Greg Oleksiuk discusses the issue of continuity in DC's massive Infinite Crisis.
Infinite Crisis is a loose sequel to DC Comics' continuity-fixing 1985 maxi-series, Crisis on Infinite Earths. Much like the original Crisis, this new story is DC's way of setting things "straight". In some cases they are replacing old characters with new ones (such as the Flash and Blue Beetle), in other cases, they are returning classic characters to their roots (such as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman). Mammoth continuity correcting events are nothing new. After Crisis, in the mid-'90s there was DC's Zero Hour which had a villainous Hal Jordan try and re-set the DC Universe. Now, over 20 years after the original Crisis, DC is cleaning house again.
Geoff Johns and various artists have the task of creating a tale that not only fixes DC's continuity, but also entertains the reader. In effect, this was a tale too big for a seven issue mini-series, and has been building for approximately two years which included four mini-series that lead into the first issue, several specials during the mini-series itself, and a few spin-offs afterwards to explain its effects. However, it is not necessary to read these in order to understand what is going on, and Johns does an effective job of not getting bogged down by having several plot lines occur throughout each issue. The artwork also for the most part is quite well done and even though several artists supply artwork for each issue, a lot of them are similar and thus the many changes in style are not distracting to the eye.
This is a "Mega Event", and those need to have lots of action, epic settings, and tons of characters, all of which Infinite Crisis has in spades. Virtually every character makes an appearance at one time or another, and there are many casualties, mostly minor characters, but some major characters even fall to the crisis at hand. The plot itself is of a giant scope, with Alexander Luthor and Superboy Prime, both survivors of Crisis on Infinite Earths, trying to create the perfect Earth where the heroes act like heroes, and the darker tones of some of the characters are erased.
Continuity, though, is a double-edged sword. While it allows readers to connect more with the characters and their stories, it also quickly becomes very convoluted, as well as restricting. Add to that the fact that writers and editors love to have giant events that shake everything up or cause important changes to the characters' world, and the complicated continuity of a massive world like DC's can become a nightmare. That's really the problem DC has fallen into the past twenty years, leading to Infinite Crisis.
Take for instance the world of Batman. Before the beginning of DC's post-Infinite Crisis books, all subtitled "One Year Later", Jim Gordon was no longer Commissioner of Gotham and Detective Harvey Bullock was kicked off of the force. While the stories that lead to these events might have been interesting or, more importantly for DC, helped generate sales, they alienate the sporadic reader and maybe even regular ones too because Gotham slowly becomes something they didn't recognize. Some of the main DC characters, such as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, had lost their iconic appeal, meaning that casual readers would probably not recognize the characters that they once loved if they were to have picked up one of their comics in the last few years.
Part of the reason for the shake-up is that DC wanted to make comics fun again, and they hope to do so, not only with their current "One Year Later" storylines that are running through all of their books, but with having new creative teams, and in some cases, all-star creative teams on the books once "One Year Later" has ended. Some of these creators include such big names as Grant Morrison, Paul Dini, Allan Heinberg, Andy and Adam Kubert, and Terry Dodson. The bigger question is, will these writers and artists just try and tell good stories or will they attempt to shake things up again and return DC to the mess it's hoping it has left behind? Will another crisis be needed in 10 years time? To say there will not be another one ever is silly, as continuity problems will inevitably rear their ugly heads once again. Hopefully though, it takes a little longer due to writers, artists and editors focusing on telling good stories rather than shocking events and large cross-over events in order to increase sales. Certainly the final page of Infinite Crisis leaves things open for a sequel of sorts. Here's hoping it's a long way off.