An Overview of Infinite Proportions: An Examination of the Infinite Crisis Series
, by William Gatevackes - PopMatters Writer William Gatevackes tackles the massive DC crossover so you don't have to.
Infinite Crisis was DC's crossover event of 2005-2006. The series presented itself as a sequel to 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 12-issue series that is legendary in stature and a landmark work in comic book history.
Will Infinite Crisis be treated with the same respect 20 years from now as Crisis on Infinite Earths is today? I will be taking a look at the series on an issue by issue basis. I will examine what worked, what didn't, and how it all compares to the original Crisis.
Infinite Crisis #1 Synopsis: DC's Big Three (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) meet to discuss each other's shortcomings. The audience gets caught up on what has happened up until now and some long lost characters reappear on the final page.
Each issue featured two covers, one by Jim Lee and one by George Perez. Both covers for #1 display Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman prominently. This tells us this series will be about these three characters. And if the story is good, all three will go through a character arc and be changed by the end of the series.
Geoff Johns tells us what needs fixing in the conversation between the Big Three. Batman's dark and brooding nature and paranoia has alienated him from everybody. Wonder Woman's warrior like nature has driven her away from her mission of peace. And Superman's outsider mentality makes him want to be accepted by the people of Earth instead of inspiring them to better things.
How they grew away from their individual beliefs, and how they might be able to return to them, becomes the theme of the series.
This issue more or less sets the stage as what to expect. We get a chaotic recap of the events that went down before and where we are now. Johns also adds foreshadowing to good effect. The scene with Connor Kent's reluctance to be Superboy seemed out of place in the issue, but played well into latter events of the series.
There are some clumsy parts, too. The fight between Mongul and the Big Three seems to have been added to pad the book or because the powers that be thought the characters only talking would be too boring.
Johns writes a good last page, constructing an "Oh, Wow" moment that has fans salivating for the next issue. The Earth-2 Superman breaking out of his containment, bringing the E-2 Lois Lane, the Earth-Prime Superboy, and the Earth-3 Alex Luthor with him, let us all know that this is in fact a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths and generated a palpable sense of excitement.
Infinite Crisis #2 Synopsis: The Earth-2 Superman enlists his cousin Power Girl in the cause. The Earth-1 Superman contemplates acting heroic, Batman snaps at Alfred and Wonder Woman fights off a massive OMAC attack on Paradise Island. We get a recap of the multiverse and the original Crisis and E-2 Superman reveals to Power Girl that they plan to bring Earth-2 back.
The character arcs for the Big Three get some advancement, but in the case of Superman, not much happens. He agrees that he should be more inspiring, flies off and isn't seen again for the rest of the issue. Batman becomes more obsessed with finding out who destroyed the JLA Watchtower, so much so that he flies off the handle at Alfred. He clearly has to fall farther before he can get better. Wonder Woman's defense of Paradise Island helps her to deal with the consequences of her past actions.
This issue is filled with scenes which don't make much sense on their own but become important later on. This includes establishing that there are two Lex Luthors running around, Booster Gold returning from the future in search of the Blue Beetle's scarab, and the Joker taking out his dismay at not being invited to the Secret Society on the Royal Flush Gang.
The reunion of Power Girl and the Earth-2 Superman is at once exciting and bittersweet. Johns and Jimenez portray the disbelief of Power Girl well. That is until the end, when a single touch on her gloved hand by the Earth-2 Lois Lane causes all of her memories to return. Gee, I never knew E-2 Lois had that power. That scene should have come with a neon sign that blinked, "CLUMSY PLOT POINT TO ADVANCE THE STORY!" We all knew that Power Girl couldn't doubt her Earth-2 existence for more than an issue, but there should have been a better way to bring her around.
Phil Jimenez is joined on art by George Perez and Jerry Ordway starting with this issue. Depending on whom you believe, this was always supposed to happen (official DC stance) or was done to help Jimenez stay on schedule. The latter theory gains credibility later when Ivan Reis and Joe Bennett lend a hand as well. Either way, the difference in quality between the two styles is glaring. Don't get me wrong, I like Jimenez as an artist. But next to two masters like Perez and Ordway, his work suffers in comparison. Yet, whose wouldn't?
