The Darkness Finally Screamed (The Last War in Albion Part 66: Crisis on Infinite Earths, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow)

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This is the sixteenth of twenty-two parts of Chapter Eight of The Last War in Albion, focusing on Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing. An omnibus of all twenty-two parts can be purchased at Smashwords. If you purchased serialization via the Kickstarter, check your Kickstarter messages for a free download code.

The stories discussed in this chapter are currently available in six volumes. This entry covers stories from the fourth volume. It's available in the US here and UK here. Finding the other volumes are, for now, left as an exercise for the reader, although I will update these links as the narrative gets to those issues.

Previously in The Last War in AlbionAlan Moore's Swamp Thing tied in with Marz Wolfman and George Pérez's epic Crisis on Infinite Earths.

"In the beginning there was only one. A single black infinitude, so cold and dark for so very long that even the burning light was imperceptible. But the light grew, and the infinitude shuddered, and the darkness finally screamed, as much in pain as in relief." -Marv Wolfman, Crisis on Infinite Earths

Figure 491: The cover of the debut issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
This story, published as a twelve-issue limited series, was a watershed moment in the history of comics. It came about due to the confluence of two seemingly unrelated things: the fact that DC Comics took place in a multiverse consisting of infinitely many parallel universes, and the fact that over the course of the 1970s and 80s American comic book retailing had steadily transitioned from being dominated by newsstands and other magazine vendors to being dominated by shops focusing exclusively on comic books. 

This tendency began in 1972 when a bookshop owner and comics convention organizer named Phil Seuling created East Coast Seagate Distribution after negotiating deals with most of the major comics publishers to allow him to buy comics at a deep discount in exchange for the comics purchased being nonreturnable. Because this dramatically decreased the risk for publishers (who were, as ever, facing declining sales), this proved acceptable to the companies. Seagate then arranged to ship those comics to specialty shops. Over the course of the ensuing decade, this eclipsed newsstands as the primary means of distributing comics, in no small part because Seagate could routinely get comics to shops a week faster than the newsstands got them, a fact that comics fans quickly picked up on, bringing more traffic towards the specialty shops and away from newsstands. In 1973, the direct market consisted of approximately 25% of comics sales. A decade later, it was newsstands that made up only 25% of the market, and the industry was awash in regional distributors all in competition with one another. 

One consequence of this was a fundamental shift in the nature of comics readers. Whereas in their early days American comic books were read by a wide and general audience, the direct market sold entirely to people who were dedicated enough comics fans to go to a shop stocking specifically comics, as opposed to people who happened to pick them up from a magazine rack at the supermarket. This accelerated a general trend that existed since the rise of semi-organized fandom in the late 60s, creating a smaller but more highly engaged readership. Comics companies quickly capitalized on this, creating titles designed for dedicated fans, among them Crisis on Infinite Earths

Figure 492: Top - Jay Garrick collapses from the chemical vapors
in his lab. (Written by Gardner Fox, art by Harry Lampert, in Flash
Comics
 #1, 1939) Bottom - Barry Allen is bathed in chemicals and
lightning in his lab. (Written by Robert Kanigher, art by Carmine
Infantino and Joe Kubert, from Showcase #4, 1956)
A basic truism of comics fans, however, is that they are prone to a certain measure of obsessiveness, particularly on the matter of maintaining consistency across multiple comics. This was always one of the great strengths of Stan Lee’s approach to comics, which was always careful to show that all of the Marvel books took place in a shared universe and to make sure events in one book were, if appropriate, reflected in others. But DC, owing to its decades longer history, had a much more ad hoc approach. Although some of its superhero titles, most notably Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman had been published continually since World War II, most had been retired in the aftermath of the war when superheroes declined in popularity, and were not revived until after the formation of the Comics Code, when superhero comics were seen as a suitable genre to continue telling the sorts of adventure stories that had previously appeared in the now-banned crime comics. DC, in reviving its superheroes under the editorial eye of Julius Schwartz, used many of its old World War II-era character names, but gave them all revised origins and concepts. So, for instance, where the World War II-era character the Flash was a college student named Jay Garrick who fell asleep in his laboratory and inhaled chemical vapors that gave him superhuman speed, the 1950s iteration of the character was a police scientist named Barry Allen who, working late one night, had a case full of chemicals explode all over him in a lightning strike. 

