Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman

 (Book Review)
Once again I’ve decided to improve my mind by reading a novel based on comics. This time I read the novelization of the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” series from 20 years ago.

Whenever I write about something geek related on my blog, I always feel the need to put up some sort of disclaimer like, “If you didn’t already know this, I guess you probably don’t care.” And perhaps nowhere is this more true than “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. If you have even the slightest interest in comic books, chances are you are already familiar with “Crisis” and you don’t need me to recount it for you. On the other hand, if you’re not interested in comics, you probably don’t have the patience to sit through my long winded retelling of it.

If anyone is interested in more information about the “Crisis” series, there’s no lack of it on the web. You can start with the wikipedia article here. Or if you want a more big picture view of it, you can read this wikipedia article on the DC Universe. And the most thorough guide to “Crisis” on the web can be found here.

I also wrote about it in this blog entry back here. Nobody asked me about it, I just felt like writing about it and showing off my knowledge.

If you don’t feel like reading all that, the simplest possible explanation of “Crisis” I can give you is as follows:

1. In order to explain away the continuity differences between the Golden Age (1940s) comics, and the silver age (1960s) comics, DC comics created the idea of two parallel earths: Earth-1, where the modern (silver age) comic book characters live, and Earth-2 where their Golden Age counterparts reside.

2. Eventually this was deemed to be too confusing for new readers, and the editors decided to merge the two worlds together. “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is the legendary multi-part comic book mini-series in which the different worlds merged together, and changed comic book history.

3. (If you wanted to get slightly more complicated, you could add the fact that DC comics also acquired the rights to the old Charlton Comics (such as Blue Beetle), the old Quality comics (such as Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters) and the old Fawcett comics (such as Captain Marvel) and used the “Crisis” as a plot device to integrate their worlds into the DC Universe as well. But if you want to get any more detailed than that, you’ll have to use the links above. I’m committed to keeping this as simple as possible).

I didn’t get into comics until my teens, so I missed “Crisis” during its original run. In fact I was only 6 years old when the “Crisis” series began in the spring of 1985. I was familiar with Batman and Superman from the “Superfriends” TV show and the Superman movie. And perhaps I might have been vaguely aware that they also had adventures in comic books, but that is as far as my knowledge went. Even if I had access to comics at that time, I doubt I would have understood the difference between the golden age heroes of Earth-2 and silver age heroes of Earth-1.

When Phil was last in town and the conversation turned to comic books, he indicated to me that as a child he not only followed comics, but was fully aware of the significance of “Crisis” and the fact that the two different Superman’s would no longer exist. If I understood you right Phil, hats off to you. You were a much more precocious child than I.

I, like many other comic book fans who got hooked post-Crisis, read the reprint of the Graphic novel. A couple years ago actually. (I justified buying it by donating it to the Comic book section I had started in the Ajimu Library).

But to be honest the graphic novel left me confused at several parts. I understood the main idea about the several earths merging into one, but the hows and whys didn’t make a ton of sense. And so, when I heard that a novelization of the comic had been created for its 20th anniversary, I marched down to my local Schuler’s and had Bork order me a copy.

As for the actual book itself....
Well to start with it’s a very thin volume. I was hoping the novelization would go into a lot more detail than the graphic novel, but in fact it goes into a lot less.

Secondly, there’s a rather bizarre plot device in which the whole story is told from the perspective of Barry Allen, the original Silver age Flash. Since Barry Allen dies halfway through the Crisis, this makes him a rather unique choice for the narrator.

I was reading an interview with Marv Wolfman, the author of both the novelization and the original comic. Wolfman said he never wanted to kill off the Flash, but the editorial decision came from above and he had to do it. But he’s felt bad about it ever since, and to make up for that he decided to make the novel a tribute to the Flash, narrated entirely from the Flash’s perspective.

The way he gets around this is by having the Flash start slipping in and out of time and able to foresee his own death and events after the death. It’s an interesting idea, but all the jumping around in time just serves to make an already confusing plot even more confusing.

Thirdly, considering this story is based off of a comic book series from 1985-1986, there are a surprising number of anachronisms. References to e-mail, Homer Simpson, Jurassic Park, Yahoo Mapquest, etc. At first I thought they were just honest mistakes, but there were so many of them that I have to believe Marv Wolfman used them on purpose. I’m not quite sure what he’s playing at. Is he trying to update the “Crisis” story? But why would he do that? That doesn’t make any sense. I know in the years since Crisis, DC comics has re-written their continuity every 10 years, but the whole point of “Crisis” is that it was before all that started, and before there was a plot device in place to re-arrange continuity as needed.

On the other hand, there are a few typos in this book which indicates it was poorly proof-read. Maybe the anachronisms are simply just mistakes after all. (In my opinion, there is just no excuse for typos in a major publication in this day and age. It just screams that nobody involved in the publication of the book seemed to care at all.).

Despite all this, I still have to say the same thing I said about Devin Grayson’s “Inheritance”. It was poorly written, and it didn’t really tell me anything new, but I enjoyed it anyway. It gave me an excuse to reconnect with comic books, and made me feel like I was 14 again.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
"Expletive deleted" is an ironic expression which indicates that a profanity has been omitted.
It became popular when transcripts of Richard Nixon's internal tapes were made public. The phrase "Expletive Deleted" was put into the court record when the notoriously profanity-laced discussions with H. R. "Bob" Haldeman and other Watergate insiders went beyond the bounds of common decency.
In later years, the phrase became commonplace and passed into general usage as a convenient linguistic figleaf.

Link of the Day
A passing comment from Doug on his blog causes Guam and I to abuse his comment section debating whether or not "Star Wars" can be classified as a space Western. (I defend the negative).

Also Media Mouse gives Cheney a nice welcome to Grand Rapids. I unfortunately had to sit this one out because I am teaching evenings. Because of my new schedule I haven't had a lot of time for activism, but fortunately I believe in the value of the job I'm doing.

Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman: Book Review (Scripted)


Anonymous said...

I don't know if I would call what we did abusing Doug's blog. =) Maybe we each should write a defense of our positions on our blogs and take it from there.

Joel Swagman said...

The Ball's in your court Mr. Guam. If you write something on your blog, I'll respond to it.

Phil said...

Even at age seven, I was angry about such social injustices as the totally unnecessary killing-off of Supergirl. WHY, DC, WHY?! And Barry Allen was a great, underrated Flash. The guy they replaced him with (Kid Flash, for heaven's sake) actually needed to replace all the calories he burned when running, and so in every issue there'd be panels of him eating dozens of hamburgers at superspeed. Geesh.