Infinite Crisis #2 Synopsis: Atlantis is attacked. Batman has a nervous breakdown, which is interrupted by the E-2 Superman offering friendship (The offer is rejected). A certain blue scarab lands in El Paso and is picked up by a local teen. The Rann/Thanagar War becomes the center of the universe. Wonder Woman sends Paradise Island to another plane of existence. The "Secret Society" Luthor is revealed to be Alex Luthor in disguise. Power Girl discovers a tuning fork like the one found in the original Crisis, only to be knocked unconscious by Superboy-Prime. Batman discovers that this same Superboy destroyed the JLA Watchtower and kidnapped the Martian Manhunter.
This is a busy issue with a lot going on. All the plotlines from the prequel miniseries' are touched on briefly to remind readers of Alex Luthor's explanation next issue.
Batman's nervous breakdown is a bold move by DC. In essence, his entire career has been one long nervous breakdown. It is daring that they would show one of their flagship characters in such an unflattering light. But after this event, his healing begins almost immediately.
Wonder Woman finding another way of dealing with her enemies instead of killing them is a sign of growth. This shows the start of a resolution to her character arc. I would like to point out, however, that she calls on the gods of Olympus to shift Paradise Island off of this plane of existence. This is an important fact to remember for later in the series.
Superman's scene is one of the most unrealistic segments I have ever read. It would be better if Johns and Jimenez intended this part to be homage to the Silver Age where silly plots such as Jimmy Olsen turning into a turtle and the Flash's head expanding to ten times its normal size were common place. Unfortunately, they want us to take it seriously.
What's wrong? Well, let's start with the building Supes saves. Superman comes across a skyscraper whose top floors are about to topple over into the street. Forget the part that we never see what caused this and that the building, as it is drawn, is too short and squat to fall this way. That is unrealistic, but nothing compared to what comes next.
Superman swoops in, catches the broken piece and stands it back up. Then he flies around the building at high speed using his heat vision to weld the outside of the building together. As he does this, he says "Good as new." Yes, Superman thinks that doing a quick pass around the building with his heat vision will return it to the way it was. Forget about the damage to the load bearing walls and support beams INSIDE the structure, just weld the outide and the building will be fine. The Shadowpact team, looking at awe at Superman's work, simply states "Wow". Of course they're impressed. Superman just spit in the face of conventional science and stretched implausibility to the breaking point. That's not easy to do.
The Flash appearance in this and the next issue are both drawn by George Perez. I wonder if this was done as a nod to the fate of the Flash in the original Crisis or because they weren't sure what they were going to do with Wally until the last minute. Adding evidence to the latter is the lack of the customary detail in Perez's artwork. Regardless, we get to see a master at work, which is good.
Johns' use of Alex Luthor and Superboy-Prime as the bad guys was logical. After all, they were introduced in the original Crisis as ciphers that, while acting heroically, weren't truly developed as characters. It was natural that of the four they would be the ones to turn evil. Still, their plans aren't the most logical, and added to the Superman scene, this issue features more than its fair share of head-scratching implausibilities.
Infinite Crisis #4 Synopsis: Alex and Superboy-Prime explain how they were behind the events leading up to the prequel miniseries. Batman goes to Nightwing for help. Booster Gold recruits the new Blue Beetle for some mysterious task. Superboy-Prime argues with Conner Kent as to who should be called Superboy, which ends badly. Crispus Allen becomes the new host for the Spectre. The Wally West Flash supposedly dies protecting the Earth from Superboy-Prime. Alex powers up the tuning fork, and creates a new Earth-2, transporting all the former Earth-2 residents there, including the E-2 Superman and Lois.
This is where it all hits the fan, both in the plot and, in my opinion, quality. Johns did a good job explaining how all prequels relate to this series' plot. However, I find Superboy-Prime becoming an all-out psychotic a little disturbing. He was portrayed as being immature, but going from that to a petulant child throwing a murderous temper tantrum is a bit of a stretch.
Superman and Wonder Woman get the issue off, but Batman's character arc makes great strides. Admitting he needs Nightwing's help is a big break from the way he has traditionally been portrayed. The conversations between him and his former protégé reveal a softening in Batman. As someone who thought the character was becoming too grim and too gritty, I feel this is a positive change.
