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"As a series, Crisis was a magnificent effort and a true delight for any DC fan, but ultimately the exercise failed. The whole point was to clean up the DC Universe, but over the years in fact it complicated matters more." - The Slings and Arrows Comic Guide
12 issues, monthly, Apr. 1985 - Mar. 1986.
George Perez, Jerry Ordway, Dick Giordano.
Just about every hero in the DC Universe.
Anti-Monitor, plus every DC super-villain that ever existed.
Monitor, Harbinger, Lady Quark, Pariah.
One by one, the millions of universes in the DC multiverse disappear. The reason is the Anti-Monitor, who wishes to expand his own negative universe and his power over all creation. Opposing him is the Monitor, who has been testing and gathering the universe's greatest heroes for the final battle. By the end of the series, only one universe remains, one in which everyone's past, present and future is radically changed.
The name of the series was an homage to the classic JLA/JSA team-ups in the old Justice League of America series. About once a year, the JLA and JSA would team up to fight a foe that threatened both worlds. These team-ups were inevitably titled "Crisis on Earth- (1/2/S/X/Prime/ whatever)."
For starters, there's the classic "Flash of Two Worlds" in Flash (vol. 1) #123, which first introduced the concept of co-existing Earths. Pre-Crisis issues of All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc. explore Earth-2 and the relationships between the Golden Age heroes and the Silver Age heroes. See Titles for a list of the Monitor's pre-Crisis appearances.
PLENTY HAS BEEN SAID about the shortcomings of this series. Some say it went too far, while others say it didn't go far enough. Some feel it left too many threads untied. It introduced superhero crossovers to a cosmic scale, and made it tough for writers to come up with suitable encores. And the literal cast of thousands made it impossible to properly focus on any one character.
All this could be said about Crisis, but despite some flaws in the story, it's also important to reflect on what Crisis represented. For one thing, any discussion of DC's heroes will now and forevermore have to make reference to the "pre-Crisis" or the "post-Crisis" universes. Never before had any comic publisher swept away 50 years of history to restart the universe. Unlike other crossovers that followed, Crisis and its effects on the comics business cannot be ignored or glossed over.
Crisis introduced a new level of sophistication into the comic-book world. Not only was it the starting point for the re-introduction of every DC character (see below), it also marked the beginning of a universe in which major heroes died and stayed dead, billions of lives could be snuffed out on a whim, and a hero's life could be dramatically changed without warning.
Perez's art is exceptional, and his detailed work on this series will always stand out as one of his finest moments (on one two-page spread alone, you can count more than 200 characters in action). Although many of the finer plot points are a little too reliant on coincidence and impeccable timing, the story itself is both disturbing and inspiring, and it will always serve as the prime example of how far a comic company will go to keep its characters fresh and its purpose clear.
Almost every title in DC's lineup since 1986 can be considered a spinoff from Crisis, since the whole point of the series was to redefine and streamline the DC Universe. With the dust barely settled, DC's finest talents rolled out the revamped, post-Crisis version of the company's greatest heroes: Superman (Superman: The Man of Steel, by John Byrne), Batman (Batman: Year One, by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli), Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman #1, by George Perez), the Flash (Flash #1, by Mike Baron and Jackson Guice), Green Arrow (Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, by Mike Grell), Hawkman (Hawkworld, by Timothy Truman), Blue Beetle (Blue Beetle #1, by Len Wein and Paris Cullins), Captain Atom (Captain Atom #1, by Cary Bates and Pat Broderick), The Question (The Question #1, by Denny O'Neil and Denys Cowan), and so on.
In most cases, the changes to the characters were substantial. For instance, while Superman's basic origin (Kryptonian infant rocketed to Earth) was the same, almost everything else about him was updated (for one thing, Clark Kent no longer pretended to be a clumsy, shy goofball). Wonder Woman was brought closer to her Olympian roots. And Green Arrow inhabited a darker world of real-life villains, a place where not all of life's problems could be solved by a suction-cup arrow.
The post-Crisis world also demanded several rewrites of many characters' origins. For instance, in the pre-Crisis universe, the 30th-century Legion of Super-Heroes was inspired by the legends of Superboy, but in the post-Crisis universe, Superboy never existed. Power Girl was once the cousin of Earth-2's Superman; in the post-Crisis world, her entire history had to be rewritten in order to fit her into the new universe. Sorting out these new origins and relationships have provided writers with plenty of inspiration -- and probably will for years to come.
A notable epilogue to the Crisis series is The History of the DC Universe (1986), a post-Crisis, two-volume chronology of the DC Universe, written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by George Perez. The plot as such is simple: Harbinger, in the aftermath of the Crisis, attempts to chronicle every historical event in the DC Universe, from the dawn of creation to the end of time. These two books illustrate beautifully the rich literary heritage we have in the DC Universe. Although later stories have rendered parts of it out-of-date, History is an excellent introduction to one of the two greatest fictional universes ever created. The Official Crisis Index #1 (Flood Control Comics, Mar. 1986) recaps all 12 issues of Crisis in great detail. In 1999, DC published a one-shot, Legends of the DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths #1, which told an untold story that took place during and after the events in Crisis #4. It's written by Wolfman, and definitely worth a look.
Official Crisis Crossovers
Pre-Crisis Monitor Appearances
The Monitor, the mysterious being who first assembled the heroes to fight his nemesis, made several appearances before Crisis #1, where he was fully shown for the first time. Depicted as a shady power broker providing weapons and supplies to heroes and villains alike, it was eventually explained that he did this in order to determine the powers and abilities of Earth's superpowered population in preparation for the battle ahead: