Crisis on Multiple Earths

As I continue my exploration of the DC universe, I’m gradually being introduced to the concept of multiple universes all existing simultaneously with one another.  Okay, it’s less of a gradual introduction and more like an instantaneous, paradigm-shifting shake-up.  If the comics had said, “Everything you knew up until now is wrong,” it would have been easy enough to follow. Just forget everything you knew and start fresh.  Nope, that’s not how these comics work. Instead they tell you, “Not only is everything you know right, but it’s all happening at the same time and oh yeah, there’s a bunch of other stuff happening too that you didn’t know but now you need to know.”

Pardon me while I go sigh exasperatedly in the corner.

This trade features a collection of Justice League and Justice Society team-ups.  The stories begin with either Earth-One or Earth-Two being in some sort of danger, and the heroes from the other planet stepping in to lend a hand.  Simple enough.

Then the stories decide to get more involved (just when I was starting to get a handle on the Earth-One and -Two thing).  Now we see the introduction of Earth-Three (on which everyone graced with super powers is a villain) and Earth-A, an “alternate” version of Earth-One where the Justice League never existed.

Each Earth has its own distinct cast of characters, both heroes and villains.  I should probably create a chart to keep track of all of them.  Then again, some are pretty easy to remember:

wpid-wp-1443461425348.jpgHere we see the villainous “Crime Syndicate of America” from Earth-Three (I’ve decided that is simultaneously the best and worst name ever for a group of super villains).  Each character bears a striking similarity to their other Earthly counterparts, but therein lies the genius in the concept.  With Earths One and Two, we were introduced to characters that we had already known.  With Earth-Three, we are given a brand new set of characters who, while very similar to those we know, differ just enough to be interesting.  The possibilities for other versions of Earth with their own unique twist on characters we know are virtually endless.

Before addressing the stories themselves, I must point out how happy I am to see the evolution panel layouts.  For many of the earlier trades I’ve read, the pages have been laid out in a fairly straightforward manner, generally with a series of uniform rectangles reading left to right.  This is the first trade I’ve read so far to consistently vary the panel design, incorporating splash pages and varying panel sizes:

wpid-wp-1443485371803.jpgI had never given much thought to page design before, but seeing the progression from the standard “newspaper comics” layout to a more artistic representation adds to the overall story more so than I would have imagined.

As for the stories themselves, I can’t say I wasn’t interested.  The storylines are only becoming more intriguing as I keep reading.  Characters are making repeat appearances, the life and death stakes keep getting higher, and superheroes are joining forces to overcome the forces of evil.  One aspect I’m glad hasn’t changed, however, is the inclusion of superhero or villain logic that completely baffles the mind:

wpid-wp-1443460258331.jpgYes Doctor Alchemy, with the power to transform my enemies’ planes into anything, I too would have gone with winged bucking broncos.  After all, what’s world domination without a bit of whimsy?

I’m still trying to decide if these random bits of absurdist humor are intentional, or if I should just chalk it all up to the fact that these comics are from the 60’s, and there’s no way drugs didn’t at least play a small part in some of the stories.

wpid-wp-1443486875390.jpgJust a bad guy put under a spell doing an involuntary “watusi”.

THERE IS NO WAY DRUGS WERE NOT INVOLVED IN THE MAKING OF THESE COMICS.

Moving on…

I’m still surprised to see how excited I get whenever another classic Golden-Age superhero makes an appearance.  Sandman was a character that I didn’t find particularly engaging when I read the All-Star Comics trade, and yet when he made an appearance in this collection, I was actually happy to see him.

wpid-wp-1443486716631.jpgI don’t really think I can be nostalgic for a character I didn’t know existed two months ago, but there’s a part of me that’s happy to see these characters plucked out of limbo and given a second chance.  Although some of the early characters didn’t go on to the fame afforded Superman or Batman, they still played a key role in the development of the comic book medium.  Even if some of these super heroes fade away after the Silver Age, I’m glad to see they were shown due respect for their role in paving the way for future generations of characters.

The stories in this trade culminate in “Crisis Between Earth-One and Earth-Two” and “The Bridge Between Earths”, from Justice League of America #46 and #47, respectively.  In these issues our heroes are met with an unprecedented number of obstacles, dealing with the fallout of people mysteriously being transported between Earth-One and -Two, facing off against Solomon Grundy and Blockbuster, The potential collision between one of the Earths and Anti-Matter Man, and the seemingly inevitable collision of Earth-One and Earth-Two!  Unable to rest for even a moment, the Justice League and Justice Society must band together to solve all of these problems at once.  No longer do the heroes have the luxury of dealing with one problem at a time.  Now they are being thrown multiple issues and forced to juggle them all, or risk the complete and utter destruction of their worlds.

The overall story arc in this trade seems to be completely changing the tone of the comics.  I realize the issues collected here span three years and certainly don’t represent an immediate shift.  This book seems to be laying the groundwork for stories to come.  I don’t know exactly what happens, but Mistah J has let slip that a major event occurs in the DC multiverse in the 1980’s, and I have a feeling everything I’ve read in this trade will play some part in that story.  Gone is the linear method of storytelling that permeated the Golden Age.  This new era of comics brought with it updated writing, artwork, and overall direction.  Good is still triumphing over evil, but in these stories we start to see the first hints that that may not always be the case.

Knowing the little that I do about what’s to come, I’m both eager and hesitant to continue reading.  I know the storytelling will only improve as I continue, but I have a feeling I might start to miss the straight-forward battles between good and evil, with good always standing victorious.  Although more realistic, I think I’ll miss the idealism of the Golden Age.

Luckily there’s still plenty of material waiting out there for me in case I get nostalgic.

-Jess

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