Infinite Crisis: Universe as Product

Crisis on Infinite Earths (COIE), published April 1985 to March 1986 was one of the quintessential and most influential comic book series of the Event (What is the Event? Read the introduction here.). It is overshadowed by comics like Watchmen or The Dark Knight, but it is arguably more influential than both.

What is remarkable about COIE is not formal or narrative innovation, but an intensification and scope of the endeavor of super-hero comic books. It is more appropriate to speak of COIE as an endeavor rather than as a specific comic book, though it is that as well. It is more important and influential AS an endeavor than as a comic book narrative.

If we map COIE onto our Event Art/Narrative, Experimental/Traditional continuum, it fits near the center. The art is mostly traditional, though it has a few interesting experimental traits. The writing is also mostly traditional, though again, the scope of the endeavor pushes the writing into interesting conceptual territory.

In a nutshell, COIE was a 12-issue limited series[1] that redefined the DC universe. Until COIE, DC Comics consisted of a somewhat loose collection of characters, each with their own worlds, that were largely bracketed and separated. That separation took place sometimes simply by ignoring the other titles and heroes and sometimes by being placed in a different universe (Earth 2, Earth X, etc.).

COIE was not the first of these kinds of crossover stories. There are debates on what constitutes the first proper crossover, but at least since the 50s characters started to occasionally appear in each other’s titles. Before that, many multi-character titles, like (Marvel Mystery Comics, 1939) which featured the Submariner and the Human Torch would feature the characters together on the cover, though their respective stories would remain separate. Team comics were common, like All Winners Comics (1941 - 47) for example, but they simply featured a variety of characters. The stories themselves did not crossover from title to title.

COIE was not even the first crossover event. An early precedent for COIE was Contest of Champions (CoC), a 3-issue (Jun-Aug, 1982) Marvel mini-series where a villain literally zaps most of the major superheroes from the regular context of their respective titles, into a new context (a huge spaceship) where they’re expected to perform tasks based on some larger context the heroes were up until this moment unaware. That formula would be repeated countlessly in future events.

COIE was not even the first multi-issue, full-spectrum crossover event of the Event. Marvel’s Secret Wars (SW) has that distinction. The story of SW takes the CoC formula and extended it to the full line of Marvel comics. CoC was contained in the 3-issues of the mini-series. SW was a 12-issue mini-series and it crossed over into every major Marvel title. The events of SW were consequential, although largely cosmetic. For example, Spider-Man gained a new all-black costume; or the Thing temporarily quit the Fantastic Four. It was a kind of non-event-event. Every hero was mobilized, but in the end, Marvel did not want to mess with its valuable superhero universe too much and left everything largely intact.

We must do another short detour before getting properly into COIE. Until COIE, DC was a loose collection of characters, each with their worlds, that were largely bracketed and separated[2]. As mentioned above, that separation often took place sometimes simply by ignoring the other titles and heroes, sometimes by being placed in a different universe (Earth 2, Earth X, etc.). Additionally, the DC ‘Universe’ was set in a fictional America, with fictional cities like Metropolis, or Gotham. These locales had no counterparts in the real world[3].

In contrast, since its inception in the ’60s, Marvel Comics titles were increasingly interconnected, forming a coherent, unified Universe. Marvel heroes and villains routinely ran into each other in crossovers[4], and those events would have consequences on future events. In another contrast to DC, the Marvel Universe was set in the ‘real’ world: the real USA, centered on New York. New York was the home of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Daredevil, etc. Each lived in distinct real NY neighborhoods. All this created the impression of Marvel Universe as a unified world—with continuity and history—that increasingly became a distinct value proposition to the readers.

Marvel even invented the No Prize, which urged fans to help police the Marvel continuity. Whenever a mistake was found, the fans were urged to come up with a solid explanation that explained why it WASN’T a mistake, thus earning the fan a No Prize[5]. Marvel fans were recruited and trained to be continuity cops. Clear continuity and consistency became equated with quality.

DC, with its much longer history, had a stable of popular characters, but no stable Universe. Many popular characters like Superman have grown into largely self-sufficient families of titles (Superman, Action Comics, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, etc.) which had little contact with the other titles. The contact was largely limited to occasional inter-title crossovers, or crossover-specific-titles like Brave & Bold, or multi-character titles like Justice League of America.

