Sunday, July 30, 2006

BOOK OF THE DEAD

Who And What Crisis Killed (besides my childhood, DC's Silver Age, and good writing in general in comics for ten years)

By John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL

Enjoy the work of John Jones' alter-ego, Doc Nebula, at http://www.angelfire.com/ny3/docnebula/index.html.


This may be a short article, I admit it. It's the 'besides' in the title above that lends its weight to that anticipation of brevity. I've written extensively in the past, in an APA, in email, and even in this column, about my belief that the Crisis on Infinite Earths marks a fairly definitive end to DC's Silver Age (I say fairly because there are exceptions; the damnable New Teen Titans actually debuted several years before Crisis occurred, but there is no way I include them in the Silver Age). I've also written at length about how Crisis seemed to equally mark a pretty final end to my childlike belief in heroes, and how it also seems to demark a point at which, by and large, any semblance of quality writing fled the DC mainstream screaming for its life. This article is not intended to belabor any of those points (although, what the hell, it might anyway) but rather, to set out a reasonably coherent list of all the various Silver Age characters and concepts irrevocably slaughtered by Crisis.

We need some ground rules before we go on, though. While I could make a cogent argument that Crisis did, in fact, gruesomely murder EVERY DC Silver Age character (since the rebooted versions we were given bore little resemblance other than in terms of the clothes they wore... and even that wasn't always a constant... to the icons they supplanted) nonetheless, we will eschew such painful truths for this article (maybe) and at least for the moment, stick with those characters who actually never managed to cross the great divide and find themselves transformed, will they or nill they, into some horrible Modern Version.

No, dammit, I take it back. We're not going to have any frickin' rules. It's my column and I will write what I wanna. "Killed by Crisis" will hereby mean whatever I am pointing to at the time, and anyone who doesn't like it can go eat a towel. I will, however, try to remain entertaining in my arbitrary, rampant derangement.

We'll start with my first and weirdest entry in the Book of the Dead: Kamandi, The Last Boy On Earth.

This one is rather bizarre and outside nearly any parameters, including the guideline I already set forth, and then just as arbitrarily, discarded.

Kamandi is one of my favorite Silver Age comics characters, and he was inarguably published at DC. Beyond that, it all gets fuzzy.

It's a bit of a struggle to call Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, a "Silver Age DC character", for many reasons. The primary one for this article, though, is because emotionally, I never accepted him as living in the DC Universe with the rest of the four color fire brigade; I always figured he had his own little separate timeline thingie going on. I know, I know. Bob Haney had him team up with Batman in BRAVE AND THE BOLD; Mark Evanier teamed him up with Superman in DC PRESENTS, Kirby himself wrote stories establishing the one time historical existence, in Kamandi's timeline, of Superman and the Justice League. I read all that stuff, and, honestly, I didn't care. Anyone who has read the 70s run of BRAVE AND THE BOLD can see that Bob Haney obviously suffers from a chemical imbalance. Mark Evanier was doing a goofy tribute to Kirby during a period, at the very twilight of DC's Silver Age, when editors simply didn't much care what got published every month. Kirby himself was a little bit dotty... I just never believed any indication that Kamandi might actually share the same metareality as Superman, Batman, and the Flash. Kamandi, like the equally doomed OMAC, was off in a world of his own... or so it seemed to me, until CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS came along and proved that, once and for all, DC's editors really didn't have enough sense to pour sand out of a boot... although many of us already knew that.

So, okay, he was a DC character, part of the timestream, a legitimate subject to the insane, spectacularly poorly conceived revisionism of Crisis. Fine. Emotionally that still makes no sense to me, but I succumb to the weight of extravagant documentation. Now those of you who - all five of you, maybe - actually remember Kamandi, and what happened to him in Crisis, and even afterward, are saying to yourselves "John has jammed his foot in it again; made another of his infamous mistakes; Kamandi SURVIVED Crisis... I remember him crawling out of that bunker on the last page."

Well, this is one reason I led off with The Last Boy On Earth, so we understand MY definition of 'survived' Crisis right here and now. (In all actuality, this isn't going to help you understand any such thing, because I'm mad as an Edwardian hatter and nearly as cute. But still.) The name isn't enough. The CHARACTER has to survive, as well, and in most cases, that means the CONCEPT of the character has to endure, also. Yes, a little blond kid crawled out of a fall out shelter marked prominently "Command D" on the last page of the CRISIS mini. And what did he do? He grew up to become Tommy Tomorrow.

The REAL Kamandi, I suspect, would willingly, even eagerly, choose death over THAT denouement.

Beyond that, Howard Chaykin later pretty much put paid to Tommy Tomorrow, along with all DC's other science fiction heroes, in the truly abominable TWILIGHT mini, which paid no attention whatsoever to the fact that Tommy, supposedly, had at one time crawled out of that particular bomb shelter. In fact, the post Crisis history of the DC Universe has pretty much comprehensively ignored everything established as canon in Crisis, other than, you know, the couple of things they SHOULD ignore, like Supergirl's death and the removal from continuity of Superboy's career.

Now, I'm aware there was a truly mindbogglingly awful mini series a few years after Crisis called KAMANDI AT WORLD'S END or some such godawful tripe, but THAT wasn't Kamandi, either, and I'm also vaguely aware that Karl Kesel apparently did something with the Kamandi concept and Project: Cadmus in some SUPERBOY story arc, but, well, you see where I'm going with this . Crisis killed Kamandi. Marv Wolfman sat on The Last Boy On Earth's chest while Len Wein smothered his wildly struggling form with a big couch pillow. Sayonara, blond haired talking animal. We knew thee well, and miss you much. Rest in peace. You will never, to me, be Tommy Tomorrow, and that is the finest epitaph any imaginary friend could hope for.

Mentioning Project: Cadmus and SUPERBOY brings us neatly to the next whole buncha Crisis casualties: Superboy himself, the Legion of Superheroes, Supergirl, and Mon-El.

