Sunday, October 31, 2010

Overblown To The Point Of Me Feel Cheated: Crisis On Infinite Earths Drowns In Self-Referentialism.

The Good: Some of the artwork, Basic story concept
The Bad: Story drags on, Incredibly self-referential, Time leaps which make no sense
The Basics: After a long time waiting for it, Crisis On Infinite Earths disappoints as a very comic book-y story that doesn't know when to end.

Just because something is first, does not make it the best. Indeed, in the world of DC graphic novels, no volume was presented to me as the ultimate experience the way that Crisis On Infinite Earths was. It was the first crossover comic book series that engulfed the entire DC Universe in a single storyline. And having finished reading it now, instantly Justice (click here for that review!) and Kingdom Come (click here for that review!) are better stories, artwork and uses of the medium than Crisis On Infinite Earths. And the thing is, it's not that I didn't GET Crisis On Infinite Earths; I do. The problem is that the story doesn't work nearly as much as it is hyped to. Instead, this is a remarkably self-referential work which is so engulfed in its own purpose that it becomes a story only an expert in the field would truly appreciate.

In other words, if you're not hooked on DC comics, there is little to grab you with Crisis On Infinite Earths. And while there are some serious and engaging graphic novels and anthologies that tell adult stories that anyone who like reading will enjoy, Crisis On Infinite Earths is not that story. This is the graphic novel for people who have a Ph'D in DC Comics. Here's why: according to the forward by writer Marv Wolfman, the purpose of Crisis On Infinite Earths was to clean up the DC timeline - which had different origin stories for characters like Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash based upon the time period the comics were written in - and it was supposed to be the all-engaging DC storyline which included elements from every major DC publication in its fifty year history. In fact, Wolfman mentions that the book was delayed for three years while he did the research necessary to make the project truly work and include everything needed.

The problem is that throughout, obscure character groups come up in time periods other than where the main narrative is and the inclusion of these characters - most notably a six page divergence to Easy Company in an alternate universe's 1944 (80 - 85) - which not only distract from the main narrative, but make no real sense. And I write novels pertaining to the multiverse, so it is not the reader's lack of comprehension which sinks this book in my mind, it is a lack of detailed study and appreciation of the referenced materials. But given the obscurity of some of the characters, threads and references, Crisis On Infinite Earths only works for the die-hard fans who probably care less about universal continuity than the writers and publishers wanted to believe. But the most annoying aspect of Crisis On Infinite Earths is that the bound edition which collects the yearlong mini-series does not have any easy-to-understand charts or descriptions for newbies.

The concept of Crisis On Infinite Earths is simple: a man named Pariah appears on Earth moments before it is obliterated by an antimatter cloud which is invading not only the universe, but every universe in the multiverse and consuming each universe. On Earth-3, where super heroes are jerks and hooligans, Lex Luthor, the world's greatest hero, and his wife, Lois Lane, save their child Alex by launching him in a rocket through a hole in the multiverse to a universe not yet consumed by the antimatter universe. With the help of his superheroine Harbinger, the Monitor begins to assemble a team of super heroes and super villains to save the Earths that have not yet been consumed by the antimatter cloud and the antimatter universe. By taking up positions near the Monitor's devices at key points in Earth's history, the superhero and supervillain teams work to save Earth. But the devices which are protecting the Earths soon fall prey to shadow creatures who thwart the attempt.

But when the Monitor is killed, Harbinger, Pariah and Alex Luthor marshal the forces of the five remaining Earths to lead an assault on the antimatter universe and the villain who is behind the attempt to destroy all of the universes, the Anti-Monitor. As heroes like Supergirl are slaughtered, entire universes are wiped out of existence and through the actions of Alex Luthor, the five remaining Earths begin to occupy the same time-space which threatens to destroy humanity's last chance of survival.

The problem from the outset is simple and twofold. First, the book references several events that precede the story without satisfactory explanation of them. Most notable is the disappearance of the Flash, who apparently was on trial and now has disappeared. He reappears in spectral form throughout Crisis On Infinite Earths, but there are several allusions which receive the annoying asterisk and "See issue X of 'Y'" and that wears thin. It is almost as annoying as how in the latter pages of the book, as characters depart, readers get the "Continued in issue X of 'Y.'" In other words, the book quickly begins to feel incomplete and the story does reference many events not in the actual volume, so it has the feeling of being less than it could be.

But the other problem is the more serious one. Because Wolfman is so busy destroying the various Earths, he seems to be content to not explain or provide a handy key to readers to understand what the various Earths are. Earth-3 does not so much matter, because it is almost instantly destroyed in the book and readers get the impression that it was pretty much around only for that purpose. But, what separates Earth-1 from Earth-2 from Earth-S from Earth-X from Earth-4? It's never made quite clear. Some have Superman - is it the difference between 1940s Superman and 1960s Superman? Who knows? Not I and I read this entire 364 page book. The idea that DC is trying to clean up its continuity only works if people understand fully how the continuity was off to begin with and how the continuity is resolved at the end (HUGE strike against the book for that!).

But even there the story fails to work because there are time jumps within the story that make no apparent sense other than to include characters that had not previously been referenced. So, for example, characters will be fighting on Earth-1 and suddenly, the story will jump to Earth-1 thousands of years ago and a fight that is breaking out there now. It, quite simply, does not feel well-constructed and in the desperation to include everyone they can, Wolfman and his team make the story less clear than it ought to be.

As for the artwork, Crisis On Infinite Earths was actually recolored for the anthology version and it is brightly colored and looks more like a contemporary comic book than a newsprint comic book or comic strip. Unfortunately, this is not one of George Perez's best works. The pages have panels that are very wordy and as a result, each panel has a low sense of movement. It's not the ideal use of the medium when one has more photographs than video, but Crisis On Infinite Earths does not move the way most graphic novels do and that is problematic.

That said, the story has moments when I cared what happened, but largely, this is a huge group of superheroes working to solve a common problem with little wrinkles popping up like the villains banding together - led by Lex Luthor and Brainiac - to stop them from worrying about the Anti-Monitor and focusing on putting out smaller fires for a while. But because the book is so plot intensive, there is almost no character development. Indeed, Superman begins whining in the last chapter in a way I would have cared about if I still cared about the book at that point. But that was long after I stopped caring and when I was just to the point where I was ready for my next book.

Sadly, Crisis On Infinite Earths will not satisfy serious readers.

For other graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
JLA: Secret Origins
Blackest Night
Amazons Attack!


For other book reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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