Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Missed Opportunity of "Infinite Crisis"

This is, of course, a very different thing from "The Mistakes Of 'Infinite Crisis'", because I don't know if Blogger has a posting-size limit, and I don't want to find out the hard way.

But for those of you who don't follow comics overmuch, "Infinite Crisis" was a sequel to "Crisis On Infinite Earths", which was designed to do a bunch of harsh, necessary things to DC continuity and then never be mentioned again, ever. Basically, a bunch of the characters from "Crisis On Infinite Earths" who were never supposed to be seen or heard from again because their backstories were too complicated and unwieldy for any but the most hardened DC fanboys to follow turned back up because DC realized, "Hey, that's pretty much all we've got left of our audience!"

And they then proceeded to make a big, universe-altering machine that recreated reality like it was before the original Crisis, because there was so much cool stuff back then, and it was a shame that it was chucked out, and wouldn't it be cool if we brought back the Multiverse, and it's so lame that Batman's parents' killer was never found, and Power Girl really should be the Earth-2 Supergirl, and...and basically, it was the most spectacularly meta-textual story since Grant Morrison's "Animal Man" run. But to make a long story short ("too late!") it ended with the DC history being revised again (third time in twenty years.)

The key thing they did was bring back the Multiverse, which I've likened in the past to having an operation to put someone's appendix back in. Because ultimately, the Multiverse was there as a mechanism to get characters from different DC continuities to team up. When the writer wanted Captain Marvel and Superman to meet, but it was established that there was no Superman in Captain Marvel's world and vice versa, well...Multiverse! All is good. But the original Crisis made the difficult, painful, but ultimately necessary adjustments to DC's history to establish that no, all of these people are in one history, and it had two great waves of super-heroes. There was a Golden Age Flash, and he inspired the Silver Age Flash, and he inspired the Modern Age Flash. No Multiverses needed anymore. (In other words, the new Earth-2 has...all the same heroes as on Earth-1. Only, you know, they're...um, the same age, and...um, there's a new generation of heroes and Robin is now the new Batman, which is totally different from DC now because, um...look, just shut up! Earth-2 was cool when Geoff Johns was twelve, and it's still cool now!)

Which leads us to the great missed opportunity in DC's "Infinite Crisis". Because they're revamping DC's history yet again, right? And meanwhile, over in the Wildstorm universe (which started out as part of Image but was bought by DC, lock stock and every single marketable character), they're rebooting that whole universe from square one (Captain Atom and Void accidentally blew it up. Oops!) So what do they do?

They make the Wildstorm universe Earth-50. So now, if the Teen Titans want to team up with Gen-13, all they need to do is find a convenient dimensional portal to a parallel Earth, see, and then they can meet up and have a several-panel long explanation of the physics of alternate timestreams before they get their adventure started, which will have to involve dimension-crossing villains as well, of course, and...

Why, oh sweet suffering baby Jesus why didn't they just take the opportunity to make the Wildstorm universe part of the DC universe? They own the characters, they're revising both continuities at the exact same freaking time, and if fifty years of pre-Crisis continuity should have taught them anything, it's that having your marketable characters stuck in different fictional universes is a royal pain in the ass that you should correct sooner rather than later, because the longer you let it go on the more irritating it is to fix!

**pants like Animal after a rampage***

But they didn't, and the defining ramification of "Infinite Crisis" remains that it gave us "Countdown: Arena". Which is alone enough to make comics fans everywhere wish it hadn't happened.

8 comments:

Eric Teall said...

John,

I rarely disagree with you, but I don't think that the multiple universes thing is really the problem. At the risk of sounding a little like Grant Morrison (and, by extension, making anyone think that I liked Final Crisis, which I most emphatically did NOT), it's all just a story. The need for any solid in-universe explanation for dimension-hopping is virtually nil. It can be explained in a panel or two... or just throw the Phantom Stranger in the mix and it's done.

To my mind, the biggest problem with Infinite Crisis is that when DC realized "Hey, [hardened DC fanboys are] pretty much all we've got left of our audience!", they didn't make changes that would appeal to anyone outside that group. Instead, as you so rightly point out, they let Johns be the biggest fanboy that he possibly could and screw up continuity and in-universe logic even more, thus further insulating their stories from an expanded audience.

The reason why this decision is so awful is that DC doesn't seem to understand that they have incredibly iconic and marketable characters who are made ridiculously redundant by having other characters who can do the exact same things and who serve the exact same purpose. What's the point of Power Girl when DC has Supergirl (who can do the exact same things as Superman but serves a different purpose)? What's the point of having Captain Marvel and Superman on the same Earth?