Figure 493: The two flashes meet. (Written by
Gardner Fox, art by Carmine Infantino and Joe
Giella, from Flash #123, 1961)
In 1961 DC published The Flash #123, featuring a story entitled “Flash of Two Worlds!” In this story, Barry Allen accidentally travels between universes, appearing in a parallel Earth in which Jay Garrick, the comic book character that inspired his costume and name, is actually a real person, with whom he teams up to stop several World War II-era Flash villains. This comic introduced the idea of the DC Multiverse, which was eventually formalized to place the World War II-era superheroes on a world designated Earth-2, while the contemporary ones existed on Earth-1. This quickly led to the proliferation of many more universes, until, as Marv Wolfman put it in an essay at the start of the first issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths, “DC Mythology, which had grown helter-skelter over the past 50 years, had become rather convoluted.” These problems compounded themselves, as the default solution to any continuity problem was to declare that whatever story didn’t fit took place on yet another alternate earth, compounding the problem and, worse, becoming increasingly impenetrable to new readers.

Figure 494: Swamp Thing's
most substantive appearance
in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
(Written by Marv Wolfman,
art  by George Pérez and Jerry
Ordway,  from Crisis on Infinite
Earths
 #5, 1985)
Crisis on Infinite Earths was designed to clean up the morass of DC history and allow the line to move forward with a single, unified world that would incorporate all of the various parts of the multiverse into a coherent whole. The product of four years of research on Marv Wolfman’s part and the willingness of George Pérez to draw frighteningly detailed panels with dozens of minor characters in them such that Wolfman could incorporate practically every character in the history of DC into his story. (Swamp Thing, for his part, appears in the last panel of page ten of issue #5, alongside Sergeant Rock and two of the Easy Company, delivering his only line, “Yes… the Earth… has changed… become dark… corrupt.”) 