Marvel was in ascendance as a company, and in the 70’s it passed DC as the biggest publisher of comics. The consistency of the Marvel Universe was often presented as the reason. It was the cool new thing. This is what fans wanted.

DC was aware of Marvel’s success and many of their writers (many of whom had worked for both houses) would attempt to use the Marvel formula of continuity within their titles. But much of the DC universe lore[6] was a confused, inconsistent amalgamation; with strange duplications scattered over multiple narrative universes. In his introduction to COIE, Marv Wolfman, used Atlantis as an example of the confusing nature of DC at the time:

In the past, editor A may have created an Atlantis for their comics, while editor B may have created a very different Atlantis for theirs. So, Lori Lamaris’ Atlantis in Superman bore no resemblance to Aquaman’s or Travis Morgan’s, or the Atlantis of the Sea Devils may have swum across, or the one Cave Carson may have stumbled into, or the one Batman… well, you see the picture.

In that sense, the fictional crisis in COIE was also a real crisis for DC Comics the company. With an unusual candor, the first couple of COIE issues are accompanied by several texts from DC Corporate that illuminated why they’re destroying the DC Universe. The real-world corporate crisis becomes the fictional Crisis of the Multiverse[7].

In the DC Universe, the origin of the DC multiverse is also corporate. It is usually dated to the 123rd issue of The Flash comic book (September 1961). Here the popular Silver Age Flash met his predecessor Golden Age Flash on a parallel Earth (henceforth known as Earth-2). The name ‘multiverse’[8] was not yet used at that point, but the concept was born. While it was fun for the two characters to meet, it was also a way for DC to capitalize on ‘old’ largely discarded characters and give them a new lease on life. Earth-2 became home for the Golden Age DC universe and continued to function and exist in that fashion until COIE.

The concept of the multiverse was steadily developed by other creators. Steve Englehart and Len Wein, Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, and Gerry Conway were some of the early architects of the multiverse concept that became increasingly deployed by both Marvel and DC throughout the ’70s and ’80s. As early as in 1972, Conway, Englehart, and Wein even crafted an unofficial metafictional crossover spanning titles from both companies[9].

An important theoretical contribution to conceptualizing the narrative logic of the multiverse, and of the ‘reality principle’ was the Omniverse magazine. Omniverse was a fanzine edited by Mark Gruenwald that lasted for 2 issues (#1 in 1976, #2 in 1978). It featured a stellar cast of contributors: besides Gruenwald, it also featured art and writing from Dean Mullaney, Kim Thompson, Jerry Ordway (COIE's inker!), Peter Gillis, and many others. Gruenwald coined the titular term, ‘omniverse,’ to describe the multitude of narrative universes in existence, and for the possibilities of them co-existing in a kind of narrative master-universe—omniverse—where anything was possible.

Omniverse billed itself as the “journal of fictional reality.” Its articles examined various aspects of superhero storytelling, from elegant pseudo-scientific rationalizations of how the various superhero powers work (Where does the energy come from? Where does the mass go?), to reviewing comics according to a ‘reality principle’ where the quality is measured by how well the comic ‘adds to the general knowledge of the fictional world’. The ambition was lofty, but the reviews largely boiled down to continuity-policing. For example, Secret Society of Super-Villains #13 gets a “Reality Rating: B.” “Despite vagaries here and there, this story contains no real continuity problems.”

Omniverse was an important, if little known, precursor to COIE. It had identified, and critiqued, many of the issues that plagued the DC Universe. It even created the multiple overlapping-worlds graphic that became a kind of logo/talisman used throughout COIE (or were they independently developed?). I do not know if anyone involved with COIE had read Omniverse, but it seems likely.

