“Worlds will live, worlds will die and nothing will ever be the same.”
When I first read this tagline for DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths as a kid it sent shivers down my spine. Now re-reading it as an adult, there’s an even more tremendous effect. Getting into comics as a kid I was recommended Crisis On Infinite Earths (let’s cut it down to “COIE”) more than a few times, which looking back at it is weird due to this epic being an event covering all of DC’s history and paving the way of the future. As a new reader you would believe there was a need to read all the previous comics. Nay, one could read this as a newcomer, knowing the history would help but not knowing much doesn’t hinder the enjoyment. We will look at this statement later, now let’s give a ever brief history of the idea of COIE.
As editor of Green Lantern, Marv Wolfman received a letter from a fan asking why a character didn’t recognize Green Lantern even though he worked with him years ago in a previous issue. This letter would kick start the idea to combine all of the expansive DC Multiverse into one unified DCU for ease of access. The epic was originally planned for 1983, but due to the large scope of research it was pushed back to 1985 – which perfectly corresponded with DC’s 50th anniversary. Wolfman would begin planting seeds as soon as 1982 with a glimpse of the Monitor in The New Teen Titans #21. With the help of frequent collaborator George Perez, Wolfman’s Crisis on Infinite Earths would pave the way for large scale crossovers in comics and yearly events, even though wasn’t the first.
Thirty-four years after it’s initial release, we have a great abundance of “earth shattering, cosmic changing” events in comics, but in my very humble opinion few have come close to the feeling COIE gives. When first released it shocked and stunned readers with the death of Barry Allen (Flash) and Supergirl, among many earths dying or merging into one. The scale was so large that all DC titles were impacted changing histories and adding new characters from other companies such as Fawcett Publications, the home of Shazam (Captain Marvel) and family. In this day in age characters, die and are resurrected like they have the seven Dragon balls, but that wasn’t always the case. Heroes rarely died until COIE came around and threw that out the window. A different Supergirl emerged years later (another confusing story), but with the death of Barry Allen we didn’t see him completely brought back until Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis (2009). DC stood by their tagline (“Worlds will live, worlds will die and nothing will ever be the same”) and hit the ground running, changing comic history forever.
Wolfman knows how to work magic when dealing with hundreds of characters. For some it’s hard to write a team, but for him that wasn’t enough, having brought characters from the distant past and present into one huge, life-changing story. For the time, the story itself was unique and unheard of, but Wolfman’s writing made it easily accessible to new readers while at the same time being an Easter egg-filled love letter to long time fans. Each character acted and spoke as they had previously been written and stood out compared to the other dozens of characters in a story that could’ve made many of the heroes or villains blend together. Wolfman’s fantastic writing made all the characters stand apart from each other.
When writing The New Teen Titans Wolfman had a equally talented partner in the one and only George Pérez (whom recently retired). It’s hard to put into words how great Pérez’s art is. It’s ground-breaking, beautiful, realistic, one-of-a-kind, and jaw-dropping. In each piece of art he hides layers upon layers of details that are so minuscule in the grand scheme of things, but shows how much each panel, character, and detail means to him. When he found out that he was doing the art for COIE, he studied how each character looked, moved, and acted. Looking back at it years later, his double page spreads fit so many characters and details that they could be placed in an art museum and not look out of place.
With the success of COIE, DC began yearly summer Events, and Marvel would follow suit – bolstered by the success of Crisis and its own Secret Wars in 1984. With each new event it felt more like a cash grab and less like a way to bring convoluted stories together fixing history and simplifying the stories. As a kid I remember seeing event’s constantly toting the “everything will change” slogan but never feeling like anything did change.
Having again re-read this for the hundredth time, the story still hits hard and feels like a celebration of DC’s fifty years. With each read it seems that there is always something new and unexplored hiding in the panels. I have recommended this comic numerous times and would still tell newcomers and veterans to read it again, or for the first time.
Closing Note: Next year (2020) COIE turns 35, and the CW’s “Arrow-verse” will be bringing this epic to the small screen! Now I just need to catch up on multiple seasons…