Figure 495: The Monitor observes Swamp
Thing's battle with Anton Arcane. (Written
by Alan Moore, art by Rick Veitch and John
Totleben, from Saga of the Swamp Thing #31, 1984)
It is ironic, then, that the plot of Crisis on Infinite Earths is one of the most ludicrously impenetrable and convoluted things ever put to page. It concerns the conflict between two godlike beings, the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor. The former of these had been appearing in cameo roles throughout DC’s line in the years leading up to Crisis on Infinite Earths, including a brief appearance in Swamp Thing #31, the final part of Moore’s Arcane story, while the latter was a new villain introduced for Crisis itself. Both had their origins in the creation of the Multiverse, with the Anti-Monitor existing on a planet called Qward within an antimatter universe originating in some 1960s Green Lantern comics, and wanting to destroy the entire Multiverse. The Monitor recruits a bunch of heroes to defend the Multiverse by merging all of the universes into one, but his plans are derailed when his assistant, Harbinger, is possessed by one of the Anti-Monitor’s shadow creatures and kills him. It turns out, however, that the Monitor had planned for this eventuality and projects the last five Earths of the Multiverse into a Limbo universe. With the assistance of Alexander Luthor from Earth-3 (where heroes are villains, such that the Justice League of America is replaced by the Crime Syndicate of America, but where, correspondingly, villains are heroes, resulting in Lex Luthor sending his infant son to Earth-1 as the universe ends at the start of Crisis, in a sly parallel of Superman’s origin story) the now-recovered Harbinger leads an attack on the Anti-Montior that delays his plans, at the cost of Supergirl’s life. Meanwhile, the Flash dies stopping another scheme of the Anti-Monitor’s finding himself flung across time where, as his body disintegrates, he tries to offer warnings to heroes, explaining a series of mysterious appearances he’d been making prior to his death. Undaunted, the Anti-Monitor travels to the dawn of time as a massive alliance of supervillains tries to conquer the Multiverse. This latest scheme is deflected by the Spectre, who battles with the Anti-Monitor using the combined powers of all of DC’s magical characters to fight against the Anti-Monitor, who drains the power of all of the superheroes. The result is the creation of a singular universe in which elements of the remaining five worlds are juxtaposed, including having both the Earth-1 and Earth-2 versions of Superman. At this point the Anti-Monitor attacks yet again, dragging the singular Earth into the antimatter universe and proclaiming, memorably, “you whimpering fool, it already is too late! From the moment you set foot on Qward - you sealed your own fates! This is the day the Universe dies!” He’s finally defeated for once and for all (until his next appearance in 1999) by Alexander Luthor, the Earth-2 Superman, and the Earth-Prime version of Superman (Earth Prime originally being intended as the real world of the DC Comics readership, introduced in The Flash #179 in 1968, but eventually given a Superboy in DC Comics Presents #87 in 1985), who, along with the Earth-2 version of Lois Lane, secretly saved by Alexander Luthor when the various Earths merge, retreat into a paradise dimension outside of the universe, allowing the newly formed singular Earth to continue on with no memory that there had ever been a multiverse save on the part of the Psycho-Pirate, a 1960s enemy of Doctor Fate and Hourman who was a Silver Age remake of a Justice Society of America villain from 1944 who controlled emotions through the magical Medusa Masks, and who had been an ally of the Anti-Monitor throughout Crisis on Infinite Earths

Figure 496: Colleen Doran did Orbiter with
Warren Ellis in 2004.
In the years following the comic’s publication, the various comics DC published rebooted to reflect this new continuity. These reboots led to one of Moore’s two engagements with Crisis on Infinite Earths, a two-part Superman story entitled “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” that served as the final Superman story before the post-Crisis reboot. The origins of this story lie in Moore’s second trip to the United States in 1985, where he was a guest at San Diego Comicon. There he heard from Julius Schwartz that he intended to transition to the reboot of Superman by doing an issue of each of Superman’s two titles at the time, Action Comics and Superman, that would pretend to be the final issue of the comic. As Schwartz tells it, upon hearing this Moore “literally rose out of his chair, put his hands around my neck, and said, ‘if you let anybody but me write that story, I’ll kill you.’” Moore, for his part, wrote in 2004 upon the occasion of Schwartz’s passing, “how, now, am I supposed to contradict a classic Julius Schwartz yarn? So, all right: it’s true. I picked him up and shook him like a British nanny, and I hope wherever he is now, he’s satisfied by this shame-faced confession.” (Other classic Julius Schwartz yarns include his sexually assaulting Colleen Doran.) 

Figure 497: Superman was equally unsympathetic
to Lois Lane.
On art duties for “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” was, by Moore’s request, Curt Swan, whose immaculately clean lines defined Superman’s square-jawed and uncomplicated heroism had defined Superman over the preceding three decades. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” would end up being Swan’s last piece of regular work for the company, however, as Crisis and the subsequent reboot of the Superman franchise was used as an excuse to push Swan out in favor of a thirty years younger and then-trendier artist, in this case John Byrne, who would himself be steadily ushered to the junk heap of once-hot artists several decades later. Moore also opted to frame the story using a gimmick dating back to the 1950s under the editorial tenure of Mort Weisinger (one of the least pleasant to work with editors in comics history, famously described by Roy Thomas as “a malevolent toad”), and owe their existence to the trend of advertising elaborate and ridiculous premises for comics on the covers, often coming up with them prior to actually writing the story inside, leaving writers to subsequently come up with stories that explained why, for example, Superman is setting fire to the dressing gown Jimmy Olsen has gotten him for father’s day while saying that he’s “sorry I ever adopted you as my son.” Eventually this got difficult enough that Weisinger concocted the idea of declaring stories to be “imaginary stories” that existed outside of continuity, and thus could be used to do things like tell the story of Superman’s death, which of course could never happen inside the comics themselves. 