It even included a letter from Roy Thomas who wanted to make sure to let Omniverse readers know he has “probably done more for/with/to the concept of parallel worlds than anyone in comics except Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger (in their different ways), I feel almost as if I helped bring Omniverse into being.” He goes on to state that, “the parallel-world concept, along with the ‘Marvel Universe’ thing (a term coined first, incidentally, by a fan, not by Stan or me), is naturally what created the need – and need there is! – for Omniverse […]  one of the very few zines I’ve seen in years which, if I were still a fan, I’d be interested in receiving and contributing to.”[10]

It was probably inevitable. The same year that issue 2 of Omniverse (More on Omniverse Mag) came out, Mark Gruenwald was hired by Marvel as an editor and, later, a writer. He became one of the key architects of tighter Marvel Universe continuity. In 1982 he co-wrote the above-mentioned Contest of Champions, and later wrote Squadron Supreme (Sep 1985 – Aug 1986), a quintessential multiversal story, that deploys pseudo-DC heroes in the Marvel universe, via a parallel Earth-712[11]. The comic shared the stands with COIE for part of its run. As DC was destroying its multiverse, Marvel was developing theirs. Gruenwald was also one of the key creators of the New Universe, Marvel's true answer to COIE. More on that later.

By the 80s the concept of the multiverse was well established. It had been deployed many times, in many titles[12]. In fact, it has been baked into the very fabric of both Marvel and DC universes. Marvel had the benefit of a shorter timeline, with the 2nd generation of writers who grew up reading DC and were committed to cross-title continuity: to building a unified universe. Marvel had a multi-uni-verse, that was semi-coherently conceptualized and deployed almost from its inception.

DCs sprawling multiverse was older and much more developed than Marvel’s. It was largely conceptualized in a very ad hoc manner without an overarching vision. Decades of flimsy discontinuous-continuity were mashed-up together by multiple generations of writers and artists into an unwieldy assemblage. In comparison to the dynamism of Marvel[13], DC seemed dusty, old-timey, and out of touch. Sales reflected that impression. DC needed an event, a rebrand.

COIE arrived on the stands only a few months after Secret Wars. There were some accusations of plagiarism, but they’re not credible. DC had been already working on COIE for several years prior to SW. 1985 became the year of the massive crossover. It was an explosion that still reverberates until today.

The basic story of COIE is not very complicated. Two cosmic entities, Monitor, and Anti-Monitor struggle for power over the multiverse. Anti-Monitor is the antimatter, dark mirror image of the Monitor. Both are Machiavellian manipulators, one ostensibly for good, the other for evil. Both deploy their recruits to do their bidding. Though eventually, Anti-Monitor gets his hands dirty by directly engaging in the conflict. It is a classic good vs. evil tale, albeit played out on a cosmic scale, with a cast of billions.

However, the execution of that basic story is a LOT more complicated. Since COIE needed to remake the entire DC comics line, every corner of the DC universe had to be engaged in some way. This is accomplished by having the two antagonists summon their champions (a now-familiar formula used in CoC and SW) and deploy them to the various battlegrounds (Earth-1, Earth-2, etc.). The cast of characters numbers in hundreds, thousands are implied, billions are saved, and trillions die.

Every time Anti-Monitor destroys a positive matter universe (with antimatter, of course) he becomes more powerful. The Monitor in turn weakens. Within the first couple of issues, we witness the wholesale destruction of several universes. Anti-Monitor is now almost all-powerful. Only a handful universes stand in his way.

it is impossible to convey the sheer complexity of the endeavor. Monitor & Anti-Monitor have plans, very complicated plans. They recruit all of the main heroes: The Flash, Batman, Supergirl, Green Lanterns, Hawkman, Teen Titans, etc. No less than three versions of Superman are present. It is futile to list them all. Doing so would be longer than this article.

Besides the star cast, Marv Wolfman plumbs the far corners of the DC universe for the most obscure heroes and villains[14]. Characters are dredged up not only from the main timeline of the events but also from past and future timelines, as well as the parallel worlds… all of which must be destroyed. For example, one of the key COIE characters is Alexander Luthor, son of Lex Luthor from Earth-3.[15]

Throughout the story superheroes still engage in traditional superhero activities: saving regular non-superpowered humans. These parts always feel like a slog. These classic super-situations are truncated, with victims and situations feeling like stock footage in an old low budget disaster movie. They are here because the genre demands they be here. These scenes work differently in individual titles, where the hero is a uniquely powerful presence. Here the sheer quantity of superheroes makes regular humans appear superflous.

