Hello there. Would-be comic historian and general continuity nerd Alan Kistler here.
We’re now nearing the time of INFINITE CRISIS, a story that is supposed to involve much of the DCU and change a lot of stuff. In spirit, if not in actual details, this is meant to be a sort of sequel and 20-year anniversary to the story THE CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. Some of you, like me, own the Crisis in separate issue form. Others of you picked up the collection TPB or read the novelization by Marv Wolfman. But several of you, although you know the basics of the story, never actually bought it. A friend of mine recently complained that just when he was thinking of buying the collection he heard there was going to be an Absolute Collection Edition coming out soon, so once again he has found an excuse not to buy it and read it yet.
So for those of you who haven’t read it and for those who read it long ago but have grown foggy on the details, here is a play-by-play recap of The Crisis On Infinite Earths, as well as some of its tie-ins.
And afterwards, check out the WHERE ARE THEY NOW? post where I explore what happened to some of the Crisis-centric characters in the years afterwards.
BASIC GUIDE TO THE MULTIPLE EARTHS
Earth-1 — The home of most modern mainstream DC heroes. The Justice League of America (JLA), the Teen Titans, the Outsiders, the Doom Patrol, the Challengers of the Unknown. On this world, Superman is a man in the prime of life, named Kal-El, who began his career as Superboy. Superman has the company of other Kryptonian survivors such as Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) and Krypto the Super-Dog. Lex Luthor is his biggest enemy and has recently taken to wearing green and purple techno-armor. Batman is likewise in the prime of life and recently split with Dick Grayson, who was his partner Robin. Dick Grayson now operates as Nightwing and Jason Todd has just become the new Robin. Barry Allen is the Flash, Hal Jordan is one member of an intergalactic Green Lantern Corps, and Wonder Woman is a modern-day champion with her invisible plane and all. The future of Earth-1 will produce the Legion of Super-Heroes (LSH).
Earth-2 — The home of most of DC’s heroes who fought during World War II. The Justice Society of America (JSA) and their children/protégés in Infinity, Inc. are the only real super-teams here. Here, Superman is an elder hero with gray temples named Kal-L, who in his identity of Clark Kent is editor of the Daily Star newspaper and married to Lois Lane. One of his biggest enemies is Alexei Luthor, a red-haired mad scientist and the only other survivor of Krypton is his cousin Kara Zor-L AKA Power Girl. Batman died on this world some years ago and is survived by his former ward Dick Grayson, who never quit being Robin on this world and also has graying temples (there is no Jason Todd here), and his daughter Helena Wayne aka “the Huntress.” Jay Garrick is the Flash, Alan Scott is the one and ONLY Green Lantern in the universe this Earth inhabits, and Wonder Woman is a retired hero, married to her love Steve Trevor with whom she had a daughter named Lyta.
Earth-3 – The “mirror world.” Columbus journeyed from America and discovered Europe. The European States declared their independence. Abe Lincoln shot and murdered President John Wilkes Booth. In the modern-day, the only super-hero on this world is Alex Luthor who fights for justice with a red and blue suit of armor. His worst enemy is Ultraman, the leader of the Crime Syndicate which is really an evil Justice League. The other Crime Syndicate members are Owlman (evil Batman with mind-control abilities), Johnny Quick (evil Flash, not to be confused with the Earth-2 Johnny Quick who is a hero), Power Ring (evil Green Lantern, though his ring is one of a kind and magical) and Superwoman (evil Wonder Woman).
Earth-4 – These heroes were originally published by Charlton Comics before DC bought them. Before the Crisis, these characters had no dealing with the other DC heroes. The most powerful hero on this world is Captain Atom. The two most famous vigilantes are the Blue Beetle (Ted Kord, actually the second person to wear the name and costume) and the mysterious Question, both of whom team-up often. Less popular heroes of this world are the World War II hero Judomaster (with his sidekick Tiger), the woman called Nightshade, the man called Peacemaker and Peter Cannon, a paragon of human physicality called “Thunderbolt.”
ATTENTION WATCHMEN FANS! Originally, Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN story right after the Crisis was going to feature the Charlton Comics heroes. But then DC said “no, we actually want to integrate them into the DCU,” so Moore said “okay” and made analogues to them. Peacemaker became the Comedian, Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan, Peter Cannon became Ozymandias, Nightshade became the Silk Spectre, Blue Beetle became Nite-Owl, and The Question became Rorschach.
