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Grumpy Old Fan | ‘Crisis’ at 30, Part 6

The sixth issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths -- which debuted in comics shops 30 years ago, during the first week of May 1985 -- hangs a handful of fight scenes and expository moments on an almost rudimentary plot. It finalizes the series’ basic status quo and resolves some lingering threads, but beyond that it starts looking outward, to the regular superhero series which will survive it.

Consider Issue 6's final page. The last page of the first issue fully revealed the Monitor, previously a mysterious figure who’d been appearing intermittently in the odd corners of various super-comics. The second and third issues ended with Harbinger’s internal struggle about whether she could fight the evil impulses leading her to kill the Monitor. Issue 4's cliffhanger depicted the destruction of Earths-One and -Two, and Issue 5 threatened the same for Earths-Four, -S and -X. However, Issue 6 ends with Yolanda Montez showing off her new identity of Wildcat II. Regardless of your affection for the Wildcat legacy, one of these things is not like the others. The debut carries no cosmic implications (at least not for 1985) and serves mostly to advertise future issues of Infinity Inc.; but it also shows that Crisis was shifting more into a marketing mode.

Let’s pause for credits: Crisis on Infinite Earths #6 was written and edited by Marv Wolfman, penciled by George Pérez, inked by Jerry Ordway, colored by Tom Ziuko and lettered by John Costanza. Bob Greenberger was the associate editor and Len Wein was the consulting editor.

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The plot of COIE #6 basically involves getting Earths-Four, -S and -X into the same Monitor-powered “netherverse” as Earths-One and -Two. That means more temporal anomalies and the potential for utter trans-dimensional destruction, but it’s better than death by antimatter. Complicating things is the amped-up Psycho-Pirate, whose emotion-altering powers (thanks to the Anti-Monitor’s supercharging) now reach across those three imperiled parallel universes.

Psycho-Pirate’s little something extra is just one handwave of nigh-omnipotence in an issue dependent on them. You’ll remember from Issue 5 that the Monitor created the current netherverse out of energies released when Harbinger killed him. Later in this issue -- spoilers! -- Harbinger does the same, but for three universes instead of just two. Because this burns out all of her super-energy, it’s presented as a last-ditch, all-or-nothing effort. Compared to those expenditures of ridiculous-level cosmic power, expanding Psycho-Pirate’s range seems pretty trivial.

That said, using Psycho-Pirate to facilitate fights involving the Marvel Family, the Freedom Fighters and the ex-Charlton characters is a fairly simple way to introduce those folks, and it gives Psycho-Pirate a meaningful task. It also means shuffling some characters offstage, like The Flash. As the issue begins, he’s crawling around, apparently disoriented at Anti-M’s feet, while the villain deals with Psycho-Pirate. After a page and a half, though, he’s gone for the duration.

Also exiting this issue is the Monitor’s satellite. Anti-M knows his nemesis is gone for good, but attacks the satellite to make sure his adversaries are really most sincerely dead. This sequence lasts four pages and covers about a dozen characters. As the satellite shudders under Anti-M’s barrage, Alex Luthor is ready to sacrifice himself to save the three remaining universes -- seems he’s also got enough energy to draw them into the netherverse -- but Harbinger won’t let him. She flies into the appropriate cosmic chamber, the satellite blows up, and 15 superheroes find themselves divided evenly among three Earths.

From there it’s a lot of “You’ll never destroy my Earth!” on one side and “I don’t want to fight you!” on the other. Like a good breakfast, the three groups have balanced representation, with at least one Justice Leaguer, Teen Titan and/or Earth-Two resident. Beyond that, however, they seem picked at random. J’Onn J’Onzz and the Earth-Two Flash fight Earth-Four’s champions alongside Azrael (the D-list Teen Titan, not the future Batman), Katana, and Blok of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Meanwhile, Starfire and Steel (Justice League Detroit’s, not the Superman replacement) go to Earth-X with the new Doctor Light, Earth-Two’s Hawkman and his adopted son Northwind (of Infinity Inc.). That leaves the heavy hitters for Earth-S: Supergirl and Wonder Woman, plus Black Canary and two Titans, Changeling and Kole.

