Crisis on Infinite Earths was a twelve-issue miniseries from DC Comics1 published from 1985 to 1986. It was written by Marv Wolfman, and pencilled by George Pérez2.
There are many versions of the Earth, each with their own histories. The superheroes of Earth One made contact with their counterparts on Earth Two an indeterminate time ago. In what almost seemed to have become an annual tradition, Earth One’s Justice League periodically teamed up with Earth Two’s Justice Society to deal with crises affecting both worlds.
Now there is a crisis affecting not just Earth One, and Earth Two, but all the worlds.
The planet Qward, located in the antimatter universe is, as anyone familiar with basic particle physics can tell you, inherently evil3. The dominant civilization of Qward, the Weaponeers, is eviler still — and most evil of all is Qward’s ruler, the Monitor (or as he is known everywhere else, the Anti ‑Monitor). The Anti-Monitor has a simple dream: to destroy every other universe and replace it with an antimatter universe he rules. As one does.
Duality and echoes are common in the Multiverse. Just as the Monitor (or Anti-Monitor) exists on Qward, so too does his good version, also the Monitor (who is just known as the Monitor everywhere; happily, most people don’t learn about either version until just before they die so this is not half as confusing as it could be to the person on the street). The Monitor… monitors reality and is aware of all history, as well as the Anti-Monitor’s evil schemes.
The Anti-Monitor’s scheme is to overwhelm world after world with waves of anti-matter. Each world has its own superheroes4 and each world’s heroes fail to save their world5. In short order, many universes have become a very few universes. It is lucky that the worlds on which live DC’s most recognizable characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and so very many others) have survived.
The Monitor (the Monitor-Monitor one, not the Anti-Monitor one) recruits a team of super-powered champions from all of the surviving worlds. Some of the recruits are technically super-villains, but of the sort who understand that it is difficult to conquer the bwa ha ha world if the bwa ha ha world has been incinerated. Working together, the alliance seems to save their worlds.
Which is when they discover the Anti-Monitor has contingency plans. The worlds of plain matter are still in danger.
There were, I believe, two driving forces behind the Crisis series. One was sales: some crossover events had sold well. More importantly, DC sales continued to lag behind Marvel’s. Some at DC felt that this was because DC’s continuity had grown too complex for newcomers to grasp6. Simplify the setting, win new readers.
So they planned one huge event whose intent was to winnow the many worlds down to a single canonical one, with the beneficial side-effect that many characters who were surplus to need could die heroically by the dozens. This would prune characters, while showing that the big bad was a legitimate menace. Among the better known casualties: Barry “The Flash” Allen, Kara “Supergirl” Zor-El, Don “Dove” Hall, and at least one version of Lois Lane. Among the lesser known… well, we’d be here all day. The Multiverse’s shared universe roots went back decades, There were many minor characters7.
The series was successful in the sense that it sold fairly well. That and the success of Marvel’s own cross-over event Secret Wars (1984 – 1985) ensured that from now on, annual massive crossover events would be a recurring feature in the Big Two’s sales strategies.
Another way to look at Crisis is that it was a monumental failure on a number of levels.
Perez’ art, for example, is extremely busy. It’s hyper-detailed, so much so that it can be hard to focus on the whole.
Similarly, Wolfman is working with a vast cast, many of whom he assumed would be familiar to the readers. (But only long-time fans; newbies beware.) The series is very, very long, and very, very convoluted. Not that it’s complex; it mostly consists of people punching each other out and/or the Anti-Monitor being killed again and again, only for a later comic to reveal he was really only mostly dead.
Reread three-plus decades later, the series is less impressively vast and more unreadably ponderous.
IMHO, the series failed in its attempt to simplify. DC bungled the shiny new world. In surprisingly short order, the new setting had continuity as hard to follow as the old one—don’t ask about Hawkman! —and Marvel continued for the most part to dominate the market.
For reasons that escape me, despite these failures, DC remains convinced that universe-reshaping crises are the way to go. Since Crisis , DC has torn down and rebuilt their main setting a number of times, abandoning the creative investments they made in older versions in the hope of attaining some ultimate setting that would solve all their creative problems. Presumably this makes sense to them.
The story was told in twelve issues but also featured in some company-wide crossovers. Other comics involved were:
- All-Star Squadron #50
- All-Star Squadron #51
- All-Star Squadron #52
- All-Star Squadron #53
- All-Star Squadron #54
- All-Star Squadron #55
- All-Star Squadron #56
- Amethyst(Volume 2) #13
- Blue Devil #17
- Blue Devil #18
- DC Comics Presents #86
- DC Comics Presents #87
- DC Comics Presents #88
- Firestorm (Volume 2) #41
- Firestorm (Volume 2) #42
- Green Lantern (Volume 2) #194
- Green Lantern (Volume 2) #195
- Green Lantern (Volume 2) #198
- Infinity Inc. #18
- Infinity Inc. #19
- Infinity Inc. #20
- Infinity Inc. #21
- Infinity Inc. #22
- Infinity Inc. #23
- Infinity Inc. #24
- Infinity Inc. Annual #1
- Justice League of America #244
- Justice League of America #245
- Justice League of America Annual #3
- Legion of Super-Heroes (Volume 3) #18
- Losers Special #1
- New Teen Titans (Volume 2) #13
- New Teen Titans (Volume 2) #14
- OmegaMen #31
- Superman #414
- Swamp Thing (Volume 2) #46
- Wonder Woman #327
- Wonder Woman #328
- Wonder Woman #329
- Inkers were Dick Giordano, Jerry Ordway and Mike DeCarlo. Comics are a team effort, something inconvenient for my desire to have clean, sleek credits on reviews.
- It may be best not to learn your science from comic books.
- Except for Earth Prime, which is the mundane world where DC Comics is based. A single superhuman, Superboy Prime, appears there just before it is destroyed. He doesn’t really get the chance to do anything to save Earth Prime before getting punted over to one of the surviving universes. For reasons I won’t go into, the survival of Superboy Prime is not entirely beneficial.
- Special mention of Ultraman (Earth Three’s evil Superman) who died because he was brave, ultimately heroic despite himself, and also the sort of person who thought that the best way to deal with antimatter was to punch it very very hard. It turns out that this does not work.
- Much of the complexity of the DC setting was due to a decision in the 1960s to place all of its Golden Age characters on Earth Two and all of its Silver Age characters on Earth One. Newer versions of Earth were created to provide other characters with no place in the DC mainstream with worlds of their own: anthropomorphic superhero Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew lived on Earth C, for example, while characters acquired from Fawcett lived on Earth-S and QualityComics characters lived on Earth-X. See, what’s so complicated about that?
- Each of the minor characters could have been re-imagined by creative writers. OK, maybe not Kite-Man.