Monitor’s plan to stop Anti-Monitor goes wrong and the next several issues consist of the heroes trying to hold ground as Anti-Monitor destroys more and more remaining universes. Eventually, only five Earths remain. They are stabilized by Alexander Luthor in a weird overlapping multiversal-state as elements from all the remaining Earths manifest everywhere simultaneously. Temporary victories, retreats, reversals abound, as the heroes battle Anti-Monitor into a stalemate.

Marv Wolfman shines when it comes to the cosmic stuff. He really relishes the comic book archaeology, plumbing forgotten realms, identifying key cosmic events, and reanimating stale characters. He tears and re-stitches the existing fabric of reality into a new streamlined continuity. How often is a writer given the opportunity to be the destroyer of worlds?

COIE is the Alpha and the Omega. The sequel and the prequel in one. One of the key images in the book is the Hand of Creation at the beginning of the Universe. The Hand is first glimpsed by Oan scientist Krona (Green Lantern #40). But, this activity, the viewing of the Hand—the origin of the universe—is taboo. The attempt to do so by Krona breaks the taboo and unleashes the first bifurcation of the universe into two. It is the event that gives birth to the multiverse, the Monitor, and the Anti-Monitor. Wolfman places the reader in Krona’s place. We have a direct and unobstructed view of the birth of a new universe. COIE transgresses its own internal taboos and reveals that which has hereto been forbidden.

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek mused that when God created everything, he never counted on humans being clever enough to plumb the mysteries of the atom. As we get deeper and deeper into the quantum realm, we discover a fundamental lack—God never thought to design this ‘level’ of reality. He never thought we would ever get this far. Zizek compares this to areas inside of video games that are not meant to be playable. They exist as pure surfaces with nothing on the inside. They exist as pure surfaces projecting depth where none exists. They are ontological sutures to create the illusion of an immersive totality.[16]

Until COIE, the Hand functioned in a similar way. Whose hand was it? What is it doing there? How did it get there? It never mattered before. It functioned purely as a surface-image pregnant with meaning, reflecting infinite possibilities… but don’t look too closely.

Marv Wolfman looks closer and makes us look too. He scratches Krona’s itch. He looks deeper and deeper. He opens the quantum realms of the superhero universe… and finds… more superheroes[17]. The Hand at the beginning of time, we now know, was the hand of Anti-Monitor, who—in the struggle against Earth's mightiest heroes—arrives at the beginning of the universe to destroy it. But what Krona was never able to see, was the arrival of another hand, the hand of the Spectre, a mystical/cosmic hero, made equal in power to Anti-Monitor by the combined energies of all other mystical heroes.

We reach the heat death of the superhero universe… all energies exhausted, all heroes drained, their remaining positive energies collapse into the Spectre… who clasps the mysterious Hand of creation—Anti-Monitors hand—and so commences a cosmic superhero fight—the last superhero fight and the first superhero fight—at the beginning and at the end of the multiverse. Their energies collide into a super-powerful singularity that destroys all reality… and explodes into a new universe.

The very next page (in the next issue, #11) opens with a second beginning of the universe. The language is mythical, verging on biblical: “In the beginning, there were many, a multiversal infinitude […] what had been many, became one.”

The entire DC continuity is reset. Everyone—except the few heroes present at the moment of destruction/creation of the old universe—has lost all memory of the harrowing nightmares of the previous issues. The in-the-know characters assemble to piece together the mangled, mashed-up continuities, and to console several characters who are now stranded, out-of-continuity, without their original universes. Notably, Earth-2 Superman goes to work at the Daily Planet, only to realize in horror, that his own universe perished in the Spectre/Anti-Monitor cosmic wrestling match. The new DC universe is full of paradoxes.

Anti-Monitor too survives the destruction of the multiverse, and now threatens the new singular universe. This time it seems the heroes know what to do. They execute Monitor’s original plan almost-flawlessly. Alexander Luthor finally plays his pivotal role as a Jesus-like entity that is made up of matter & antimatter. He opens a portal to the Anti-Monitor’s antimatter universe, where a hand-picked team of heroes finally dispatches the menace. In the process, the stranded Earth-2 Superman, and Superboy sacrifice themselves… and get written out of continuity.