Figure 498: The opening to "Whatever Happened to
the Man of Tomorrow," proclaiming it (and all other
Superman stories) to be imaginary. (From Superman
#423, 1986)
And so “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” opens with one of the more famous passages ever written by Moore, which proclaims, in an ornate and old-fashioned script selected by letterer Todd Klein, that “this is an IMAGINARY STORY (Which may never happen, but then again may) about a perfect man who came from the sky and did only good. It tells of his twilight, when the great battles were over and the great miracles long since performed,” it explains, and proceeds to tease much of the plot of the subsequent two issues, before concluding that the story “begins in a quiet midwestern town, one summer afternoon in the quiet midwestern future. Away in the big city, people still sometimes glance up hopefully from the sidewalks, glimpsing a distant speck in the sky… but no: it’s only a bird, only a plane. Superman died ten years ago. This is an IMAGINARY Story… Aren’t they all?” 

It is worth highlighting the degree to which this is, within the context of 1986 DC Comics, actually controversial. Certainly John Byrne, who was inheriting the Superman books after this, did not like it, complaining years later about how he cannot hear the phrase “imaginary story” “without a snide and ennui soaked voice whispering in my ear ‘but aren’t they all?’” Indeed, he suggests that Moore’s preface to the story “goes most deeply to the root” of “the many things that can be seen to have gone wrong with American superhero comics.” [continued]

Comments

John 2 years, 4 months ago

But, I mean, aren't they all? And, I mean, literally. Hasn't DC at this point made virtually all of its stories over the course of its entire history into the equivalent of "imaginary stories"?

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BerserkRL 2 years, 4 months ago

a) On the page where Barry Allen meets Jay Garrick, why does Barry have a giant head? Jay's head looks a but large too, but Barry's is gigantic.

b) When the Monitor confesses a temptation to look away from the screen, is it because he's distracted by his assistant's blouse?

c) Given that John Byrne is the one who had Big Barda and Superman kidnapped, hypnotised, and forced to perform in porn movies (Superman 592-593), I have a hard time giving a damn what he thinks of Moore's Superman story.

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Sean Daugherty 2 years, 4 months ago

I've got to stand up for John Byrne, honestly. Getting to write Superman was his dream job: apparently when, prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC approached Marvel about the possibility of licensing their properties and getting out of the publication business, Byrne almost immediately dumped a pitch for the title on Marvel EIC Jim Shooter's desk. And, honestly, he did it very well: his take on the character is, on the whole, excellent. It's not without its missteps (the porn movie plot you mention being chief among them), but it's a damn sight better than the malaise that the titles suffered through beforehand, and the boring holding pattern they entered afterwards.

I don't exactly agree with his comment on Moore's intro (which I think is one of the most beautiful passages to have ever appeared in a mainstream American comic), but I think I understand where he's coming from. If I were to play devil's advocate, I can see at least two problems with it. The first is the certainly deliberate fairy tale style it's written in. One of the biggest problems you face when working with a character like Superman is striking a balance between the mythology that has built up around the character over the decades, and the necessity to ground the character somewhat so that there are still interesting and new stories to tell about him. That was in large part the logic behind the reboot of the character, so it's understandable how Byrne would be irritated that the last story prior to his run goes further than ever before in the opposite direction. That said, I think it's a misplaced complaint: Moore's story was a deliberate capstone of that era, so the fact that it's not in line with what comes after is the point of the exercise in the first place.

