The famous Crisis on Infinite Earths was a 12-part groundbreaking comic series published in 1985. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? The main purpose of this incredible storyline was to simplify the DC continuity. At that point, characters and storylines had become convoluted. There were multiple Supermans and Green Lanterns, a universe where the Justice League had evil counterparts and The Flash was both Barry Allen AND Jay Garrick.
In order to have different versions of these iconic superheroes, the writers imagined a Multiverse: infinite varieties of Earth and alien worlds that could be populated with characters. The crisis came about as an explanation thereof and an eraser. It was so monumental, that even thirty years later, the DC continuity is categorized as pre and post-Crisis.
In 2005, a novelization was penned by author of the comics Marv Wolfman, with cover illustration by George Perez and Alex Ross. One could assume that a novelization is useful to appeal to people who aren’t likely to pick up a comic. But this novel also added a layer of detail and internal monologue that didn’t exist in the comic.
Crisis slams the forces of good and evil together in a big way. A being called The Monitor, who appropriately has been observing the Multiverse for his entire existence, enlists the help of heroes and villains from different worlds and universes to combat the universal destruction by his natural enemy, the Anti-Monitor. They discover that mistakes in the past led to the creation of the Multiverse and the Anti-Monitor’s release in the first place. A scientist named Krona from Oa, the planet of the Guardians, made the fateful decision to peek at the Dawn of Creation. He sees a hand reaching through a black hole unleashing a cluster of stars. What he thinks is the hand of God is actually the Anti-Monitor reaching into the past. At this moment, the paradox creates the anti-matter universe and innumerable positive matter universes. The Anti-Monitor’s anti-matter universe grows stronger with the destruction of positive matter universes and thus begins his conquest.
The book is an expansive, universe hopping, time traveling mess. Just as the previous parallel universe problem proved too convoluted to keep going, the story to fix it was forced to employ the same tricks. Narrating the events is Barry Allen, The Flash, who finds himself hopping from universe to universe, observing events happening to the other characters. He himself is a ghost and is relegated as a frustrated, intangible hero. He does have rare opportunities when he is able to speak to someone or touch something. These moments are fleeting and our hero is left feeling worthless, not knowing how he ended up a ghost or whether he’s actually alive.
Barry Allen is a delightful narrator. I’m glad Marv Wolfman decided to have him carry the story. It simply wouldn’t have had the depth of human emotion and wit told by Superman or The Monitor. Barry Allen’s life up to that point and personal experiences tied in nicely to what he was dealing with. Sure, he was a superhero, but he was also a scientist, a husband,and a father figure to Wally West.
It was an enjoyable read for me, though I see a bit of a divided audience on such review sites as Goodreads and Amazon. True, the naysayers have a point…the narrative is all over the place. Literally, it spans universes and time periods as easily as you walk from the bedroom to the kitchen in the morning. Also, there are still some moments where the dialogue is comic-booky. Much of it seems to have been smoothed over in the novel, but certain parts sound like they’re encapsulated in a speech bubble. I’m happy to note Barry’s narration is much more naturally written than that.
One of the big changes made to DC comics was the death of Supergirl. I feel I can say that without a “spoiler alert” because it’s given away on both the covers of the graphic novel and the novel version. It is a big, sacrificial moment when Supergirl lays her life down to help the others beat the Anti-Monitor. At this point, the writers wanted to revamp the Superman title and have Supes be the Last Son of Krypton again. Supergirl remarkably wouldn’t return until 2005, in Superman/Batman, Volume 2: Supergirl. There were characters such as Linda Danvers and Power Girl between ‘85 and ‘05, but no actual cousin from Krypton.
The writing isn’t perfect. For some reason, the paperback edition I read was rife with typos. It’s a pain, especially when the typos change the gender of the character and some backtracking is required to figure out who is speaking. There are also point-of-view issues. The narrative switches from Barry’s first-person perspective to third-person descriptions of scenes in which Barry isn’t present. There are a few slip-ups in POV, where Barry is narrating a scene and one of the other characters’ thoughts slip through.
Another problem I had was the anachronism. The original story was written in 1985, so why does Lois have a cell phone? Barry makes a reference to Pong one minute, and Mapquest the next. Perhaps when the novel was written, the original plan was to update to the present. Whatever the reason, these issues escaped the editor and needlessly took me out of the story.
Crisis covers a ridiculously long cast of characters impossible to list while having you remain awake. Suffice to say just about everyone from Pariah to The Blue Beetle is at least mentioned. It can be difficult to keep track of them all, especially when you’ve got similar names (Firestorm, Firebrand, Firehawk, etc). Much time is spent with The Monitor and Lyla/Harbinger, who orchestrate the banding together of heroes and villains. Superman, Green Lantern, Flash and Alexander Luthor are main characters. Don’t expect much from Batman. He’s there, just not all that vocal, though he proves to be the strategist near the end.
The Psycho-Pirate, an emotion controlling villain, somewhere between raving lunatic and cowering wimp, also factors heavily in the plot. He’s enlisted to help, but then is scooped up by The Anti-Monitor to use his power against the heroes.
Details from the original story are missing from this novel. This includes a scene with DeSaad and Darkseid observing from afar and commenting that they won’t act. Doesn’t add much story-wise, so we don’t miss it. Many such scenes and characters are trimmed. It’s tough enough conveying a story that jumps from universe to universe and backwards and forwards in time with so many characters.
Is it a cautionary tale about not peeking into the mysteries of the universe or a shameless slam-bam-mash-up meant to sell books? The novel gives the reader an opportunity to read some updated, more realistic dialogue and get a personalized tour by the Flash. It’s a big story that influenced the superhero genre for years to come. Whether you dig into the graphic novel format or this novelization, I think the story is worth a go for any big DC Comics fan.