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DC’s Infinite Crises — Part Two!

July 11th, 2012
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The word “Crisis” has always had a special meaning in the DCU, something solidified by the epic, line-rebooting Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1986.  When Brad Meltzer titled his 2004 mini-series Identity Crisis, I wonder if he realized that his use of the “Crisis” name would launch a build-up to several additional universe-spanning “Crisis” events.  Last week I wrote about Identity Crisis, and the build-up towards the 2005 mini-series Infinite Crisis.  Now, let’s continue to my thoughts on that big event itself:

Infinite Crisis — Like The Omac Project, I remember thinking that Infinite Crisis had a great beginning but then petered out mid-story.  Re-reading the whole series now, years later, I can see how the story hangs together a little more strongly than I’d remembered, but I still think that over-all, it’s not terribly successful.  I love the beginning — the first issue is particularly strong.  That issue highlights how the schism between Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman has reached a breaking point, with the three heroes unable to find any common ground.  (I love the scenes between the three characters in that first issue, arguing with each other in the ruins of the Watchtower.  Batman’s kiss-off line to Superman is still a killer: “They need to be inspired.  And let’s face it, “Superman”… the last time you really inspired anyone was when you were dead.”)  We’re shown how things are going wrong across the DCU, with a million Omacs unleashed world-wide, the Rann-Thanagar war raging across space, and the newly united super-villains brutally murdering the Freedom Fighters.  (That gruesome sequence really threw me for a loop when I first read it, and it’s still shocking to read now.)  Then, of course, there’s the last-page cliffhanger, which connects all of these events to Crisis on Infinite Earths, as we see that the return of the four survivors of the destruction of the multiverse from that story: the elderly Superman and Lois Lane from Earth-2, Alex Luthor from Superman-3, and Superboy-Prime.  It’s a very surprising revelation, and a great hook for the story.

But things quickly fall apart from there.  There are several problems with Infinite Crisis, in my opinion.  First and foremost, it’s too big.  The series is constantly bouncing around from location to location, and from character to character across the DCU.  Unless you’re reading all of those characters’ individual titles (which I certainly wasn’t), it’s extraordinarily difficult to follow (can anyone explain to me what happened to the Flashes in issue #4?), and without any characters to really invest in, I lost my involvement in the story.  This series should have been much more focused on the big three of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  The other characters and events should have all been seen through THEIR eyes.  Reading the story now, it’s clear to me that the tragedies of the later issues occur because the big three are so divided that their younger proteges — Robin, Cassie Sandsmark, and Connor Kent — are left to fight the bad guys alone, with tragic results.  Those events give Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman the push to put aside their differences and reunite in the final issue.  That’s a great idea for a story, but the whole series is so fractured and unfocused that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman barely appear in the series that should be featuring them.  Getting to the splash page of issue #6, when reading the series this time, I finally understood the point, but even while I now recognized the story’s point, I was stunned by how clumsily they’d gotten there.  (As Joss Whedon is fond of saying: the problem with Act 3 is Acts 1 and 2.)

Many of the events that had been important in the build-up to Infinite Crisis have little-to-nothing to do with the series itself, which is also a disappointment.  Yes, we see Omacs in the series, but they’re just used as a generic threat to the DC heroes, they’re not at all central to the story.  Maxwell Lord, such a key player in Countdown and The Omac Project, was killed off before Infinite Crisis even began.  Instead, the series focused more on the elderly Earth-2 Superman and Superboy Prime.  But even they aren’t really fleshed out — it’s left to a separate one-shot, Secret Files & Origins 2006: Infinite Crisis, to explain the backstories of those characters.  What a poor story-telling choice!

Then there’s the art.  Phil Jiminez, inked by Andy Lanning, does phenomenal work in the first issue.  But right away in issue #2, it becomes apparent that Jiminez & Lanning couldn’t complete the series on their own.  At first I liked the solution DC found, which was choosing some other great artists (George Perez, Jerry Ordway), and giving them specific scenes to illustrate.  This way the art doesn’t shift mid-sequence, which makes the changes in art less jarring, and there’s something cool about seeing, for instance, the pages that re-tell the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths drawn by Perez and Ordway.  But as the series progressed, more and more artists had to become involved, many of whom were no-where near as good as George Perez.  The result is a series that feels choppy and rushed.  Several pages in the later issues were clearly unfinished, like the big spread of the One Year Later DC heroes at the end of issue #7, and most famously the double-page spread at the start of issue #7, depicting the battle for Metropolis, that was only half-inked.  (That’s right, only the figures in the foreground were inked, everything in the background was left pencilled.  It’s a jaw-droppingly amateur aspect of this huge DCU crossover event.  Many of these art problems were eventually corrected for the trade paperback collection of the series — click here for a complete list of all the changes — which was only a further slap in the face to everyone who bought this series when it was originally published monthly.)

It was fun for me to re-read Infinite Crisis for the first time since the series came out, and reading the issues all-together in one sitting, the story definitely works better than it did when read month-to-month.  But while Infinite Crisis has some good ideas and some great moments, over-all I think it’s a big confusing mis-step for the DCU.

Because really, I have to ask myself, what was the point of this story?  The obvious answer is to push Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman apart and then bring them back together.  Re-reading the series now I can sort of see how the story does that, even though I am very critical of the way it does.  But was that it?  Was this story also meant to clarify certain aspects of DC continuity?  To allow for the ret-conning of certain characters’ pasts?  We are shown how Superboy’s punching at the walls of his pocket-universe prison seems to cause ripple effects across DC continuity (a very silly idea, let’s be honest) — was this story designed for the DC writers to change some aspects of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity that they didn’t like?  Or was this story designed to UNDO the changes wrought by Crisis on Infinite Earths — namely, the destruction of the multiverse?  That list of changes made to the story for the collected edition, that I linked to before, notes that the collection of Infinite Crisis includes several new lines of dialogue that seem to hint at the recreation of the multiverse, and in the years after Infinite Crisis the idea of the 52 parallel worlds in the DCU became a central concept.  Was Infinite Crisis designed to lead into that idea?

That I can’t really answer the question of what this story was really about is a big problem, wouldn’t you say?

C’mon back next week for my final look back at DC’s Crises with my thoughts on 2008’s Final Crisis!

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