Sunday, September 26, 2004

CRITICISM ON INFINITE BLOGS: Some really great commentary over at Howling Curmudgeons on the once-in-a-lifetime series that was Crisis On Infinite Earths. I say "once-in-a-lifetime" because no matter how many times a bunch of superheroes team up to save the universe, only once did it happen that forty years of continuity was destroyed in the process. And continuity that evolved in a sort-of natural way, guided by forty years of editiorial decisions:

Meanwhile, National Periodicals had begun in the thirties and forties with a divided editorial approach: there was no Stan Lee who was in overall control: the Superman books did not coordinate with the Justice Society books, for example. (This lack of inter-company unity is one of the reasons that Superman and Batman weren't part of the original Justice Society comics that were published in the 1940's, as those were under the aegis of the All-American Comics editorial staff.) Long after this concrete division between All-American Comics and the Superman offices ceased to exist, Mort Weisinger rang the Superman books like a private fiefdom: instead of the deliberate creation of a continuous setting like that which Marvel had, DC comics instead had to constantly explain the disconnected setting created by this division, with two surviving cities of Atlantis underwater (one the home of Aquaman and the other where Superman's mermaid girlfriend Lori Lemaris came from) as just one example. Eventually, as Mort took his hands off the reins and Julie Schwartz took over the Superman office, the DC comics universe was created out of the until-then disparate editorial offices.

You should read that post and this one; read the commentators as well. There are actual Roy Thomas defenders there, and he was a guy who I always understood as this weird continuity obsessive. But I think that may have been unfair; here's the David Fiore comment that's got me thinking:

Thomas (like Gruenwald and Stern, and maybe Englehart) possesses (possessed?) the wonderful ability to obssess upon "what has come before" without coming off as merely nostalgic... What I'm saying, I guess, is that it always feels like there's more than just a passion for connecting the dots motivating this guy. He seizes upon "gaps" in past continuity as opportunities--he doesn't treat them as errors/problems that must be soldered/reified into bright hard spinning objects before the "faithful" awake from their hypnotic slumber...

In that sense, I kind of think that the whole DC Universe, pre-Crisis, was a gift DC editorial didn't appreciate. It was a total mess. It didn't have the streamlined cool of the single Marvel Universe (though there were alternate Earths in Marvel too, like where the Squadron Supreme lived.) But it was honestly created, and reflected years of fictional history and the economic/publishing history that led to it (the early editiorial splits in the 40s, the Captain Marvel lawsuit that led (I think) to DC's possession of the Fawcett characters, the Charlton and Quality characters they picked up. I have no idea why Marvel never bought any defunct companies. They did buy Malibu and then closed it down; I don't know if they brought that particular universe to a close or not.) It was irreplaceable, actually, and once DC killed it their universe became a lot less interesting. In a playful, childlike way, anyway; I can't tell you how neat it was to be like eight years old and thinking about two Aquamen, for example. The arguments at Curmudgeons suggest that DC kind of threw the baby out with the bathwater in Crisis, sacrificing the DC universe's uniqueness in the name of making it all more sensible. There was probably some Marvel envy in there as well, which--in retrospect--was completely unnecessary.

For reasons like the above I have become a Crisis skeptic in recent years. When it first came out I thought it was the greatest thing ever. But it ended up doing more harm than good, as DC didn't enforce its own rules about what happened at the end of Crisis--many unverses becoming one and only the heroes remembering. Everyone forgot it. Characters underwent multiple reboots. Continuity became joke-like, and it makes it hard for me to read--say--current Superman stories, knowing there is no link back to Weisinger era, or the Earth 2 era, or any other part of Superman's development like there used to be.

We did get the JLI, though, which was their attempt to cobble together a league from the five important alternate Earths plus a new character from Crisis (Dr. Light) and the first post-Crisis DC hero (Booster Gold.) But there were gentler ways of making continuity simpler (if that was the goal); but they didn't want that--they wanted the DC Universe Will Never Be The Same and that's what they got.

I'm also a Crisis skeptic because of accessibility issues. Would anyone but a comics fan appreciate Uncle Sam--the Quality comic book character based on the guy on the poster--soliloquizing on a floating asteroid? Rip Hunter popping up in odd places? The death of the Earth-2 Robin and Huntress? Only a comics fan knows what these things mean. You could enjoy it as a non-fan, but knowing where all these people are coming from--well, it makes it more meaningful. That's my point.

By the way, I can't believe DC published the original Who's Who as the same time as Crisis, seeing as it was a catalog of the universe(s) they were about to destroy. I guess they felt they could make a series out of all the research they did for Crisis.

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