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Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Epic Crossover that Birthed All Epic Crossovers

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BY April 28, 2020
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We touched on Crisis on Infinite Earths a few times now, whether it was about the upcoming Arrowverse event, or a look at crossover events in general. But the 1985 mega-hit really needs to be explored properly, just for the sheer scope of the damn thing. Not only was there the 12 issue Maxi-series, but also 31 issues of tie-ins with other series, including, oddly enough, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. And those are only the books that include the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover banner. Nearly every DC comic touched on the event. How could they not? The universe was imploding around them.

Crisis for Infinite Earths Was a Crisis for Editors

The reason for the event wasn’t so much that it was a cool story, but because by the 1980s, the DC continuity was so convoluted, a reset button was their best chance to make sense of the chaos. The idea of the multiverse goes back to the silver age of comics. The Golden Age DC characters were on Earth-2, and the Silver Age on Earth-1. In fact, the first Crisis event happened long before the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover in the 1980s. That honor belongs to Justice League of America #21, a 1963 comic with the story Crisis on Earth One! The name stuck, and all the crossing overs of realities started carrying the Crisis title. And some events that didn’t (Identity Crisis, Heroes in Crisis).

Crisis on Earth-One, Justice League of America, DC Comics (Image Via DC Comics)

The main cause of the mess was that throughout the Silver and Bronze Ages, DC bought up a lot of comic properties going back to the Golden Age. And they kept using the same plot device to introduce these characters: they were all from other realities. Eventually, DC sales started plummeting and the entire house needed some strong Marie Kondo organizing skills. Except, instead of a sweet, understanding, and patient home organizer, we got Marv Wolfman and the Anti-Monitor.

Marv Wolfman Wanted to Do Something Completely Different

While working on The New Teen Titans, Wolfman was already getting irritated with the very new reader unfriendly continuity issues, such as the Flash of two worlds. But what finally broke him was a letter from a fan asking why a character didn’t recognize Green Lantern even though they had worked together in a comic three years prior. Wolfman pitched the mega-crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths The History of the DC Universe soon after as a way to simplify the multi-reality issue.

But at the time, an event of this magnitude was unheard of. “I knew up front, and they did too, how big this was going to be,” he said in an interview with ComicCon.com. “But, no-one knew how well it would sell, or whether it would sell at all. It was a risk DC was willing to take, because my thoughts were that DC needed a lot of help at that time, and they did too.” So, Wolfman had to reset the DC Universe, while telling an amazing story with a ton of twists and turns and big character moments, and hope that it made truckloads of money because if it didn’t, the DC Universe wouldn’t reset—it would end.

The Entire DC Universe Needed to Be in the Crisis On Infinite Earths Crossover

Swamp Thing, Alan Moore, Crisis on Infinite Earths They actually got Alan Moore to contribute. (Image via DC Comics)

In 1983, Wolfman, along with editors Len Wein and Dick Giordano, sent a memo to all DC editors and writers, telling them that “because this series involves the entire DC Universe we do ask that each Editor and writer cooperate with the project by using a character called The Monitor in their books twice during the next year.” And for the most part, that happened. Sometimes it felt natural, other times it was forced, but by 1984, DC Comics was committed to the massive crossover, and Crisis on Infinite Earths was about to save or destroy the company. Spoiler alert: it worked.

Crisis Between Two Monitors and Infinite Everything

Despite having to fix such a convoluted mess, Marv Wolman and the small army of people involved in the event set up a pretty simple reason for why they were destroying every reality. In 1981, Marv introduced the Monitor in New Teen Titans. The Monitor’s job is…to monitor. He keeps track of all the realities. But there’s on reality that’s made entirely of antimatter, where his “bizarro” self, the Anti-Monitor, lived. In one of the good ol’ regular universes, an accident causes antimatter to start spreading, and our not-so-cleverly-named antagonist, the Anti-Monitor, uses it to spread a wave of destruction throughout the multiverse, destroying one reality at a time.

The Crisis Caused Some Deaths (But Only Two Really Stuck)

Stopping the Anti-Monitor gets a bit complicated, especially when, early during the event, the Monitor dies. His death, however, helps the heroes of the DCU, forming a shield of sorts around the five remaining Earths, and causing them to partially merge. Anti-monitor just sees this as a convenient way to bring all five universes into the antimatter reality he came from. A massive battle ensues and the heroes defeat Anti-Monitor, though only temporarily. And the battle came at a great cost: the death of Supergirl, one of DC’s most beloved characters. She wouldn’t be the last to die either.

