Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Recently Read: Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez

Crisis on Infinite Earths may be the worst comic story I've read. By worst, I don't mean unprofessional. The most amateurish mid-'80s, self-published B&W comic published on browning, cheap newsprint can have its inadvertent charms, but there's nothing charming about this slick, corporate product. COIE was one of the first miniseries created by corporate committee (Jim Shooter, not surprisingly, led the way the previous year with Secret Wars). Reading it was a slogging chore.

COIE is a convoluted concoction designed to utilize, in one forced way or another, nearly every intellectual property the company owned. This necessitates scene after scene of characters saying "Who are you?" and "Where are we?" and "Please, what is going on here?" (corporate-mandated "fun" is the answer). In fact, the 350-page work is stultifyingly repetitive. I've never read a superhero comic with so many heroes crying, weeping, wailing. I just now opened to a random page: "Now there is nothing...and the man called Pariah can only cry."

Instead of trying to describe what our heroes are up against, I'll let one of them describe it for you: "There is an enemy...The Monitor never told me WHO he is - but he seeks the total destruction of all POSITIVE MATTER UNIVERSES. You know of Earths 1 and 2...but ALL the planets are separated by VIBRATIONS...to ESCAPE the enemy's antimatter attack, The Monitor began the process of MERGING the UNIVERSES INTO ONE..as it was INTENDED to be, but somehow, AT THE DAWN OF TIME -- we were SPLIT INTO AN INFINITE NUMBER OF UNIVERSES. To SAVE all life, we must RETURN TO BEING ONE UNIVERSE AGAIN."

The reason stated for creating a work which simplified the DC universe was and is that it was confusing to then-new readers. I question that: most DC stories at the time didn't involve characters from parallel universes and those which did had no appreciable drop in sales. Moreover, the DC universe that existed after the dust settled was a worse one, with 25 years of Hawkman continuity thrown into the ditch, a much weakened and less interesting Superman (under the hand of John Byrne - no surprise there) and a smaller playing field with less story potential.

COIE also loses points for helping create the template for a seemingly endless series of company "events" which to this day interrupt and negate the continuity of other series written by authors attempting to tell their own slowly-built stories. As an example: over one hundred individual issues of DC's comics were tied-in to COIE before, during and immediately after its publication.

I can't discuss COIE without mentioning George Perez's art, it being such an integral part of the work and its financial success. I didn't read COIE at the time of its initial publication because of my aversion to his style, and thirty years haven't altered my view. If you like Perez's work, you'll like this book. He's a professional and clearly worked an insane number of hours on it.

COIE suffers in stark contrast to the previous work of fantasy I'd read before it - a tale which also involved multiple universes, a creepy, world-destroying villain, imperfect heroes and lots of journeying between worlds: C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew. That story had humor, whimsy, a compelling, straightforward narrative, a lightness of touch and real suspense. I'd recommend reading it instead.
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