It probably goes without saying that 1985's readers would have been more familiar with Azrael and Kole, as they’d just been introduced in the two Teen Titans books. In fact, Kole’s debut in New Teen Titans Vol. 2 #9 came out the same month as COIE #3, when the Titans first entered this miniseries. Azrael had already been a part of the Titans supporting cast, mostly to moon over Lilith, the team’s resident clairvoyant. He’d appeared first in Tales of the Teen Titans #51, right after Pérez left the Titans series to focus on this one. None of that made much of a difference to Azrael or Kole’s lasting popularity, but it’s worth keeping in mind when Crisis spotlights the very ‘80s characters. This miniseries wasn’t above using half a page to tease an unrelated storyline -- besides the Wildcat pages, the Aquaman sequence on Page 15 ends with a footnote advertising JLA and an Aquaman miniseries -- but when Crisis devotes an inordinate amount of space to Titans, Legionnaires, Outsiders or Infinitors (like the new Wildcat), it may well want to piggyback on those books’ appeal.

Arguably, the characters needing the most introduction were the heroes of Earth-Four not named “Blue Beetle”: Captain Atom, Nightshade, Peter Cannon, the Question and Judomaster. Their three-page fight scene includes a nifty four-panel sequence at the top of Page 14 where Judomaster flips Katana. Pérez stages it so that the first three panels push in on the action and depict the flip in slow motion, with the fourth being a reverse angle on Katana’s rough landing. There’s too much dialogue for the amount of time depicted, but it’s comics. Also, Judomaster doesn’t get the best introduction, since as a World War II-era hero he thinks Katana is working for the Axis.

Still, he does about as well as Peacemaker and Nightshade, who have to share a panel but get to show off their costumes. Peter Cannon (aka Thunderbolt) doesn’t even get that, being seen only in long shots where he’s trying to outrace the Earth-Two Flash. The Question gets a few lines in Blue Beetle’s Bug, but otherwise he’s pretty much done for the series. Not surprisingly, Captain Atom makes out best, getting to blast Azrael and fly showily around the Bug before being zapped himself by J’Onn J’Onzz. Come to think of it, putting J’Onn on the Earth-Four team allowed him to interact with a couple of future JLI teammates ...

For my money, though, the three-plus pages on Earth-S are the issue’s most dynamic, as Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. battle Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Black Canary and Changeling. No points for guessing who does best against the Marvel Family, although the ending of the fight does seem to come out of left field. (Supergirl and Captain Marvel are evenly matched, and Wonder Woman’s lasso can’t break Psycho-Pirate’s hold on Mary, but a Canary Cry will disorient all three, somehow.) The other two sequences are heavy on characters flying and shooting energy blasts, but this one is more physical. It begins with Changeling (in green-elephant form) being thrown through a wall, and it’s heavy on Supergirl vs. Captain Marvel, with a little Junior vs. Wonder Woman at the end. However, it’s not so much bloodthirsty as it is cartoonish -- a human-again Changeling sprawls like Bugs Bunny at the end of the trench his kayoed elephant-form just dug -- and Ordway’s precise finishes emphasize the spectacle, not the punishment. I realize that’s a weird distinction, but it’s a testament to the skill of Pérez and Ordway that they can elevate a super-slugfest past the point where “realism” matters, and into a sort of pure-comics atmosphere.

Assorted subplots round out the issue. The main one involves Brainiac -- who had just come into an all-chromed body and the (by now familiar) skull-shaped starship -- assembling an army of supervillains. “I am the new Brainiac,” he tells a Luthor who doesn’t recognize him; and yes, that sounds a bit awkward. However, there’s a lot of “new” in Crisis: Doctor Light, on her first real superhero mission; new additions to the Titans; the still-new Detroit League; and teams like the Outsiders and Infinity Inc. who were only a couple of years old at that point. Heck, Luthor himself had just gotten a new suit of battle armor.

