Daniel Elkin: … here we go again. Gin poured. Loins girded. Time to wade into another seemingly infinite cage housing this 5,000 pound drunken gorilla covered in scabies and smelling like sewage which, in 1985, DC Comics called CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS! It’s issue #4 this time and I know that, by the end of this one, I’ll be once again suitably drunk, pissed off, and brimming with as yet undreamed of curses for Marv Wolfman and George Perez and corporate comics and fucking superheroes….
Pffffffttttt. Fucking superheroes….
Okay, page one is a pink text-box bedazzled splash page of a vast urban skyline festooned with dark beige blank billboards at night while anti-matter consumes the city to the right. The focus, though, is on an upskirt shot of Supergirl flying into an electrical storm. Of course, as this is Crisis, there is a ton of text on this page.
What is she saying…? Hmmmmmm … wait… what’s this? Hold on… Well… Golly. Seems I may have to read this whole issue first before I go any further. Let me get back to you. It might take a few minutes. That should give you ample time to re-focus your social media outrage on some new target or whatever it is that you do with your time these days.
I can’t believe it.
Brace yourself for this, but issue 4 of Crisis on Infinite Earths isn’t entirely a claw-out-my-eyes kind of experience. There are some moments, brief though they may be, that were emotionally true, heart-breaking, and, dare I say it, heroic.
Let’s start with those first few pages. Sure, Supergirl looks like she could be in Loverboy’s When It’s Over video, what with her red headband tight across her blonde Farrah hair. And don’t even get me started on the mini-skirt.
But what she says in her conversation with Batgirl made me remember an interaction I had with Crisis Old-Timer Zack Davisson on Twitter after our respective “reviews” of Crisis #3 ran:
@DanielElkin It`s because superheroes represent hope. If you hate superheroes, you hate hope.
— Zack Davisson (@ZackDavisson) May 5, 2015
At the time, I totally “Pffffffttttttt’ed” Zack’s seemingly sentimental statement. But after reading the opening pages of Crisis #4, I had a … what do you call it? Oh yea, a change of heart.
Here in the midst of the world being destroyed, Supergirl says, “Barbara, there are thousands of people out there — without powers like mine… the police, firemen, soldiers — they’re all ordinary people trying their best to keep this world from falling apart before its time.”
Then, using her super-vision (or whatever), she sees “a small plane — North of the city. It’s falling apart.” Her earlier declaration of keeping things from falling apart is now echoed directly in her observation of this plane. So, what does she do? Why she flies off to save it, of course.
The pilot asks Supergirl why she would risk her life to save his if “we’re all going to die anyway?” She responds, “We fight to live as long as we can. That’s the only way to live… and to be able to live with yourself.”
Sure, her response is a little ham-handed and infused with a slight musk of mawkishness, but it is an emotional beat that stands out as reverberating something true. It’s that “hope” that Davisson refers to in his tweet. There is substance behind its sap — aspiration, endeavor, yearning — yes, hope. Batgirl calls her “A hero through and through…” The pure unselfish act done solely so others can succeed is truly the act of a hero. It makes the world a better place; it gives us something towards which we can aspire.
Of course, given that this is still Crisis on Infinite Earths, the moment is undermined in the next beat by some weird eight panel sequence between a drinking John Constantine and a smoking Steve Dayton that is, thanks to fucked up word balloon placement (is Constantine’s ass admonishing him?) and a creepy Swamp Thing reference, horrifically off-putting, but, regardless, the heroic moment exists for a moment and that moment makes all the difference.
Another thing I noticed is that issue four is the LOVE issue, with the word popping up over and over again, usually at a moment of death or disappearance, always between parent and child. First it’s Lord Volt (who?) saying it to his daughter as she dies. Then it’s Dr. Hosi’s father saying it after she vanishes. Finally, as she blasts a hole through his chest, Lyla struggles to say it to the Monitor. What’s up with all the love? Tina Turner wanted to know this in the year before this book came out. Huey Lewis wanted to know the year after. Maybe Marv Wolfman was just tapping into the zeitgeist.