The Crispus Allen/Spectre merger? Not so much. It really plays into the belief that many have that God is an absentee landlord. Think of it, the Spectre, the manifestation of God's vengeance on Earth, goes crazy and kills people for no good reason. Instead of nipping this in the bud, God allows him to wreak havoc and destruction without raising a finger. Only after the damage is done does God reunite him with a human host as punishment. You'd think the Big Guy would be quicker to step in. Of course, if the all-knowing, all-powerful God did that, the plot would not be served, which is one of the flaws with the Spectre concept. His creator is only as all-knowing and all-powerful as the story dictates.
The whole segment seemed to be added to the series just because it had to be included somewhere. It doesn't move the plot along. However, the Spectre entering Allen through his autopsy scar is inventive, creepy and effective.
Marv Wolfman has said that he wrote the death of the Barry Allen Flash in the original Crisis in such a way that he could be brought back if warranted. But he also wrote it in such a way that he could stay dead, too. The Wally West Flash doesn't get the same courtesy here.
What happens to Wally is vague and confusing. He, the Golden Age Flash and Kid Flash are trying to imprison Superboy-Prime in the Speed Force, a dimension that all speedsters tap to get their powers. Or rather, as it is retconned here, a dimension where they can add to their speed. Why they would want to keep a murderous teenager with the power of Superman there is beyond me.
Anyway, the strain of trying to force Superboy-Prime there has an effect on Wally. He loses control of his form, which supposedly is a sign of his destruction. He visits his wife and children one last time before he disappears forever. However, his family isn't satisfied with goodbye, and decides to go with him (actually, only his wife Linda decides. He has two newborn twins. I don't think they had much to say in the matter since they can't talk).
But where did they go? Wally makes a point to say that they aren't going to join the Speed Force, which apparently is heaven for anyone who runs fast. Did they die? Or did they go somewhere else entirely?
And if they are not going to the Speed Force, then why does the Barry Allen Flash tell Kid Flash, "Wally's waiting for you," to give him encouragement against Superboy-Prime? Is he in the Speed Force or not?
I get the impression that Johns, like Wolfman before him, wanted to give future writers a way to bring back Wally. Even still, this section should have been written more clearly. Like I mentioned before, perhaps DC didn't know what it was going to do with the character in the series. When they made up their mind, they rushed to fit it in. Yet, if this is to be the final send-off for Wally West, he deserved better.
Ivan Reis joins the art team this issue. And again, while I think he's a good artist, he pales in comparison to Perez, Ordway, and Jimenez. And the change in styles is very distracting, especially when you have creators change from panel to panel on some pages.
Infinite Crisis #5 Synopsis: Earth-2 Superman discovers that, Earth-2 or not, Lois still dies, and he takes it out on the Earth-1 Superman. Booster Gold brings the new Blue Beetle to Batman to use against Brother Eye. Lex Luthor gives the Connor Kent Superboy information about our bad guys. The Earth-2 Wonder Woman reappears to give the Earth-1 Wonder Woman a pep talk. Alex recreates the multiverse, causing chaos amongst all the worlds. The Connor Kent Superboy and Nightwing are the only heroes available to stop Alex. A Flash returns to announce that Superboy-Prime has escaped and is back to get his revenge.
Again, a lot of stuff is happening, not all of it good.
The battle between the Supermen seems phony and contrived. Yes, the E-2 Superman just lost his wife, but mad with grief or not, his attacking the E-1 Superman was out of character. Sure, he displays similar rage at the end of the original Crisis series for the same reason, but he didn't attack Superman then. It was like someone said, "wouldn't it be cool if these two fight, let's make it happen." Granted, the homage to Action Comics #1 in the fight scene was a nice touch, but not enough to save it for me.
In related news, why isn't Jerry Ordway working on a regular series? His art in this segment is fantastic! DC, give him a book to work on, not just covers!
The cameo by the E-2 Wonder Woman is disappointing. Not only does she get the lackluster job of just encouraging the E-1 Wonder Woman, but her appearance has the air of an afterthought. It was as if after the series was underway the powers that be realized that she survived the original Crisis, too. So they shoehorned her in because it was something they should do.