See, you're not dumb enough to try to run a "But there IS a Superboy and a Supergirl in the modern DC Universe" riff on me, because you know I'll just start sobbing like a child if you even try to pass off those appalling modern versions, which have absolutely nothing to do with the essential Superman concept, as the real, Silver Age Superboy and Supergirl. You know that. We're not even going to go there. (Although, I grant you that if you were to mention the extraordinarily moving Deadman story written by Alan Brennart for one of DC's post Crisis holiday specials, in which the ghost of Supergirl showed up to teach a sniveling Boston Brand a not so subtle lesson about the significance of unnoticed, even forgotten heroism... well, I'd be inclined to give you an A for effort, anyway, right after which, I'd sigh and point out that this story, as well as Alan Brennart's beautifully moving and intelligent post Crisis Black Canary origin, have both been consistently ignored by every writer and editor the company employs ever since.)

And Mon-El, well, you're not going to try and sneak that by me, either, because you know that the merest whisper of that awful V word will cause me leap out of my recliner with a bloodcurdling scream of outraged, berserker frenzy and start banging my head over and over again on the living room wall while shrieking "Valor SUCKS Valor SUCKS Valor SUCKS" until I finally pass out in a bruised and bloody heap on the carpet. We're on the same page here so far, I think. But you might, with some actual expectation of making a lucid and persuasive argument, at this point be thinking of mentioning that the Legion of Superheroes has, indeed, come through Crisis reasonably well, and have, in fact, had more different series since Crisis, in the Modern Era of Comics, than they ever dreamed of before Crisis... and that's counting their run in ADVENTURE, a later reprint title, and then their combined title with Superboy, which finally, just before Crisis, became two different all new Legion titles.

And, if I'm willing to omit Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, et al from my list of Crisis casualties, by what reasoning can I possibly include the Legion? I mean, sure, the Legion was changed by Crisis, sure, the rebooted version bears only superficial resemblance to the Silver Age team... but so what? Why am I going to insist that, in fact, the Legion is actually as dead as Superboy and Supergirl, and was actually slain by the same agency?

Again, it's a conceptual thing. There is indeed a team running around in some alternate DC future timeline calling itself the Legion of Superheroes, and they do indeed have members somewhat similar to those that existed in a similarly titled comic published in the Silver Age. However, the modern Legion is not the actual Legion, and I'm not even going to go into pages and pages about how the actual Legion was an astonishingly innovative adaptation of Jack Kirby's little used 'kid gang' concept, blown up huge and gone totally whacko, but still, at base, a super powered group of kids, who behaved as kids... nah. Not going to do it. However, I am going to point out that in addition to all this, what the Legion also was... and this is crucial... was a Superboy spin off.

It's really that simple, to me. A DC Universe without Superboy can't have a Legion. A Legion without Superboy as an inherent part of their heroic mythology isn't the true, actual Legion, and, to a lesser extent, a Legion in which Kara of the House of El doesn't drop by every once in a while to make out with Brainiac 5 in the science lab also isn't the real Legion. As the real Superboy and Supergirl did not survive into the post Crisis DC Universe, neither did the Legion.

There are other cases similar to that of the Legion; instances where the character has survived in name, but not really in concept. Again, I'm going to be making some fine distinctions, here: in these particular cases, as with the Legion, I'll be exploring characters that technically existed in the Silver Age, pre Crisis, DC Universe, and that technically survived into the Modern, Post Crisis Universe... only to find their personal histories had become wildly revised.

First, and perhaps most wretchedly, we have Power Girl. Now, if the dissolution of any character by Crisis was ever justified, it's this one. Poorly conceived from the very start as the Earth-2 version of Supergirl, the only memorable trait Power Girl has ever had is her spectacular set of tatas... living proof, apparently, that they put something in the water in the Earth 2 Metropolis that just isn't present on Earth 1, since Supergirl's parallel set of mammaries are certainly impressive and perky, but have never reached the exaggerated Dollywood-esque proportions of her Earth 2 counterpart.

However, all of that is immaterial, although I will wryly note that for a superwoman to stand out in terms of cup size, she has to be pretty darn well endowed. I'll also mention, just because I'm like that, that it certainly doesn't reflect well on the character's creator and original writer, Paul Levitz, that the only feature people remember about this big blond bimbo is her boundless bouncing boobs.

Power Girl is a fictional construct who should have been thrice doomed - first, because she's nearly as big a creative embarrassment for DC as She Hulk is for Marvel, and coming from this Shulk hater, that's saying something. Above and beyond that, she's also firmly rooted in the Earth-2 continuity implant, which Mike Gold, one of the most influential architects of DC's post Crisis timeline, once referred to as 'that pulsating hunk of double talk', and which, according to persistent legend, Crisis was primarily designed to get rid of. However, Earth-2 origins can be dealt with, and in fact, were, fairly easily, for most of PG's contemporaries in that most clueless of all possible teen superteams, Infinity Inc. (I'll be getting to them in a moment), through the simple expedient of fusing the characters' histories seamlessly into that of the post Crisis, single universe, Earth-Zero timeline. However, that would not suffice for Power Girl, for the simple reason that she was also wedded inextricably to yet another aspect of Silver Age lore that had been resolutely tromped on in the post Crisis DC Universe, namely, that there were any other surviving Kryptonians besides Superman.

In point of fact, the Silver Age DC Universe had had quite a few surviving Kryptonians... not hundreds, by any means... probably not even a dozen... but between Phantom Zone inmates, Supergirl, Krypto, some wank who showed up in a Steve Gerber mini series in the early 80s, Power Girl, and some other guy who worked for the Science Police in the 30th Century named, I believe, Dev Em (and where he came from I'll never know, but I'm pretty sure he was Kryptonian), well, we certainly had enough for a good game of cut throat poker, anyway. All of which was wiped away by DC's post Crisis assertion that Superman was by God and you'd better believe it the ONLY survivor of Krypton.

Given that she was born on the wrong planet, in the wrong universe, and, you know, kinda blows as a concept anyway, you'd really think DC would have actually let Crisis accomplish something positive in the utter annihilation of Power Girl... but oh, no. They could turn Kamandi into Tommy Tomorrow. They could blast Barry Allen into carbonized fragments and editorially direct that no one ever bring him back. They could make Superboy and Supergirl never exist, wipe out Mon-El, reduce Krypto the Superdog to random integers. But Power Girl and her 44DDD gazongas... those they had to find some way to salvage. And, naturally, they turned the job over to the only man I personally would want to entrust such a delicate mission to: that peerless prince of pulsepounding plotlines, Paul "For God's Sake Someone Just Kill Me Before I Ruin YOUR Favorite Character" Kupperberg.

My pal Paul made your girl Kara into the grand daughter of Arion, Warlord of Atlantis.

No. Really.

Moving on to the two Wonder Girls...

What, you honestly thought I was going to EXPLAIN the story where the Earth-2 Supergirl was somehow retrofitted into the post Crisis continuity as the grand daughter of a long dead Atlantaean warlord? Please. It's bad enough I actually read it once. I'm amazed it didn't give me an embolism.

Two Wonder Girls. Yes. One of these, to give her her due, is the real Wonder Girl, Donna Troy, an orphan baby Wonder Woman rescued from a burning building and took to Paradise Island to be raised as an Amazon, and who later rejoined Wonder Woman as her sidekick, Wonder Girl, during that weird early Silver Age era where everybody who didn't already have a sidekick got one, whether they needed one or not. Why Wonder Woman, if she wanted a sidekick, didn't just go grab another Amazon is beyond me (and I'll note in passing that the producers of the Wonder Woman TV show seemed to find Wonder Girl's origin unnecessarily complex as well, as they simply made their version of the character into Wonder Woman's younger sister... something of a problem for a superheroine who is actually an animated clay statue, but the TV show never bothered with that particular aspect of WW's origin, either), but it hardly matters, since the Silver Age Wonder Woman is yet another casualty of Crisis I should get to at some point here. With the Silver Age Wonder Woman spread like goo across the post Crisis timeline, Wonder Girl was obviously left flapping in the breeze. However, her continued existence was an editorial necessity, since she was a popular member of DC's then most popular title, the New Teen Titans, and in fact, as such, she was being written by Marv Wolfman, the same writer who, in Crisis, had just made Wonder Woman never exist. How Marv would resolve the question of Wonder Girl's history in the post Crisis DC reality was a question everyone... ahem... wondered about.

How he eventually resolved it I couldn't tell you. It was really convoluted, complicated, and to the best of my knowledge, made no sense at all. In fact, Wonder Girl may be the character most comprehensively contorted and contused by Crisis; in the Modern DC universe, she's gone through identities like the Wasp goes through costumes, from Troia to Dark Star to some sort of perpetual multidimensional rape victim who has to qualify as perhaps the most disturbed story idea to ever come out of John Byrne's prolifically disturbed mind.

However, I think it's safe to say that the concept of Wonder Girl, orphan rescued by Wonder Woman, raised by Amazons, and sent to Man's World as junior partner to DC's primary superheroine... did not survive Crisis. I'm just not sure what took its place. And I don't think anyone else is, either.

The second Wonder Girl... sort of... would be more or less the Earth-2 version, a character named Fury, created by Roy Thomas as a member of his second generation teen team, Infinity Inc. In the pre Crisis DC Universe, the Infinitors lived on Earth-2 and were composed of the sons and daughters... mostly... of the Justice Society of America. Fury (Lyta Trevor-Hall) was the daughter of the Golden Age Wonder Woman and her husband, Steve Trevor, which was perfectly fine, until Crisis came along and made Earth 2 faw down and go boom, after which, Fury was... what? Hell, I don't know. Roy put together a revised origin story for her in which she was actually the daughter of WWII heroine The Fury, whom we had never heard of previously for the good and adequate reason that she had never existed previously (although Roy would fix that in yet another really lousy attempt to do a successful teenage superteam, the Young All Stars, which the original Fury was a member of, along with another lame character intended to more or less replace the Golden Age Superman who was called Arn "Iron" Munro). However, the agonizingly drawn out but nonetheless utterly apparent and inevitable failure of INFINITY INC., and the not quite quick enough demise of YOUNG ALL STARS, left both Furies effectively in limbo where they belonged.

However, to be fair, Neil Gaiman did make some interesting use of the second Fury later on in SANDMAN, proving that nearly anything can be story grist in the hands of someone with actual talent.

All of which, I suppose, means that the Infinity Inc. Fury DID survive Crisis, in some strangely altered state. So I suppose I should delete the above paragraph about her, but what the hell, it gave me a chance to rag on Roy Thomas, something never to be passed up, since Roy may well be the man who has done the most damage to quality comics writing, overall, in the industry's history.

Another out and out casualty of the Crisis was, as mentioned in passing above, the Golden and Silver Age Wonder Womenn. This character, en toto, seems to have honestly baffled Marv Wolfman and Len Wein, as she's the only fairly major character in DC continuity who had virtually no attention paid to her throughout the entire mini series, and yet, was rather cavalierly 'unmade' on the last page, to clear the decks for some rebooted version that DC hoped would have more commercial success. Since this character was, quite specifically and on panel, in CRISIS, turned into goo, and since the Modern Age Wonder Woman is an entirely different character with her own entirely separate and distinct history and continuity, I have to regard the Silver Age Wonder Woman as being inarguably an entry on the Crisis Memorial.

Yet another subtle but distinct 'kill' to be credited to the Crisis is the Silver Age Hawkman. Unlike other versions of a Silver Age character which simply had somewhat revised histories retrofitted into the new, post Crisis continuity, the Hawkman character concept was totally, consistently, and continually screwed up after Crisis. Credit for the inception of what turned out to be a cascade of bungling has to go to Mike Gold's inept editorial policies, as the first truly bad decision that was made was firmly in Gold's lap: namely, that the post crisis, HAWKWORLD versions of Hawkman and Hawkwoman did not arrive on Earth until well into the modern heroic age.

