Crisis On Infinite Earths Part 1 (of 9)
Reviewing stories found in DC Comics Presents #78, Crisis on Infinite Earths #1, All-Star Squadron #50-52, Fury of Firestorm #41, Infinity Inc. #18, and Green Lantern #194
Written by Marv Wolfman, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Dann Thomas, and Steve Englehart
Art by Curt Swan, George Perez, Mike Clark, Arvell Jones, Rafael Kayanan, Todd McFarlane, and Joe Staton
Worlds lived. Worlds died. And nothing was ever the same again. It began with The Flash #123 (Sept. 1961) when Barry Allen discovered another Earth vibrating at a slightly different frequency than his own. This was labeled Earth-2, and here he met Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash. Garrick had become the Flash in the 1940s; historically, he was the first to bear the name. However, Garrick was a fictional comic book character in Allen’s world, the character he took his name from. This team-up would lead to an annual event in the pages of Justice League of America where the team would cross worlds and help out their allies in the Justice Society combatting their mutual villains.
Over the years, this would expand into a Multiverse. Earth-3 was introduced with its Crime Syndicate of Amerika, a villainous shadow to the Justice League. Earth-X was home to the Freedom Fighters, Golden Age heroes from Earth-2 who crossed over to help fight in a world where Nazis won World War II. Earth-S was home to the Shazam family of heroes. Even Earth-Prime, our own world, devoid of superheroes where comics editor Julius Schwartz would receive transmissions from Earth-1, informed the stories DC Comics published every month. This was an infinite palette from which to tell stories, but for some readers, it became confusing.
Marv Wolfman was the editor on Green Lantern in the early 80s and received a letter from a fan confused about Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern appearing in the book. Wolfman thought a mini-series titled The History of the DC Universe could be a fun company project and help new fans understand these nuances. The more he whittled away at the idea, the closer he came to realize this could be a story event that eliminated the Multiverse and condensed its history down to a single universe. DC was seen as hopelessly old-fashioned compared to Marvel Comics, and Wolfman saw this as a way to shock the readers with something that had never been done before. It would be a year-long event, crossing over into ongoing titles, killing off some long-time favorites, and establishing a new status quo going forward.
DC heads Jenette Kahn, Paul Levitz, and Dick Giordano heard the pitch and loved it. In 1982, they hired a researcher to comb through DC’s history and read every comic the company had ever published. This took two years and kept getting delayed. It was decided that they should hold off on publishing the story until 1985 to coincide with the company’s 50th anniversary. It was hard coming up with a narrative that would justify what happens typically at an editorial level. Wolfman, Giordano, and artist George Perez collaborated to develop new characters to set the plot in motion. In the early 1980s, DC had acquired the defunct comic company Charlton, with its characters Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, the Question, and more so this was seen as a way to introduce them with Earth-4 before folding them all into the single mainstream Earth.
Before Crisis #1 hit the stands, Wolfman began sowing the seeds in other titles he wrote. In the pages of New Teen Titans, we were introduced to the shadowy Monitor who watched Earth from his satellite, aided by his assistant Lyla. At first, he appeared to be aligned with villains, paid to help them with their schemes. In the pages of DC Comics Presents #78 (Feb. 1985), Superman is teamed up with the Forgotten Heroes. At the conclusion of that comic, we glimpse Lyla and The Monitor, who informs her it is time to begin their true mission. He directs Lyla to bring her attention to Earth-3, and so the Crisis begins.
The opening of Crisis #1 makes sure we understand no punches will be pulled. Earth-3 is being consumed by a cloud of white antimatter energy, erasing it from existence. Pariah appears in the sky, a cloaked figure pinballed by some cosmic force to serve as a witness to oblivion. He can’t save anyone or stop the mass extinction; he may only watch. The evil Crime Syndicate, never a team to work together cohesively, is ultimately vaporized, as is their entire universe. Before it can be destroyed, though, Lex Luthor, a hero in this reality, sends him and Lois Lane’s only son, Alexander, in a unique rocket out of their reality with the hopes the child will find a home. That ship is intercepted by the Monitor, who knows this last survivor of Earth-3 has a vital role to play.
The rest of the comic has Lyla transforming into Harbinger and jumping across Earths to gather heroes and villains to help her stave off the first wave of destruction. She gathers Solovar of Gorilla City, Dawnstar of the 31st Century, Firebrand from the 1940s, Earth-4’s Blue Beetle, the villainous Psycho-Pirate, Doctor Polaris, and Psimon, the prehistoric Arion Lord of Atlantis, Firestorm & his nemesis Killer Frost, Obsidian & Superman of Earth-2, Geo-Force, John Stewart and Cyborg of Earth-1. They battle shadow demons that appear out of nowhere before The Monitor reveals himself and scares these intruders away. He welcomes them to his satellite and informs them that the Multiverse is about to die unless they can help save it.
The titles that were going to be most dramatically affected by Crisis were All-Star Squadron and Infinity Inc because both were set on Earth-2. They would continue after Crisis concluded but with their timelines altered to fold into the Earth-1 reality. All-Star was set during World War II, while Infinity Inc was placed in the modern-day and followed the exploits of the Justice Society’s children. Infinity Inc.’s roster was composed of Jade & Obsidian (children of Green Lantern), Silver Scarab (Hawkman & Hawkwoman’s son), Fury (the daughter of Wonder Woman), Nuklon (The Atom & Firebrand’s adopted child), Northwind (an adopted child of the Hawks), Brainwave Jr (son the villain Brainwave), and the Star-Spangled Kid, a Golden Age child hero who was now a man in his early 20s.
Writer Roy Thomas had been given the reins of Earth-2 being a fan of all things Golden Age both at DC and Marvel. He wrote both Infinity Inc and All-Star Squadron, so he could sync those titles up for Crisis and prepare them for the significant changes coming. In All-Star #50, he retroactively tells of how a handful of heroes crossover to Earth-X in the 1940s to combat the Nazi victory in that world. They become the Freedom Fighters (Uncle Sam, Plastic Man, Doll Man, Phantom Lady, Black Condor, The Human Bomb, and The Ray). In a shocking twist, it also “introduces” the villain Mr. Mind as an interdimensional traveler. He forms the Monster Society of Evil on Earth-2 but is usurped by one of the other members. Meanwhile, a trio of Earth-2 heroes teams up with Captain Marvel on Earth-S. When all these stories conclude, Mr. Mind is pulled through a rift in the Multiverse, setting him up as a villain in Shazam’s world. It’s some pretty confounding storytelling and walks that line between storytelling and editorial fixes.
And so the Crisis begins. All this summer, we will be looking at the event as it unfolded, both the main series and its numerous crossovers. We’ll explore all the triumphs and tragedies and see how they reshaped an entire comic book universe like never before.