Her appearance also brings up some continuity flaws. She claims that her husband Steve Trevor "used the last of his strength" to help her escape Olympus. Now, is this the same Olympus with the Gods that made an island full of Amazons disappear? Couldn't these same Gods perform the much easier task of transporting her and Steve to Earth-1? If they can do it for an island, wouldn't two people be much easier? She does make a cryptic comment about the Gods being gone, but still. The E-2 Wonder Woman says she survived only to give this pep talk. If it was that important, couldn't she ask to be released by the Gods before they "went"?
Another flaw in continuity is revealed when she says, "The Gods' blessings are fading. Soon I'll no longer exist." However, the E-2 Wonder Woman doesn't exist because of a blessing from the Olympian Gods. She exists because she was alive at the end of the of the original Crisis series. That's it, that's all. Other than giving her a place to stay, the Olympian Gods had nothing to do with her survival.
But Johns had to make sure she faded away at the end of her scene, so he ignored that little tidbit of history. which just adds to the raw deal she got. Every version of Wonder Woman has been treated like the red headed stepchild of the Big Three, but a character with such a vital legacy should have been given a better send-off.
In a nice bit of meta-commentary, Alex says, "everything comes from Superman," while using him to populate the multiverse. This is true. Even though DC published comics prior to Action Comics #1 and had heroic characters as well, we wouldn't be reading superhero comics today if it wasn't for Superman's popularity. Still, the logic behind Alex's plans seems convoluted and unclear, a recurring problem for this series.
Alex Luthor is supposed to be a master planner, going to great lengths to insure his scheme goes off without a hitch. However, when some of his actions do not make sense and seem not that smart, this portrayal loses believability.
If Alex acted logically and executed his plan in the most efficient way possible, the series would be over in two issues with little conflict. That's the point. Alex is only as intelligent as the plot allows. This damages the character, making him less realistic.
The appearance of Superboy-Prime at the end of the issue, while necessary, totally undercuts the weight and gravitas of the speedsters sacrifice in the last issue. They gave their lives and power to save humanity from him and one issue later he is already back. Why did they even bother?
Infinite Crisis #6 Synopsis: Batman and his team successfully attack Brother Eye. E-2 Superman realizes the error of his ways and knows now that he must stop Alex Luthor, who tries to create the perfect earth by merging random earths together. The remaining practitioners of magic try to recruit Spectre to their cause, which ends badly. Connor Kent Superboy and Nightwing begin their attack on the villains, releasing the heroes from the tuning fork. Superboy-Prime returns and fights again with Connor. The tuning fork is destroyed and all the earths are merged back into one again, but at a great price.
Batman's character arc again advances nicely. By taking out Brother Eye, the device he created to spy on Earth, Batman not only takes responsibility for his own actions, he also corrects them. During his scenes he takes on the role of a compassionate, intelligent and trusting leader. He even cracks a joke, which would have been unheard of a while ago.
Another scene with the Spectre teases us that maybe he will yet have something to do in the series. Unfortunately, this is another red herring. The one good part about this scene is we get a glimpse of Black Orchid and Swamp Thing (if only his arm) back in the DC Universe for a page before they go back to the Vertigo universe. And will someone get Faust a series? He has two lines in the scene and comes off as one of the best things about the whole issue.
The big event of the issue is the death of Connor Kent. Some might say the rights to Superboy reverting back to the Siegel estate might have had something to do with what happened to both Superboys in this series. But Connor Kent had quite a nice character arc for himself. He started the series reluctant to be a hero and ended his arc sacrificing his life to protect all of humanity. I wish other characters got the same treatment.
Infinite Crisis #7 Synopsis: Alex sends the entire Secret Society after Metropolis in an attempt to take over this newly created world for his own. Superboy-Prime decides to destroy the Guardians home world of Oa, hoping that its destruction will create a new universe where he would be the only hero. He is stopped, but at a price.
Here it is. The big finish to the series arrives and what do we get? We get a big good guy/bad guy battle royale and some dodgy pseudo-science, not to mention characterization that ignores 60+ years of history.
My biggest peeve is the scene with Batman pulling a gun on Alex Luthor. Not only does it cause a backsliding in Batman's character arc just so Wonder Woman's can finish, not only does he use a gun (which was totally out of character), he is serious in threatening to kill Alex.