Superman, Supergirl, Supergirl Death, Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 George Perez gave us one of the most iconic covers ever drawn. (Image Via DC Comics.

When the Anti-Monitor returns, he tries to use an antimatter cannon to penetrate the “limbo universe” where the five Earths remain, and finally destroy them. But there’s one hero who stands in his way: Barry Allen, the Flash. The Flash stops Anti-Monitor, but sacrifices himself in the process, in one of the most memorable death scenes in comic history:

 

barry allen flash, flash death crisis (Image via DC Comics)

The Final Battle for the Fate of the Earth(s)

With the help of some time travel and the Spectre, the heroes are able to merge the five remaining Earths into one, and cosmically powered-up and pissed off Anti-Monitor makes one last attempt to destroy everything. The Crisis of Infinite Earths crossover ends with an epic battle. On one side, the Earth-2 Superman Kal-L, Alexander Luthor of Earth-3, Superboy of Earth-Prime, and Darkseid—yes, the Darkseid. On the other, all by his lonesome, the Anti-Monitor. The four godlike characters (one is actually a god) beat the Anti-Monitor into nothing more than a burning head, which Kal-L destroys.

superman earth-two, kal-l, anti-monitor (image via: Crisis on Infinite Earths #12, DC Comics)

The only four people to remember the crisis are Kal-L, Lois Lane of Earth-Two, Alexander Luthor, and Superboy-Prime. Luthor creates a pocket reality paradise for them, and they leave the citizens and heroes of the newly formed single universe to pick up the pieces of the crisis.

The Crisis on Infinite Earths Became a Trilogy

Decades later, Geoff Johns would undo Crisis on Infinite Earths with his own crossover event, Infinite Crisis. This event reestablished the multiverse, but with a few more rules than the pre-Crisis era. This is also the event that helped bring back Barry Allen, who hadn’t been the Flash for 20 years.

The last part of the “Crisis” trilogy was Grant Morrison’s esoteric Final Crisis. Darkseid finally discovers the anti-life equation and sets out to destroy all realities. It takes the combined strength of the Justice League and the Green Lantern Corps to stop him. In the process, Darkseid apparently kills Batman. Turns out, he was just sent back in time, setting the groundwork for Scott Snyder’s Dark Nights: Metal…which could be considered the fourth part of the trilogy. That makes sense, right?

The Godfather of All Comic Book Events

Crisis on Infinite Earths wasn’t the first big comic book event, but it was the first to show how insanely profitable and popular they could be. Essentially, Wolfman and Company showed everyone how it’s done. A massive story isn’t enough—you need the character moments to make it work. And you need to get people excited about the event. Future events for both Marvel and DC would spend years developing before the actual even started. If you can’t track an event’s progress from at least five years prior, then it’s likely not a great event. (If it is great, it probably means Jonathan Hickman wrote it).

For instance, let’s look at Avengers Vs. X-Men, a mixed bag of an event, but epic in scope. On the X-Men side, the story started with House of M, when most of the mutants lost their powers. This built to Messiah Complex, and then to Messiah War, and Second Coming. On the Avengers side, to be united front they were, their journey started with Civil War, then Secret Invasion, and Siege. But BOTH stories really began with Avengers: Disassembled. For the better part of a decade, even if they didn’t realize it, Marvel was building towards AvX.

That’s the legacy of Crisis on Infinite Earth; it was a crossover event that looked at the entire scope of the DC Universe and used it to weave a fun, dramatic, and engaging story. DC could have just started over. They didn’t need to do a massive story to explain why they were doing it. Sure, some older fans would hate it, but it would be the “new reader friendly” experience they would try to win back three times over (New52, Rebirth). Wolfman used the foundations of what came before him and used it to write an event that seemed like DC was telling it since 1963’s Crisis on Earth-One!

And that is epic.

(Featured Image: Crisis on Infinite Earths, novelization, Simon and Schuster)

COMICSDC ComicsCrisis CrossoverCrisis On Infinite EarthsDC ComicsFlashMarv WolfmanSupergirlsuperman

Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.

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