Happy new book day, everyone! Today, I’d like to continue the trend I started last week and talk a bit more about DC Comics’s somewhat convoluted multiverse structure to help make it more accessible and understandable (and certainly less daunting) to both new and experienced readers. Please remember to keep last week’s post handy as a reference for some of the concepts and jargon I’ll be using as I move through this phase of the column. In order to make this task more manageable for all of you as readers and me as the authority (or something like it), I’ll break down these posts by universe-altering event (usually called a Crisis), and work my way through the most salient of them from over the past few decades.
I’ll begin with what is likely the largest shift in comics continuity in either big company to date—1985-86’s 12-issue maxi-series entitled Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. DC had established near the beginning of the Silver Age that its titles existed in a multiverse—the shift from Golden to Silver Age itself was determined to be a shift from one universe to another, after all. 1961’s “Flash of Two Worlds” story by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino established that the Silver Age characters (characters we’re more familiar with today—Barry Allen as the Flash, Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, etc.) existed in what was then called Earth-1 before several shifts in the numbering scale. DC’s stable of Golden Age characters (a Flash named Jay Garrick, a Green Lantern named Alan Scott, and older yet familiar versions of such characters as Superman and Batman) all existed safely tucked away on Earth-2, which, despite numerous reboots, is still largely true today.
By the middle of the 1980s, this idea of a multiverse had grown almost out of control. It had become a crutch both to explain away continuity errors and a way to tell unique stories free of continuity’s constraints. Because of this, the DC multiverse was quite literally infinite by 1985. This was the point where the powers that be decided to simplify the playing field, trimming away the excess worlds and creating a much narrower canon.
I’ll say this right now: Crisis on Infinite Earths is a big and confusing story, even to someone who has put some time into studying DC’s many universes that predated it. With that in mind, I’d like to try to break down some of its major points to make it more digestible without outright summarizing and spoiling the entire story. And, to be fair, this story is nearly 30 years old; you’ve likely already been exposed to its effects whether you knew it or not if you’re a DC fan.
The central conflict actually arises between entities called the Monitor and Anti-Monitor. The Monitor was the prototype for the omnipotent beings that watch over the entire multiverse that I referenced last post. The Anti-Monitor is quite literally the Monitor’s opposite number, and is even made from antimatter. It was the Anti-Monitor’s goal to destroy and consume universe after universe until it was the only being left in all existence. The Monitor attempted to discreetly push various superheroes into positions where they could conceivably oppose the Anti-Monitor, but ultimately played a smaller part than one might think when the event really took off a couple of years after his introduction into several DC titles.
The Crisis itself was a huge, mind-boggling series of splash pages with dozens upon dozens of characters battling across them. Let it suffice to say that there were some surprising upheavals brought about by all of these battles. It became clear as the story went on that not everyone was going to make it out alive, and many characters didn’t. For example, both Supergirl and the Flash (Barry Allen) died during the events of the crisis and stayed that way for years. In fact, Barry stayed dead for over 20 years—something nearly unheard of in comics. Many fans believed he would never return (though he did in Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis, which will be explored in a future entry in this column). The fate of reality was decided with a final attack on the Anti-Monitor by the Superman of Earth-2, Alexander Luthor of Earth-3 (the greatest hero in a world of villains), the Superboy of Earth Prime (the only superbeing from our own world who may also get his own post in the future), and the one and only Darkseid.
With the threat eliminated, events the Monitor had already set in motion came to fruition; out of the remaining broken worlds, one solitary earth was created—the Post-Crisis DC Universe of the late 1980s and 1990s. This world was an amalgamation of Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-4, Earth-S (the home universe of such characters as Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and other characters powered by the wizard Shazam), and some of the more favorable pieces of Earth-X (a world where the Axis had won World War II and superheroes carrying on the fight for truth and justice were rare but beloved). As you can imagine, this created an entirely new set of contradictions within continuity. For example, which aspects of the Golden Age and Silver Age versions of Batman and Superman were kept and which were thrown out? You begin to see how truly complex this issue becomes.
And this was the structure of the DC Universe until the reintroduction of the multiverse later on in its history. But that is a story for another post. What did you all think of this rundown? Was it easy enough to follow? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
My comic picks for this week:
Batman Eternal #18
Earth 2 #26
New Avengers #22
Moon Knight #6