Saturday, February 6, 2016

BAB Classic - Continuity, Part Two: It Takes a Crisis... or Does It?

This post was originally published on February 10, 2010. 

Doug: Since we had such a nice conversation on part one of this old series, why not finish it up this weekend? Enjoy.

Doug: Hey, back for another installment of continuity conundrums. Today we'll focus on DC's mid-80's answer to housecleaning, Crisis on Infinite Earths and the reboots that came in its wake.

Karen: As I mentioned last time, some retroactive changes can be a good thing. Going back to the Byrne Superman, I never liked the idea that there was no Superboy. Now decades later, Superboy has been quietly inserted back into continuity. It may still leave us wondering exactly what stories have or haven't taken place, but what felt like a wrong has now been righted. And speaking of Superboy, would any discussion of continuity be complete without some comments on the original arch-enemy of continuity, Crisis on Infinite Earths?

Doug: It was an adjustment that took me many years to, well, adjust to! And I think what made it worse was the fall-out that affected my fave DC book, the Legion of Super-Heroes. Although Superboy had not been in the book for some time, the removal of him as the inspiration for the team's existence in the first place seemed to cause the book to creatively wander in the years after the Crisis. Shoot, one could argue that it's still trying to return to it's pre-Crisis heydays. While I'm not presently a reader, I did enjoy some moments here and there in the 1990's.

Karen: Although ostensibly designed to streamline the DC universe and make it more accessible, this razing of years and years of material seemed to gut the DC universe and leave readers everywhere mystified as to what now was and was not in continuity, with the Legion and many other titles.

Doug: I'll go back to a point I made last time -- I really never felt like continuity was an issue at DC. Sure, I understand the powers that be wanted to move away from all of the Kryptonite colors, they wanted to de-power Superman, the Earth-1, Earth-2, etc. stuff was confusing for newer readers. But when you look at the 25 years since the Crisis and what a mess that ended up becoming -- and to some extent is still a mess with DC moving from one event to another (just like Marvel) -- one has to question just how wise the Crisis was in the first place. DC seemed to take what was uniquely its own (the multi-Earth DC universe) and just chuck it out the window.

Karen: Doug, I think I would agree that Silver Age DC didn't worry too much about continuity, but certainly by the 80s, DC was fairly steeped in it. If you think about it, Crisis was not so much about cleaning up continuity -which is to my mind a linear progression - than taking multiple parallel paths and combining them into one. But that combination -forcing all those universes into one - did result in continuity issues. The initial problem was not one of continuity, as each universe had its own distinct continuity. To be honest, I never understood why they thought readers would be so confused by the multiple universes. I was a casual reader of DC but completely understood that the Justice Society was on a different Earth than the Justice League, that there were two Supermans, two Batmans, etc. As a matter of fact, I liked the idea a lot!

Doug: Agreed on your last point -- to me, that was a part of the DC Universe that was very charming. In those pre-Crisis days, the Earth-One and Earth-Two characters could interact and they'd be the same age. However, over at the House of Ideas in the 1970's the Invaders became a popular series, so some of the characters from that series started to pop up in the then-present; I just wasn't buying that Bob Frank (the Whizzer) could all of a sudden show up and be any sort of factor in battle at the approximate age of 70! Marvel's reality-based stories, which we discussed last time, virtually forbade any mingling amongst their Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age characters. So advantage to DC on that point. Then they changed it...

Doug: Not only did DC destroy much of their history, but at least for the immediate future they wiped out a whole bunch of characters. Now admittedly, many of them were just chaff, but I'm sure there were fans attached to them. However, besides death and taxes, the third thing in life that's guaranteed is that due to American copyright laws any comics fan can rest assured that their faves will pop up every seven years or so.

Doug: So, weird alien Supergirl, Wally West Flash? Anyone bothered by those things? I certainly didn't care whether Wally was the new Flash, but I didn't understand how removing Superboy from the new DC meant that Supergirl also had to be removed. I only read the first couple of issues of Peter David's Supergirl series; of course the character originated in the pages of John Byrne's Superman revamp. I quit due to a) economics and b) just really didn't care. I enjoyed Byrne's little homages to the recent-past: Luthor's battlesuit, the return of Supergirl, etc. But like you, Karen, the complete overhaul of the Super-mythos didn't set well with me. And shoot, I'm on record as saying I was never a Superman fan -- I was a Superboy fan!

