RETRO REVIEW: Legends of the DCU – Crisis On Infinite Earths: The Untold Story (February 1999)

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Or – “Okay, Maybe The 90’s Didn’t Ruin Quite EVERYTHING.”

I often make somewhat mean-spirited fun of the comic books of the 1990s, making fun of the excesses that sprung out of the genesis of Image Comics and the silliness that followed.  What I really mean is the comics of the EARLY 1990s as, by the end of that decade, comics were in a period of new expansion and wild ideas that led to some pretty cool storytelling.  The end of the 90’s also brought Marv Wolfman back to old territory to show us an untold tale taking place during the original Crisis On Infinite Earths.  Your Major Spoilers review awaits!

LEGENDS OF THE DCU – CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS: THE UNTOLD STORY
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Penciler: Paul Ryan
Inker: Bob McLeod
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Carlin
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $4.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $5.00

Previously, in Legends Of The DCU – Crisis On Infinite Earths: The Untold Story:  Once, there were infinite parallel realities, thanks to the actions of a renegade Guardian of the Universe named Krona.  From out of one of those worlds (or, to be more specific, out of the anti-universe of Qward) came a monstrous presence known as the Anti-Monitor, who set in to motion a plan to destroy the entirety of the Infinite Earths by hook or by crook.  World after world succumbed to the wave of anti-matter, including the (unseen before it’s appearance in the original Crisis) world known as Earth-6…

I suppose the most difficult proposition of all of this is that endless strings of universes have already been destroyed, and that only a few (mostly the ones we know from the DC Universe and it’s ancillary properties) survive.  I don’t know a lot about cosmology or numbers, but it seems that it would take eons to destroy a nigh-infinite number of worlds, which you’d think would have caught SOMEONE’S attention sooner.  But, comics are about people, and for us, that means people on Earth, so I roll with it.  After all, this is also a story about love against all odds…

For those of you who don’t know, that is Barry Allan, the second Flash, late of Earth-1.  At this point in his history, Barry has been reunited with his wife Iris, long presumed dead, and has abandoned his life and times to live with her in the 30th Century.  The cancellation of his solo series was really the first indication that the times were a’changin’ at DC.  Of course, by this time, he’d been gone for nearly a decade and a half, and his appearance in this issue was both novel and exciting.  Barry leaps into action as the Scarlet Speedster, and finds something strange…

As someone who read comics both during the ’86 heydey of Crisis and in ’99, this issue was an interesting exercise.  Seeing these events again made me go back and read the original CoIE story again, and found it to still be a powerful tale of fighting against insurmountable odds. A lot of the story really holds up, and it’s one of the most skillful executions of “the whole world is fighting” that I’ve ever read.  Barry finds himself on a new Earth, and recognizes that this world, too, has a Flash.  Having done this before, Barry gives his counterpart the Cliff’s Notes versions of DCU cosmology.

The original story of the Crisis was filled with moments like this, as the Charlton Comics characters were folded into the DC realities as Earth-4, but this is a whole new ballgame.  And where there’s a Flash, there’s usually a League or Society of some sort…

Or perhaps a Justice Alliance, if you will…  Wolfman is quick to dub this world Earth-D, which one wag in the comic shop opined to stand for ‘Earth-Diversity’, with an African-American Superman and Supergirl (who are married in this world), a native American Green Arrow, an Asian Flash and more.  There’s a very meta moment wherein Earth-D’s Flash asks Barry what happened on his world, since the comic stories no longer had any joy in them for a long time.  I’m not sure if Wolfman is referring to the comics of the 80’s or the 90’s with that statement, but either way, it’s kind of telling to see it in this story.  Pariah (the character in the green cloak, doomed to travel from Earth to Earth watching them being destroyed) suddenly arrives to witness the end of this world, but manages to gather enough power to pick up some help.

Why this group of heroes, you ask?  With a few exceptions (notably our Superman for the no-longer-in-existence Earth-2 model) this group of heroes was the Monitor’s first set of recruits in the early issues of Crisis On Infinite Earths.  The heroes of Earths 1 and D meet and try to formulate a plan, but The Batman of Earth-1 isn’t sure the whole thing is on the up-and-up.