Anyway, back to the ideas of hope and heroism and me saying nice things about Crisis. Another moment occurs when, after being called a “moron” by the new Dr. Light (who is a horribly racist and misogynist character worthy of your Tumblr outrage), Superman echoes Supergirl’s earlier heroism, talking about working so hard to “make the Earth a good place to live” and ends it with “what can I do to save our world? Tell me … and I’ll sacrifice my own life if need be.” Again, it’s an emotional beat that represents what, perhaps, is the purpose of a character like Superman, the embodiment of the ideal of selflessness, a spandex-clad, underwear-on-the-outside, cape-wearing symbol of HOPE (in BRIGHT colors, Warner Bros … BRIGHT!).
I see this now. I think I’m beginning to grok Davisson’s enthusiasm, his LOVE, for this series.
Crisis #4 is certainly a turning point in my understanding of why these books resonate with so many fans of these sorts of comics. I mean, dig that five panel scene with Wonder Woman in which Wolfman kind of explores the complex nature of the relationship between a mother and her daughter. And then there are the last three pages of this book which are as beautiful as they are powerful. Wolfman steps out of the way and lets Perez do the storytelling as we bear witness to the annihilation of universes on a cosmic scale.
I found myself raising my glass at the end, not so I could suck it dry in a desperate attempt to drown my horror, but rather as a toast to something grand and something compelling.
I don’t know guys. I almost didn’t mind the fact that they kept calling Psycho Pirate by his full name, or that Pariah’s mouth keeps getting larger and larger as if his jaws were joined by an elastic ligament, or that the penis-pylons are apparently cosmic tuning forks, or that nobody knows if Red Tornado is an robot or android or cyborg or what, or that Starfire at one point needs “a moment”. Maybe it’s time to can my cynicism, put away my politics, reduce my rage, and embrace this Crisis as something of value after all?
Eight more issues, my friends. Eight more issues.
Ray Sonne: Goddamnit, Davisson.
So I held off on the drinking after seeing Elkin’s heel-face turn, understanding that my disappointment with Crisis on Infinite Earths in comparison to modern superhero comics may end with this issue. Now I need to drink because this issue has made me disappointed with modern superhero comics.
Man, those tables turned quickly.
Elkin, I’m not quite sure where you got the impression that the new Dr. Light is an example of a racist and sexist character because I was thinking the exact opposite when she appeared. She is, in fact, one example out of many female characters in this issue, which is something you don’t see in most media. Since we’re talking superhero comics, I’ll keep it to that, but I think we’re all in agreement that the majority of such books have the one personality-less character known as The Chick and not much more in terms of female representation.
On the other hand, Crisis #4 has Supergirl as a True Hero, Dr. Light as The Bitch (my favorite kind of female character), and even a short sequence where Wonder Woman is The Daughter. None of these women are “chicks.” One is defined by her accepting the death of her second home planet and acting heroic despite that. The second is defined by her ruthless ambition. The third is defined by a relationship and instead of it being a romantic/sexual relationship with a man, its with another woman and, EVEN BETTER, her mother, which thematically resonates with the rest of the issue.
Mysterious how for years the comics industry insisted they couldn’t figure out female characters when Wolfman and Perez–who after this event took over the Wonder Woman title–seemed to be doing just fine?
Okay, I’m going to introduce my rage now. I’ll try not to mention how Grant Morrison, the writer and head of the most relevant part of DC’s most recent event, is a symbol of backwards progress in superhero comics because Multiversity had no important recurring female characters, heroes or villains, while Crisis had several, BUT WHOOPS THERE I GO MY ANGER FRITTERS AWAY INTO THE NIGHT what was I saying oh yes, Dr. Light is great and I am going to use my tweet pondering on female characters a few days ago to tell you why.
Batwoman was the first superhero I ever wanted to BE. She may have been the first female character I really wanted to be.
— Ray Sonne (@RaySonne) May 8, 2015
Note that the Batwoman I’m referring to, Kate Kane, was only created relatively recently in 2006. I may have first read Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and JH Williams III in 2012.