Karen: The Supergirl revision was one of the worst "rethinkings" ever.
Doug: And what about when out-of-continuity stories become in-continuity? I think Jason Todd's fate as Robin was sealed the second Frank Miller wrote Alfred's comment to Bruce Wayne "after what happened to Jason" back in the pages of The Dark Knight Returns. Additionally, we've seen both Magog and the Kingdom Come Superman enter current JSA continuity. Good or bad? I guess it was nice as it was -- not sure the leap into the mainstream was necessary.

Karen: Yes, I have some concerns about Kingdom Come now becoming a part of the regular DCU. Is DC dooming itself now to go down a certain path? I suppose the exact outcome of KC can be avoided but I just don't know that it was wise to incorporate any of that stuff.

Doug: Good point -- as much as we've discussed writers' hands being tied by certain events, how about apocalyptic events set far in the future? It would seem to me that writers would have to be constantly thinking about getting their ducks in a row.

Doug: Which brings us to next time, when we'll discuss certain events that various writers/editors keep coming back to, as well as out-of-continuity stories that work just fine as standalones. See ya then!


Anonymous said...

I never read Crisis On Infinite Earths when it first came out, largely because I wasn't a major DC fan, and had scaled down my comics reading anyway. But I'd read enough of them (pluss seen the TV shows etc) to know who they all were, and their backstories.

Anyway, last year I saw a copy of the collected edition at the local library and borrowed it just to see what I'd missed. And I have to say, much as I hold Wolfman and Perez in any regard, that it was nigh on impenetrable! In fact, I didn't finish reading it because it just seemed to go on and on about nothing much.

In retrospect, it seemed to signal the no-going-back point that indicated that the fans really were calling the shots. No one who picked up an issue would have a clue who any of the characters were, what was going on, or what any of it meant.

I recall there being much noise pre-Crisis about how unwieldy and convoluted the whole multi-universe DC Universe was, but it could have been any worse than whatever's come afterward (I've given up trying to keep track [from a distance] of all the rebooting, retconning and whatnot - it's too confusing! And if someone who's been reading comics for 40 years can't make head or tail of it, what hope has anyone who might pick up an issue for the first time have?)

Well, that's my 2c worth - I do enjoy reading this blog!

B Smith

Doug said...

Thanks for the comment, BSmith!

You know, Marvel is currently touting the Heroic Age as a "great jumping-on point for new readers". What exactly does that mean? For me, if I thought the past 7+ years could be wiped out of continuity like some bad dream (see Patrick Duffy/Dallas), I might bite on this line. But to me it just means it's a "change in direction" and a lot of the recent backstory will still be addressed.

Sometimes reboots are not a bad thing.

But your points about Crisis are quite valid. I'd have called myself a "DC dabbler" at that time, and like you, found Crisis to be very dense -- not a tome for the casual reader! But I'm sure DC's loyal followers found something to love/hate on each page.



Karen said...

Welcome B Smith, and thanks for your comments. We love hearing from readers.

I've long thought that the only way Crisis really could have done what it was intended to do is if DC had just wiped the boards clean and completely re-booted every book. Now in order to do this correctly, some characters might not appear for years, so I could see why, on a financial level, DC would be against it. But it would have made more sense to start everybody over, so we had first issues of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. In a year or two, you could have them all get together and start the Justice League. Instead, they sort of re-booted Superman with Man of Steel and Wonder Woman, and yet others were left relatively untouched. AS most have said, this just lead to a confusing mish mash.

Anonymous said...

I never thought that DC's multiple Earths created any continuity problems. In fact, Earth-Two was probably created to explain why the SA versions of heroes were different from their GA counterparts. Any confusion was easily explained away. For example, when a 1966 issue reprinted a 1940's story, a brief caption would explain, "Jay Garrick lives on Earth-2, Barry Allen on Earth-1."