The second problem I can see (again, playing devil's advocate) is that the "aren't they all" line is potentially too cynical and dismissive. It's potentially in line with the kind of deconstructive work Moore was doing for Watchmen around the same time, so I can see how someone could read it that way. But, again, I tend to dismiss it because of the context. WHttMoT is basically a fairy tale: the ultimate (literally, in this case) silver age Superman story. I tend not to read it as a dismissive aside because that kind of attitude seems entirely out of place with the rest of the story.

So I think John Byrne is *wrong* about it, but I'm neither surprised nor particularly bothered by his reading. As it happens, I think Alan Moore (for all his limited contributions) and John Byrne are basically two of the three best writers the Superman franchise has ever had. Their approaches are almost polar opposites, but that's part of why I rate them both so highly.

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David Anderson 2 years, 4 months ago

As I understand it, for some reason modern comics art uses a head-body ratio of about 1:7. Real life human beings have closer to 1:6 or even 1:5. Real human beings, even with Hollywood actor physiques, in superhero costumes copied directly from the page look ridiculous. I think Barry Allen's head is at the large end of the realistic range, but still within it. I would guess that the modern comic book proportions have evolved and more realistic proportions were more common when that page was drawn.
Quite why the comic book proportion looks more acceptable on the page that realistic proportions I do not know.

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Ice 2 years, 4 months ago

Crisis on Infinite Earths tore down the multiverse and "streamlined" DC continuity. Then, years later Infinite Crisis/52 recreated the multiverse. Then, Flashpoint tore down the multiverse and "streamlined" DC continuity. As far as I know, Morrison's "Multiversity is going to recreate *again* the DC multiverse.

I wonder how they'll tear it down again in a few years. Also, I sometimes wonder why there's anybody paying any attention to it any more.

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John 2 years, 4 months ago

The whole thing is preposterous. Why don't they just tell good stories and stop worrying about the fucking continuity?

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jane 2 years, 4 months ago

Barry's got a bigger ego.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 4 months ago

Glancing at some online cover galleries I think Flash was using bigger heads during that era than other comics published at the same time.

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BerserkRL 2 years, 4 months ago

P.S. - I read Moore's "aren't they all" line as just poking fun at the idea of treating out-of-mainline-continuity stories as "imaginary" in some way that the mainline-continuity stories aren't. He's not downgrading the stories by calling them "imaginary"; "imaginary story" is not going to be a pejorative term coming from a professional fiction writer. It's more the opposite, that he's trying to bring the out-of-mainline-continuity stories up to the same status as the mainline-continuity stories by gently pointing out the artificiality of the distinction.

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Alan 2 years, 4 months ago

Frankly, the fact that Byrne didn't like that preface makes me like it even more.

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timber-munki 2 years, 4 months ago

In my ideal world Alan Moore receives an annual stipend for DC been able to use "This is an IMAGINARY Story… Aren’t they all?” whenever they wish. Of course this ideal world requires root & branch (or rizome) change to the Work For Hire system in place in American comics and the world branching off to an alternate universe where Moore's split with DC wasn't so toxic so I realise it's a pipe-dream.

' a perfect man who came from the sky and did only good.' is a criticism I like to use of Visionary Director Zack Snyder's Man Of Steel and rather than him & Goyer thinking the name 'Superman' is too silly for their Very Serious film it's more that subconsciously they don't see Henry Cavill's character as Superman, just some sociopath with an S on his chest.

'the quiet midwestern future' is for me the line that sticks with me and reminds me of Moore's genius in ways I find inexplicable , like 'I no longer wish to look at dead things' in a comic made of dead trees.

As the Byrne's “goes most deeply to the root” of “the many things that can be seen to have gone wrong with American superhero comics.” there's a very good argument that 1985-6 broke comics - Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Crisis On Infinite Earths and Mattel/Marvel/Shooter's 'Our marketing guys have found out that boys love the wordsSecret and War so make a comic with those words in the title and it's champagne and cavier all the way' were all so successful both creatively & finacially that, in an industry primed to copy trends & fads it would be nigh impossible for the people in charge at DC & Marvel not to try and repeat the success but fail by only use the surface of those mega-sellers.

