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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. John
    October 17, 2014 @ 5:50 am

    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"?


  2. BerserkRL
    October 17, 2014 @ 9:56 am

    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.


  3. Sean Daugherty
    October 17, 2014 @ 10:21 am

    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.


  4. David Anderson
    October 17, 2014 @ 12:35 pm

    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.


  5. Ice
    October 17, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

    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.


  6. John
    October 17, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

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


  7. jane
    October 17, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

    Barry's got a bigger ego.


  8. BerserkRL
    October 17, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

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


  9. BerserkRL
    October 17, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    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.


  10. Alan
    October 17, 2014 @ 2:59 pm

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


  11. timber-munki
    October 17, 2014 @ 3:14 pm

    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…


  12. Alan
    October 17, 2014 @ 3:15 pm

    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


  13. John
    October 17, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

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


  14. BerserkRL
    October 17, 2014 @ 3:38 pm

    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.


  15. Ice
    October 17, 2014 @ 6:24 pm

    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.


  16. HarlequiNQB
    October 17, 2014 @ 9:39 pm

    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.


  17. Anton B
    October 18, 2014 @ 1:09 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  18. Anton B
    October 18, 2014 @ 1:11 am

    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.


  19. Sean Daugherty
    October 18, 2014 @ 2:21 pm

    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).


  20. Sean Daugherty
    October 18, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

    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.


  21. Sean Daugherty
    October 18, 2014 @ 2:48 pm

    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.


  22. Kit
    October 19, 2014 @ 7:03 pm

    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.


  23. John Seavey
    October 20, 2014 @ 8:44 am

    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. 🙂


  24. John Seavey
    October 20, 2014 @ 8:51 am

    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.)


  25. John Seavey
    October 20, 2014 @ 8:53 am

    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".)


  26. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 20, 2014 @ 8:59 am

    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.


  27. John Seavey
    October 21, 2014 @ 9:31 am

    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. 🙂


  28. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 21, 2014 @ 9:43 am

    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.


  29. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 21, 2014 @ 9:46 am

    (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.)


  30. Ice
    October 21, 2014 @ 10:53 am

    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.


  31. Sean Daugherty
    October 21, 2014 @ 3:38 pm

    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.


  32. Sean Daugherty
    October 21, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

    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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