JJ said...

I found the whole Crisis thing repellent, and I was still a teenager then, the target audience for DC's stuff. One of the main things I loved about DC was that they had this entire Earth-2 thing going on. It made their comics stand apart, and it lead to a tradition of deluxe team-ups in the pages of JLA. I really thought that was something DC should've been proud to hang their hat on. Parallel earths is such a nifty idea, perfect for superhero comics.

Also, I was a huge fan of the Silver Age revamp of the Flash. I must have read that beautifully drawn origin story a hundred times. Green Lantern's as well. And Hawkman and Hawkgirl's made a huge impression too (Kubert art). I really liked the character of Barry Allen and thought his death in the pages of Crisis was totally unnecessary. I didn't purchase a single issue of Crisis and have yet to read the mini-series to this day. I really wish they'd just left things alone. Discard what doesn't work by simply not including it as you go forward. No need to make a convoluted redux. Retain the Legion, Superboy, the JSA, all the stuff that really did work, and that DC fans truly loved. It should have been an internal editorial thing. Of course, the idea is to sell books. What a tacky gimmick Crisis was, almost as bad as Secret Wars.

Redartz said...

I actually enjoyed Crisis on Infinite Earths, at the time it was released and more recently upon rereading it. Convoluted in some areas, but still a much better read than a few of it's descendants (Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis, which was perhaps the absolute worst story arc I have ever read- lugubrious and indecipherable). I echo JJ in that I did like the Silver Age DC worldview. Not confusing at all. And, having read so many 'imaginary stories' it was easy to accept some stories as canon, and others as not.

Marvel,of course, was a whole integrated universe- no 'imaginary stories' here (at least, not until "What If"). Looking back, I found both approaches (continuity and not) both readable, although preferring Marvel by a wide margin.

So, I don't see the issue as an either /or matter. I look back at Silver to Bronze age Marvel as an era, self-contained now. DC too; as both the Big Two have barraged us all with reboots repeatedly in recent years, it seems the most sensible way to look at those older classics. There are current books I am reading, and finding pleasure in. I just consider them a 'new universe' if you will.

Martinex1 said...

I also was a fan of the parallel earths. I too was only a casual reader of DC, but the Earth 1/ Earth 2 thing was fascinating to me. I liked how there were older characters with different histories. I liked the crossovers. It is strange that DC didn't embrace what it had and what made it distinct. And like others have said it wasn't confusing.

Interesting to me that their current television shows like the Flash are playing into the multiple Earth mythos. In fact this coming week Flash will go to Earth 2.

William Preston said...

What was confusing about multiple Earths and imaginary stories? Perhaps to readers completely unfamiliar with fantasy or SF tropes, these might be a problem—but were those readers picking up comic books? As an elementary school student, I read imaginary DC stories; in sixth grade, I came upon my first JLA/JSA crossover sequence. I found it fascinating. Where was Earth-2? I didn't exactly know, but that mystery was part of what made such stories so interesting. What child doesn't take playthings from various toy sets and bring them together? What could be more appealing to a child's sense of imagination?

I wonder whether the movement into movies made DC heads feel the need to "simplify" things, to think of all products as solely marketable through a simple chain of narrative logic. Maybe it never had to do with the comics at all.

Anonymous said...

I had stopped reading DC stuff right before Crisis, so it didn't have much of an impact on me at the time. Having read it since, it's not a bad story overall, but it screwed up some characters (Hawkman, Donna Troy, Power Girl) while supposedly "fixing" others (Superman, Wonder Woman). Plus, most of the stuff Crisis got rid of was brought back over the next decade or so, rendering Crisis rather irrelevant in the long run.

Mike Wilson

Anonymous said...

Yeah, nobody could figure out what to do with Hawkman and the others! Whatta mess. it was years before they even touched those characters and it became so convoluted it gave ya a headache. Who the heck is Hawkman now anyway? I guess I don't care much anymore.

Related Posts with Thumbnails