Heh.  Another subtle dig at what were then modern comics, I’m certain, but I have to say I really like the modified Robin suit in use on Earth-D.  It reminds me of a combination of Dick Grayson’s and Tim Drake’s uniforms, and seeing the Boy Wonder take the wind out of Batman’s sails was terribly entertaining.  Batman is also referring to a moment that takes place in Barry’s subjective future, an ominous reminder that not all of the heroes survive this one.  Case in point: Earth-D’s Superman.

Superman-D isn’t the only casualty as Hawkman and Hawkgirl (siblings in this world) are killed as well, and the shadow-creatures nearly claim our Superman as well.  Alternate Superman’s last thoughts are for the welfare of his adopted world…

It’s a very good writer who can make you care about the sacrifice of a character whom you only just met, but Wolfman managed to deliver here with the loss of a Superman (much better than the Doomsday-beatdown that our Kal-El died from a few years prior to this story’s publication.  I can’t help but read messages into this story, as the Batman of Earth-D (very Silver Age in his bearing and uniform) stops our Batman from coldly dressing down his Robin…

This is some pretty heavy stuff, when you think about it.  Crisis was a farewell to the Silver Age of comics storytelling, but is itself generally considered to be the end (or near the end) of the Bronze Age of comics.  This issue came out a years later, during a time which is probably eventually going to be defined as the beginnings of a new comics age, making it a multi-level reference, especially since the Batman shown in this issue acts like modern Batman rather than the version that would have actually participated in the Crisis.  Now, my  head hurts. There are some puzzling moments in this issue, though, as Wolfman suddenly cuts away to do the origin of Earth-D’s Green Lantern, for some reason…  Robin falls, then Wonder Woman, then the heroes try to regroup and find a way to succeed.

What was a battle for Earth-D suddenly becomes an evacuation mission, as the heroes of two worlds come together, to save whatever lives they can, thanks to a hastily constructed cosmic treadmill.  Of course, if you’ve read the Crisis, you know that Barry Allen ends up in the hands of the Anti-Monitor during those pages…

Flash blips away, leaving his counterpart to power the treadmill with help from the various Supers, but even that plan starts to fall apart…

The rescue mission seems to become a suicide mission, as the Flash runs himself ragged, trying to save as many people as he can, and more heroes fall in battle.  Suddenly, The Flash cries out that he can’t keep going, entreating the heroes of Earth-1 to get through the portal before it’s too late…

The heroes of our world get through the portal just in time, but the Justice Alliance stays behind on their world, fighting until the very end, standing together for their world.

I have an issue with this (which we’ll get to in a minute), but it’s a goose-bump moment anyway, and the heroes of this world prove that the don’t lack for courage.  As the story closes, we have another ominous moment for the heroes of Earth-1, as Supergirl tries to comfort her cousin about the loss of their parallels.

Knowing that Kara herself would fall in this very battle makes that scene resonate for me, especially as the issue ends with the big gathering of heroes shown in Crisis #4 (or possibly #5) leaving us knowing what comes next.  There are issues with this story for me, as much as I enjoy parts of it.  Being published in 1999 means that they couldn’t actually address many of the issues regarding multiple Earths, since heroes like Earth-2 Batman and Superman no longer existed.  The use of Flash and Supergirl (at the time, known mostly for perishing in the Crisis) is well-done, and I kind of like the rebuke of modern Batman, but the loss of the heroes of Earth-D seems like a real waste.  Given that the entire multiverse is at stake, another Martian Manhunter or Batman might have made a difference.  Of course, the answer is, they weren’t there in the original book, and so they weren’t saved, which reminds me too much that this is an inserted retcon.

Still, Legends of the DCU – Crisis On Infinite Earths: The Untold Story is a mostly successful tale for me, with lovely art by Paul Ryan (not THAT Paul Ryan) and a very nice use of Barry Allen, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.  This story (along with ‘The Return of Barry Allen‘) is living proof for me of why The Flash should have been allowed to stay dead and relevant rather than return to life and become just another guy in the trenches.

Rating: ★★★★☆