Book Review: Infinite Crisis
Publication Date: October 3, 2006
· Greg Cox
Cover illustration by Daniel Acuņa
by R.J. Carter
Published: October 11, 2006
If you've been in a comic shop within the past year, you no doubt are already aware of the past summer's DC Comics housecleaning event, Infinite Crisis, and the repercussions that are still being felt in 52 and the rest of the publisher's titles. And, in truth, it was quite the epic story, featuring the return of the multiverse and the four characters last seen at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths -- Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-2, Alexander Luthor of Earth-3, and the teenaged Superboy of Earth-Prime. It was an event that saw us lose some fan favorites like Blue Beetle and the Spectre, and saw the introduction of brand new characters, like Blue Beetle and the Spectre.
Confused? There's no need to be. It may be a pain to go back and get all those back issues and tie-ins, and put the chronology together from that, but there's no longer a need. Greg Cox (Star Trek: The Q Continuum) has condensed the entire event into a 371-page novel that begins with a surprise attack on the Martian Manhunter by an unknown assailant, and doesn't let up until the ultimate bad guy has been captured and yet utters his haunting threat of revenge.
To adapt the seven-issue miniseries into a cohesive novel, Cox borrowed from a handful of tie-in stories, including JLA #119, Teen Titans #32, Gotham Central #38, Aquaman #37, JSA Classified #4, Wonder Woman #s 223 and 224, and the Infinite Crisis Special volumes of Day of Vengeance and Rann/Thanagar War. The result is, perhaps, the best definitive linear explanation and exploration of all the events that occured during the cataclysmic event.
For the uninitiated, I'll try to take things slowly, and only gloss over the historical details. In the forties and fifties, DC Comics published a good many superhero titles, many of whom had their origins during World War II. In the sixties, those heroes became revitalized with new titles. Barry Allen was now the Flash instead of Jay Garrick. Hal Jordan was a space cop named Green Lantern instead of a magic ring weilder named Alan Scott. Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent were still Batman and Superman, but the storytelling style was just slightly different -- and how could we account for Superman and Batman running around with a new Flash and Green Lantern and other heroes without recalling the work they did in the Justice Society with the older, original heroes? For the answer, DC reached into the world of quantum physics, and invented alternate realities, coexisting with each other in space but separated by different vibrational planes. The heroes of the Justice League of America that were now being published lived on Earth-1, those of the Justice Society on Earth-2. It was a dimensional breach first discovered, appropriately enough, by Barry Allen, who encountered Jay Garrick that way (in Barry's world, Jay Garrick was a comic book character.) Green Lantern later paired up with his own extra-dimensional counterpart, in Green Lantern #40. Pay attention to that issue, kids, because it's what really started all this mess. It involved a renagade named Krona who sought to learn the forbidden knowledge of the pre-Big Bang universe. He wanted to see the hand that shaped the stars, to hear that cosmic Fiat Lux! And his experiment succeeded. Years later, that event would be expanded upon -- and would be the catalyst for the Big Bang echoing so that it didn't create a universe, but a multiverse.
For the years that followed, the Justice League and the Justice Society would team up every summer for a story that always involved "Crisis" in the title. It was a long standing tradition. And if it had held there, that might be the way things continued. But the real-world business of DC Comics began to get in the way. They had acquired the Fawcett Comics characters Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family. They didn't quite fit into the worlds that already existed in the DC Universe, so they were given one of their own: Earth-S, for Shazam. Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters required a world overrun by the Nazis to have their story work -- and so they were placed on Earth-X. The Justice League encountered their evil duplicates from Earth-3, where the only hero was Lex Luthor.
In the 80s, the company had acquired the Charlton Heroes -- Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, The Question, and others. To insinuate them into the existing universes was unweildy. In fact, the entire multiverse had become something that only the most ardent longterm fans could understand. So DC decided to clean house, condensing all the multiverses -- even ones they hadn't ever used! -- in a twelve-issue cosmic event called Crisis on Infinite Earths, which left us with one universe, and one Earth.
And a few characters displaced that the company forgot to clean up.