Just like the Beetle, Nite-Owl is the successor to an older hero. He and Rorschach have a loose partnership, just as the Blue Beetle and the Question did. The Beetle’s ship “the Bug” looks very similar to Nite-Owl’s ship “Archie.” Rorschach considers his mask his face, whereas the Question’s mask, ironically, gives him the appearance of being faceless. Captain Atom and Dr. Manhattan have very similar origins. And just as Nightshade and Captain Atom were involved, so are Silk Spectre and Dr. Manhattan. There are more similarities to point out, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Earth-S – Originally the world of Fawcett Comics. Here lives Billy Batson aka Captain Marvel and his whole “Marvel Family”, most of whom are blessed with the powers of the wizard Shazam. There’s his sister Mary Marvel, his pal Captain Marvel, Jr., Hoppy the Marvel Bunny and the non-powered Uncle Marvel. There are also the three Lt. Marvels: Tall Marvel, Fat Marvel and Hillbilly Marvel, all of whom were born with the name Billy Batson and thus are also able to call on the same powers. Their main enemy is Dr. Sivana and his family, as well as the evil Marvel known as Black Adam and the Venusian worm known as Mr. Mind.
Left to Right: Captain, Fat, CM Jr., Tall, Hillbilly and Mary Marvel
Black Adam, the “evil Marvel”
Earth-X – Several heroes from Earth-2 were sent here, a world where World War II would last several extra years and which had no heroes of its own. These Earth-2 heroes became the Freedom Fighters, a team that consists of Uncle Sam, Phantom Lady, the Ray, the Human Bomb, Black Condor, Doll Man and Firebrand.
Earth-Prime – Originally, this was supposed to be the REAL WORLD, where you and I live. Superman checked it out and was shocked to see how much smaller the east coast was, as it was missing Gotham City and Metropolis. The TV show SLIDERS used “Earth-Prime” to refer to the homeworld they originally came from and the writers said they took it from DC Comics, so it’s now become a general sci-fi term to refer to the real world oustide of fiction. Problem being that a few years before the Crisis began, the writers decided to make it just another alternate reality, introducing a nuclear war, a super-hero called Ultraa. During the Crisis, we discover that this Earth also has its own version of Superboy.
Earth-C – The cartoon animal world that contains heroes such as Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew. Not really featured during The Crisis. Also, not to be confused with EARTH- C- (that’s “C minus”) which is the home of the super-hero animal team called Justa Lotta Animals (or “JLA”).
WHY DID THE CRISIS HAVE TO HAPPEN?
You’re all comic fans. You know how hard it is to explain some things to non-comic fans you want to convert without seeming silly or overly complicated. “This is Superman, and that’s Superboy, who’s a clone created with both Superman’s and Lex Luthor’s DNA. And this is Supergirl, but she’s actually the fourth hero to use that name now, the first was from an alternate dimension, the second was a woman who was bonded to her as an Earth-born angel and …”
You get the picture. Well, imagine the same problem, but now you also have to explain that not all the comics you love take place in the same universe. Some of you might say “Well, I read Marvel and DC and they take place in different universes.” True, but they don’t interact that often either. That’s why stories like JLA/AVENGERS are big events. The DC Multiverse had people hopping between the different Earths all the time. So, if you’re a DC fan in 1984 explaining comics to a non-comic fan, it might’ve sounded something like this.
“So this is JLA, and it has a lot of heroes in it, including Superman. And this is Infinity, Inc., which is a bunch of heroes who are the children or proteges of the JSA … Hmm? … no, no, the JSA is different from the JLA, they’re older and fought in World War II and they exist on Earth-2 whereas the JLA exist on Earth-1. And the JSA also has Superman, only he’s older and not quite as powerful and he’s married. He also wasn’t Superboy originally, but the Earth-1 Superman DID originally start as Superboy and then became Superman and then later found out that he had a counterpart on Earth-2, except that the Earth-2 Superman doesn’t have a dog or so many versions of Kryptonite like the Earth-1 Superman does and the Earth-2 Luthor isn’t bald like the Earth-1 Luthor. And sometimes Superman has fought Captain Marvel on Earth-S and then there’s the evil Superman, he’s called Ultraman, on Earth-3 where Luthor is a good guy and, oh, did I mention Black Canary? She used to live on Earth-2, but then had her mind transplanted into the body of her own daughter and now she lives on Earth-1, but she still sometimes sees her friends from Earth-2 when the JLA and JSA team-up, they team-up every year you see.”
