpoint; it just happened.
It’s much easier to make the case that Crisis was successful in this regard than it is for Flashpoint, or more specifically for the New 52. Granted, Crisis’ version of modernizing was very different than the New 52’s, simply because of the time. Expectation levels were different.
Modernization, as it stood for Crisis, revolved around Superman and Wonder Woman. The solution to their out dated titles was to bring in two of the biggest names in comics at the time: John Byrne and George Perez, the latter of whom was drawing Crisis. Both were given free reign to write and draw Superman and Wonder Woman respectively. DC was doing everything they could to get the two languishing members of the DC trinity relevant again.
Were they successful? Well, the problem is that comics aren’t particularly fluid, at least as far as corporately owned superhero comics are concerned. Change is hard to come by. And while Superman and Wonder Woman may have become all shiny and new post-Crisis, time would eventually catch up with them all over again, and they would become dated.
This much was clear by the fact that the New 52 versions of these characters were very different than their predecessors. Again, these two needed to be overhauled in such a way as to make them more relevant.
The continued rebooting of Superman and Wonder Woman is less an indictment on those characters than it is an indication of how unique Batman is. More so than any other superhero, Batman is a reflection of the times. Readers are able to process a Batman that changes from year to year, but changes to Superman and Wonder Woman feel much more drastic.
Here’s the strange thing about Crisis: technically speaking it’s now irrelevant, at least as far as the modern DCU is concerned. The pre-Crisis/post-Crisis distinction is a thing of the past. The pre-reboot universe is now the pre-Flashpoint one. The Justice Society fought during WWII on the same Earth as the Justice League. That’s what people will remember, those that remember a Justice Society at all.
Nothing puts more distance between the current universe and an old one like a second reboot.
But it would be hard to end any rumination of these two reboots without considering the elephant in the room: when will it happen again? It took 50 years for DC to do it the first time around (I’d argue 47, but why quibble) and only 26 after that.
I’m putting my money on 2026.