You’ve heard the word. You know the story.
The iconic, defining, definitive word of DC stories.
The word Crisis feels inseparable from the fabric of DC. It holds sway over its past, it informs its present, and it will certainly influence the future. You can’t think of DC and not think of Crisis at some point. The very idea of it has been bound to the very idea of DC that tightly.
And the response to the word and its invocation is intense as well. It comes with a lot of assumptions and baggage. Given that is the case, given it has become ubiquitous, inevitable, and all-pervading with DC itself, it’s worth discussing what has become of it. What has emerged from this focusing and this obsession over Crisis in DC? What has it led to?
The matter of Crisis must be unpacked, and that’s what we’re here to do.
Reality Dies At Dawn, Every Dawn
At the end of the first Metal, the Justice League would destroy The Source Wall, the edge of all reality, the boundary of existence as established in DC Cosmology. And with that would come a plethora of story, particularly as Scott Snyder and his collaborators tried to weave together a grand, sprawling opera and epic of DC mythology. You had the introduction of The World Forger, the older brother of The Monitor and The Anti-Monitor, and the explainers on how the DC existence was divided across the three forms of matter- Dark Matter, Positive Matter, and Anti-Matter. All fun stuff, to be sure.
But vitally, you had the invention of The Mother Of The Multiverse: Perpetua. She was to now be the big new threat of DC, with The Batman Who Laughs as her Dark Knight agent of chaos. The effects of Metal’s source wall collapse meant that The Multiverse was now dying, this was the story of Everything Ending, a Crisis saga but told over a larger period to stretch out the drama.
And it was all heading to the only thing it ever could, as The Multiverse finally died and was set to be reborn:
Another Crisis story, but dubbed Metal.
Dark Nights: Death Metal by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo would dub itself an ‘Anti-Crisis.’ It would evidently be inspired by the work of Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars, much like most of the Snyder era of Justice League had been informed by Hickman’s own tenure of Avengers rooted in a tale of Multiversal Collapse and cosmic death. You even got a special Metalverse map akin to the Battleworld of Secret Wars.
It would follow the ‘fallen’ heroes of DC after they had ‘lost,’ much in the same way the Marvel heroes had ‘lost,’ with Doom recreating reality into Battleworld. Except the victors here were Perpetua, The Mother Of The Multiverse, and the Dark Knight who betrayed her to take power. The Batman Who Laughs would get the pole position as Chief Antagonist the way Doom got over at Marvel.
And The Batman Who Laughs would be beefed up in power by acquiring Doctor Manhattan’s powers. I do not mean ‘powers like Doctor Manhattan’s from Watchmen’, but I mean explicitly the powers of Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen, with even his speech-balloons morphing to be more akin to Doctor Manhattan’s, only Black instead of the Blue. Because that’s what we are doing here.
And the entire story would, like much of the Snyder Justice League run before it, be about ‘explaining’ everything about DC and its mythology and history, creating a sort of Unified Theory of the whole affair. You got explanations on why every single Crisis kept happening, and how Perpetua and her energies had a part in that, and how ‘everything connects’ and is tied into one large connective tissue and story. And the whole enterprise was thus then heading to a rebirth and recreation of the Multiverse in the hands of Wonder Woman. It became a battle about the recreation of DC Comics and what it is, what it has been, and what it should be.
Which is to say, it devolved into the most tiresomely dull and insular Continuity Porn school of comics that it sought to rebel against by dubbing itself an ‘Anti-Crisis.’ It called itself an Anti-Crisis because rather than ‘simplify’ or ‘clean-up’ the mess, it was an event designed to celebrate it, as you had whole issues dedicated to characters revisiting past Crisis events and comics, and entire lands built around riffing on and references to the old. It was the idea of ‘Everything matters and counts’ as wild celebratory Metal story. But the trouble is, even when you’re an ‘Anti-Crisis,’ you’re still just in reaction to Crisis. You’re still a Crisis, just perhaps not the in the way you might think.
Death Metal is written like a comic that hopes to be the end of the whole Fan Argument mode of Crisis comics, the end of all the ‘explainers’ and ‘universe/continuity/fixers’ as it concludes with a recreation of the DC Multiverse that says ‘no, it’s done, it’s over, everything matters, we’re good now.’ It wanted to be the final nail in the coffin, the last lyric in that endless DC song of resets and rewrites. It evidently wanted to go ‘Let’s just stop all this stuff we do with Crisises and move onward from here.’
And that’s well and good.
