So in yesterday’s post I discussed the problems with “revenge” endings that aren’t proportionate to the crime being punished. Today I’m tackling a more fundamental promise — when the buildup leads me to expect a spectacular finish and “spectacular” isn’t forthcoming.
Infinite Crisis (cover by George Perez, all rights to current holder) by Geoff Johns and Phil Jimenez was a 2005-6 comics series touted as a sequel to the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earth. Tat story was an apocalyptic battle in which the Anti-Monitor (demigod of an antimatter universe) attempts to absorb and destroy all the positive matter universes in DC’s multiverse. Stopping this eventually causes all the surviving universes to retroactively merge into on, rebooting much of DC’s old continuity. If anyone writing about comics uses the term “post-crisis” or “pre-crisis,” this is the crisis they’re talking about.
Like COIE, Infinite Crisis got a lot of lead-up in the regular DC books. As John Seavey puts it, everything is turning to crap: the world’s villains have united under Lex Luthor in a single organized gang, magic is running out of control, an orbiting AI Batman built to monitor the world’s superhumans (which is as un-Batman as his Iron Man outfit in Endgame) has transformed hundreds of humans into cyborg “OMACs” to kill superheroes and Wonder Woman has been caught on camera killing someone who would otherwise have mind-controlled Superman. And now the demoralized hero’s face the ultimate threat: Luthor’s parallel world counterpart Alex Luthor has a scheme to fix the world by recreating the multiverse, finding the perfect Earth and letting everything else die.
And then everything cuts loose in the seven issues of Infinite Crisis as the heroes take on the villains, the chaos, the OMACS and ultimate Alex and his allies, an aging parallel-Earth Superman and a petulant Superboy from yet another world. It seems set for something as spectacular as the original COIE … well if you can get past four or five issues of exposition explaining the multiverse, COIE and the continuity changes it wrought (there’s a lot of meta commentary on grimdark comics too). But then we finally get some action as Alex spends two issues trying to find the perfect world before his tech gets blown up and then the Joker kills him (because he’s the Joker. That’s supposed to explain it). Superboy kills a bunch of people (Johns considered him a great villain rather than a petulant twerp) then gets locked up. Reality is back to normal. Continuity has changed slightly (Wonder Woman is a founding member of the JLA, as she was pre-Crisis), Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman agree they can’t let things get this bad again. And we’re done.
Now I honestly don’t expect most comics, even those that promise “nothing will be the same again!” to wreak major changes on the status quo. But after a year of buildup, a series billed as a sequel to the game-changing COIE really needs to have a big payoff. Not just “everything’s back to normal.” Alex actually did recreate a small multiverse but we don’t learn that until months later, so it doesn’t help. There’s no real consequence to the character arcs — Wonder Woman having executed someone, Batman’s Orwellian project having destroyed hundreds of lives when innocent people became OMACs (they don’t even pay off down the road). It’s like LOTR if destroying the ring left everything just the same (well it’s nowhere near the quality of LOTR but you get my point).
Infinite Crisis, just by being set up to be epic, made promises to readers, whether or not DC meant to. Not delivering on the implied ending promise is a world of fail.