Batman does not kill. Does. Not. Kill. Ever. Sure he was upset because it looked like Alex killed Nightwing. This still wouldn't be enough to get him to kill Alex. If it was, why is the Joker still alive? Not only did the Joker kill Jason Todd (he got better, I know, but that's besides the fact) and cripple Barbara Gordon, but also was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Gothamites. If there was ever a person who Batman would have killed if he had the desire, it would be the Joker.
That didn't matter to Johns, who ignored a fundamental part of the character just for a few panels of drama. Sure, you could say that Batman was driven to the edge by the results of what happened to him in the series and he has never been pushed so far before. You would be wrong however. The last six issues showed a healing in Batman. If the scene took place after Batman's nervous breakdown in issue three, then it would be slightly more plausible. And Batman has been tested as severely many times in the pass. In my eyes, there is no excuse anyone could come up with to explain how Johns dropped the ball so severely with this scene.
Speaking of implausibility, let's move on to the action that sets up the climax. Both Supermen force Superboy-Prime through a red sun, the same type of sun that the Supermen are powerless under. If you're Superman and you're in a galaxy with a red sun, you have no powers. That includes the invulnerability that protects you while you traveled through the nuclear reactor that is a sun.
Now, Superboy-Prime was wearing a battle-suit that helped preserve some of the yellow sun radiation, so his still being invulnerable is not a stretch. However, the Supermen should have been extra crispy after they came out of the sun.
You could make all sorts of excuses why the Supermen held onto their powers. But since the red sun de-powering Kryptonians was a plot point so that the good guys could get the upper hand over Superboy-Prime (and cause the Earth-1 Superman to lose his powers for over a year), the only reason they didn't burn up in the sun was to keep both Supermen around for the final battle. That's it.
These inconsistencies are what make the series a disappointment. Kryptonians have no powers as soon as they are under a red sun. No, the red sun gradually reduces their powers. The Speed Force is where speedsters get their powers. No, it's only a power source they can tap into. The Speed Force is gone. No, it's back. Nope, it's gone again. Superboy-Prime was trapped in the Speed Force. No, the speedsters trapped him on a planet with a red sun. No, it was the Speed Force. Batman doesn't kill. Wait, he does.
A part of me thinks that creating an epic story of this magnitude under a tight deadline is bound to create a load of these inconsistencies and they shouldn't be held against the story. A bigger part of me thinks fans deserve better. They either need characterization to be consistent to what has come before or a logical explanation why they are not.
The Golden Age Superman dies in this issue after being mercilessly pummeled by Superboy-Prime. While this does make sense story wise (Superboy was much slower to lose his powers than the Supermen), it is a little hard to take. Having the greatest hero in DC history basically slaughtered without fighting back demeans the character. I would have preferred a different end to his life than a massacre.
But the way the E-2 Superman makes his exit allows the E-1 Superman's character arc to finish. In fighting somebody who wants to be Superman for all the wrong reasons, he knows that just calling yourself Superman means nothing, you have to prove it.
In the epilogue, Alex Luthor appears to be killed by the Joker. Yes, by the Joker. Alex Luthor had the kind of powers that basically served whatever the plot called for. At the very least, he could fire blasts that are strong enough to incapacitate Power Girl. At the most, he has the power to create worlds. Yet he's done in by a maniac with a gun. Makes for a good scene but doesn't make sense.
Superboy-Prime is imprisoned in what seems like an impenetrable holding cell, which means we have not seen the last of him. This wouldn't be so troubling if he was a more fully formed character, but he's not. He's an insanely powerful being who could cause trouble for the whole DC Universe, but a one note character.
The conversation between the Big 3 at the end brings us full circle from the first issue. Batman will spend a year traveling the globe to get back to the man he once was. Wonder Woman starts a quest to find out who she really is. And Superman, without his powers due to his red sun exposure, has found out how important it is to be an inspiration.
In this aspect, Infinite Crisis is a success. Their story arcs have been completed. I think it's safe to say that DC told Johns what they wanted out of the series. And Johns tried to give them all they asked for in the short amount of space available. However, it's the lack of attention to detail that make the overall series slightly disappointing.