...I need the rest of the multiverse back... Worlds I can sift through like sand, one grain at a time, combining and mixing until I find it. Until I find the perfect earth.
If you're from this earth it can't be perfect, because a perfect earth doesn’t need a Superman.
--Superman to Superman
DC's Infinite Crisis may be the most publicized event series in comic-book history. It received several prologues, including Identity Crisis, Countdown to Infinite Crisis, and a handful of comic-book miniseries. It featured a fairly promising start, and may yet finish well. Issues #4-5 recall more than ever the original Crisis on Infinite Earths: we have clever touches, deliberate echoes of DC's past, but a horribly confusing and convoluted story. Issue #4 maintains some kind of self-contained, if unfinished, storyline; #5 crosses over into every current DC title. I expected that Infinite Crisis would require the Comic Book Guy’s knowledge of DC history to understand, but one really should be able to follow a story without reading twenty other comic books.
The debate on the nature of comix incorporated in this series continues. Increasingly it focusses on Superman, the original super hero. Alexander Luthor, meanwhile, plays god-- and the ultimate fanboy.
Title: Infinite Crisis #4 and 5
Released in January and March, 2006.
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, George Pérez, Jerry Ordway et al.
Despite the very sinister retcons found in Identity Crisis, a lighter, more Silver Agesque approach has been creeping into DC, and many fans believe that their post-Infinite Crisis comics, while not bereft of weighty matter and dark characters, will lean towards the more optimistic heroic fantasy that once characterized the genre. The fourth issue begins with the elimination of a dark corner of the DC Universe, but through darker means. Chemo explodes over corrupt, crime-ridden Bludhaven, destroying much of that city. Meanwhile, Alexander Luthor finally explains the purpose of the strange, metahuman-powered device he has constructed around the shell of the Anti-Monitor's body, and the plotting which he and Superboy-Prime have undertaken from their otherwordly lair1. The comic's handling of Alex raises some questions. He's supposed to be the son of a good Lex Luthor and a Lois Lane from Earth-3, a part of the DC Universe written out of existence in the original Crisis. I can accept that he has turned evil over the years (though he, of course, does not see himself that way). However, his identity seems to be an issue. Infinite Crisis treats him as though he is a variation of Luthor himself. This may be sloppy continuity though, of course, the final issues may reveal more.
Superboy-Prime sees himself as a true hero, and he heads to Smallville to discuss his feeling with the "Conner Kent" version of the character from DC's current comics. This leads to a battle which kills more DC second bananas and sends Superboy-Prime out of the universe and into another comic, which continues his story. This storyline later folds back into Infinite Crisis.
We see fragments of other plots, the birth of the latest incarnations of the Spectre and Blue Beetle, and an effectively-handled encounter between Batman and Nightwing (the original Robin). These celebrated heroes don't have super-powers, but they do have a plan that, not unexpectedly, could save the universe.
At the comic's end, Earth-2 returns. This has ripple effects explored in other DC comics-- and Earth 2 itself draws several characters who once belonged there.
They seem to be its only population.
The fifth issue begins with a mass at a Roman Catholic cathedral, held for the superfolk who have been battling to save earth throughout this series. It's an interesting, quiet moment. We hear discussions of the various beliefs held by DC's heroes. We also see the response of the oddball group Shadowpact, formed in Day of Vengeance, to a religious ritual.
Afterwards, Batman gathers his troops, and Nightwing joins forces with Superboy. We know, however, that Superboy has some kind of association with Lex Luthor, who has not taken well to his usurpation by Alexander.
The original, Golden Age Superman continues to participate in Alexander Luthor's plot because he wants to save his dying Lois, and because he believes that a return of Earth-2-- DC's original continuity-- will restore the heroic ideal. The bulk of this issue concerns the two adult versions of Superman, who duke it out after the death of the Golden Age Lois Lane. With the help of Wonder Woman, the original Man of Steel remembers what he stands for, and how his values should apply in his current situation.
Then Superboy-prime returns, possibly enhanced.
The debate about the genre continues. The comments of various characters on the events of Infinite Crisis reflect fan debates about the pure escapism of many older comics versus the strained darkness of more recent ones, among other concerns. Alexander Luthor plays god, but his desire to sift through thousands of earths in order to find a perfect one makes him a little like a fickle reader searching a comic shop. The Golden Age Superman’s realization in #5, that his universe was far from perfect, is that of a nostalgic fan realizing that memory often misrepresents our past pleasures.
The artwork in these issues reflects the series' ontological and generic concerns. Panels echo iconic images from DC’s history: the cartoony lines of the Golden Age Wonder Woman, a clear imitation of Superman’s first cover appearance, a dire warning from a Silver Age Flash.
The writing proves less successful than the illustrations. Nightwing and Batman have clear internal motivations, but this cannot be said for everyone else. At times, the characters act too much like they’re playing parts in this grand pageant. Plausible personal motivations are obscure, at best. Too many people-- including a couple with "Super" in their names-- act like deranged lunatics.
In addition, nearly every DC character extant appears in these two issues. It’s kind of difficult to handle characters effectively as the mini-series devolves into commercials for DC’s titles. Concurrent with the next issue, DC will start to present post-Infinite Crisis events, one year later. That should (one hopes) eliminate the impossibly convoluted crossover storylines which make #5 so difficult to follow.
As it progresses, Infinite Crisis resembles event comics past. The writer's awareness of the current comic culture and its debates and concerns makes the series work-- but not for all readers. The effects of Infinite Crisis may attract more people to comix, but the series itself, entangled in fannish concerns, will not.
1. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, at times I do feel odd writing sentences like that one.