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And So the Universe Ended, Part 2

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

By Tony Whitt     March 20, 2002


The CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS comes to its exciting conclusion, but had it created even more trouble?
© 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.

The CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS claimed its share of casualties, including the then Supergirl, Superman's cousin Kara.

The decision came when the higher-ups at DC looked at the sprawling continuity that was the DC Multiverse and believed that something had to be done. Admittedly, for an industry looking for new customers, the idea of selling a multiverse to new readers had to be a bit daunting. How easy would it have been to explain the existence of two Supermen, two Wonder Women, and two Flash...persons? Thus, writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Pérez began work on a twelve-issue maxi-series which would destroy all the various subsidiary worlds - Earth-2, Earth-3, Earth-S, Earth-X, Earth-C, and every other Earth in the alphabet - and combine them into one world. This would have the added bonus of getting rid of some of the excess baggage of several characters' continuity and would allow the company to "reboot" several major players, such as Superman and Wonder Woman, in fresh and innovative ways.

The CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS promised to streamline DC continuity for good. Ah, the innocence of youth...

The plot of the CRISIS itself is...well, best left explained by more talented and detail-oriented people than myself. It's even better to read it in its entirety, though be warned: there's a lot going on in the maxi-series, and there are plenty of references to characters that had been long forgotten by that point (all the more reason to kill them off, I expect). At any rate, by the time the CRISIS ends, several characters are gone: the Barry Allen Flash (though he has not been expunged from the continuity, strangely enough); Superman's cousin Kara, better known as the original Supergirl; the Earth-2 Robin (the Earth-2 Batman had already died by that point); the Earth-2 Green Arrow; the Huntress; and a host of others. When the multiverses converged into one, however, several characters ceased to have any existence prior to their Silver Age incarnations. (No points for guessing which three members the JSA lost right off the bat - no pun intended.) Some characters, however, such as the Green Lanterns, had no problem existing in the same universe despite sharing the same name and differing origins. Ironically, once Wally West took over from Barry Allen, the one set of characters to remain relatively unaffected by the changes were the ones who started it all: the Flashes. Otherwise, it appeared that only a few revisions (and a lot of expunged characters) were all that were needed to create a single, solid world, named either Post-Crisis Earth or Earth AC (After Crisis).

As we said last time, a quick look at the recently re-released HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE reveals that Wolfman, Pérez, and their bosses at DC felt confident about the status of the new universe. Apart from the aforementioned oddity of having two virtually identical Hawkmen and Hawkwomen, the Universe they present seems to hold together fairly well. But like all good things, this would eventually come to an end...

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

Wonder Girl would go on to create major headaches for those trying to figure out the new post-CRISIS continuity, for instance. Wonder Woman, in addition to being fired as the JSA's secretary, was expunged from the early JLA continuity to allow her reintroduction ? but Wonder Girl was retained in the lineup of the original Teen Titans. How could you have a teenaged sidekick hero inspired by a heroine who had yet to be reintroduced? Errors like this occurred because other major heroes in the DC canon would also be re-introduced after the CRISIS-most notably, for instance, John Byrne would revamp the Superman mythos from scratch-and their new continuities had to be made to fit those of characters they had worked with before. Sadly, in some cases, that simply wasn't going to happen.

The Legion of Super-Heroes were probably the worst victims from the start-the group's entire continuity was founded on the existence of Superboy, a character who never existed according to post-CRISIS continuity and the reworking of the character by John Byrne as "the Last Son of Krypton". Writer Paul Levitz eventually finessed his way around this problem: the Superboy the Legion idolized was soon revealed to be the only hero in a pocket universe, which in turn was the creation of their greatest nemesis, the Time Trapper. The only problem with that explanation, of course, was that the Legion had traveled back in time to meet the adult Superman in the past, and he in turn had visited them in the future, all the while mentioning his happy days as a teenager in their company. And what about the character of Mon-El, who supposedly landed on Earth in Superboy's time, was poisoned by lead, and then was placed into the Phantom Zone-a Phantom Zone which also no longer existed according to post-CRISIS continuity?

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

Ah, but the fun didn't stop there. HAWKWORLD soon would have such damaging effects on Hawkman continuity that the character's history would have to be redrawn again and again. Dick Grayson, in adopting the name Nightwing, had named himself after the alter ego Superman had taken as a non-superpowered crimefighter in the Bottle City of Kandor-a city which, according to the CRISIS, had never survived the destruction of Krypton. And what about all those other time travelers besides the Legion going around remembering events that now had never happened? Sadly, these weren't the only examples, as previous character histories clashed with the newly revamped ones and writers continued to make references to events that had never happened. The CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS had itself created a crisis in finite continuity. It was a good thing that the new planet wasn't named "Earth-Omega," as this certainly wouldn't be the last one. It became clear that yet another universal reboot, one which would take care of all the remaining inconsistencies once and for all, was necessary. This one, however, would be a crisis in time, forming the foundation of the crossover series ZERO HOUR. But that is a crisis for another time?

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