Unless the original Kathy Kane plans on showing up in this event (hopefully not), if we were to replace “Batwoman” with any of the four total female characters that showed up in this Crisis issue I would pick Dr. Light in a heartbeat. Yeah, sure, Supergirl is fine and I totally believe what she says about wanting to keep saving people. But do you have any appreciation how hard Dr. Hosi had to work in order to claw her way up through these ranks of men (do you see any other female scientists in those panels? No? Think of why) in order to get to a position to be the BOSS of them all? Her father says, “I did not raise my daughter to be so cold.” Well thanks, Dad, for never thinking of how if women want to get anywhere in their career they are demanded to never show weakness otherwise it will be “confirmed” that they truly are naturally more incompetent and “hysterical” than their male colleagues.
“Never cry,” the real-life women CEOs always advised other women in the interviews I read as a soon-to-be entry-level worker. Those people weren’t even in STEM jobs, which are notoriously the the least female-friendly places to work.
Dr. Hosi is cold because she obviously had to go through a metric ton of sexist shit in her life in order to get where she is. And I commend her and any real-life woman like her for it.
Men get their Venoms and Lex Luthors while I get crap like fucking Harbinger (regardless of whether or not she gets better, which is looking like a possibility that didn’t exist before this issue). Men get their Wolverines and I get Dr. Light and then someone says that she’s sexist. No. No, no, no, and no. I will enjoy my imperfect, ruthless female character and I will enjoy her the same way dudebros enjoy the Punisher and Batman. For now–I can’t do it permanently as DC IS NOT CURRENTLY USING HER AND ALL MY OTHER FAVORITE BITCHES.
God, DC, FIX THAT.
I’m going to drink this whole bottle of wine and pass out so I can forget how Crisis represents gender progress that was unraveled like a year later thanks to the so-called Dark Age of superhero comics. Maybe I’ll have dreams about being a character like Dr. Light because I wanna run my own research facility and have people listen to me and become the smartest superhero in the room and SURVIVE SHIT! We’re talking about how superheroes resemble hope before, but there’s a reason they also represent wishes.
(P.S. George Perez’s work was impressive before this issue, but those last three pages? Talk about bringing your A game.)
Elkin: Hey, I hear you, Sonne. As a middle-aged white man, I guess I just don’t have the access or perspective necessary to truly appreciate the power of this Dr. Light. Interestingly, I guess her portrayal struck me as racist and misogynist because of the very qualities you admire.
Still, it strikes me as an enormous shame or something akin to it that in order for this woman to be taken seriously in her role as a leader of men, she must cut off some of the very qualities that make a hero a hero. I’m thinking compassion, empathy, and hope here. This new Dr. Light is all about grand posturing, pointing out her imagined sense of superiority (at the expense of everyone else’s inferiority), saying things like, “only I can help save us.” Sure, I get that you can toss back into my face the Wolverines and the Thors and the whatnots, but that kind of testosterone posturing is what makes me hate fucking superhero comics so much…
Heroism with hope, empathy, and compassion is more my kinda groove, and the less spandex and capes you wear while operating as such, the better.
Still, what the hell do I know about any of this except what goes on in my own mind, so I totally defer to you on this. My one bit of advice about the whole thing is to quit reading fucking DC superhero comics, as apparently they aren’t made for you. Why continue to buy shit that pisses you off when there is so many awesome comics out there that reflect the kind of qualities you want to see in your books. Have you checked out Revenger by Charles Forsman? Or even Copra by Michel Fiffe? These and their ilk may be more what you are looking for. Vote with your dollar, not your outrage?
Sonne: What you listed is exactly what I do. Except for the COPRA reading…errr, I’m getting to that as more than one CB writer has pushed me to do it. Before the announcement of the recent Convergence event, I was very nearly not buying any DC comics at all (the exception being Grayson, which contained all that you find as desirable traits: hope, empathy, compassion, and capelessness). However, it took me awhile before I finally realized that with the advent of the New 52, DC was catering to 45-year-old white guys and not to people like me.
It was difficult coming to that realization because DC is capable of producing comics I like. In fact, they’ve produced hundreds of them. However, moving back to Crisis, the DC New 52 line failed because it was the antithesis of this book. Everything that Crisis puts on a pedestal, the New 52 scoffed at as immature and unbelievable. As clunky and obvious as some of Crisis’ panels are, at least they fully embrace the concept of superheroes and the fun powers and moral lessons that play into the genre. The New 52 refused to do any of that, bringing the entire DC line to muddled meaninglessness because the company’s editorial looked at the wrong parts of the stories and tried to mold them into something more “real” (read: dark and gritty and boring).
