Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s Crisis on Infinite Earths

cover, Crisis on Infinite EarthsIt may seem strange to begin a review by taking a look at the end of the book, but Dick Giordano begins his afterword of DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths with, “Whew, what a read, huh?” (This is the collected issues of a monthly, first published in 1985.) He praises the drawings of George Pérez, and claims the series “accomplished the herculean task of making the DC Universe more new-reader friendly.”

I’m not new to comics. Though I wouldn’t discover them for a few more years (being too busy wearing ripped fishnets and sneaking into punk shows and failing algebra), at the same time Crisis on Infinite Earths was released there was an upwelling of fantastic underground comics and zines, full of harsh, edgy drawings, ranting manifestic poetry, and politicized characters who knew the value of rebellion. The comic movement of the mid-eighties and early nineties produced gems with titles like Poot and Pool of Sick, Tropo and Meatcake. Some new indy comics even found enormous and appreciative audiences, like the famous and fantabulous Love and Rockets, Eightball, or the works of Lynda Barry.

These other comics – these ones I’m ostensibly not writing about here – are bubbling all over the surface of this review like a science fair volcano because they’re still thrilling and vivid in my imagination, though I haven’t cracked a one of them in well over a decade. They were fresh and invigorating and challenging and new; they were everything Crisis on Infinite Earths isn’t.

I’m the first to admit this may be a simple matter of personal taste. In Crisis (as Giordano says it’s always been called at DC), you’ve got a Multiverse on the brink of collapse. You’ve got your Villain, and your multitude of Heroes, and even your One Last Hope for Humanity. Everything is meticulously and lovingly rendered in eye-stabbing hues, from every gravity-defying globe of a breast to every pointy torpedo of another breast to every chiseled cleft and pout of heroic jaw and lip and chin. Nearly any randomly selected page opens onto at least one explosion or jagged slash of lightning; manly bulges abound, and there are plenty closeups of tears and blood coursing across agonized expressions. I don’t mean to imply that the artwork and inking isn’t of the highest quality. It certainly is. Painfully so, like a slavish but precise recitation of every single existing DC character and their attributes; a point Giordano confirms, explaining that Pérez “painstakingly researched each of the characters that he drew, attaining accuracy not only in their costume details but in their physical attributes and attitudes.” It’s like the ultimate fanfic, but without any of the unselfconscious joie de vivre that can make fanfic so compelling. Instead we’re given a heavy, pedantic, melodramatic, overtly consciously rendered rehashing, which is itself aware of every nuance of the original.

But the worst part, the most agonizing part for me to wade through (giving lie to the “new-reader friendly” assertion), was the story. I slogged though page after page after page of storyline that seemed to depend utterly on intensive insider information; as though anyone who could enjoy this would need an enormous stored wealth of esoteric comic book knowledge. Such a person would also have to be attracted to the kind of flat, ridiculously stereotyped characters that make heroes like Hellboy seem like a breath of fresh air.

See? Bubbling. Science fair volcano. It’s a sad case when a piece I’m trying desperately to review continues defining itself by what it didn’t have; when my absence of interest and lack of enthusiasm are more pronounced than the actual contents of the piece at hand. If you loved this story the first time around – if you waited eagerly for every issue and it filled all your fantasies and expectations about literature and graphic storyline and beautiful artwork – then this is the book for you. Buy it, love it, keep it on your bookshelf next to all the plastic sleeves containing all the original issues you bought when this series first came out over twenty years ago.

This is a 365-page collector’s item. It’s not a fresh piece of inspired reading material.

(DC Comics, 2000)

Camille Alexa

Camille Alexa is the alter ego of another odd-lit writer who also loves warm bread, big dogs, serial commas, and post-apocalyptic love stories. Her work has appeared in Fantasy Magazine, Ellery Queen's & Alfred Hithcock's Mystery Magazines, and numerous anthologies such as Machine of Death and The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. Her collection of short stories, PUSH OF THE SKY, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, was shortlisted for the Endeavor Award, and was an official reading selection of Portland's Powell's Books Science Fiction Book Club.

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