At the end of that Crisis, Alexander Luthor -- the young son of the Luthor of Earth-3 -- opened a dimensional rift so that the Superman of Earth-2 (the original Superman published in the 30s) and his Lois could live forever in heaven. Joining them was the displaced Superboy from Earth Prime (which was the designation given to the Earth of us readers.)
Apparently, these four have been able to monitor events on Earth since their departure. And they're not pleased with what they've seen. Their disgust culminated with the events of Identity Crisis which found that the Justice League had sometimes been wiping the minds of their enemies whenever their secret identities had been compromised. Batman discovered it, confronted them, and had his own mind wiped of the knowledge as a result. This made Batman more paranoid of the heroes than ever, and he built a spy satellite to monitor their movements -- and assess their weaknesses -- just in case he should ever need to take them down. But the satellite was taken over by a man named Maxwell Lord, who had a psionic talent to "convince" people to do things. And when he "convinced" Superman to fight Batman, the caped crusader was nearly killed. Wonder Woman finally captured Maxwell Lord and, using the magic of her lasso, compelled Lord to tell the truth about how to free Superman from his control. The answer, truthfully, was to kill Maxwell Lord, which the Amazon warrior did without hesitation or remorse -- an action that was video recorded by the now-rogue satellite, Brother Eye, and retransmitted repeatedly to every news agency in the world.
Which is where things stand at the opening of Infinite Crisis. The world is threatened, but the holy trinity of superheroes are no longer trusted by the world, or by each other. Which is enough to bring Superman-2 out of his long-imposed extra-reality exile. His reasoning is that, when the heroes saved one Earth back in the original Crisis, they saved the wrong one, resulting in this "grim and gritty" world of paranoid heroes who use killing as an accepted method. His world, Earth-2, is the one he believes should have been saved -- the perfect world:
Superman-2 quickly comes to realize that he has been duped, and that his emotions for his dying wife have been used as a blind to the real scheme going down: Alexander Luthor and Superboy-Prime have gone mad, and they're using science and magic to recreate the multiverse, temporarily, to create the perfect world. For Superboy-Prime, that world is his own, but Alexander Luthor has his own agenda. And before it's all over, a lot of heroes and villains are going to die.
"I don't need your enchanted lasso to tell the truth," Superman-2 said bitterly. He stopped trying to break free, but his powerful fists stayed clenched. "That's what people from my Earth do." Wonder Woman loosened her grip, and he lifted the lasso from him in disgust. Superman tensed just in case the older man went on the attack again, but, for the moment, he seemed inclined to toss words at them instead of fists.
Good job, Diana, the younger Superman thought. He wiped the blood from his face, grateful for Wonder Woman's intervention. Maybe now we can find out what this is all about.
"And the truth is," Superman-2 accused them, "that your Justice League lobotomized its adversaries. Your Batman built a spy satellite spawning an army that killed dozens. And your Wonder Woman murdered Maxwell Lord." He flung the end of the lasso back at Diana, then turned to point a finger at his younger counterpart. "And, worst of all, you, Superman, could have stopped this before it started." Anger deepened the lines of his weathered face, so that Superman barely recognized himself in the older man. Superman-2's voice rose. "You should have! You should have led them to a better tomorrow. Instead, when the universe needed its greatest heroes, they refused to stand together." The harsh words poured out of him, as though he had been holding them back for too long. "You had the opportunity to make your Earth into the perfect world it had the potential to be... and you wasted it. That's why I had to come here. That's why my Lois died."
"To bring back your perfect world?" Diana challenged him softly. Superman got the impression that she knew more about what was going on than he did.
But even he saw the flaw in the older man's reasoning. "If you're from this earth, then it can't have ever been perfect." He joined Wonder Woman atop the heap of rubble. He stood tall, unbowed by the other man's accusations. "Because a perfect world doesn't need a Superman."
If you've already enjoyed Infinite Crisis in the graphic form, Cox's book will still serve as a form of expanded summary, exploring each character's thoughts and motivations, fleshing out some of the things that happened between the panels, or outside the scope of a specific issue. If you're a newcomer to comics, you may well be confused, but doubtless caught up in the breathless action and suspense as events spew forth at the rate of machinegun fire. Either way, Infinite Crisis is one heckuva ride. The introduction by Mark Waid and the eye-popping Daniel Acuņa cover are just the icing on the cake.