Again, a big part of Crisis’ storytelling is this need to balance exposition with spectacle. Even with 12 issues of at least 25 pages (including two 48-pagers still to come), space is at a premium, and when the larger story gets sidelined for a page worth of the Earth-Two Atom comforting a bedridden Ted Grant (and setting up Wildcat II), the reader may need to be convinced the interlude is worth it. This particular interlude deals with the Justice Society possibly-maybe reaching retirement age, which naturally fits the larger death-and-rebirth narrative. In fact, we don’t really hear the bulk of Atom’s speech, only seeing his determined gestures as Yolanda skulks outside, musing silently about her own future.

Of course, the big cosmic moment arrives on pages 21 and 22, as Harbinger finally draws the three remaining universes into the netherverse, where they join the universes of Earths-One and -Two. (They’re also free of Psycho-Pirate’s control.) Pérez depicts the resulting five-universe combo as a whirlpool of blurred worlds, with starry space all around and a little chunk of rock floating high above. Alex Luthor and the now-powerless Harbinger are stranded on that rock, waiting (as she puts it) for Alex’s destiny to be fulfilled.

So thus is the stage set for the final six issues. If I remember correctly, the cover for Issue 7 had already been revealed, so readers knew to expect a good bit of carnage there, and likely in the issues to come. Crisis #6 might have been a little quieter than its predecessors, but from this point forward the stakes would be as big as they could get.

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And here is this week’s installment of Converbiage.

WHAT I BOUGHT: Everything except Harley Quinn, so Convergence #5, plus Atom, Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Justice League, Nightwing and Oracle, Question, Speed Force, Superman and Titans.

BEST OF THE WEEK: Batgirl, Question, Speed Force

NOTES: Convergence #5 (written by Jeff King, penciled by Andy Kubert, inked by Sandra Hope, colored by Brad Anderson) wraps up the Warlord’s part in these affairs, although Deimos gets a bump up in status after he defeats Telos. Personally, I have my doubts, since a) that would mean Deimos is more powerful than the Earth-2 heroes combined; and b) Telos still constitutes the entire planet, right? I imagine killing him would also involve something catastrophic to the surroundings.

I’m getting ahead of myself, so here’s the plot: after we learn Telos’ origin, Earth-2 Superman and Flash fight Deimos, who defeats them both and rips the heart out of the Warlord’s friend Machiste. (Yes, this issue of Convergence includes that special brand of gore you’ve come to associate with DC Comics.) Deimos also destroys the T-sphere holding Brainiac, but this only sends Brainiac away. The Warlord himself arrives, having seen his wife murdered by lizard-men along the way; but Deimos is ready and kills the Warlord as well. All the activity has caused Deimos’ stronghold to crumble, so everyone from Earth-2 escapes except Yolanda, and nobody knows what’s happened to Telos-the-person. Yolanda winds up with Deimos in Brainiac’s communications room, and Deimos announces he’ll protect all the remaining worlds “for a price.” Oh, and Dick Grayson decides to become Batman.

Deimos also talks about the post-Convergence status quo, which includes “Lois and Clark together again,” and the Titans “hunted” and “reunited.” As you might expect, those statements are ambiguous enough to mean anything from Lois and Clark together as friends and/or co-workers to a full-on Super-marriage. After the events of the FCBD preview, I don’t think we’ll see their reunion anytime soon. A full-on Titans reunion also seems unlikely, given Donna Troy’s current status in Wonder Woman. For that matter, I don’t quite see how DC can use Convergence to tweak its super-books if they’re just proceeding like nothing has happened.

Granted, it’s always possible that Convergence will facilitate more retro-styled series, with a new Titans series spotlighting the old Dick/Donna/Wally generation of ex-sidekicks, and set on an Earth no one else is using. I’m particularly optimistic about Titans because the Convergence tie-in leads to next week’s Convergence #6. To me, that makes it more likely that those characters will survive this event.

But I digress. I liked the issue itself, which was basically a pair of fights between Superman and Deimos and the Warlord and whomever got in his way. King and Kubert did a good job both capturing Val-Zod’s “Superman-ness” and conveying Deimos’ dark nature. Things didn’t go so well for Travis Morgan and company, which was disappointing; but part of me thinks DC didn’t bring ‘em back just to kill ‘em off. There’s going to be some kind of reset button at the end of Convergence, and I think it’ll revive the Warlord and his pals.