This meant that, to all intents and purposes, in the post Crisis DC Universe, the modern (Silver Age) Hawkman simply had never existed... and yet, post Crisis JUSTICE LEAGUE stories, as well as several other post Crisis series, had prominently featured the character. From this one continuity snarl a huge brouhaha of inconsistent and truly idiotic attempts at continuity patches grew, until finally, DC seemed to decide that the character simply wasn't salvageable, and they rather quietly dropped him out of their modern fictional reality completely. A Golden Age Hawkman has, apparently, existed and been part of the Justice Society, but, at this point, there is no modern version of the character, and in strict terms of post Crisis continuity, no such version has ever existed.

While I'm thinking of it, I might as well mention the Crisis' Poster Boy for Heroic Sacrifice, Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. Poor Barry seems to have gotten the nod to be DC's equivalent to Bucky Barnes: a lasting token sacrifice made to the concept that death really does mean something in a particular imaginary metaverse, and that no matter how many seemingly casual character resurrections are enacted by lazy, lousy, or just plain apathetic writers, this guy.... THIS guy right HERE... is staying dead.

DC has made this editorial intention plain and clear through the aegis of no less than two separate story arcs in the modern FLASH series in which it was strongly suggested that somehow, Barry Allen had come back from the dead... only to have that turn out to be, in one case, a surgically and mentally altered Professor Zoom, and in the second case, a future version of Wally West, Barry's successor in the Flash costume. Even for those of us who don't much want to get the message, the meaning is clear: Barry is not mostly dead. Barry is ALL dead. Even Miracle Max ain't bringin' him back.

The Justice Society of America was a Crisis casualty itself, for years after the CRISIS miniseries came out. They weren't dead, (they thought they'd go for a walk) just stuffed into limbo by my favorite writer/editor/idiot Roy Thomas, so they'd be safe from meddling by anyone else (especially anyone who might write them better) while he concentrated all his rapidly decaying creative talents on trying to find some way to turn INFINITY INC. into the massive sales success he and DC's editorial staff clearly thought it was supposed to be. (They weren't fooling anyone, you know.)

I suppose one should really try to be understanding of Roy's decision in doing this, but 'one', in this case, wouldn't be 'me'. The creation of INFINITY INC. may well have been partially motivated by Roy's genuine love of the JSA and a concomitant desire to produce some sort of legacy for those characters that would be an established and ongoing part of the modern DC mainstream, but I also have to assume... okay, I choose to assume, darn it... that it was at least equally motivated by greed. Teen superteams were the rage and the fad at the time INFINITY INC. was first published, and it strikes me as wildly unlikely that the numbers on Chris Claremont's and Marv Wolfman's royalty checks from X-MEN and TITANS weren't dancing in Roy's head like sugarplums when he first typed out his precis. After all, reasonably speaking, if the JSA are going to have a bunch of superpowered kids in the DC modern age, it's wildly unlikely that very many of those offspring are going to be teenagers in the mid 80s... and those offspring staying teenagers into the 90s is rather ridiculous.

Which brings us back to the Justice Society, and the reason why DC's editorial and publishing hierarchy was most likely relieved to have Roy suggest sticking them into some badly conceived limbo so he could concentrate on INFINITY... frankly, they were an ongoing embarrassment to the mainstream continuity. Why? Because both Marvel and DC, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to keep their mainstream comics current, and combined with this, they have also decided not to let their characters age discernibly. There are various reasons for these asinine and mindbogglingly absurd decisions that I won't go into, because they alternate between being stupid and corrupt, but nonetheless, this is the deal as it exists at both companies. That being the case, one can see that keeping the Golden Age heroes around was more or less a constant reminder of how idiotically comic book entropy works... because the Golden Age characters are all firmly date stamped by their World War II careers.

In a nutshell, what both Marvel and DC do is constantly update the histories of their popular characters. The Fantastic Four may have originally made their rocket flight somewhere around 1962, but since that would have to make them around 60 or 70 years old right now, and Marvel assumes its target audience will not either (a) buy a book about geezers, or (b) buy a book set in, say, 1968, what they do instead is to say that, well, the FF has been together for around six years, and it's currently the year 2000 in the Marvel Universe, so they took that rocket flight in... yes... 1994.

That this is deranged, maniacially stupid, loonie, rampantly cretinous, and absurd beyond the very concept of God as Three In One Oil, goes without saying, although I did just say it, and I said it rather entertainingly, too. However, it's what Marvel and DC do. (DC didn't always do this. In the mid 70s, Steve Englehart wrote a truly badly conceived 'untold origin' of the Justice League that was set in the mid 50s, and that featured, in addition to the Leaguers we all know, other stalwarts like Congorilla and Rex the Wonder Dog, fighting Martian invaders.

And in that story, an editorial caption informed us that 'superheroes have their own ways of remaining young!'... a truly astonishing assertion utterly mindboggling in its implications, and singular not only for those implied consequences, but for being perhaps the only explanation for rubber comic book entropy WORSE than constant updating of history.) Because DC constantly updates the history of its characters, the members of the JSA... whom, as I have mentioned, are rather firmly date stamped by their involvement in WWII... are, well, just increasingly ludicrous with each passing year. Unless we start assuming that the Golden Age Green Lantern, Hawkman, Flash, and Red Tornado were all, say, 3 years old in 1940, they simply have to be doddering relics by now, far more suitable to intensive care hospice beds than fisticuffs with the Secret Society of Supervillains... and this will never get better; in fact, it gets worse with each Earthly revolution.


The only reason the JSA were active at all in the DC modern mainstream prior to Crisis was Roy's insistence on using them as supporting characters in INFINITY, as well as their yearly crossovers with the JLA. Having Roy accede to what was most likely a long standing editorial request that those goddam geezers be gotten the hell offstage must have seemed like a godsend to the DC editorial staff.

However, Roy couldn't bear to kill them off, so instead, he shuffled them into some truly appalling alternate dimension where they were caught in a time loop, fighting Ragnarok over and over again, thus heroically and endlessly staving off the end of all reality. Which was where they stayed, legitimate casualties of the Crisis, for most of a decade, until finally Len Strazewski managed to talk the powers that be into letting him do a historical Justice Society mini series to see if there might be any interest in the characters if, you know, someone who could actually WRITE handled them. DC's bravery in allowing Strazewski to do this, and in giving him the talented Mike Parobeck to draw the mini series, was astounding, since up to that point, every modern JSA comics project had sold very nearly as well as blocks of Velveeta cheese-food carved into little Whoopie Goldberg statuettes. However, apparently someone in authority realized it might not actually be the JSA, but rather, Roy Thomas himself at fault, and they gave the mini the nod, with the result that a few years later, an updated, modern, mainstream version of JSA is one of DC's better selling titles.