Really liked your plot summary of COIE, would have been more in the spirit of the original text if it was all one long sentence. I was a long time Marvel Zombie and after loving the likes of Starman I picked up the 1998 hardback collection and let's just say that in it's defence it is nice to look at...

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Alan 2 years, 4 months ago

The real failure of COIE was that DC didn't have the guts to pick a post - Crisis position and stick with it. Wonder Woman got a hard reboot that erased her entire pre-Crisis history. Superman did too except that his new origin was set some undetermined period in the past so he could still be in the JLA while Wonder Woman wasn't. Batman's continuity was unchanged except to pretend the Silver Age never happened. The JSA happened but without the involvement of most of its more important members. And the elimination of Superboy and Supergirl screwed up the history of the Legion of Super Heroes so badly that it has caused six reboots so far

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John 2 years, 4 months ago

But this just shows the folly of the whole venture, doesn't it?

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BerserkRL 2 years, 4 months ago

a) I can understand not caring about continuity and just writing solid independent stories.

b) I can understand caring about continuity and therefore trying to reduce the tangled confusion of DC history.

c) But I can't understand caring about continuity and therefore writing a series of stories that only increase the tangled confusion of DC history.

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Ice 2 years, 4 months ago

This is why I dig Alan Moore. Very, very few of his stories have any of that bitter "corporate mandate" flavor you get from a lot of the DC and Marvel comic books.

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HarlequiNQB 2 years, 4 months ago

A) Most likely because it was halfway inked before anyone really noticed, and nobody wants to go back to square one at that point.

David Anderson is generally right about Superhero proportions, although real human proportions can get up to 1:8, it's rare. barry's at 1:6 there, which is not unusual at all, but it is unusual to see it with that sort of physique (people who run 1:6 trend toward stockier). Jay on the other hand is at 1:7, and looks much more natural with his slender build.

Superman's statue is standing at 8.25 heads, which is frankly colossal, but works out given that he's both The Man of Steel, and a statue, but the guy in the foreground is also about 8 heads tall, which is basically ridiculous (supermodels run to about 7.5 in heels), but for some reason we generally accept such proportions when looking at illustrations and some statues.

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Anton B 2 years, 4 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Anton B 2 years, 4 months ago

Moore's introduction to WHTTMOT is perfect. It's uncharacteristically concise and lacking in purple prose. (He comes dangerously close with 'snowblind wastes beyond the Northern lights' but manages to reign himself in).
I guess from the Last War in Albion' s perspective it can be seen as a direct inspiration for Morrison's All Star Superman which also concerns itself with the last days of an out of continuity but clearly Silver Age style Superman.

I've always held Moore's "This is an imaginary story...aren't they all" line to be one of the most affecting and revealing things he's ever written. It may also be applied to Doctor Who as an answer to the 'There is no canon' debate.

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Sean Daugherty 2 years, 4 months ago

I pretty much agree with BerserkRL's reading of the "imaginary story" line, actually. But I think the line between "poking fun" in a affectionate way and in a sarcastic or mean-spirited way can be thin. And while I think even a superficial reading of WHttMoT reveals it as one of the least cynical things Moore has ever written, that is one of the styles Moore was arguably most famous for at the time (between both John Constantine and Watchmen).

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Sean Daugherty 2 years, 4 months ago

I think it's only folly if you must read it as a "once and for all" attempt to permanently fix a problem. Which, to be fair, at least some people responsible for creating it likely did. But I don't think that's universally true, and I don't think it's especially productive to judge it on those merits.