What follows is a quick mop-up, as new heroes are born, and others are buried. The final page is an epilogue featuring Psycho Pirate, one of Anti-Monitor agents, and a key COIE villain. We find him locked up in a padded cell at Arkham Asylum, his face distorted by a horrified grimace, as he remembers the good old days: “I’m the only one left who remembers the infinite Earths. You see, I know the truth. […] You see, I like to remember the past because those were better times than now.” His doctors mock him, “Multiverses, thousands of universes dying… millions of worlds perishing, and out of it all, a new Earth is born. Ever hear anything like that before? What a shame. A real shame.”

At that moment he is revealed to be the real stand-in for the readers. We still remember those old universes. This is the trick DC wanted to pull-off. How to destroy 50 years of legacy content, without alienating the loyal audience that made all that content popular and relevant in the first place. In other words, how to re-brand, how to streamline your product lines, and how to update your characters to the demands of a then-modern audience. If you are one of the many readers that were not onboard, tough luck. You must be ‘crazy’ to want to go back to that mess.

COIE was drawn by George Perez. Stylistically, his art conforms to the classic superhero realism practiced by artists like Neal Adams, John Byrne, Curt Swan, etc. Indeed, Perez should be counted as one of the great practitioners of that mode. What sets him apart from the pack is his almost superhuman ability to draw densely packed panels full of distinct individual characters. This ability made him a perfect fit for superhero teams, and indeed, Perez became famous for drawing superhero teams. He was a long-time artist on (and co-creator—with Marv Wolfman—of) The New Teen Titans[18], one of DC’s most popular titles at the time.

Perez is also one of the masters of comic book maximalism[19]. His art is flashy, showy, densely packed with information, and effortless in execution. It’s almost a visual wall of noise, overwhelming and intense. He makes it look easy. Perez was very consciously deploying a maximalist aesthetic. “Why use three lines when you can use TEN!” Perez once said at a comics festival[20]. Perez depicted Anti-Monitor's destruction of universes as a vast encroaching wave of blankness, the perfect negative space for his maximalist rendering.

COIE should be considered a team book; the biggest team book of all. The sheer density of information and characters is difficult to convey. The many years Perez spent on Teen Titans paid huge benefits. Each page is tightly packed with panels, most pages routinely have 10-12-15 and sometimes more panels. Perez handles it with consummate skill and an eye for densely woven narrative. Despite the density of information, it always skillfully designed for maximum readability, with only occasional missteps. It is no mean feat. George Perez was the perfect artist for COIE.

COIE was a solution to a difficult problem. A product like a superhero universe, one that is designed for an audience of a certain age,[21] inevitably runs into a problem of the audience aging out of the product. Conversely, a new audience is difficult to onboard with multi-decade complicated continuity as potential baggage. Inevitably characters must be reinvented to fit the tastes and mores of new audiences. How to preserve decades of old (but valuable) continuity, and start fresh in one go?

COIE was the first and last to answer that question and an attempt to have your cake and eat it. Marvel never followed suit in a similar makeover.

The enforcement tighter continuity created an invisible limit to the kinds of stories that could be told. Paradoxically, the multiverse returned with a vengeance. DCs most interesting titles after COIE tended to be for mature readers (The Question, Green Arrow, Blackhawk, The Shadow). Most of these titles, though ostensibly inside of official DC continuity, were informally bracketed to be outside of it (and rarely crossed over into the main DC timeline). More similar titles followed. This eventually led to the creation of the Vertigo imprint, and many Vertigo titles were essentially post-COIE reboots of very obscure DC characters (Sandman, Doom Patrol, Shade the Changing Man), new creations for mature audiences (Preacher), or characters made popular by Alan Moore (Swamp Thing, Hellblazer). All of these were also largely left outside the main continuity.

Besides Vertigo, both Marvel & DC would create a variety of imprints and ‘parallel universes’ (New Universe, The Ultimates line, DC Elseworlds titles, etc.) that allowed them to start fresh (and to lure new readers), while their main timeline continued more-or-less uninterrupted.

In the end COIE (and SW and other event series) succeeded too well. It did not usher in a new consistent continuity—a new normal—but the exact opposite: the ongoing addiction to continuity-shattering, multi-issue crossover events. A permanent crisis if you will. The massive crossover event is now the new normal. When was the last time there was a year free from one of these endless continuity-disrupting events?

