Monday, November 15, 2010

The Infinite Crisis of DC Comics.

Ah, DC Comics..... You didn't think I had a grudge with Marvel, did you?

Last week, I took a look at Marvel comics, and how they've tried for yet another Marvel “event” every other week.

At the other end of the comic book universe, in DC Comics, there has been a crisis or two … hundred. They had an Identity Crisis, an Infinite Crisis, a Final Crisis, and one, three year War of the Rings (a Sinestro War, a Corps War, a Blackest night).

Spoiler Alerts all around.

2004: Identity Crisis.  This was fun. It was a small scale, character-killing, world-altering storyline that shakes DC forever! It was essentially a murder mystery, where the wife of Elongated Man was murdered in her own home. In going through the lists of suspects, we discover dark happenings going on behind the scenes of the Justice League—our “B-list” characters have been altering villains, and even mentally “adjusting” allies among the League members. It first started with wiping villains of superhero identities, and then altering them so they became less dangerous, and ended by manipulating fellow League members, most of all Batman. At the end of the day, we discover that the culprit is the ex-wife of one of the League members (The Atom): by attacking one of their loved ones, she figured that all the superheroes would start staying home more often, including her own ex-husband.

It was interesting, and things shifted for everyone. Tim Drake (Robin) lost his father. We actually cared about the minor character of Elongated Man. As the villains go, it had some Retcon (retroactive continuity). It was the beginning of the end of the Justice League, and a setup for the next crisis.

2005: Infinite Crisis … A massive, world-killing, world-altering storyline that shakes DC forever! A sequel to the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths (which was the Retcon from Hell), heroes from that Crisis had come back as villains of this piece. It had universes created, cities ruined, and some additional retcon. Even if it was confusing to start with, it ended in a bang, resolved a few issues, and created 52 alternate universes. And it killed Superboy, who no one cared about to begin with (don't worry, he gets better).

2006: “52” … A massive, world-killing, world-altering storyline that shakes DC forever! Batman has taken a year off after nearly having a nervous breakdown in Infinite Crisis. Superman flew too close to a red son and needs to recharge. Wonder Woman is in temporary retirement. The A-list characters are out of the way, so now, practically every B-list character gets a starring role as they try to handle all the problems that arise during this particular crisis.

Overall, it was surprisingly well written. People die, countries get wiped out, and we get the pun “The Isle of Dr. Morrow.” It also spawns several other comic book lines, including Booster Gold. It shows how the major players in the DC universe took a year after Infinite Crisis to get their bearings. Minor Character of Elongated Man dies (has stayed dead thus far). Police Officer Rene Montoya of Gotham City becomes a superhero. The finale starts a War in Hell, and ties up any loose ends left behind by Infinite Crisis.

52 also starts an interesting line of inquiry: practically everyone in DC has come back from the dead at one point or another. Ralph Dibney (Elongated Man) asks the question: Why do they keep coming back?

2007: Sinestro Corps War … a Green lantern storyline with branches into nearly everything else in DC. The character of Sinestro has always had a Yellow ring, one that operates on fear like the Green Lantern Corps has rings that operate on will (But has no relation to Jim Butcher's wizard Harry Dresden, who also has rings of power, who also uses will to power his spells.... )

So, Sinestro starts his own Yellow Lantern corps. The premise is simple enough: “Crap, Sinestro has an army. We have a problem.” This is a massive, world-killing, world-altering storyline that shakes DC for … the next three years, starting the War of the Rings.

The Sinestro Corps even ends with one of the characters (the Anti-Monitor, who is anti-life itself) being blown to pieces, and his remains turning into the Black Lantern (see 2009).

2008: Final Crisis … a massive, world-killing, world-altering storyline that … okay, forget it.

I can't even tell you the plot of this one. I'm serious. I read it. We have the New Gods of the planet Apokolips (subtle, no?). They killed the Martian Manhunter. Superboy came back.  Barry Allen as The Flash came back. DC didn't even pretend that they killed Bruce Wayne (Batman), but made him unstuck in time (just like Captain America, hmmm). Superheroes from the future were involved. That's about all I know. Even the Wikipedia article makes me go cross-eyed.

2008-2009: There was New Krypton … a massive, world-killing, world-altering storyline that seems to have had no impact on anyone. It even ended with the “War of the Supermen” … Right.