Ultimately, CoIE is a celebration of DC's extremely ad hoc continuity. It's not ashamed or apologetic for any of it, it positively revels in the minutiae. And the supposedly clean slate that followed may or may not have been any less confusing than what came before, but it did shake things up and allowed for new stories and ideas. A lot of interesting, if not excellent, stories came in its wake, from Byrne's Superman, Frank Miller's Batman, George Perez's Wonder Woman, the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League, and even Grant Morrison's Animal Man and Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

My attitude towards continuity is, I suspect, similar to Lance Parkin's, who wrote several iterations of his Doctor Who history and treated it all as a puzzle to be solved more than a problem to be overcome. The joy is in trying to piece it all together, and in seeing what kind of craziness you can generate in the process. And in that respect, DC's multiple attempts at a reboot have all been varying degrees of successful, IMO.

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Sean Daugherty 2 years, 4 months ago

I think the problem is assuming that "caring about continuity" is the same as insisting upon a streamlined, straightforward version of it. I'm a veritable continuity freak, and the thing that attracts me to both the DCU and Doctor Who is the complexity. The "tangled confusion" isn't a bug, it's a feature. It can, for the most part, be ignored when needed, but is a treasure trove to mine for possibilities. And that's a major feature of this "war": Moore and Morrison (as well as other figures like Gaiman) both mine the labyrinth of DC's tangled confusion to great effect.

And so, in his own way, does Wolfman in CoIE. It's by no means as accomplished or effective a story as Moore or Morrison's best, but it's a gonzo classic superhero epic. If you're into that kind of thing, it's a great love letter to the joys of tangled confusion.

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Kit 2 years, 4 months ago

A decade later, it was newsstands that made up only 25% of the market

This seems early for the pendulum to have swung so far? By 1983, the major companies were still doing trial-balloon and limited series as direct-only - eg Dazzler circa 1981, Ronin circa 1983, Camelot 3000 across the 12 month period from 1982-1985 -- and in 1984 DC started experimenting with the "hardcover/softcover" Baxter-first model on New Teen Titans and Legion Of Super-Heroes.

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John Seavey 2 years, 4 months ago

Technically speaking, "Flashpoint" didn't get rid of the Multiverse. It replaced the old Multiverse with a new Multiverse. This does not change the fact that liquor or hard drugs may have been involved in the decision. :)

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John Seavey 2 years, 4 months ago

In fairness, it does make a lot more sense when you're reading it. And let's face it, everything sounds worse when you reduce it to a bare summary of its plot elements.

I'll personally stand up and defend 'Crisis' to its core. It's the most impressive of all the "event" crossovers because it really had no cynicism to it; Wolfman and Perez weren't trying to shake up comics to get a quick headline on Newsarama that week, they were genuinely trying to set up a DC Universe that would last another fifty years and make sense. The story might be a little clunky, but it's genuinely epic in a way that everyone since has tried and failed to imitate; it's impossible to overstate the impact it had on readers at the time. It was the end of an era, the culmination of 50 years of DC continuity...to take it to task for being continuity-heavy really does seem to be unfair. (Which Phil didn't actually do, instead focusing on how it's a series of false climaxes as the Anti-Monitor keeps getting foiled and coming back stronger, but hey, it's still a fun read. And having Sergeant Rock and Swamp Thing sharing a panel is to my mind a plus and not a minus.)

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John Seavey 2 years, 4 months ago

I talked to Marv Wolfman about this a few years back, and according to Wolfman, he pushed for a complete, hard reboot of the entire universe with new #1 issues for every title, starting at the origins and working their way along, but it was viewed as too radical. He was bleakly amused by the fact that they would jump for the same idea if it were put forth when I talked to him. (He was probably even more bleakly amused by the fact that they actually did it with "Flashpoint".)

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

Yeah, for me, talking about the quality of Crisis on Infinite Earths is almost beside the point. It's so utterly of its time that it seems actively ridiculous to try to review it as anything other than a 1985 DC reader, which I wasn't.

What's interesting to me is how utterly pathological a series it is. The fact that it exists in the first place, and that it is what it is says so much about what comics were in 1985. How good a job it does at being what it is seems like a less interesting question than "why on Earth was anyone trying to write something like this?"

