After reading the beginnings of Neal Adams’ run as Batman artist, I was worried about returning to Volume Two of the Crisis on Multiple Earths series. I was already familiar with the type of story that I was likely to come across here, and wondered if it would feel like a step backwards after the other comics I had just read.
To a certain extent, I was right. Adams’ groundbreaking stylistic choices are obvious now more than ever after reading through this trade. The artwork depicted here sticks to the status quo in terms of comic artistry of the time, feeling a bit flatter and more static that Adams’ work. Still, that’s not to say that these stories are without merit.
As with Volume One, this collection presents meetings between the Justice League and Justice Society of America, necessitated by a threat to Earth-One, Earth-Two, or both.
At first, I must admit I felt a little bored with a few of the stories. There was less action and excitement here than in some of the other recent issues I’d read, and I found myself getting a bit restless. A few of the characters irked me as well, none moreso than Johnny Thunder. His power is control over a thunderbolt… and that’s about it. If Johnny orders the thunderbolt to complete a task, it will do so obediently, while Johnny sits on the sidelines. If there’s peril surrounding them and no orders are given though, the thunderbolt will not take action.
This strange inclusion of a virtually useless “superhero” who’s sole power is control over a separate powerful entity bugged me, if only because it took valuable page space away from more deserving characters. Johnny Thunder felt like a completely unnecessary character.
I will admit, I warmed to him a bit later on in the trade, if only because I began to want a spin-off series in which Johnny and his thunderbolt get into various shenanigans and argue over nothing:
One marked difference in these stories was the move towards more character development. No hero personifies this better than Red Tornado. Based on the first explanation given, I thought Red Tornado was created simply as a way to re-imagine a minor character from the Golden Age:
As the issue continues however, we learn that this version of Red Tornado is actually a humanoid robot created by a villain as a means of defeating the Justice Society. I suspected that, as with characters in earlier comics, Red Tornado would selflessly sacrifice himself, disappearing from the narrative and remaining a one-shot character. Instead his character lives on, welcomed by the Justice Society as a full member, but plagued by questions of his own existence.
I found myself actually caring about Red Tornado, and hoping that he would find some sort of inner peace. I was surprised to find that I felt more strongly about a character whom I had never even heard of before and whom I had only seen in a single issue, than I did about other characters who made regular appearances in my readings.
I chalk this all up to good writing. Red Tornado’s character and overall story is more compelling and interesting to me than just about any other individual superhero’s. His inner turmoil and uncertainty fill the comics, but never to the point of distraction. He battles, he succeeds, but there is always the hint of self-doubt, that sense that he is removed from the other heroes of the group. His characterization is presented so flawlessly that I didn’t even register what was happening until I was already invested in his story. His first appearance ended with a note from the editor urging readers to write in if they wanted to see Red Tornado appear in more stories. I can only hope that enough people responded that he becomes a mainstay in the comics.
Furthering this idea of more character-driven stories was the inclusion of what I thought was a pretty fantastical event: the death of Larry Lance, husband to Dinah Drake Lance (alias Black Canary).
The death alone was quite shocking. I had come to expect less death in the Silver Age comics, and certainly never expected anyone so closely connected to one of the main heroes to be killed off. What truly struck me though was the way the aftermath of Larry’s death was handled:
The heroes had won their battle, but the comic pauses the usual celebration to allow the full weight of this event to sink in. For Black Canary, this is no time for celebration. Her whole world came crashing down around her, and as readers we are drawn into the full depth of her pain. After seeing these panels, it came as no surprise when she chose to move to Earth-One, citing too many memories of Larry on Earth-Two as her reason. We had already witnessed her grief; it made sense to the reader that she would want to flee from it.
The implications of Black Canary moving to Earth-One and becoming a member of the Justice League were not lost on me, and I hope as result that I’ll be seeing more of her in coming trades. Although this shift came at a price, I’m glad to see that these comics began to explore a wider breadth of emotion. By showing vulnerability, the characters open up to us in entirely new ways and become that much more engaging and relatable.
It’s a bit odd reading these Crisis trades, knowing that some big cataclysmic change will eventually happen. Mistah J has steadfastly refused to tell me what’s coming (for which I’m grateful, even though I’m dying to know). All I know is that something happens that makes all of these stories relevant. I find myself over-analyzing every story, searching for clues, trying to remember every character and event in case they pop up in a later issue. Every time a new villain appears I find myself wondering, “Is this one really important? Are the events in this comic going to have lasting impacts down the road?”
As frustrating as that can be, I suppose it’s good in its own way. By reading these comics in order of continuity, I’m able to experience them the way readers of the past did, eagerly anticipating the next issue and wondering what’s going to happen next. In this age it’s pretty impossible to go into the DC universe completely blind, but in many ways I’m not exactly well-informed on the topic. With Mistah J’s guiding hand, I have the rather unique opportunity to experience a lifetime of comics in a shortened amount of time, with all of the important plot points painstakingly cataloged and sorted. All that’s left for me to do is sit back and enjoy.
For that experience, I’m extremely grateful.