Each subsequent crossover event brings diminishing returns. If every event changes everything, then everything after every event is a rerun. It becomes primarily an opportunity to reimagine old characters as new. This led to the trend for the grim & gritty makeovers (influenced by the success of Watchmen and The Dark Knight among others) that consumed superhero comics for a long time after The Event.

COIE also helped solidify a business model: narrative universe as product. The idea of a universe, of multiple interlocking titles that shared a common narrative space, which emerged out of decades of comic book continuity, reified into a specific business model during The Event (1985-87). Here one of the key characters of this process is Jim Shooter. Shooter was Marvel’s Editor in Chief from 1978-1987. During his tenure, Marvel fixed its shipping problems, changed it’s compensation models, and generally streamlined its editorial process, and really tightened the reigns on continuity. Shooter recognized the ‘universe’ as Marvel’s (and by extension DCs) unique value proposition.

He was instrumental in conceptualizing the Secret Wars (and its sequel Secret Wars II) crossover events. Secret Wars was created primarily to sell toys of Marvel Characters. Shooter correctly intuited that a story that bound all the characters together, one that foregrounded their interconnectedness, would make each character more valuable, and would sell more toys (collect them all).

But Shooter didn’t stop at crossover events. By the end of his tenure at Marvel, he (along with Mark Gruenwald, Archie Goodwin, Tom DeFalco, and others) created The New Universe (I will probably write a full column about it in the future). It was a new narrative universe, with new superheroes, several interlocked titles, and a new unified approach. New Universe was grounded in a world that was exactly like ours until 1987… when a mysterious cosmic ‘white event’ caused changes that allowed for the emergence of superheroes. It was supposed to be a more ‘realistic’ universe with tighter continuity rules, and permanence to its internal history (major event would have cross-title repercussions and permanence).

The New Universe didn’t last long. Within a few years, its titles were canceled, and eventually, some of its more popular concepts and characters were absorbed into Marvel Universe. By then, Jim Shooter was already ousted from Marvel and was developing even more new universes. At first, he attempted to buy Marvel, when that bid failed, he co-founded Voyager communications and launched the Valiant Comics universe in 1991. His career over the next couple of decades would be a series of attempts to launch other superhero universes (Defiant, Broadway, etc.).

For the shared universe model to function, it needs critical mass. The creation of new universes in comics proved difficult, if not impossible. Jim Shooter, arguably one of the key personalities in the development of this model, could never create another as successful as the original big two.

The creation of Image comics was a side-evolution of that model. A shared universe with creator-owned properties. Even that attempt ended up fracturing into parallel tracks, and eventually evolved into a publishing model for creator-owned properties.

The model of a shared universe continued to spread. Before Star Wars returned to screens in the late ’90s, it developed a Star Wars Expanded Universe, with books and comics that extended the mythos and effectively created a Marvel-like universe with new characters, a continuity, etc. Other film properties like Aliens, or Terminator, attempted similar feats with less success. Star Trek and Stargate universe-franchises succeeded on TV. Once Marvel Studios proved the formula could work cinematically, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it seemed like every media conglomerate wanted their own shared universe.

A lot of the energy for shared universes has left comics for TV, film, games. There are other successful comic books based on shared universes (Star Wars, Star Trek, and other franchises) but these tend to be emanations from another medium. To see the general fall of superhero comics as a cultural force is to compare Secret Wars events to the comics tied to Star Wars or the Marvel cinematic universes. Secret Wars was THE event, and various toys were the merchandise. Now the comics ARE the merchandise of the cinematic events.

The crossover event comics of The Event: COIE, SW, New Universe, etc. helped shape popular media for decades to come. COIE among them was unique in its scope and ambition. The recent Infinity Wars films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe can perhaps be seen as a modern equivalent.

NEXT: Grendel 1-12 & Devil by the Deed GN.

[1] Limited series are a 1970s innovation. Until that moment most comic book series were assumed to be ‘unlimited’ i.e. that they would continue indefinitely until the audience lost interest in the title. In the 70’s the limited series was introduced to help diversify the offerings, test unusual concepts, and offer creators an opportunity to work in a novel-like capacity, i.e. a story that had a beginning, middle, and end. Unlike the continuing series, which worked more like soap operas, with endless intertwining plots and subplots.