But the nature of writing such a responsive text, an Anti-text so steeped in the continuity porn, insular history and the DC crisis past? You absolutely do morph into part of the problem. You’re once again staging discussions and debates on page on what DC Comics is and is not and perhaps should be like. You’re just singing the very song you want to see end, inadvertently. Because the thing about writing comics that go ‘Hey we should stop doing that thing, let’s not, let’s just move on?’ instead of just making a comic totally divorced from that insular dialogue and mode that actually has totally moved on? You are that which you criticize. And perhaps there’s something there on a level of Scott Snyder saying the DC Universe needs to move on from him, too, because he’s part of this old guard, and it needs to be in new hands, but that still doesn’t make for a very compelling comic, sadly.
And the multiversal recreation at the end, with the ‘everything matters’? It once again effectively reaffirms the ‘Infinite Earths’ idea with Infinite Multiverses. It’s what The Multiversity had done. It’s what Convergence had done. It’s what Doomsday Clock had done. And now we had to get the new version of that. Another repetition of how there’s an omniverse out there, all charged up and ready to be used.
The Dan Knight Strikes Again
While the infinite earths were apparently back under Snyder’s era, it was still not enough. There had to be more rejiggering of the board, more re-alignment of the pieces and the table itself. The DC Universe had to be remolded and reshaped yet again, and Dan Didio’s 5G initiative was under way. Its plans and timeline would radically alter and redefine the DC Universe yet again, despite it just coming off a massive reality re-shaping event. This was just what DC had become, inevitably, irrevocably.
It would cycle out many ‘key’ leading characters, focus on a new generation and alter the nature of ‘time’ in the DC Universe, trying to give a sense of progression to the entire enterprise and connect everything from the beginning of DC’s history to the now. They’d ‘make sense’ of everything yet again, as they felt they had failed to appropriately do with Crisis On Infinite Earths, and this time, they’d get it right, goddamnit. This time! For sure! Or so Dan Didio believed.
And then Dan Didio was unceremoniously let go from DC. And that was that. DC would pivot to its ‘Future State‘ initiative instead in that 5G slot, and the keys would change hands, as Snyder was off and away, and a new DC Architect was to take his seat.
Infinite Ad Infinitum
Following this, after the Multiverse/Omniverse had been recreated in Death Metal, Joshua Williamson would take over the role of ‘DC Architect’ in the succeeding era of Infinite Frontier. And if you thought the DC heroes had pretty much dealt with enough ‘Crisis’ and continuity porn and Multiverse recreation stories for a hot-minute, well, here was another coming right after the last.
Williamson would attempt to sequelize Grant Morrison’s The Multiversity, as many had previously attempted, to largely messy and lesser results in evoking a superior work. And in it, would reveal the ‘truth’ of Multiverse-Two from the end of Multiversity. Morrison’s work had seemed to suggest Multiverse-Two would be a place for new stories, new standalone works or stories and fresh creations unbound to the ’52’ multiverses they’d explored. But Williamson instead opts to run with the idea that rather than something new, Multiverse-Two is something old, and actually a reference, being the original Infinite Multiverse destroyed in the first Crisis On Infinite Earths. You can see the brain ticking here that leads to this conclusion, going ‘Well Earth-Two was the old classical thing, so Multiverse-Two should be…’
But it’s decidedly a mode of Fan-Brain that opts to be boring and reference-driven when it could choose to do anything new or fresh or interesting.
It’s perhaps why the Eldritch Horror entities of Morrison, beings of Cosmic Horror, like ‘The Empty’ Hand and The Gentry become generic bad guys for superhero punching and beat-em-up comics that no one will really remember years from now. Figures symbolizing Gentrification and representing any kind of meaning are reduced down to just ‘Lore-Important’ people to play out ‘Who Would Win?’ or Power Level wrestling fights and action-figure smashing with zero-thought. No Meaning, only Lore, as they say. It’s why Williamson would also set-up his own version and story that would finally, once again, as though it had never happened before, ‘explain everything’ about DC and its history and universe.
And if Geoff Johns used Doctor Manhattan, Scott Snyder used Anti-Monitor’s Mom and The Batman Who Laughs, then Williamson would resort to the most classically DC move, and a move evocative of very Geoff Johns-inspired sensibilities: recycle from Alan Moore. And so you had ‘The Great Darkness’ from an issue of Swamp Thing tying into Crisis On Infinite Earths being positioned as The Major Big Bad.