(It's worth noting that when the Strazewski JSA mini was originally announced, Roy Thomas reportedly called up one of DC's more influential editors and screamed bloody murder about DC letting someone else write HIS characters. Roy was, according to my source, told that comics shop owners already had quarter bins full of Thomas JSA projects like LAST DAYS OF THE JSA that no one wanted to buy, and they would not be strongly inclined to order any other JSA projects with his name on them. To which I say, yay, comics shop owners. You rock.)

With the Justice Society, in fact, we have perhaps the first example of a concept and group of characters who were, actually, victims of Crisis, and its subsequent editorial "out with the old, in with the new" mandate, and who were later rehabilitated from that status and resurrected into some sort of viability within the modern DC mainstream.

Now let's move on to the larger victims of Crisis. For Crisis did not simply slay individual heroes and villains, or even concepts, backgrounds, and origins. No, Crisis was perhaps the most sweepingly enacted piece of imaginary genocide ever conceived of or enacted; more comprehensive even than FRED HEMBECK DESTROYS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE. After all, Fred, in his poorly drawn godlike power, limited his murderous depradations to ONE metareality. Crisis... Crisis wiped out millions of alternate timelines, and everybody in them, as well.

Some of those timelines, it must be admitted, deserved to go in the celestial toilet. Earth-3, where Columbus was an American who discovered Europe, and therefore, it logically follows that all superhumans were actually villains (it... I... they... we... look, just, don't even ask, okay?), while a beloved concept of thousands of fans (including myself) who had read the original story when they were 8 and thought it was really cool to see evil versions of the JLA just whomp up on the good guys, was simply goddam STUPID, and had to GO. (I note in passing that Grant Morrison's recent JLA graphic novel, EARTH-2, has pulled this concept back out of the cosmic leechfield, making it another entry on the 'killed by Crisis, but later resurrected' roll, and, apparently, returning to the DC Universe, in some way or another, the Crime Syndicate of America as more or less valid and legitimate villains.)

Another alternate timeline that badly needed blowing up was Earth-C, the home of Captain Carrot and his Zoo Crew, and Earth C 1/2, which was home of a superteam featured in comic books on Earth-C, the Justa Lot of Animals. Surely there is a particular circle of Hell reserved for so called 'creators' who attempt to cross germinate the funny animal sub genre with the superhero subgenre, in which said creators spend eternity buried to the upper lip in cartoon rabbit guano while badly animated cats and mice torture them by packing their various orifi with red hot beetles that occasionally, and at random, explode. Along with Earth-3 and Earth-C, we also had other spectacularly lousy, 'let's create a whole universe as a plot device for one bad story' Earths such as Earth-X, a world where the Axis powers won World War II and a group of truly rotten Golden Age Fawcett characters had formed together into the Freedom Fighters to, you know, fight for freedom. There was also the 'sure, what the hell' type of alternate Earth best personified by things like Earth-S, where all the Captain Marvel family characters lived.

All these universes, and just great big larruping gobs more, died like flies during the Crisis, although presumably, since the Freedom Fighters and the Captain Marvel Family still exist in the post Crisis DC Universe, they managed to jump into interdimensional lifeboats right before the end. In addition, the Golden Age Superman, Harbinger, and the Earth-Prime Superboy (Don't. Ask.) all also got whacked by Crisis, in some way we will never understand, as they went traveling off into a big glowing light (ignoring the very short woman standing off to the side shrieking "Stay away from the light! Stay away from the light!") and were never seen again. One presumes that they are, actually, y'know, DEAD... this is the general symbolism/mythology that our culture has come to associate with 'going into the light', after all... but, for some reason, a decision was made that THESE characters couldn't be graphically and heroically killed off in battle like Flash or Supergirl. Since no one, not even Paul Kupperberg, writes a worse heroic sacrifice scene than Marv Wolfman, we should probably be grateful.

I think there were some Western characters that were killed off by Crisis, too, but I honestly can't remember, and in all sincerity, don't care.

Mention, in passing, of the Golden Age Supeman, a bit above, reminds me of the Golden Age Batman, which reminds me of a few other specific Crisis casualties, namely, the Golden Age Robin and the original Huntress. All of which leads into another, probably lengthy digression. However, I can already see that it offers ample opportunity to bash on Roy Thomas and Paul Levitz some more, and honestly, how could I pass that up? To wit, then:

Going into Crisis, back when it was still being called by the working title Earth-Zero, it seems to have been pretty much understood by DC's editorial and creative staff that the primary purpose of the whole damned square dance was, basically, getting rid of Earth-2. Nearly 30 years after Gardner Fox had first introduced the Earth-1/Earth-2 juxtaposition in the thoroughly delightful "Flash of Two Worlds" story, enough general creative, editorial, and even fannish grumblings and vague discontents about the ongoing juxtaposition of these parallel worlds, one of which represented the Golden Age of Comics, the other of which just as clearly represented the Silver Age, finally came to a head. A decision was reached, and that decision apparently was that DC's continuity, which at that time stretched back to the very first publication of Superman in the late 30s, had to be clarified. Streamlined. Simplified. Cleaned up. Pruned. Revised. Despeckled. Smoothed out. Use whatever editorial euphemism you want, the intent was clear: something that was perceived as a mess (or, as has already been mentioned, a "pulsating hunk of double talk") had to be dumped in the trash.

This wasn't, of course, a simple matter, because no clear temporal dividing line could be drawn. When you have 50 years of continuity, you tend to have a lot of interweaving throughout the history of that continuity. As can be seen in the examples throughout this article, it's hard to simply say "Okay, everything from 1980 back gets chucked". However, one thing was pretty clear: whatever wound up surviving into the new, Earth-Zero DC Universe, would not number amongst its ranks any alternate dimensions. That, in fact, was what the whole "Earth-Zero" working title was about: no more Earth-Prime, Earth 1, Earth 2, Earth 3, Earth X, Earth S, Earth C, Earth whatever the hell. Nuh uh. It was all going; DC's continuity was going to be boiled down to ONE timeline, and everything that survived had to be made consistent into one non-branching linear historical event-stream.