The missed opportunity in any CRISIS-type "reboot-but-not" series is simply this: simplify, diversify, and provide the company (and its silly fans) with an in-story reason to re-iconify(!) its characters. The multiverse can be used (or not) as the "wink-wink" explanation for when you want an old Batman and a young Batman to meet up, but the multiverse IS NOT THE STORY, and this is what guys like Geoff Johns don't seem to get. Multiverses are inherently meta, and as you yourself have pointed out, John, when the metastory becomes the story, a story engine has a problem.

Re-iconify and strengthen the core characters and sell them in good stories that are based on character, plot, and spectacle in that order: that's what DC should do. Learn the lessons of the last era and use them to improve the current era.

I don't know if any of that makes ANY sense, but...

Mark said...

I haven't actually read much recent stuff from DC and Wildstorm, so I may not be qualified to comment, but...

I'm suprised you don't like a good multiverse, as a storytelling engine, surely its hard to beat?

Specifically, with why Wildstorm wasn't rolled in when Captain Marvel was: Captain Marvel is a good fit for DC, the masses of Wildstorm characters would not be.

Can you imagine the Authority and the JLA trying to co-exist?

AlephZ said...

See, now me, I'd say the reason Wildstorm doesn't get folded into the DCU proper is because many of their characters are thematically inappropriate for the DCU. Imagine the difficulties if the Authority... well, if the Authority existed. They'd be fighting with the JLA full-time, pretty much.

Though it would be nice to have a decent teen-team book. The most recent iteration of Gen 13 has tended to be at least a bit better than Teen Titans.

I'm with you on the rest, though. Dimension-hopping is fun and all, but a core, easily-accessible universe not weighted down with exponentially growing and complex backstories (see, back when there WAS a multiverse, the three Flashes crossed over, Crisis undid it, but now it happened again, etc) and a grip fewer rehashes of stuff that happened decades ago would make everything a lot easier for all concerned.

John Seavey said...

Mark, the problem I have with a multiverse is that it's pretty new-reader unfriendly; you have to do a lot of info-dumping in any multiverse story in order to get a new reader up to speed, and that bogs the story down.

You have to explain the idea of parallel universes (which is a sci-fi staple, but you still need to get it across), then you need to explain the particular divergences that set up the other universe ("In this universe, the Flash was a hero during World War II, and knowledge of his adventures crossed the dimensional barrier in the form of dreams that inspired comic books that inspired Barry Allen to be the Flash...") then you need to explain why this particular situation allows for dimension-hopping, to say nothing of any villain backstories you have to get into.

Whereas post-Crisis, it was just, "Oh, it's the original Flash, the one that inspired me! Let's team up against this bad guy!" Simpler, sleeker, more streamlined.

And I do agree, the Authority's a tough fit. (They're actually a kind of tough fit in the Wildstorm Universe, too, which is why they haven't appeared for so long. The Authority's style of operations deforms the status quo around it, they're not good for a shared universe.) They are the exception to the rule, though. I'd wind the timeline back, have Stormwatch still be around, and maybe make the whole "Authority" thing a storyline that comes up down the road.

Carlos Futino said...

I agree with John. The Authority (and maybe Planetary) are tough fits, but that's all.
But Planetary is finished and The Authority might be considered an Elseworld, Imaginary Story or whatever we're calling out-of-continuity stories these days.

Actually, I think nice stories coudl come from the difference in tone from, say, WildC.A.T.s or Wetworks and the rest of the DC Universe. I'd like a Grifter/Batman crossover.

John Seavey said...

Exactly. I see it as sort of the seedy, covert underbelly of the DCU, fitting in with things like Checkmate and the Suicide Squad.

Michael Hoskin said...

Considering how insular Infinite Crisis was, the real surprise was how they treated the aftermath of the event - the "One Year Later" branding. John, there's some serious missed opportunities there!

Speaking as someone who only follows a handful of DC Universe comics, I took "One Year Later" to be a jumping on point and tried out a number of DC books, some that I hadn't read in more than a decade, some that I had never read before; with the exception of the Johns/Busiek Superman, I found they supposed their "new" audience was already hip to DC's history and hardly tried to bring new people into the fold; I didn't add any OYL DC books to my list in the end, and a friend who had been following Infinite Crisis and a number of other DCU books wound up dropping nearly everything because of OYL.

John Seavey said...

OK, the lack of stand-alone jumping-on points for new readers in "One Year Later" can be a close second. :)

(It loses a few points, I think, because the lack of stand-alone jumping-on points for new readers is pretty common at both Marvel and DC the last decade or so. :) )