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And So the Universe Ended, Part 1

Cinescape watches with you as the universe is destroyed...and then reborn

By Tony Whitt     March 18, 2002


The JLA and their Earth-2 forebears, the JSA, meet for the first time in a history-making crossover. Cover to JUSTICE LEAGUE #21.
© DC Comics
Now that a new generation of readers have been introduced to the sprawling DC Universe, post-Crisis, thanks to the recent reissue of the HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE (now sporting an all-new Alex Ross cover), CINESCAPE takes a look at the end that started it all...

In 1986 the DC Universe was destroyed. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

Of course, that depends on who you talk to. To some, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS was the beginning of the end of the DC Universe they'd known and loved for decades, while for others the maxi-series written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Pérez heralded a bold new direction for a universe mired in its own continuity. Whatever your views on the CRISIS may be, there's no denying that it's virtually impossible to talk about any DC title, storyline, or character without referring to "pre-CRISIS" and "post-CRISIS" continuity. Sixteen years later, the question still remains: did the CRISIS destroy more than it created?

When Earths Collide - the Flashs of Earth-1 and Earth-2 meet in the classic FLASH #123.

To look at the recently reprinted HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE, you'd hardly think anything was destroyed at all. In this two issue "appendix" to CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, Wolfman and Pérez use the character Harbinger to explain the newly re-ordered DC Universe. Apart from a few glaring inconsistencies, such as the existence of two Hawkmen and Hawkgirls who share virtually the same names and powers but have nothing to do with one another otherwise, it all seems to make perfect sense. But in comics as in science, the ends rarely justify the means.

The HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE explains everything (or at least, it tries) in the DCU post-CRISIS.

The whole mess began in the 1950s, when writer Gardner Fox decided to revamp the Flash. Superhero comics had hit something of a slump after WWII, giving way to the more popular true crime and horror comics that rival outfits like EC were successfully cranking out. Even the romance comics of the day were often bigger sellers than the superhero titles. But with the publication of SHOWCASE #4 in 1956 and the first appearance of Barry Allen as the Flash, a new age began in superhero comics, one which is now referred to as the Silver Age to distinguish it from the heyday of the 1930s and 1940s. The problem now was how to explain the new Flash, leading Fox to hit upon the most innovative uses of metafiction in comic book history, or perhaps ever: Barry Allen was inspired by the comic book adventures of Jay Garrick, the original Flash, who in Barry's world was a fictional character. (Thus comic book readers were reading about comic book characters who themselves were reading comic books. A pretty sophisticated literary arrangement for a medium deemed as "pop culture," if you ask me.)

Fox decided to take the concept one step further when he came up with the idea that would spawn what would later be known as the Multiverse: the idea of parallel worlds. In FLASH #123, Barry Allen accidentally tore a gap in the vibratory shields separating the world where he lived and the world where Jay Garrick, the original Flash, lived. Fox employed the metafictional device of making himself a character in his own comic script, by having Barry explain to Jay that the unconscious mind of the writer Gardner Fox from Barry's world tuned in to Jay's world while Fox was asleep. It was only a matter of time, of course, before the Justice League would meet their forebears the Justice Society ? albeit a JSA minus its "honorary members" Superman and Batman and its "secretary" Wonder Woman, since those heroes existed unchanged on Barry Allen's world (which by now was named Earth-1). The two-part story, which ran in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #s 21-22, was named "Crisis on Earth One!" and "Crisis on Earth Two!"-a title which Wolfman and Pérez would later revise for their own purposes.

Marv Wolfman and George Perez (with a retroactive assist from Alex Ross) boldly recreated the DCU in 1985's CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS

Had this been the extent of it, there probably would have been no need for a CRISIS at all. But Fox had opened the floodgates, and several subsequent writers added to the concept of alternate Earths. Only seven issues later in JUSTICE LEAGUE, Earth-3 would be revealed, a world where the only superpowered beings were villains. When DC acquired the rights to the Marvel Family, characters originally created by Fawcett Comics in the 1940s, it was necessary to give them their own world, Earth-S. (No need to explain that one, though why they simply didn't call it "Earth-4" is a bit of a mystery.) When DC acquired Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, originally published by Quality Comics, they got Earth-X. (Don't ask, 'cause I don't know.) And of course, the world in which all these characters were comic book characters ? i.e. our world ? had to be named, so it got the impressive name of Earth-Prime. (Earth-Prime eventually turned out not to be our Earth, unless we had a major nuclear war in the mid-1980s and no one told me.) Add to that worlds for the Charlton Comics characters that DC would later acquire, the "funny animal" characters that they'd insist on including in the DC continuity, such as Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew, and it becomes clear that the multiverse was at one point as ever-expanding as the "real" one.

The two Flashs compare notes in the first convergence between universes - from FLASH #123.

And even that would never have been a problem had the pesky little critters all stayed at home! (The superheroes, I mean, not the funny animals.) The JLA and JSA got into the habit of having a yearly reunion, which, for fans of the old timers such as myself, was often a source of great joy, and every now and again heroes like Captain Comet would end up on Earth-3 to face the likes of Power Ring, Ultraman, and Superwoman. A vast continuity had been created, one which the higher-ups at DC felt, for better or for worse, should be condensed into a single universe for ease of reading. But in order to create that new universe, they'd have to destroy all the other ones. Thus the stage was set for one of the most significant events in comics history, and one which has been
debated ever since. The end of the world was coming...several times over?

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