I think you misunderstand one more thing, Elkin, and it’s not that I’m getting mad because DC does not cater to me and never will. I’m getting mad because I endured disappointment by a publisher that produced books that shaped me as a person. DC has proven that it could be better, yet for awhile it wasn’t performing like it. If a close friend spirals down to a terrible place because of bad choices they have made, your first instinct isn’t necessarily going to be “Oh, let them do what they want, it’s their life.”, you’re going to want to slap them and scream, “WAKE THE FUCK UP!”
With this Divergence thing coming up in June, DC may have finally woken up to a degree. It seems, at least, keen on bringing back elements of Crisis that it ignored, such as celebrating its diversity stories and letting creators champion the truly heroic qualities of the books they are working on. I don’t expect that whenever the next Supergirl book shows up that it’ll be that good because it’ll probably just be an adaptation of that new TV show that may or may not turn out well…but I think other heroes are going to look a lot more like Crisis’ Supergirl in their fearlessness and determination.
God, holding this book to a high standard is still really weird.
Michael Bettendorf: Ya know, I held off on the booze this time too. Not only because I read it at 8:00 a.m., but because Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 is definitely a potential turning point for me as well. It may have required a slow start for the team, but it paid off.
This issue is more structured and contains more substance than the previous three. You two have already commented on the true heroism displayed in this issue by numerous characters – the sacrifice (or willingness to sacrifice), putting oneself in danger to help others, etc. There’s another thread being weaved in here that I caught onto that resonates with Davisson’s comment on hope.
I’m glad you mentioned current superhero comics, Sonne, because the connection I made, is to one of last week’s Secret Wars. Thanos mentions early on in the issue about …“there’s no honor in running from death. People should know when their time is up.”
Maker or Ultimate Reed Richards talks about blah, blah inserting false hope and so forth, but that’s what I wanted to point out. I don’t think it’s false hope. Humans (and sure, superheroes) are reluctant to lose hope. Sure, some are afraid of death and some do run from it, but it goes beyond. There’s always hope and we see that alive and well in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Pariah saves Lady Quark because it’s all he could do. He gave her a last hope. And yeah, it’s taking her from her family against her wishes…something of a whole new discussion…but it was a last effort to instill some sort of hope in the future. It’s the message that The Monitor is sending. He’s got a plan that is, “With prayer – the salvation of all life!” – Insert more Biblical references and themes wherever you wish. It’s all about hope for the future and hope of a better life than on the universe(s) that are crumbling before them.
While I did enjoy this issue quite a bit, it wouldn’t have been nearly great without Perez. That guy did wonders in this issue. He used so many different layouts and panel sizes without making a convoluted mess. Despite the upskirt, I thought the introductory scene was done very well. You get a great sense of the hopelessness that Batgirl is feeling. Her mannerisms and facial expressions say it all. Her eyes are filled not with tears (thankfully) but self-defeat. Supergirl’s face shows empathy and creates a truly beautiful scene between them.
You two have already mentioned the final pages, which all I can say is – damn. Great goin’ Perez.
I won’t by any means say this is a perfect comic. There’s still a lot going on and up to this point, some seemingly irrelevant inclusions like the Constantine scene and it’s still hefty on the dialogue in a lot of places. I don’t understand why the heroes feel they constantly have to justify themselves and their powers. I know this was pretty common in a lot of older comics, but still. Who cares that so and so’s shield was the reason they survived the blast? They’re superheroes. Only justify when absolutely necessary.
Still, while it may not be perfect, it is full of hope and that’s what we need.
Sonne: Was it justification that they were doing? I thought the writing was related to the periodical nature of comics and the expectation that not every reader would know the superheroes’ powers and why it was shocking that they didn’t work (I certainly have no idea what ¾ of these weirdos do).
Elkin: In something like this massive, unwieldy whatnot, do we even need to know what these weirdos do? They punch shit, right? Shoot beams out of their hands? Make things go boom? It’s ridiculous and it’s all there for us to mock.
Sonne: Because we are the real heroes here.