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DC’s Infinite Crises!

I’ve been having a ball, recently, reading the last few years’ worth of Geoff John’s work on Green Lantern.  Click here for part one, in which I discuss Green Lantern: Rebirth and the subsequent collections of Mr. John’s work on the re-launched Green Lantern comic, and click here for part two, in which I discuss the massive crossover The Sinestro Corps War. The Sinestro Corps War dug deeply into DC Universe continuity, featuring as villains characters such as Superboy Prime (who was a main villain in DC’s line-wide crossover series Infinite Crisis) and the Anti-Monitor (the villain of 1986’s classic Crisis on Infinite Earths, the series to which Infinite Crisis was really a sequel).

Since I was a kid, I have always been more of a fan of Marvel Comics than DC.  I’ve read far, far more Marvel comics than DC comics, and I am far more deeply-versed in the minutia of Marvel Universe continuity than I am with that of DC.  Nevertheless, I’ve been reading DC comics since I was a kid, too.  And while the only books that I have been reading regularly, year after year, are the Batman books, I’ve also picked up many of the big DC crossovers, as well as various other DC books from time to time.  I’ve read a lot of the big DC events of the past decade, but I’ve never really gone back and re-read them.  So I decided to take a pause in my reading of Geoff John’s Green Lantern stories, to read back through some of the big recent events in the DCU.  I have read 1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths several times, so I decided to start more recently, with 2004’s Identity Crisis.

Identity Crisis — Brad Meltzer’s story was pretty shocking at the time, and I must say it still packs quite a punch.  It’s a very adult take on the characters of the DCU, one that is more than a little reminiscent of the great Alan Moore’s approach to telling stories of the DC super-heroes.  (That is a compliment, not a criticism!)  Identity Crisis kicks off with the shocking, brutal murder of Sue Dibney, wife of the DC hero the Elongated Man.  But it’s the events of the second issue of the mini-series that really shocked — the revelation that, years ago, Sue was raped by the villain Dr. Light, and that in retaliation members of the Justice League wiped his mind, and that, in fact, the Leaguers had been doing that for years, any time a super-villain discovered anything that might put their secret identities in jeopardy and endanger their loved ones.  Identity Crisis works on so many levels.  It’s a great way of explaining how all the adventures from the “simpler days” back in DC History, when things happened like the super-villains temporarily taking possession of all the heroes’ bodies, never had any consequences.  (After an incident like that, wouldn’t all the villains now know the real identities of Batman, etc.?)  It’s a tough, “modern” take on the DC pantheon, dirtying up our heroes and presenting them with excruciatingly difficult moral choices.  But it’s also a love letter to the classic ideas of the DC Universe and their heroes, and a passionate support of the importance of the old-school idea of super-heroes with secret identities.  (My favorite scene in the series is Green Arrow’s speech to the Flash in issue #6.  “There are animals out there, Wally.  And when it comes to family, we can’t always be there to defend them.  But the mask will.”)  Identity Crisis works smashingly well as a stand-alone story, but it’s also impressive how this seven-issue mini-series shook the foundations of the DCU to its core, beginning story-lines that would reverberate through the DCU for years to come (particularly the fallout of the revelation, in issue #6, of the League’s actions towards Batman).

Countdown to Infinite Crisis — I’m not sure what prompted me, back when this eighty-page one-shot came out, to pick it up.  But I’m glad I did.  As is clear from the title, this story serves as a prologue to Infinite Crisis, the massive DC Universe-wide event that was coming.  And, indeed, Countdown succeeded, at the time, in getting me very excited for that coming crossover.  But Countdown is extraordinarily effective as a stand-alone story, as well.  It’s not all tease — it’s a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end.  Countdown follows Ted Kord, the Blue Beetle.  The Blue Beetle has always been a lower-tier DC hero, and he knows it.  When Ted begins to suspect that a wider conspiracy is at work around the edges of the DCU, he tries to warn the other heroes but no one takes him seriously.  So he begins to investigate himself, and succeeds in uncovering a stunning new threat.  From the gorgeous Jim Lee/Alex Ross cover to the still-shocking final pages, I love this comic.  At eighty pages long, the story has real time to breathe, resulting in a really nuanced, powerful story.  In many ways, I think this prologue was much better than the actual Infinite Crisis event itself.

The Omac Project — Following the events of Countdown, DC launched four six-issue mini-series, each of which developed different story-lines that built up to Infinite Crisis. The only one of those four mini-series that I read was The Omac Project. I was intrigued by the Omac name (though I know it had no connection to it, I’ve always loved John Byrne’s four-part black-and-white prestige format Omac story from the ’90s), by the Batman connection, and because The Omac Project seemed like the most direct follow-up to the ending of Countdown. The first three issues, written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Jesus Saiz, are terrific.  Those early issues focus on the fallout from the end of Countdown, and on the widening split between Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman.  We’re also re-introduced to the character of Sasha Bordeaux, who was a major player in a long run of Batman stories (mostly from issues of Detective Comics written by Mr. Rucka).  It was a fun surprise to see Sasha back, and I loved the build-up of Checkmate and Brother Eye as major threats to the DC heroes.  But then the mini-series was interrupted by a four-part crossover, “sacrifice,” that ran through the Superman books and Wonder Woman, which culminates in Wonder Woman’s murder of the head of Checkmate, the revealed-as-a-villain Maxwell Lord.  Although that proves to be a pivotal event that leads into Infinite Crisis, I thought it took the wind out of the sails of the story begun in Countdown and continued in The Omac Project, which was building up Max Lord as a major villain.  The final three issues of The Omac Project are mostly just a lot of fighting, with various heroes facing off against Brother Eye’s unleashed Omacs.  I found that much less interesting that the build-up, and was sorry that the story of growing discord between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman was pushed aside (saved for Infinite Crisis itself).  Further frustrating was the development given to Sasha in those last three issues, in which she somehow gets transformed into a half-Omac herself.  It just seemed silly, and a poor use of a great character.

JLA: Crisis of Conscience — The other major story-line leading into Infinite Crisis was Justice League of America issues 115-119.  I was not a regular reader of JLA (in fact, I don’t think I’d ever before purchased a single issue of that title), but I was intrigued by this story-line, written by Geoff Johns and Allan Heinberg, which directly picked up the story from Identity Crisis of the schism between Batman and the League.  It was great to see that story-thread further developed, and I loved the twist in which certain villains again discover several of the League members’ secret identities, forcing the Leaguers’ philosophical debate over the morality of their actions from years ago to shift into a real debate over what to do now.  Do they have any alternatives to again wiping these villains’ minds?  I love the cliffhanger ending of issue #116, in which Superman, realizing the dilemma, asks “what do we do now?” and Hawkman replies “we vote” — which is exactly what the League did back in Identity Crisis. Very clever story-telling.

C’mon back next week, and I’ll weigh in on the big Infinite Crisis event from 2005, as well as Grant Morrison’s 2008 follow-up series: Final Crisis.

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