By Scott Tipton
For those who came in late:
Wein and Wolfman were of the belief that the parallel Earths of the DC Universe were far too complex and confusing to the common reader, and came to DC’s Publisher Jenette Kahn with a bold proposal: a 12-issue miniseries (unheard of at the time) that would involve all of DC’s characters, past, present and future, in a mammoth, cataclysmic adventure that would result in a single, elegant, consistent DC universe. Much to their surprise, Kahn approved the idea, and set them off to begin the research for what would be the single most ambitious project in DC’s publishing history.
When Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s first issue of CRISIS OF INFINITE EARTHS appeared in April 1985 (with Len Wein serving as Consulting Editor), DC fans were immediately put on notice; things would not be the same after this. Within the first ten pages, Earth-Three and the Crime Syndicate were dead and gone, wiped from existence by an unrelenting wall of anti-matter that was methodically eliminating parallel universe after parallel universe.
(In a nice bit of poetic irony, Earth-Three’s only superhero, Lex Luthor, managed to save his son Alexander by sending him off in a “vibratory capsule” to Earth-One, in a sweet little echo of the original Superman origin that started it all.
Readers were introduced to the Monitor, a mysterious benefactor who plucked select heroes and villains from various Earths and time periods in an effort to halt the ever-encroaching void.
By the series’ halfway point, all the parallel universes and their corresponding Earths had been destroyed except five:
In keeping with the series’ theme of duplicates and parallels, the mastermind behind the destruction of countless parallel universes was revealed to be the Anti-Monitor, the Monitor’s evil counterpart bent on destroying all life and expanding his own anti-matter universe. It’s not easy to create a new villain and invest him with enough menace and malice to have readers really buy into him as the worst villain in all creation. Wolfman and Perez pulled it off though, and in several startling ways.
In the first few issues of CRISIS, there are big doings afoot, and with the battles come casualties. The aforementioned Crime Syndicate is killed, as are a handful of other relatively minor DC characters: Old West hero Nighthawk, Legion of Superheroes member Kid Psycho, World War II combat heroes the Losers, a few others. Enough to get across the gravity of the situation, but nothing to really make you sit up and take notice. That is, not until CRISIS #7.
Once there, they discover that their powers work differently there, and some are considerably weaker. When Superman and the Anti-Monitor meet in personal combat, the no-longer-invulnerable Superman is swiftly taken down, and Superman’s life is only saved thanks to the arrival of his cousin Kara, a.k.a. Supergirl, who engages the Anti-Monitor long enough for his machinery to be destroyed, thereby saving the five universes. But not without a cost.
In a moment unexpected by anyone reading comics at the time (and remember, there were no Previews catalog and no Internet back then, so you only knew what would happen when you picked the book up off the rack), Supergirl, a mainstay of DC Comics for over 30 years, was dead. I remember turning page after page at the end of this issue waiting for the catch, the twist, the way out. It never came.
Just as readers were recovering from the loss of Kara, CRISIS #8 upped the stakes again. This time it was Barry Allen, the modern Flash, who would pay the ultimate price to save the Earths from destruction. As the only being who could travel from Earth to Earth freely, Flash had been held prisoner by the Anti-Monitor to insure he wouldn’t interfere. Breaking free, Flash discovered the Anti-Monitor’s fallback plan: an anti-matter cannon capable of destroying the five remaining Earths. To destroy the cannon, Flash raced around the cannon’s anti-matter power source at super-speed, forcing its energies inward, and causing his very body to deteriorate. The cannon was destroyed, and Barry Allen was no more. This was getting serious. Two major characters gone in two months. Little did we know that Wolfman was just getting warmed up.
To keep things from getting too morose, Wolfman then unleashed one of my favorite plot twists of the series: Lex Luthor and Brainiac assembled every supervillain from all five Earths into a massive army and swiftly conquered three of the five worlds. Nice! In a shocking moment, Brainiac reminds Luthor’s Earth-Two duplicate precisely who’s in charge:
After Earths’ superheroes launch a counterattack, the Monitor’s assistants (including the now-grown Alexander Luthor, who alone can open a portal between the positive and negative universes) rally the troops once more when it’s discovered that the Anti-Monitor is still a very real threat and is planning to journey to the dawn of time to prevent the multiverse from ever existing. Heroes and villains pull together, and the Anti-Monitor is forced back once more at the dawn of time, but with some distressing results. After the battle’s climax, the superheroes find themselves home on Earth. But it’s a changed, unified, single Earth. In this newly revised universe, there was only one Superman, one Batman. The Justice Society is remembered as being the precursor to the current Justice League. According to the new Earth’s history, the Freedom Fighters had always lived on the same Earth as Captain Marvel and the Blue Beetle. Unfortunately, this left some surviving characters like the Earth-Two Superman, Robin and Huntress (daughter of the Earth-Two Batman and Catwoman) as non-people, lost in a world that never knew them. By series’ end they’d all be casualties, not only forgotten but gone as well.
Before the Earth’s heroes could fully take in their reborn universe, the Anti-Monitor played his final gambit: he plucked the Earth itself from its orbit and transplanted it into his anti-matter universe, there to more easily destroy it and clear the way for the destruction of all life. Again, the losses are heavy: Characters such as the Dove, the original Earth-Two Green Arrow, Clayface, the original Earth-Two Robin and the Huntress all sacrifice their lives to save the innocent. Through the concerted efforts of the newly united Earth’s superheroes, the Anti-Monitor is finally destroyed, with the final blow coming from the original Superman of Earth-Two, who elects to remain behind to make certain the Earth is able to safely return to its own universe.
The gap between the positive and negative universes is closed by Alexander Luthor, who reveals that before the multiple Earths were lost, he had saved Superman’s wife Lois Lane from non-existence:
Alexander Luthor opens a portal into a mysterious place that Lois describes as “so beautiful,” and the original Superman and Lois go into a place where “there will be no fear ... only peace…everlasting peace.”
Clark Kent’s adoptive parents never died. Okay, fine. No harm done. Superman was now the only native of Krypton to survive its destruction, meaning not only was Supergirl dead, but according to new post-Crisis continuity, she’d never existed. Say goodbye to Krypto the Superdog as well. Luthor was now a billionaire mogul instead of an evil genius. And it was decreed that Clark Kent had never been Superboy, meaning that the Legion of Superheroes, a futuristic team of teenage super-types whose entire origin was based on Superboy, would be plunged into a nightmare of rewrite after rewrite from which the series to this day has never recovered.
And if you thought those were extreme, check out Wonder Woman. It was decided that Wonder Woman had never existed until the first issue of her new series, which meant that any comic book you ever read that had Wonder Woman in it never really happened. Charming. Also, Wonder Woman’s secret identity of Diana Prince was summarily abandoned.
If the last two weeks being hip-deep in continuity haven’t driven you away yet, and you still have a question about any and all things comics, send it our way, at email@example.com.