Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Notes on a Crisis

Because you know I had to get in on that action, I have officially put down my two cents regarding the impending, er, well, whatever the fuck it is they think they're doing with Secret Wars. But not here. Over here! Where I get paid for my opinions, which is pretty cool. Anyway, the first draft of the piece was almost 3,000 words long, and I needed to cut ~500 words of continuity trivia and completely superfluous digressions into stuff that the more general readership of the A.V. Club probably does not care about. But like a good butcher I never let any part of the animal go to waste. So, for the edification of my readership, here are the organ meats, AKA the footnotes. 


The original title of the piece was 
The Sky Is Falling! Unless It Isn’t. (It Probably Isn’t.)
Marvel’s New SECRET WARS Promises to Change Everything. Again. (Maybe.) 

On the one hand I can understand why they shortened it to simplify the meaning. On the other, the changed title slightly misrepresents the main argument.  

Crisis on Infinite Earths was written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Perez. Wolfman spent years doing research for the series, research that also became the genesis of the first, contemporary Who’s Who series. Who’s Who was DC’s belated, and somewhat less officious, response to Marvel’s Official Handbook series.

Earth 4 for all the heroes from the defunct Charlton, Earth S for the Fawcett heroes (the S stands for Shazam, naturally), and Earth X for the Quality heroes.

Earth 2 was the universe where the Justice Society had fought in World War II, so most stories on Earth 2 dealt with the children and grandchildren of the original Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, and company. Other Earth 2 changes: Batman was dead, the Justice Society disbanded because of the HUAC, and for seemingly no good in-story reason, Quebec was independent.

The “early blips” following Crisis were results of creators and editorial alike not knowing what was and was not canon on the new Earth. Early mistakes made in regards to Hawkman crippled the character for decades (some would say he’s never been completely fixed). The event hurt the Legion of Super-Heroes so bad they were eventually rebooted completely, in the pages of the next “crisis,” Zero Hour. The first story to explicitly play around with the ghosts of the Crisis was Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man, and Morrison would later contribute a great deal to the unraveling of Crisis in the 2000s, following his return from Marvel. 


The first Secret Wars was also an early example of multi-platform synergy originating from comics IP. A toy line and other merchandising emerged from the comic series, a move that was soon copied by DC with their Super Powers event and toys. For what it’s worth, the Super Powers toys are remembered on much fonder terms than the generally disliked Secret Wars line.

Contest of Champions came out two years after it had been originally scheduled as a tie-in to the 1980 Summer Olympics. You may recall that the US boycotted the 1980 games in Moscow, which is the reason the series had originally been taken off the schedule, before being resurrected long after the fact and scrubbed of any topical references.

A few examples of short-term changes wrought by Secret Wars: the Thing fell out with the rest of the Fantastic Four, and didn’t rejoin the team for another couple years. Iron Man came back with some weird alien machine parts in his armor that later turned evil and fought Quasar. The Hulk, who began the wars in one of his intermittent intelligent phases, had become savage and dumb by the end. Colossus had an affair with an alien healer, which resulted in his split from Kitty Pryde (to which most people said: well, good, that was always kind of squicky). Venom, however, is still a player in the Marvel Universe to this day, as this week’s Guardians of the Galaxy #23 attests.

The designation of the mainstream Marvel U as “Earth 616” is, oddly, Alan Moore’s greatest contribution to Marvel. The label has stuck – to Tom Brevoort’s chagrin – even though the reference began as an off-hand joke in an issue of Moore’s Captain Britain.

Think of the situation for Captain American: instead of waking up after “only” nineteen years in the ice, in the midst of the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement and Beatlemania, Cap now woke up after around sixty years in a post-9/11 world almost completely alien from the one he had known.

Magneto’s origin is irrevocably tied to being a survivor of the Holocaust. Unlike Cap, Magneto lived every day of the preceding century, although he was de-aged once, which is most likely the only way he can conceivably still be alive and look approximately 45-50 years old.


Although they haven’t made a big deal about it, they quietly updated the Punisher to being a Gulf War Vet a few years ago – which Gulf War being itself, I think, an ambiguous designation. I don’t think the character works the same without Vietnam in his backstory, but otherwise he’s at least seventy years old, so I guess it’s a necessary compromise.

It’s worth noting that every change, no matter how seemingly inconsequential or necessary, ruffles some feathers.

In regards to fans’ predictions of an impending reboot: even if they only said it once back in 1998, you’ll still be hearing a great deal of “I knew it all along!” in the weeks to come from hindsight prognosticators.

One of the other “blips” from the early days of the post-Crisis was the appearance of the old Earth 1 Superman in the first few months of New Earth, despite the fact that when Superman was re-introduced in the first issue of John Byrne’s Man of Steel he was considerably different. It was a weird time, and things were in flux for longer than people probably remember. 

Another strike against the long-term health of the Ultimate line was a number of irreversible deaths (dead was usually dead in the Ultimate universe) that left the line bereft of marquee characters such as Wolverine, Captain America, and even Peter Parker (I know, I know, Ultimate Peter Parker supposedly came back a few months ago. Supposedly. Who knows how that plotline will play out, especially with the Wars impending.)

Other threads cast in the lead up to Secret Wars: The events of Axis led to Tony Stark’s permanent heel turn, which promises to factor heavily into the resolution of Hickman’s Time Runs Out, the immediate run-up to the Wars. Thor lost his hammer after the events of Original Sin left him (undoubtedly temporarily) “unworthy.” The Hulk appears to be taking a dark turn towards becoming the evil Maestro in the present-day. Time travel stories in Peter David’s Spider-Man 2099 and X-Factor may also be feeding into Secret Wars.

In terms of the event’s high profile, it certainly does not hurt that the first chapter of Secret Wars, issue #0, is being released on Free Comic Book Day, which just so happens to be one day after the release of a little movie called Avengers 2: Age of Ultron.


G. Kendall said...

The strangest rumor surrounding a Marvel "Crisis" goes back to 1997. People were convinced that Warren Ellis was doing a Marvel reboot in a miniseries called (I believe) "End Times." And a character from the mini, a female angel, had already made her debut in the MU in the second GAMBIT miniseries.
I don't think Ellis has ever confirmed that the story was a continuity reboot, but he did acknowledge that much of his plot ended up as one of the Ultimate miniseries he wrote in the 2000s.

j said...

Is it safe to say that the Crisis and more specifically the John Byrne Superman reboot is the most successful comic book reboot by miles? It had many flaws but it definitely helped give Superman a more coherent direction and made him relevant again (in terms of comic book sales). I feel like every time DC reboots Superman now they're just trying to recapture the success of the Byrne reboot.

Brad W. said...

Do you usually do this with what gets dropped from your A.V. Club articles on comics? I'd love it if you did.

Anonymous said...

I HATE REBOOTS, SERIOUSLY. Besides with Secret Wars, time travel, alternate realities, other dimensions...it's all probably going away permanently.