So yes. My goal was to capture the sheer weirdness of Crisis. Especially because I think there is a contrast - one that I'm not going to emphasize too heavily at this particular moment in time, but that is nevertheless important - between the sorts of play with continuity that Crisis was doing versus the sorts of play that Moore was doing.

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John Seavey 2 years, 4 months ago

I think the answer to "why on Earth was anyone trying to write something like this?" is, for me, the same reason that someone wrote 'Onslaught'. If you're going to kill an entire era of comics, it's best to have a Viking funeral. This is essentially a wake, a celebration of a whole era that DC is going to spend the next twenty years trying to put in the rear view mirror. It's all of the excesses of Bronze Age DC done to excess, overtopping every single trope to its ultimate extent before getting rid of them completely. And in that sense, it's quite glorious. :)

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

And this ultimately pathological, as premature mourning of something that you're not actually going to manage to kill for twenty years is. As with Onslaught (currently back in Marvel's big autumn crossover, which started the month after its big summer crossover ended, and we're already counting down to its next big summer crossover, which is, and I swear to God I am not making this up, Secret Wars. Also, Wolverine's dead), the problem is that it was only the beginning of the excess.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 4 months ago

(Whereas, to give quite a bit of the game away, Moore's excess is ultimately weirdly minimalist, in a way that wasn't clear until he stopped flooding the page with text so much. Or, later, started flooding the page with a succinct summary of Aleister Crowley instead of with a plot. This will contrast with certain other writers' iterations of superhero excess, to be explored in due course.)

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Ice 2 years, 4 months ago

Ah, yes. Liquor and hard drugs: The fuel needed to make it through your average secret-crisis-crossover-war.

I've actually never read Flashpoint, but just found the "New 52" aftermath to be extremely similar to the post-Crisis DC universe.

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Sean Daugherty 2 years, 4 months ago

And, honestly, DC Comics would have been worse off had they listened to Marv Wolfman. I mean, yes, it would have been "cleaner" than what we got, but I'll argue until I'm blue in the face that some of the best things to come out of the post-CoIE milieu was a direct or indirect result of the lack of will to go ahead with a full, clean slate reboot. Some of the best and most popular things to come out of DC in the following years relied on the legacy continuity. And, as someone who actually started reading in that period, it certainly didn't discourage me in the slightest.

Besides, it's not like the whole Flashpoint/New 52 debacle was actually much cleaner. You still had properties that were far less impacted than other (Batman, Green Lantern, and Legion of Super-Heroes were largely untouched; Superman, the Flash, Justice League and so on far more so). And there was still a huge amount of confusion (like two Lobos running around, the question of whether or not J'Onn J'Onzz was ever in the Justice League, whether or not Swamp Thing and John Constantine had ever met before, etc.) because, really, you can't artificially "force" several decades worth of continuity in the space of a month, and neither your creators nor your audience are going to sit back and wait for it to build up organically. The only time I've seen a reboot work semi-effectively at actually clearing the slate was Marvel's Ultimate line, and that, crucially, only worked because it ran in parallel to the original continuity and didn't have to actually replace it in full.

But, as I said, I think CoIE actually works as a story, and ultimately benefitted DC's line immensely. Not because it streamlined anything, but because it shook things up. It revitalized things, not by stripping away "continuity cruft," but by adding more than it managed to take away.

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Sean Daugherty 2 years, 4 months ago

I honestly wouldn't call that pathological. You're right that the actual process of burying the Bronze Age took quite some time, but just because the process didn't reach its final fruition for years doesn't mean that there wasn't a significant and noticeable change in the immediate aftermath of CoIE. Even if we posit the period between, say, CoIE and Infinite Crisis as an extended transition, the Bronze Age DCU was dead by mid-1987. Which means that it was hardly premature to celebrate/mourn its passing.

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