Oh, aspects of DC's history, previously relegated to the ghetto of Earth-2, would be conserved. No one wanted to get rid of the Justice Society of America's place in the past; they made, in fact, a wonderful 'period' superteam and forerunner to the more modern JLA. And no one, at that time, wanted to get rid of INFINITY INC.; in fact, another persistent rumor still insists that one of the main motivators for CRISIS was the retrospectively insane idea that if DC got rid of Earth-2 and put the Infinitors on the same planet as the rest of the modern heroes, their book would start to sell well.

However, various of DC's 'big gun' characters presented special problems. Superman and Batman, for specific example, had both been around for 50 years. One of the charming effects of the Earth 1/Earth 2 continuity implant had been that the longevity of those careers could be explained. There were actually two different Batmans, and two different Supermans. One set had fought crime in the Golden Age, on Earth-2, and been charter members of the Justice Society; the other pair had debuted much later in time, on Earth-1, and been charter members of the Justice League.

This same effect was used to explain the way a more modern DC Comics had gone about reviving Golden Age character concepts in rather revised, updated Silver Age versions... the Golden Age versions of the Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and the Atom all lived on Earth-2, while the Silver Age, more modern, often rather vastly changed, versions lived on Earth-1. Eventually, this effect was applied on a rather sweeping basis to every modern DC character who had ever had any sort of Golden Age career, such as Wonder Woman, and even Green Arrow, who also gained an Earth-2 doppelganger, although that particular character was singular in that he was not a member of the Justice Society.

Other Golden Age characters whom, for whatever reasons, DC's modern editors did not choose to revise and update, remained more or less unique to Earth-2, like Hourman, Starman, Johnny Thunder, the Red Tornado, etc. (This later became rather confused under Roy Thomas in the singular case of the character known as Manhunter, when Roy stuck the Golden Age Manhunter in the background of several large group shots of the Justice Squadron of America, who were at that time still on Earth-2.

This was rather perplexing, because this Manhunter was one of the few Golden Age characters who had actually been established as existing on Earth-1, through the expedient of being revived, after suspended animation, and given a new costume and somewhat new superpowers in a modern, Silver Age version who eventually teamed up with the modern, Silver Age Batman - thus establishing definitively his presence on Earth-1 - shortly before dying. Apparently, Paul Kirk has the singular distinction of being alive on both Earths at the same time period, although whether or not the Earth-2 Manhunter was put in suspended animation and revived in the modern day must remain a moot point, since Earth-2 no longer exists. Paul Kirk is apparently also singular for being the ONLY Golden Age superhero to exist on Earth-1, where all the other superhumans waited until the late 50s or early 60s to make their debuts.

Fortunately, with the reduction of all the various alternate Earths to one blended planet/dimension/timestream, it no longer matters, but for a while there, it was a little bit bewildering. I honestly think Roy Thomas never even realized he'd made a mistake.) Even later, the original Black Canary actually bodily crossed the dimensional barrier to Earth-1, joined the Justice League, and became, in effect, her own Silver Age version.

That this was, especially for the Black Canary, a rather nonsensical and absurd telescoping of natural entropy was something that, amazingly, escaped the notice of fans and pros alike for nearly thirty years. Simply put, no one actually paid any attention to the fact that the JLA's premiere female acrobat and martial artist had had a prominently documented and acknowledged crimefighting career starting just prior to World War II, and therefore, pretty much had to have been born somewhere around 1923. In the late 1960s, when she first joined the JLA, this would put the character in her early 40s... not too great a stretch; she might have great genes, good make up skills, and clearly, she worked out a lot. However, by the time Crisis rolled around, Green Arrow's still apparently youthful 'pretty bird' had to be pushing 60, and, well, now that we're on the verge of the 21st Century, she's just WAY too old to be vaulting around kicking the Catwoman in the face.

It was little glitches like, well, all of the above, along with the apparent confusion of young fans who did not understand why the Superman we occasionally saw in INFINITY INC. was, like, OLD, and the Green Lantern over there had that really stupid costume, that really led DC to believe that it simply had to do something to simplify and update its continuity. And, as I mentioned, the 'big gun' characters, who had pretty much identical versions in both Golden and Silver Ages, presented particular problems.

Much of the Earth-2 continuity... anything DC's editors wanted to salvage, in other words, like the historical career of the JSA, and the present day existence of Infinity, Inc... could simply be brought over to the new, post Crisis reality relatively intact. However, it went without saying that the Golden Age Superman could not be made to co-exist with the Silver Age Superman. It would simply be too confusing. Similarly, the Silver Age Wonder Woman and the Golden Age Wonder Woman could not be placed on the same Earth. And the Golden Age Batman, while conveniently dead for years in the pre Crisis Continuity, still had lent his legacy to other characters, like the Earth-2 Robin, who was not only an adult who had taken up his mentor's mantle, but was actually, in the early days of the 'modern' JSA, depicted as having some grey hairs himself (as well he should, given that the character debuted at the age of 10 in the early 40s, and as such, should have been in his 40s or 50s by the time the 1970s and 1980s rolled around).

Further complicating things was the fact that in the late 70s, Paul Levitz had created, as a back up series for one of the Batman titles, a character named The Huntress, who was the adult daughter of the Earth 2 Batman and his wife, Catwoman. The character was one that intrigued fans, for various reasons no one has ever been able to adequately figure out. Basically a more modern and much more violent version of Batgirl, she had an admittedly better looking costume, an actual sex life (which, towards the end of her pre Crisis, Earth 2 career, rather queasily began to involve her with the adult Dick Grayson, who was in some weird way both a foster brother and honorary uncle), and although she never really managed to support her own title, there was clearly some sizzle to the character that DC would have liked to conserve... an impulse that we can see reflected in the fact that 'the Huntress' has been one of the most revived and tinkered with characters in the Post Crisis DC continuity.

