Crisis on Infinite Earths

When it comes to graphic novels featuring superheros, there are few (Watchmen aside) that have garnered the ‘must read’ accolade from superhero comic fandom. Presumably, this long planned story had a simple original basis, but by the time it was finally written by Marv Wolfman (greatly assisted by artist George Pérez), it had much loftier goals. By the eighties, the DC universe of stories had become so convoluted with continuity problems that the DC writers had begun to associate alternate histories and conflicting versions of their heroes and villains with alternate universes, each having there own version of Earth. Hence there was an Earth 1, Earth 2, etc. The 1985 12 part Crisis on Infinite Earths series set out to resolve the fractured DC landscape. It did this, but also much more.

The series is as famous (or infamous, depending on your view) for penning the death of Barry Allen, the Flash, and a few other notable and minor characters. Without going into too much detail of the story itself, a being called the Monitor begins to manipulate events in all the universes and captures some superheroes to be at his side. But his intentions are noble and are done to offset his own counterpart, the Anti-Monitor, who wishes to destroy all the universes. As the destruction unfolds across the multiverse, heroes from all these alternate Earths must combine to thwart the Anti-Monitor.

It’s a powerful story and an ambitious one bringing together all these characters. And I do mean ALL the characters. And that is one problem I had with this otherwise fine series. Wolfman and Pérez literally tried to include every single character ever created in the DC universe. Some of course had meaningful contribution to the story at hand, but the vast majority were only presented in one or two panels. Those forced oblique appearances were often annoying sidetracks to the main events of the story. While it may have appeased a number of fans, I would have appreciated a more realistic take on the story.

But the story itself is pretty good despite the distractions. It sets itself apart because the often invincible superheroes are so impotent to the destruction of their worlds. Many do fail, and many die as a result. There are Earths that are destroyed along with all the history that took place on those Earths. The DC universe IS cleansed of cumbersome alternate histories and only one version of history remains at the end.

I’m not sure that I would say that this is really a must read story even for DC fans. It’s not a bad story by any means, but there are plenty of other grand epic stories that surpass Crisis. But if you’re one of those people who think it would be really cool to see all the DC characters (pre-1985 at least) in one story, then this is the one for you!

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