2009-2010: Blackest Night: is a massive, world-killing, world-altering storyline that shakes DC like San Francisco, 1905. We have the War of the (Lantern) Rings come to a head as the DC writers unleash the Black Lantern Corps—which apparently operate on "death," as opposed to any emotion. Black rings take over the corpse of practically every interesting character who has ever died in the DC Universe, creating an Army of Darkness (quick, call Bruce Campbell).

Why are black rings animating corpses?  Since this corps doesn't have emotions (they're dead, after all), the members of this Army of Darkness are chosen to evoke emotional reactions in people they target, and when they are full of emotional goodness, the Army of Darkness rips their heart out and eats it.

And no, they don't want brains.

The best part of Blackest Night is that they turned the various and sundry resurrections of practically everybody into a plot point. The creature that lives within the Black Lantern, Nekron (again, subtle, no?), has declared that he has prevented everyone in the DC universe from staying dead, he has kept the door from death open for them, allowing them all to come back from the dead … and allowing him to control them! Which means, uh oh, the Black rings are taking over everyone who has been resurrected over the course of DC history. That's a lot of people.

In order to face this menace, various and sundry heroes and villains are drafted as temporary members of the rainbow coalition (um, the various colored Lantern corps). This ends in the creation of yet ANOTHER Lantern color, and practically everyone who has died comes back. And if they haven't yet, just wait for it.

I have just managed to tell you everything that has been happening in DC for the last five years....

Last week, I cited that, while my book is not about superheroes, or comics, I can at least comment on bad writing.  The epic of the week wasn't so much bad as ....

Well, let's try it this way.  One of the things about the Catholic church is that it has a tendency to think in centuries. You won't see another Vatican Council in your lifetime, or in the lifetime of your great-grandchildren, mainly because we're still fine-tuning the LAST council.

DC has decided to shake up their universe, which is admirable. It has been creative, and breathtaking, and all sorts of good stuff …

But in the name of all that's holy, can somebody stop the shaking machine for a minute? There is a massive, world-altering storyline every single month now. Can we wait five minutes for the dust to settle first? After Infinite Crisis, there was 52, and while that was massive, it was at least spread out over dozens of issues, and let the dust settle nicely from Infinite Crisis ...

Then DC was in permanent crisis.  Let's have "The Great, Giant, Massive, War Of The Rings" ... okay, that's nice, can we see if any various and sundry other regular villains in the DC universe earned a Rainbow Ring?  The subject was touched on in Blackest Night (preempting a future fan-boy debate of "What character would be offered what color ring?"), but not settling the subject on a more long-term basis for the previous years in the War of the Rings.

Right now, with their "Brightest Day" storyline, it looks like DC may just stop shaking up every last millimeter of their universe. Maybe.  We hope.

The point: you don't just shake up the universe like a snow globe and expect everyone to go back to normal.  There are things like character: how someone is affected by the Great Massive Storyline.  It's hard to do when no one has time to recover.  Raymond Chandler's idea of writing advice was, "When in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand."

The Crisis of the hour is the man with the gun.  It's hard to have a plot when the universe is one giant shooting gallery.  I like an action sequence as much as the next guy, but can we tone it down? Please?


  1. With twenty-one Ecumenical Councils over approx. 1650 years, we are virtually guaranteed another Council in our lifetimes, John.

    And, to speak broadly to both last week's post and this week's, I think you might take the superhero genre too seriously.

  2. Hey! Whoa foul! (only because I was more of a DC fan)

    But Sinestro Corp was the example of a crossover done right, because it was relevant ONLY to green lantern (and 1 issue of Blue Beetle). If you didn't read anything GL, you didn't have to worry about it (which made it great).

    The PROBLEM was that it ended up being executed so well, that the next GL "arc" (Blackest night) which should have remained a GL-only crossover was then extended to the entire DC universe (Batman BN, Superman BN, Wonder Woman BN, etc). That ended up making it a lot weaker than it should have been. But don't you dare talk bad about Sinestro Corp War, that was GOOD comics. ;-D

    1. I'm in full agreement. I'm just tired of the never-ending crisis and Event after Event after Event. And I'm not even certain how many of that has been wiped out by Flashpoint.


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