In the end, Crisis wound up simply killing both characters in action, since there was really no way to justify either of them in the new, streamlined timeline. And, although we briefly saw the graves of both characters in, of all places, THE LAST DAYS OF THE JUSTICE SOCIETY, it wasn't long before the winds of changing entropy erased all memory that the characters had ever actually existed from all the survivors and inhabitants of the post Crisis DC Earth.

And when the dust settled in the new, streamlined timeline, we similarly discovered that there had never been a Golden Age Superman or Batman... that, in fact, the Modern Age versions of those characters were the first, the original, the only, the unique, Superman and Batman. They were unprecedented. There had never been a Superman or Batman in the 1930s, 40s, or 50s, nor had any such characters ever been members of the Justice Society of America. (Studying these two characters 'now you see it, now you don't' status as members of the post Crisis Justice League is very nearly a microcosm of just how ineptly DC has handled the establishment of any sense of coherent continuity in their post Crisis timeline. Batman and Superman pop in and out of the Justice League's history, sometimes as charter members, sometimes not, every time a new writer takes over any of half a dozen different titles that reflect somewhat on that history. I myself am also currently unclear as to whether, in the post Crisis DC Universe timeline that exists this week, Batman has ever had anything to do with The Outsiders, or if that particular team is even considered to have existed any more.)

One of the truly good ideas that came about at the end of Crisis (as opposed to the plethora of spectacularly bad ones that bloomed in the post-Crisis DC soil like some sort of horrible weed of a truly terrible crime) was to do a new SECRET ORIGINS comic series which would basically present the revised origins and history of all the post Crisis DC characters. This was a very intelligently conceived concept, and handled correctly, should have allowed some conscientious DC editor to step right in and shape for all us startled and yearning readers the brand new continuity in a straightforward, inarguable, and completely coherent format. I know that I and the few buddies I had back then who still read comics were pretty much united in our approval of the idea, when it was announced, and looking forward to seeing something, ANYthing, that would try to outline and explain exactly what we would be looking at, once the Crisis dust had settled. (Wolfman and Perez' two volume HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE, which had been marketed as doing exactly that, was obsolete before the second volume came out, so many fans, disappointed by the fact that the 'definitive timeline' laid down in that pricey set had been invalidated before they finished reading it, were ready to fasten on the new SECRET ORIGINS series with both hands, if only it would do a better job.)

Instead of that, though, we got a series that basically was nothing from its deranged first issue to its ignominious last one but a Roy Thomas vanity show.

The very first issue set the tone for the entire series, and signaled pretty clearly to anyone with half a brain that if you were looking for a coherent presentation of the post Crisis DC Universe, you hadn't better look too hard in SECRET ORIGINS. This is because that very first issue was divided between two stories, both written by Roy Thomas, which re-presented the Secret Origins of (you're really not going to believe this) The Golden Age Superman and The Golden Age Batman.

I know. I know. Honestly, you're not saying anything right now that I didn't say, more loudly and profanely, upon seeing the comic for the very first time. The series that was supposed to give us a definitive, character by character, depiction of the new DC continuity was starting off... with stories of characters that everyone agreed did not exist and had never existed in the new DC continuity.

I can't explain Roy's 'reasoning', because, well, in my opinion, Roy Thomas is a self indulgent hack who shouldn't have been allowed to even tour the offices of any major comics company, much less work for them in anything other than a janitorial capacity. Worse than this, he's at best a mediocre writer, at worst a truly lousy one, and nearly always, just plain nuts. What was going through his addled, daffy mind when he decided to devote the first issue of the new SECRET ORIGINS to stories that actually had no bearing whatsoever on anything relating to the actual new fictional reality the series was supposed to define, I have no idea. What was, in fact, going through the minds of DC's editorial staff in allowing Roy to hijack the SECRET ORIGINS concept, which should have been the keystone in their whole post Crisis continuity arch, I similarly have no clue. The best I can do is to reprise, from memory, Roy's introductory caption to the issue, which went something along the lines of "Although these characters have now, officially, never existed... once they did. And we remember them. And so, as a gesture of our fond memory, we now present these stories of how they began... because while they may be gone from our history, they will never be gone from our hearts". Or some such twaddle.

SECRET ORIGINS, if anything, went downhill from there. When it was used the way it had been originally intended to be used, it enacted horrors, such as the previously mentioned revised origin for Power Girl, in which it turns out that in some truly unintelligible and appalling fashion, the character is somehow the grand daughter of Arion, Warlord of Atlantis. (Try and make up a worse revised origin for the character. Go ahead. I'll give you two weeks and allow you to use Captain Carrot and his Zoo Crew, if you want, plus the entire casts of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, MELROSE PLACE, and TITANS.

I'll bet you can't. And mind you, 'worse' can't just be 'more stupid', that's too easy. It also has to be 'more wildly inappropriate to the character's powers and modern day presentation, and at least as goddam boring'. There's no way. Like SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, Paul Kupperberg's revised origin for Power Girl holds some sort of dubious but spectacular trophy for All Time Worst In Its Field.) Most of it, though, was monopolized by Roy Thomas, who used it to give us Secret Origins of a lot of obscure Golden Age characters no one actually cared about (like a blatant Spirit rip off called "Midnight" that only Roy would have been creatively challenged enough to dredge up and include in DC's World War II continuity).

Still, we're ranging pretty widely from our thesis, here, which was, originally, to simply give some sort of categorical list of the characters and concepts actually slain by the events of the miniseries CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. Not that it matters much, since no one is paying me for all this babble and maybe four people other than me will ever read this thing, anyway.

I could make a pretty good argument that Hal Jordan was killed off by Crisis, as well, since the Hal Jordan of the Silver Age bore very nearly no resemblance to the Hal Jordan who was redefined in the truly appalling Jim Owsley EMERALD DAWN mini series. (I think E.D. was drawn by Mark Bright, and it's probably unfair to heap all the blame on Mr. Owsley, but as others have noted before, I tend to put most of the credit and/or blame for actual story material on the writer, not the artist.) Even leaving aside this bizarre drunken frat dude doppelganger that took Hal's place post Crisis, I could still make an argument that Crisis at the very least sewed the seeds of his doom, since Crisis was the instigating factor that turned Hal Jordan into a so called supervillain named Parallax, and eventually killed him.

