This article contains some spoilers for the first two issues of DC’s Dark Crisis.
When DC Comics fans hear the word “crisis,” certain things spring to mind: crowded panels featuring luminaries from every corner of the DC multiverse, universe-shattering stakes, dramatic character deaths, and sometimes big changes for DC’s storytelling continuity itself. Several big events bearing the “Crisis” moniker have altered the history of the DC Universe. But Dark Crisis writer Joshua Williamson wants to assure everyone that things are a little different this time around.
“I don’t necessarily think that it has to involve rebooting anything,” Williamson tells Den of Geek via Zoom while idly paging through a hardcover omnibus of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. “I don’t think that’s what we wanted to do. We really wanted to focus on making it more about the characters, and leveling up and putting a spotlight on certain ones you haven’t seen in a situation like this before.”
Dark Crisis is DC’s big crossover this year, the latest in a proud tradition that began in 1985 with the legendary Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. In the decades since, DC has unleashed a “Crisis-level event” roughly once a decade, all featuring all-star creative teams depicting superheroes and villains at their most desperate hours, always with the fate of the universe, time, or the multiverse itself at stake, with tremendous ramifications for DC’s main heroes. But while Dark Crisis is very much a cosmic story with multiversal implications, it also follows some less likely central characters this time around.
And that’s by necessity. Williamson took the Justice League off the board before Dark Crisis even started, apparently killing the team in Justice League #75. When Dark Crisis begins, Jon Kent, the son of Superman, is trying (and failing) to assemble a new League, even as the standard-bearers of legacy in the DC Universe, the Titans, find themselves under a brutal attack from Deathstroke and a supervillain army. If that’s not enough, Pariah, one of the catalysts of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, puts a deluded plan in motion to restore the life he lost when his world was destroyed, no matter the cost to the existing multiverse.
“When you’re doing a Crisis, you have to find ways of showing some of these characters interact with each other in ways you haven’t seen in the past, or having some new connections,” Williamson says. “You’ve also got to remember to do a lot of grounded stuff, people on the ground, the supporting characters, and try to hit different points of view. A lot of people forget when you look at the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, it’s not a Justice League story. You look at some of the early issues, and the main characters are not really in it that often.”
Striking the tricky balance between multiverse-shattering action and grounded character work takes a special kind of artist. Enter Daniel Sampere, whose crystal clear, dynamic work most recently helped kick off the ongoing “Warworld” epic in the pages of Action Comics. Sampere was brought on board as Dark Crisis artist in June of 2021, almost a full year before the first issue hit stands.
“I didn’t know the specific project, but I was told that an event was coming, and they were thinking of me,” Sampere recalls about getting the job. Artists are notoriously pushed to bring their A+ game when illustrating one of DC’s flagship events, so when he found out what it was, “I understood why they name them ‘Crisis,’ because it’s what I had,” he jokes, “but it’s super exciting at the same time.”
Sampere’s first step was to dive back into as many of DC’s event stories as he could, from the original Crisis on Infinite Earths through Infinite Crisis, Blackest Night, and Dark Nights: Metal. “Not to read as a fan, but to study them,” he says. “How did these artists do those books so well, and what can I learn from them? A lot of the imagery we associate with these events was put forth by George Pérez and Phil Jimenez and all the people who worked on previous Crisis books, so I studied well. I wanted to pay tribute to those images but mix them with my own vision and not just do the same thing, trying to make something new, but always looking to what they did before me because it’s so good.”
If even the book’s artist was a little intimidated, what does this mean for readers? Fortunately, as devoted to the scope of DC history as Dark Crisis may be, it’s more interested in the spirit than the letter of it, even nodding to the notion that it doesn’t matter which version of the Justice League’s origin you consider canon these days, because all the great stories you love “happened” in some form.
“I don’t always want to get too deep into that stuff because I do feel like sometimes it can be a little bit much,” Williamson says. “I just want to focus on the characters. I do see it as everything happened, and we are still trying to sort out what that means, and so are the characters. They’re trying to figure out what they remember and what they don’t because it does create contradicting story points… I didn’t want us to be so caught up in continuity. I have to recognize not everyone knows the continuity the way I do, so we want to make sure it’s still about the characters going through this unique situation [and not] feel like you have to do schoolwork to read this comic book. I try to avoid that when I can.”
Whenever you’re dealing with a story of this scale, fans naturally expect the characters with the heaviest power sets to take center stage. But that isn’t necessarily the case in Dark Crisis, which features a mix of longstanding heroes (and antiheroes) from Hal Jordan and Black Adam to legacy characters like Jon Kent and Nightwing. In fact, it’s Nightwing who has some of the most emotional (and action-packed) beats early on.
“A lot of the character choices… the people who stepped up into these main roles, all of it was organic,” Williamson says. “Someone like Black Adam… I was able to find an emotional arc with him. With Jon being Superman right now, it made sense for him to be in this story.
Part of the story is about the different generations of DC, so it’s not just about these brand-new characters in the last couple of years. I looked at each character’s viewpoint on legacy. If you think about Nightwing, [he’s] the first sidekick in the DCU. So much of the DCU is about growing the mythology, and Robin being added to Batman is the first growth for each mythology. Now every single character has this huge mythology and these legacies, and it all started with Robin. Think about how popular Nightwing is and how much he stands as his own character. So if we’re going to do a story about legacy, we have to do Nightwing.”
Despite all the cosmic, multiversal stakes and the dozens (if not hundreds) of characters who appear in the first two issues of Dark Crisis, it’s fitting that the central piece of action in the series thus far is a throwdown between longtime enemies Nightwing and Deathstroke, as Titans Tower burns around them. It’s a brutal fight, rendered with all the weight and power in Sampere’s arsenal.
“When I read the script, I was so excited,” Sampere says. “I’m a big fan of the Titans from the days of George Pérez and Marv Wolfman, so having the chance to draw a fight like this was super exciting. The whole scene is so well written, it’s so epic and emotional. I had this idea of rendering them in big, full body shots and then filling the page with random fight shots. I wanted to show some chaos, punches and kicks and people getting hurt, not with styled choreography, but as a fluid fight. It was such a fun thing to do.”
The tradition of making room for the smaller moments in the face of the multiverse realigning has been a hallmark of these events since the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, which among many other beautiful character moments, featured Supergirl and Batgirl having a conversation about how saving even one life in the face of the end of the world still matters.
“We try to let there be a couple of quiet moments per issue, and just let the characters live in the moment and react to what’s happening,” explains Williamson. “I think that’s the way to keep it grounded, to remind the characters that they’re human. That’s the job—you’re constantly trying to think about what the character would do, not what you would do. So every issue, I try to find a place to slow down for a moment and think about what the characters are dealing with.”
The first two issues of Dark Crisis are on sale now, with issue #3 arriving in August. The story continues through December.