Although the issue ends with Deimos’ public-address announcement, it wasn’t reflected in any of the tie-ins I bought, although each was interrupted by an earthquake. Presumably this is related to either the underground destruction in Skartaris or the “shift in power” to Deimos. It’s clearly less of an intrusion than Telos’ original message, but I guess it’ll run through the rest of May’s tie-ins.

Telos’ defeat may be temporary, but he’s stuck with the Silver Surfer’s origin (and with Earth-2's Dick Grayson as a less-successful Alicia Masters). I was hoping he’d turn out to be another bit of DC obscura, like a cast-off Monitor or Guardian of the Universe, but no such luck. In any event, he’s a non-factor after that revelation, and he doesn’t escape the destruction of Deimos’ headquarters.

Finally, I have to say it’s a little disconcerting to talk at length about Yolanda Montez in the original Crisis and contrast that with her reverential treatment here. I mean, I never read Infinity Inc. back in the day, so I have no nostalgic connection to Wildcat II; but clearly Jeff King remembers her from COIE and wants to exploit her connection to that event. I’m curious to see how he does that, because her Red-avatar powers have been pretty ill-defined to this point, and she could use some direction.

As for the tie-ins, I liked them all fine, but I didn’t like these second issues as much. Atom leaned more on its odd-for-the-sake-of-oddity tone, with the solution to Ryan Choi’s revival (and Ray Palmer’s grievous wound) arising out of a dismemberment process so strange it could only be grounded in physics. Nightwing and Oracle boasted the same snappy dialogue and moody art, but had a lot more moving parts than the first issue and felt a little overstuffed as a result. Titans used about one too many reversals and never really explained where Lian Harper had been, but I did like seeing Cyborg and Beast Boy alongside Red Arrow, Starfire, and Troia again. Most of Superman felt anticlimactic, although I understand that its point was to show Lois and Clark together again (and, apparently, to devote an entire page to a birthing montage). Also, I like Dan Jurgens well enough -- and he’s certainly no stranger to Superman -- but I did miss more of that sweet Lee Weeks art from last month. Justice League was basically an extended fight scene, ending when the character who could administer a fatal wound did just that, and Batman and Robin was flat-out weird -- an extended meditation on why Jason Todd and Damian Wayne should get along, but with none of the nuanced characterization that the likes of Grant Morrison, Peter Tomasi, or for that matter Judd Winick brought to those characters. I’m no fan of the Batman who hides behind a contemptuous grunt, but the ending of this issue was pretty saccharine.

Better on the relationship front was Batgirl #2 (written by Alisa Kwitney, pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Mark Pennington, colored by Brian Buccellato), which devoted equal time to Stephanie’s fight with Grodd and to her romance with Tim. It’s a little twee to say that Steph is a “thoughtful” crimefighter, but her thinking-out-loud strategizing was a nice bit of characterization; and the art reinforced that spirit of youthful energy.

And speaking of energy, Speed Force #2 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Tom Grummett, inked by Sean Parsons, colored by Rain Beredo) was an exciting account of the West family’s fight with Flashpoint Wonder Woman. Grummett and Parsons were especially good at reconciling the different visual tones conveyed by Wally and the kids, Fastbak, and the bloodthirsty Queen Diana. Maybe two of those characters can coexist comfortably at any given time, but it takes a special kind of approach to help all three fit into the same scene. More to the point, the creative team did a good job creating a real sense of danger. It helped them land the inevitable happy ending. (Well, what did you expect from a comic with a cartoon turtle?)

Finally, The Question (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Cully Hamner, colored by Dave McCaig) was the week’s most satisfying conclusion. It’s a good Two-Face story (“our” Two-Face tries to convince his parallel-world double to kill him); it features Greg Rucka writing Huntress and Batwoman again; and best of all, it puts a neat bow on Rucka’s Reneé Montoya. She reconciles with the father who disowned her, the deluded maniac who tried to woo her, and (to a lesser extent) her old lover, but all of it feels earned, and it comes with well-choreographed fight scenes. In a week where Lois Lane gave birth, Dick Grayson married Barbara Gordon, and Roy Harper got his daughter back, that’s saying something.

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