In the (imho, highly overrated) film Garden State, Natalie Portman hands Zach Braff her headphones and tells him, “You gotta hear this one song, it’ll change your life, I swear.” She’s referring to The Shins, a band I’ve had little to no interest in ever since I first heard of them, so I can’t exactly say that she’s right. Then again, I’m too old to have one song “change my life.” But I’m sure that there’s some song out there that at one point or another did change my life.
I can’t think of one right now because as much as I love music, I don’t know if a three-minute rock song is as earth-shattering as, say, a book. And I know that we all have that one book that we picked up, read, absorbed, and were ultimately changed by. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye … there’s a long list of books on a standard high school curriculum that offer that chance. But what if the book that changed your life wasn’t a piece of literature? What if it was a comic book? And what if it was a comic book that wasn’t Watchmen or Dark Knight?
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Crisis on Infinite Earths: the comic series that changed my life.
I’ve briefly mentioned a little bit of my comic collecting back story in that I remember my very first trip to Amazing Comics in Sayville and picking up an issue of Superman: The Secret Years. But that particular dalliance with the Man of Steel didn’t make me a regular comic reader, and neither did the six or seven months in 1987 and 1988 that I spent buying G.I. Joe and Transformers comics (as well as the occasional issue of Thundercats). That all simply made me aware of the comic shop in my area, which I would visit every once in a while to pick up a random Batman or Aliens comic.
Then, one day in the summer of 1990, I was hanging out with my neighbor, Matt. It was a pretty miserable day outside, so we bagged our usual wiffle ball game for a few rounds of Super Tecmo Bowl or Top Gun on his NES. At some point, we started rifling through a pile of comics that were in his room, and I managed to get my hands on a pretty beat-up copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths #12, which I can’t remember if he let me have for free or if I bought it off of him or traded some G.I. Joe comics for it. That’s probably irrelevant anyway because I went hom and read it cover to cover several times over, even though it was the final issue of the series (the banner over the title said “GIANT FINAL ISSUE SPECTACULAR!”) and I had never even heard of anything that went on in the other eleven issues. Shit, I didn’t even know who half of the characters were or what the hell anyone was even talking about when they mentioned Earth-2 or Earth-S or Earth-X.
But the issue was double-sized and featured an enormous battle between just about every super-hero imaginable and a massive villain named the Anti-Monitor who, apparently, was out to destroy the world. And I suppose that considering I saw the very end of the series before anything else, I probably didn’t need to collect issues #1-11 because I already was spoiled as to what happened, but as soon as I got some money I started diving into the back issue bins at the comic store and pieced together a little more than half of the series, buying #1, 4, 7, 9, 10, and 11.
Of course, at this point in history, the internet didn’t exist so I couldn’t just hop on eBay and place a bid on an auction for the rest. I had to check that back issue bin on a regular basis to see if Bob, the owner, had picked up any more. And let’s face it, back stock isn’t exactly something a distributor sends you; furthermore, when an issue of Alpha Flight is selling for $20 because Jim Lee drew the cover, a five-year-old crossover by DC Comics wasn’t exactly going to be in high demand. I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person who wanted the series.
I suppose that I could have gone to another comics store, but at 13 the furthest I ever went on my bike was across town to my friend John’s house to play hockey. Besides, I didn’t know where another comics shop was and my parents weren’t about to schlep me all over Long Island just to raid some back issue bins for one or two random comics. But Bob did have a want list program, and wound up heading to San Diego the following summer, where he procured the rest of the series.
I showed up at his store the day he got back from California, asking if he had them with the same enthusiasm my friends and I used to have when we would camp out before he opened the day the latest G.I. Joe issue came out. “Yes, I have your Crisis comics,” he said in a “give me a minute, kid” sort of way that I wouldn’t understand until I began raising a three-year-old. He gave me the price of each issue, I went home and somehow managed to get the money from my dad, and then put my new issues with my old ones and read the series cover to cover.
Written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by George Perez (with Dick Giordano, Mike DeCarlo, and Jerry Ordway on inks) and published from January-December of 1985, Crisis on Infinite Earths is a “let’s get as many characters involved as possible and blow a lot of shit up” story that has become pretty commonplace by now, but 25 years ago hadn’t really been seen before (unless you could Marvel’s Secret Wars, which … sorta does). The opening issues center around a being named The Monitor, who is a guardian of the positive-matter multiverse (a term that basically means a ton of parallel universes). He assembles a group of heroes to defend the multiverse from a giant wave of anti-matter that has swallowed planet after planet and universe after universe. The being responsible for this? The Anti-Monitor, the guardian of the anti-matter universe who has discovered that by destroying positive-matter universes, he grows stronger.
Eventually, The Monitor dies (issue 4) but that doesn’t spell the End of Everything because DC Comics’ heroes team up to face the Anti-Monitor three times. First, they attack him in the anti-matter universe and Supergirl nearly destroys him before dying herself (issue 7). Next, after fighting a massive war against an army of Lex Luthor and Brainiac-led villains that’s right out of the best Challenge of the Super-Friends episodes ever (issue 9), they travel to the dawn of time to stop the Anti-Monitor from changing history (issue 10). Finally, the Anti-Monitor gets completely fed up and pulls Earth into the anti-matter universe in an effor to destroy it (issue 12).
It’s an epic blockbuster that actually deserves the name, and what I’m still pretty amazed by is that Wolfman and Perez wove an enormous story that required very little prior knowledge, buy-in, or between-the-lines reading. You could have the entire series and just that and you wouldn’t need to buy anything else. As Bob explained it to me after I had finally stopped annoying him about getting the rest of the issues, the crossovers were the side dishes to the main book’s “meat and potatoes.”
And only with Crisis did that truly prove right. The crossovers for the series were mostly independent books that happened within the context of the series, spun out of the series, or just kind of mentioned it (which, I believe, is the origin of the term “red skies crossovers”), so I didn’t need them. Future crossovers like Legends, Millennium, Armageddon 2001 (which I’ll cover eventually), and War of the Gods, would more or less require you to buy most if not all of the crossovers, and I would make a half-assed attempt at a few of those tie-ins over the next decade, especially after I got the Official Crisis Cross-Over Index from Mile High Comics and was able to make a checklist of not only every crossover but every pre-Crisis appearance of The Monitor. I wound up with about 43 of the tie-ins, plus the indexes and a two-part “Mices on Infinite Earths” from Mighty Mouse that I managed to snag about $50 for on eBay last August.
Over the last twenty years, my devotion to certain titles has come and gone, but the love I had for Crisis never died. In 1998, DC released a slipcased hardcover edition that I preordered at a hefty sum of about $100. The hardcover had a wraparound cover drawn by Perez and Alex Ross and included two posters–one reproducing the cover of #1 and the other the cover of #7–that I promptly hung on my dorm room wall. Sadly, I don’t have those posters anymore because my my roommate during my fall semester that year smoked so much that everything in that room smelled like a pack of Camel wides. I’m not too upset about losing the issue #1 poster, but not having the poster to #7 is kind of a bummer because that would look awesome in my classroom. I’ve considered finding that poster on eBay but am torn between that, the DC Direct Anti-Monitor action figure, and the Superman: The Movie poster.
Anyway, between that and the fact that Batman Returns came out soon after I started frequenting the comics shop, I knew that I was taking my first step into a larger world. My nerdhood would blossom from here and I would honestly never look back.