[2] Think of the many title families. Superman had: Action Comics, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen. Captain Marvel (later renamed Shazam) with a variety of related titles. Batman with Batman, Detective Comics, Brave & Bold. Etc.

[3] Though obviously Gotham and Metropolis were both based largely on New York.

[4] Crossover is a story that begins in one comic book title and continues into another. First crossovers were short, between two distinct titles. The 80s would usher in the multi-issue crossover, where a single story would spill over into many titles; sometimes taking over the company’s entire publishing line.

[5] No Prize was in fact nothing. A blank letter an empty envelope. A cheeky, and fitting reward for creating convoluted rationalizations for editorial mistakes.

[6] I use lore consciously here, as distinct from history. Lore is more mythical and contains a lot of self-contradictions. History is methodical and tries to reconcile those contradictions.

[7] What is a ‘multiverse’? The multiverse in comics is a fictional construct that posits that there exist multiple parallel and independent universes that are distinct from each other. Each universe has its own history and timeline. It is non-trivial to travel between the universes. It usually requires the existence of superpowers (like Flash’s superspeed which allows him to vibrate between universes) or super-science that can puncture the barriers between universes. The concept has existed in philosophy at least since Greek Atomists. In the 50’s it was popularized in Science via Schrodinger, and in fiction via Moorcock.

[8] Does anybody know when the word ‘multiverse’ was first used in comics?

[9] The crossover was unofficial and spanned Amazing Adventures #16, Justice League of America #103, and concluded in Thor #207.

[10] Game recognizes game.

[11] Squadron Supreme was originally created by Roy Thomas in Avengers #85–86 (February–March 1971)  had versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and many others. Although initially bracketed in an alternate universe, eventually they were brought into the main Marvel continuity.

[12] One odd example is Atari Force. Written by Gerry Conway, with art by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. It is essentially a branding exercise for the Atari corporation and is loosely based on one of its video game properties. The story revolves around a team of adventurers traversing a multiverse of multiple universes. The main conflict is between twinned individuals; mirror images of themselves. The final confrontation take the form of an anti-matter explosion that destroys one of the universes. It’s remarkably similar to the main beats of COIE, though without the accompanying ecstatic mythopoetic grandeur. More about Atari Force similarities here.

[13] Marvel’s 80’s dominance was in no small part due to the controversial Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter. His tenure spanned from 1978 to 1987 and is credited with both a revitalized Marvel and internal strife.

[14] Anthro, various Western heroes, etc.

[15] Earth-3 is a parallel world where classic Superman villain, Lex Luthor, is that earth’s sole hero fighting the Crime Syndicate, an evil version of the Justice League of America.

[16] This is a paraphrase from one of his lectures. I can’t find the link to the correct video at the moment.

[17] I wrote more about the fractal self-similarity of superheroes here.

[18] The New Teen Titans was also written by Marv Wolfman. Wolfman co-created the team after leaving Marvel.

[19]Maximalism: I’m importing the term from literary studies, and defining maximalism in comics in broad terms, and specifically as it relates to the on-page presence of the artwork. Examples of maximalism: 1.) Quantity: large amount overwhelming detail: Geof Darrow, Hard Boiled. 2.) Depth: a lot of secondary details, jokes, etc. scattered in the panels that may or may not related to the main narrative: Will Elder, Mad Magazine. Other definitions of comic book maximalism exist, for example: 3.) Scope: massive length, scope, breadth of influences of the narrative: Dave Sim, Cerebus (this definition was developed by Tim Callahan).  Many other examples exist of course. The maximalist tendency has been in comics from the beginning and can be traced from Windsor McCay, to S. Clay Wilson, to Gary Panter, to contemporary practitioners like James Stokoe. This is by no mean an exhaustive definition, rather notes towards one. More on Maximalism here.

[20] As related by Rob Clough.

[21] Age specificity and genre lock-in was a problem for comics in general… along with the encroaching competition for attention from video games. Another way these problems were being addressed was to make comics for older readers. The ‘comics are not for kids anymore’ headline/slogan became ubiquitous during The Event. That proposition never worked well within the context of superheroes, although it has been successfully done on a few titles like Watchmen or The Dark Knight.