And leaning further into very Johns-esque sensibilities, much like Johns brought back Alexander Luthor, Superboy Prime and the Classic Old Man Superman to wage a big Fan Argument/Debate comic about DC Comics and its direction, Williamson would opt to do so with the one COIE character that even Johns couldn’t be bothered with:
He would be positioned as the other big bad, tapped into The Great Darkness, animated by a frustration over what all had happened in DC Comics. He would become representative of The Nostalgic Recreator who believed The Old Things and The Past were simpler, better, and that we should never have gone away from that good ol’ stuff. The irony being, of course, that the writer doing seemed to enjoy indulging in Nostalgic Recreation and referentialism himself. But perhaps that’s to be expected given the Johns influence- Johns is often that which his comics chastize and rail against and attempt to say is bad. More time is spent in indulging in poor choices and work that exist for the creator to say ‘We should move forward!’ rather than actually moving forward and doing the useful alternative without that Fan Argument/Debate. And Williamson, whose DC work often feels like a Xerox of Geoff Johns that’s been photocopied too many times, is part of that trend and lineage.
It’s perhaps why you get a gimmick story by Williamson titled The Death Of The Justice League for Justice League #75, done purely because of nostalgic recreation and obsession with homaging the old- this time the 1990’s, as opposed to Geoff Johns’ preferred 1980’s. If you’d felt that the Justice League had not ‘died’ enough recently given all the Metal madness, this comic may have been for you.
And all of this is exactly why what follows it is an event titled Dark Crisis.
There was to be no escape from the Johnsian school of Fan Argument Comics. You had ‘Pariah’ as The Nostalgic Recreator, and you had Deathstroke as The Old Man Who Is A Legacy Hater. And all of the ‘big bads’ of prior big DC joints would all be joined under the banner of The Great Darkness and be ‘The Dark Army,’ with The Great Darkness and its influence helping ‘explain’ the various cataclysmic Crisis-driven nature of the DC line. Perpetua was not enough, it seems, and neither was Doctor Manhattan. We needed more Continuity Porn, more Secrets Of The Lore to ‘explain’ everything over and over, with every new ‘architect’ having to get their version of that answer.
It’s likely why after the third issue of the book, DC would put out a whole special press release drumming up noise, with Williamson going on about how they had actually kept the ‘real title’ of the event a secret. And that the true title would ‘spoil’ the great story they had been telling, but now in the fourth issue the title would be revealed, as it would be on the covers from hereon out. And that new title, my dear friends?
Dark Crisis On Infinite Earths.
Yes, another nostalgic recreation and reference, in a story supposedly critical of them. Indulging in that very thing that we’re supposedly trying to speak against and say we need to move forward from.
And of course, we’d play the same song of THE INFINITE EARTHS ARE BACK/REBORN! like it was all-new and novel and special and had never been done before. It would be packaged and presented like it was thunderous, ground-breaking and earth-shattering. All, of course, to serve more tiresome and drawn out comics steeped in DC Fan Debates and Arguments, staged across a cosmic scale, steeped in insular Continuity Porn of DC Crisis comics.
Who are these comics for? Only for DC Diehards and Lifers, not any sane reader just seeking a well made, interesting comic.
And so on and on we would go, trapped forever in the same cycle, of the same old problems, failings, just with a different white-passing comics guy at the helm of it instead. Rather than make sleek, slick, smart superhero comics on the cutting edge, works which truly last the test of time, we instead get the same old beats and nostalgia-driven discussions and arguments as published comics.
It’s perhaps why Dark Crisis, which followed Didio’s firing and ousting of the 5G initiative, even casts Deathstroke as a man almost verbatim repeating oft-mocked and argued-about Dan Didio talking points on Nightwing…directly to Nightwing the character in a comic:
He, of course, gets ‘proven wrong’ and beat up, with those Didio talking-points taken down, in a comic affirming how The Titans are Actually The Bestest Characters in the DC Universe. Rather than actually have any kind of meaningful dramatic conflicts that challenge or push the character, we’re given hollow questions of ‘Can Dick Grayson be The Hope and Optimism and Light of the DC Universe and lead it as The Ultimate Legacy Hero?’, which, we all know the answer there. The comic only operates in binaries of Hero/Villain, Light/Darkness, and how Light>>Darkness.
There’s no real weight or meaning or interiority to the work. Can Grayson get off his ass and beat Deathstroke? The answer is never in doubt or in question. And there’s not a single dramatically compelling or interesting choice that Dick Grayson as a character makes or is allowed to make by the book’s creators. He exists to be moved from Point A to Point B and is more so a meaningless symbol gesturing towards DC marketing slogan words like Hope and Optimism, much like Superman in Doomsday Clock, than any kind of interesting character. The comic refuses to at any point challenge its characters or readership, choosing to constantly cater to their fandom and validate their fandom. And the only real ‘choice’ it seems to hinge on for its lead characters is a hollow one involving Black Adam choosing to be a hero and proclaiming that Legacy Is The Best Actually, because there’s a Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson movie coming that must be fed into synergistically. There is no artistic vision or soul here. Only company gimmicks, insular fan-arguments and cheap fan-service validation for stans living on crumbs.