My head hurts. And while, yes, if you were a reader for a few years, you got it and you understood it and it was okay, but the problem was that DC had a harder and harder time attracting new readers into their comics when newbies basically needed a map of the universes to keep things straight, especially when their competition at Marvel didn’t have to explain much more than “we have a lot of super-heroes, most of them live in or nearby New York City, on rare occasions they meet people from another universe but they never stay for too long or have much bearing on the rest of the status quo.”
DC was trying to figure out a way to ease the confusion. Also, the fact is, after many decades, they were faced with the fact that some ideas seemed a bit played out or silly now (perhaps an unfair belief, but that was the feeling). Many (though not all) readers and writers felt some serious house-cleaning was in order.
It had all started when DC rebooted their super-hero comics in 1956, starting with the Flash. There had been a hero called Flash years before, Jay Garrick of Keystone City, but like many other Golden Age heroes he’d been unseen for some time now. DC wanted super-heroes again, but decided they would start fresh. Same names and sometimes same powers, but different origins and characters so that no one would have to know the previous continuity and could just get into it. The new Flash was Barry Allen of Central City with a different looking costume, etc.
Jay Garrick Barry Allen
Later, writer Gardner Fox thought it would be fun to have the Golden Age heroes with the present day heroes and had Barry Allen discover that by attuning his molecules to a precise super-speed vibration, he could actually travel into a parallel universe. Since he was the first person to discover this multiverse apparently, he called his home Earth-1 and this new place Earth-2. Here, his boyhood comic hero Jay Garrick was not merely a comic but a real person. It was decided then that all the Golden Age heroes would now live on Earth-2.
Fine, except that occasionally some story gaffs would cause a problem here or there and as time went on we were also introduced to other worlds such as Earth-3. Then, as DC bought smaller companies, such as Fawcett Comics and Quality Comics and Charlton Comics, they would designate that each of those companies’ heroes existed on yet other Earths as well. And some were given the history of having travelled to other worlds. The Quality Comics heroes of Earth-X were said to have originally been inhabitants of Earth-2, for instance. After a while, you needed a scorecard.
1985 was going to mark the 50th anniversary of DC Comics and the DC gods wanted a story that featured just about EVERY one of their characters. And the idea came, why not use this event as an excuse to clean house? The multiverse would be in danger and in the end the result would be that a new unified universe with only one Earth and a streamlined history would remain. Not only could they get rid having to constantly have the heroes travel between universes, but since time and space were being rebooted the writers could also throw out parts of continuity they didn’t like or care for anymore (such as the fact that Batman had once teamed up with a Batwoman, who used a utility purse, and had owned a masked canine reffered to as the “Bat-Hound”).
The job was given to Marv Wolfman and George Perez, who were wowing people with their work on THE NEW TEEN TITANS. You had a writer with a great flair for characterization and conflict and an artist who could draw crowd scenes and fight scenes like nobody’s business.
In the past, whenever the JLA and JSA had teamed up, the story had almost always had a title like “Crisis On Two Worlds” or “Crisis On Earths 1 and 2″ or something similar. In honor of this, the story of the death of the multiverse would be called the “Crisis on INFINITE Earths.”
PROLOGUE TO THE CRISIS
For years, the Green Lantern Corps was established as DC’s most powerful team of intergalactic heroes. A group of 3600 “space cops”, the Corps were all armed with power rings and had been brought together by a group of aliens known as the Guardians of the Universe. Long ago, the Guardians had just been Maltusians. On the planet Maltus, a scientist named Krona had attempted to watch the beginning of the universe itself, despite his people’s warnings. He saw a white void, in the center of which was a giant hand holding a starfield. His machines then exploded, apparently unleashing evil on the cosmos. To make up for his crime, the Maltusians split into the Controllers and the Guardians of the Universe, both groups who would do what they could to fight evil and champion order. The Guardians created first a goup of androids called the Manhunters and when that blew up in their faces they recruited sentient beings and founded the Green Lantern Corps to combat evil across all 3600 sectors of the universe.
