Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Comic That Changed DC Comics Forever

Written by Marv Wolfman; pencilled by George Perez; inks by Dick Giordano, Jerry Ordway, and Mike DeCarlo; colours by Anthony Tollin, Tom Ziuko, and Carl Gafford; and lettered by John Costanza.

Next week The CW will kick off their annual Arroverse crossover event, which draws in all of their shows for a massive story. This year’s crossover is expected to be the biggest one yet, which should be a given when it’s based on one of the biggest stories in DC Comics history – 1985’s classic Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book event.

With this in mind, it’s never been a perfect time to look back at the comic book event that changed DC Comics forever. Read on to find out why this story is such a big deal.

Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 cover by George Perez and Dick Giordano.
Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 cover by George Perez and Dick Giordano.

Over 12 issues, Crisis on Infinite Earths had two important goals for DC Comics:

  1. Celebrate DC Comics’ 50th anniversary
  2. Clean up the messy continuity that DC had created in those 50 years

While it was originally planned for 1983, this massive event was released to coincide with DC’s 50th year as a publisher. One way of doing this is with a Who’s Who of characters from throughout their publishing history as possible. This not only included the heroes and villains from their superhero comics, but other genres – such as westerns, war, and horror – are represented too.

Spread from Crisis on Infinite Earths #5 by George Perez and Jerry Ordway.
Spread from Crisis on Infinite Earths #5 by George Perez and Jerry Ordway.

Hundreds of characters being represented sounds like it could be daunting for readers, but it’s not as bad as you think it will be. Many of them only appear in a handful of panels, and the ones that have larger roles you don’t really need to know much about. In fact, you’ll probably discover a bunch you’ve never heard of before and end up down a Wikipedia rabbit-hole out of curiosity.

 Crisis on Infinite Earth #1 panels by George Perez and Dick Giordano.
Crisis on Infinite Earth #1 panels by George Perez and Dick Giordano.

For those playing at home, there’s also a homage to Superman’s origins. It’s nice to see it referenced as it is a pivotal moment of which really kicked off the DC Universe.

While celebrating the publisher’s 50th year of existence is an important milestone, cleaning up DC’s universe in a unified manner is what the story’s legacy will always be. Due to different publishing strategies, acquisitions of characters from other publishers, and some lax editorial work, the DC Universe had gotten messy. It felt disjointed and difficult to follow what was going on in all the different universes. Crisis on Infinite Earths fixes this problem by ripping everything down and building it up all over again.

When you rip down a massive multiverse you need a massive story. One-by-one, parallel universes are being destroyed by the evil Anit-Monitor’s wave of antimatter. The Monitor, an omnipotent being with bad hair, has recruited heroes and villains from various parallel Earths in order to stop him from destroying the entire multiverse.

Crisis on Infinite Earth #1 spread by George Perez and Dick Giordano.
Crisis on Infinite Earth #1 spread by George Perez and Dick Giordano.

While they’re not able to save every world, five worlds are saved. Earth-1, the main setting for most of DC’s output; Earth-2, home to the Golden Age characters and their children; Earth-4, home of the recently acquired Charlton Comics characters; Earth-S, the universe which DC published all of their Shazam! (aka Captain Marvel) comics; and Earth-X, a world where World War II never ended and contained the characters purchased from Quality Comics; are all that remain. Now that the threat of the Anti-Monitor thought to be gone, these Earth’s must now learn to live side-by-side as they all now coincide in the same plane of existence.

In terms of the story’s structure, this period gives the reader some time to breathe. We get to see characters from these worlds intermingle with each other in ways we haven’t seen before, some weird time distortions which cause dinosaurs and cavemen in New York City, and even some political tensions too. While there is an element of chaos to it, it’s more like another day at the office for the heroes instead of fighting to save all of existence.

Crisis on Infinite Earth #10 panel by George Perez and Jerry Ordway.
Crisis on Infinite Earth #10 panel by George Perez and Jerry Ordway.

But don’t expect it to be like this for long! The Anti-Monitor will soon be back and the stakes are raised as now these five worlds are in peril yet again.

While I won’t go through all the events that happen, you’ll have to read them yourself, all you need to know that through many trials and tribulations, heroic deaths of well-loved heroes, and a few false endings, the DC Multiverse is left in a very different place.

Superhero storytelling is often treated as a rubber band. The threats and scenarios stretch what we know about the characters and the world around them into something that looks different before snapping it back to the familiar by the conclusion. When the Crisis on Infinite Earth rubber band snapped back in place the world had some familiarity but at the chaotic DC Universe looked very different.

The most obvious change was that the multiverse ceased to exist. Instead, we were gifted one unified Earth, which incorporated all the best elements of Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-4, Earth-S, and Earth-X. Characters and franchises from these five universes now co-existed with one another. While that might also seem like it’s messy in itself, DC was smart to enough to make it so the effects of the battle with the Anti-Monitor also reshaped history. Because of this, it allowed for characters who were more known for being active in other points of history, such as World War II, to exist in that point in time instead of the present of 1985.

Crisis on Infinite Earth #11 panel by George Perez and Jerry Ordway.
Crisis on Infinite Earth #11 panel by George Perez and Jerry Ordway.

Although, not everyone made it across. Characters that were too similar to the Earth-1 counterparts were not incorporated in. The last thing you need is two of the same character running around the new universe unless they had a point of difference. So while the Earth-2 Green Lantern (Alan Scott) and Flash (Jay Garrick) made it, the equivalent Superman and Wonder Woman did not – although, they did get a nice send-off as some form of compensation.

As I said much earlier, Crisis on Infinite Earth’s legacy is rebuilding the DC Universe from the ground up into something more unified. While we see do see some of it in the final page of this maxi-series, where the effects are really felt is in the publishing line over the following two-three years as DC introduces new origins, series, and teams.

Before I go, I do want to talk about one more thing and that is George Perez. It would be ill if I didn’t because he was the one who brought the ambitious story to life by putting his pencils down on the page.

George Perez was already one of DC’s biggest artists at the time thanks to The New Teen Titans but Crisis on Infinite Earths propelled him into the stratosphere. His output is truly impressive with intricate details even on the smallest of panels, accurate rendering of literally hundreds of characters, and maximising all the space on the page.

Crisis on Infinite Earth #2 page by George Perez and Dick Giordano.

While comics of the time generally had more panels per page than they do in today’s decompressed environment, Crisis on Infinite Earths was especially dense. Pages often had twelve or more panels on a page in order to contain the scale of the story to twelve issues and capture as many perspectives as possible. That might sound like a mess, but Perez lays out his page while allowing the movement from one panel to the other to flow logically.

The bonus to this is that it gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Each issue will take you two-three times the length to read than a standard comic book issue.

Crisis on Infinite Earth #12 panel by George Perez and Jerry Ordway.

In order to meet its goals, Crisis on Infinite Earth wents in with a go hard or go home. While it had a story on a massive scale it’s legacy will always ripping down the DC Multiverse to make way for a new unified universe that solved a lot of the issues DC Comics once had. Thanks to it, we now have all the DC stories that we know and love.

Crisis on Infinite Earths is available from all good comics book stores, digitally, and on eBay.

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