Still, that's an ephemeral argument at best, and I'm too tired to make it. Ultimately, Kevin Dooley killed Hal Jordan, and someone should at the very least slap him two or three times for it really hard.

So. The CRISIS body count, at least, as far as my aging, wheezing, extremely fatigued mind can recall right at this moment, runs like this:

Kamandi. Superboy. Supergirl. The Legion of Superheroes. Mon-El. The Golden and Silver Age Wonder Women. Power Girl, as the Earth 2 Supergirl. Fury, as the daughter of the Golden Age Wonder Woman. Barry Allen. Wonder Girl, as anything remotely sensible. The Silver Age Hawkman. The Golden Age Superman and his entire supporting cast, which would pretty much include every surviving character who had ever appeared in the very first superhero comic strip ever published. The Earth-Prime Superboy. Earths 2, 3, X, C, C 1/2, and S, among an infinity minus 4 of others. Captain Carrot and his Zoo Crew. The Justa Lotta Animals. The Crime Syndicate of America. The Earth 2 Robin and the Earth 2 Huntress. General Zod, Jax Ur, Dev Em, and every other Kryptonian character other than Superman. The versions of Jor El and Lara with hair.

I suspect some of the dopier Classic Superman supporting characters also died during Crisis, like blatant Popeye ripoff Captain Strong, and the panty and vest clad superhuman Sonny Bono look-alike known as Vartox. However, their deaths, as far as I know, did not actually occur on panel, they were simply quietly dropped into a waste can, which was then surreptitiously booted under someone's desk. And, honestly, it's hard to blame those who handled the post Crisis Superman continuity for not reviving any of THOSE hosers.

And probably at least a few more I'm forgetting, right at this minute. And some of those have since been dusted off and resurrected, like the Crime Syndicate of America, and at least one of them, the Earth-Prime Superboy, is too silly for words, anyway. Oh, and Crisis itself outright resurrected Superman's adoptive parents, Ma and Pa Kent, who as far as I know are, in the current continuity, still alive and well in Smallville, God love 'em.

(In fact, given that Superboy and Superman, pre Crisis, were both constantly trying to travel back in time and prevent the Kents from dying... what the Kents died from changed in every story, but the fact that they croaked, that Superboy was helpless to prevent it, and that even Superman, through the agency of time travel, was also helpless to undo it, remained one of the constants of Superman's life... I myself theorize that the Crisis was not actually caused by the Anti-Monitor. Instead, it was caused when finally, somehow, Superman was successful in altering history and keeping his adoptive parents alive... and somehow, some effect of that rippled through history and kicked off the Crisis. So now the Kents are alive, but an infinite number of universes, and a lot of good characters, are dead. Fortunately, Superman has no memory of doing it... or at least, that's his story and he's rather obstinately sticking to it.)

And, while this article is mostly an entirely pointless exercise in bitter, middle aged nostalgia, it occurs to me that this catalogue of the various failures, mistakes, and horrifying consequences of DC's attempt to divorce itself from many decades of cumbersome continuity may actually have some relevance to current events in superhero comics, as well. Because it looks like Marvel, at long last, is hesitantly and in a thoroughly aimless, half assed, 'let's try hard to sneak up on this in such a way as the X-MEN fans don't notice us doing it' way, getting ready to try the same thing, with their gradual introduction of their ULTIMATE comics lines, and the much larger, newsstand targeted, glossy magazine format versions of those same ULTIMATE issues.

Marvel seems to think they're learning from DC's mistakes. Rather than announcing a massive continuity update and doing it all at once in one hugely touted, vastly selling miniseries, they're trying to avoid virtually all notice by doing it gradually, carefully test marketing each change before they make it, and keeping around the non Ultimate versions of their titles as well, so they aren't committed to anything.

This is not, however, the proper way to go about learning from DC's mistakes. The proper way is simple: Don't. Do. It.

Certain contingents of fans are always going to whine, and the most vocal of those whiners are always going to be the adolescent and young adult age groups. And while this is the preferred target audience of all television advertisers, Marvel should try to keep in mind that adolescents and young adults these days are not spectacularly literate, have vanishingly short attention spans, are massively overstimulated, and as a general rule and for the overwhelming most part, would far rather spend a couple of bucks on renting something that moves and makes noise and that maybe they can interact with, than on a 22 page comic book... whether the continuity in the comic book is complex and detailed, or streamlined and simple. As such, Marvel would do well not to make all its creative decisions on the basis of what it thinks the 14 to 23 year old market wants.

That's the real lesson to be learned from Crisis: decades and generations of elaborate continuity is not something awful that should be discarded. Properly used, it is an invaluable and irreplaceable asset to any creative endeavor. Throwing it out is simply stupid.

Don't. Do. It.

It's too late for DC. They should really just give up on their comics line and concentrate on the next Batman movie.

* * * * * * * * * *

John Jones, the Manhunter from Marathon, IL,no longer dwells in Marathon, IL. He realizes that he is probably the only comics reader left in this particular universe who still actually cares about what happened during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. However, as with many things he realizes, he also just doesn't care. If you honestly think he should write about things that have more relevance to modern day comics, especially the ones you think are really cool, like HITMAN and PREACHER and THE AUTHORITY and TRANSMETROPOLITAN, then you should send him a great deal of money and he might. Send those offers pouring in to martianmanhunter2@juno.com.

1 Comments:

Anonymous buttler said...

the freedom fighters were actually old quality comics characters (along with plastic man and blackhawk, who for whatever reason weren't sent off to earth-x).

the fawcett heroes were the marvel family and their various cronies on earth-s.

earth-c incorporated a bunch of old golden age characters from back when DC actually did "funny animal" comics, such as peter porkchops, the terrific whatzit and fawcett's hoppy the marvel bunny, so it's not surprising that golden-age-obsessed roy thomas was behind it.

11:17 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home