GL Hal Jordan speaking before a council of the Guardians of the Universe.
Flash-forward several millennia (pardon the pun) and let’s go to the planet Earth.
Barry Allen had been the Flash for a number of years now. Having grown up on reading Flash comic books starring a character named Jay Garrick, he’d always had a childish fantasy about being just like his hero. After suffering a fantastic accident, he had the same speed and thus became a real-life Flash. Later, he accidentally journeyed to Earth-2 by hitting the right vibrational frequency and realized that many comic book and sci-fi writers who wrote stories out of ideas in their dreams were actually channeling images from parallel worlds. For him, Jay had been a comic character, but on Earth-2 Jay Garrick was real.
Later, Barry’s girlfriend Iris West introduced him to her nephew Wally, a huge Flash fan. A nearly identical accident happened and Wally became Kid Flash, his sidekick and later a founding member of the Teen Titans. They fought many enemies together, the worst of whom was Professor Zoom, The Reverse-Flash, a villain from the future with a psychotic obsession of killing and/or replacing Barry Allen.
Eobard Thawne AKA Professor Zoom
Sometime after Barry and Iris finally got married, Zoom crossed the line most super-villains never actually do: he killed the hero’s wife. Barry and Prof. Zoom fought viciously and the battle ended with the Reverse-Flash being lost in the timestream, exiled from the real world. Barry returned to Earth and tried to move on with his life.
Months after Iris’s apparent death, Barry met a woman named Fiona Webb and began a very speedy romance. Now the two were getting ready to be married. But on the wedding day, Barry got an unexpected visitor. And readers got their first hint of the Crisis.
One of the Guardians of the Universe approached Barry Allen and informed him that there was a universal Crisis coming soon and that already its ripples were being felt. As a result, one such effect was that Zoom had been freed from his exile and was back on Earth. Barry ran into him fairly quickly and the two had a super-speed fight/chase that crossed state-lines and bodies of water. Zoom mocked “Guess who’s going to kill your wife again?”
Finally, they reached the chapel and Zoom was about to strike. He had killed Iris by vibrating his hand to a state of intangibility, phasing it through her skull and then regaining enough tangibility to fry her brain. Now he was ready to do the same but at the last second Barry grabbed him in a super-speed headlock, snapping his neck.
This started a year-long storyline during which Barry was on trial for manslaughter. During the same year, readers got more and more hints of the Crisis to come. Starting in a NEW TEEN TITANS annual, readers learned of two mysterious figures who were watching Earth from a satellite fortress. These two were a man called “Monitor” and a female teenage assistant named Lyla. Sometimes they would just watch, sometimes they would appear to provide weapons to certain super-villains who they would then watch in action. No one knew what their true agenda was.
At least, not yet.
At the end of the trial, Barry Allen found out that Iris was alive and well. See, she’d actually been born in the 30th century originally and had been sent to the 20th century as a baby. Just like Superman, her parents thought the world was going to end and wanted to save her life. Anyway, when the world DIDN’T end, the happy couple did all they could to bring their daughter back. Seeing she’d play an important role in Barry Allen’s life if she were left alone, they didn’t bring her back until the moment of her death. At that moment, they snatched her spirit and transferred it into a duplicate body. She was now alive and back in the 30th century.
Iris then went back and made sure Barry’s trial went okay, knowing that the time-traveling villain Kadabra was going to try and alter history by having him sent to jail. Iris foiled Kadabra’s plans and then she and Barry reunited. Found innocent of manslaughter, Barry said good-bye to his friends and family and told them he was going away (he didn’t explain that Iris was alive or anything about the time-travel deal). He then left to the 30th century to enjoy his retirement with his loving wife. Meanwhile, Kadabra lamented that part of his scheme was to keep Barry from becoming involved in the upcoming Crisis and suffering his “final fate.” Readers knew whatever was going to come, it might be bad for the Scarlet Speedster.
This is continued in CRISIS – Phase 1-6.