It becomes rather like reading CBR Boards with super-powered punching at a certain point.
It’s a bunch of comics nerds arguing with each other, whilst forgetting why anybody cared about any of this to ever begin with. It’s the comic book equivalent of insular twitter beef and ‘discourse’ that makes no sense to anyone sane, outside these obsessive circles. These are comics completely devoid of any real ideas, which conflate these fandom sessions for actually meaningful stories. Stories are lost and gone, what remains can no longer even be called ‘stories’ really, as dramatic conflict and compelling character choices all vanish.
All that’s left is a bunch of dudes arguing about nerd nonsense.
If you’re wondering ‘how bad could it be?’, well…
The Flashpoint Two: Electric Boogaloo
While all of this was happening, Geoff Johns would once again return to DC comics to do a Flashpoint sequel book, where he would try to enforce and explain his own absolute, ultimate unified theory of DC. He would even explain the ‘D’ and ‘C’ of ‘DC’ as being ‘Divine Continuum,’ his overarching title for the whole affair, in a move that is truly, absolutely Johns to the max.
Try and read that above panel and parse it. See if that makes any goddamn sense to a normal reader who just wants a cool comic. Consider who that is really for. What manner of reader is that written for? It’s not any sane reader who cares about meaningful stories. It’s written for the most insular wiki-head, the most absurd lore-obsessed people, not any reasonable person with discerning comics taste. It’s the DC Universe/Multiverse/Omniverse/takeyourpick equivalent of Hawkman’s history or Donna Troy’s existence. It’s the most ‘who cares’ material written by people desperately out of touch, who’ve forgotten why any of us ever cared about these things to begin with. It wasn’t this convoluted ‘No, let ME explain and FIX DC and tell you how it all ACTUALLY works’ one-upsmanship contests they call ‘comics.’
Perhaps no better example of this disastrous situation exists than the context of the JSA. Let us consider them for a moment.
Across the past decade, DC’s made a lot of noise about ‘bringing back the JSA!’ starting from Geoff Johns’ DC Rebirth, as much of the enterprise was predicated on that. Here is the finale of Doomsday Clock, ‘bringing them back’:The JSA are back!! Yeah, woo!! Will they actually do anything or get a book? Hell no. Otherwise how could they make the noise about them ‘being back.’
Now, cut to their next big event Dark Nights: Death Metal and its ending:
The JSA are back!! Again! Yeah, woo!! Will they actually do anything or get a book? Hell no. Otherwise how could they make the noise about them ‘being back,’ for real this time!
And now cut to Dark Crisis On Infinite Earths:
The JSA are back!! Again! Another time! Yeah, woo!! Will they actually do anything or get a book? Hell yes. But only by Geoff Johns. Nobody else. Because why go forwards when you can swim in nostalgic backwaters, while saying ‘We need to move forward’ a lot? Gesturing towards something endlessly that which we will never do or commit to, which feels perfectly true of Williamson’s work, given its Johnsian influence and ties.
And so that’s where we stand now, with endless repetition, beats being recycled, press-releases declaring ‘The Infinite Earths are back/reborn!’ or ‘The JSA are back/reborn!’ ‘The Titans matter and are good again!’ every single goddamn year, only for it to happen the next, and the next after that. And of course, it’s all accompanied by the press and slogans and marketing on how once again Hope, Optimism, and Heroism have returned to the DC Universe. It’s all sold to the reader like it’s never been done before, as though this were a novel thing happening for the very first time. It’s an endless series of screams emanating from a dungeon of chaos, as you hear shrieks going ‘We’ve done it! We’ve fixed it! We’ve got our shit together! Hahah! It’s all gonna be okay now, guys! We have a plan! Please trust us!’
Which is perhaps why it’s no surprise that DC Comics’ cinematic equivalent are also exactly the same. It’s the same crucial problem top to bottom- which is that it’s become less and less about the stories and storytelling steeped in character, and more ‘meta’ arguments about what the DC enterprise should be, and who gets to be the one to decide that, waged out in public arenas. It’s just not something conducive to good storytelling.
Crisis has become a curse weighing on the soul of DC given the way many have chosen to interpret and understand that term and title. And all Scott Snyder, bless his heart, seemed to have accomplished with an Anti-Crisis is just becoming part of the very tradition he sought to critique.
But where does that leave us? Where do we even go from here?