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Crisis on Invisible Earths!

First, David Fiore has a piece on superhero universe continuity, offering an alternative to the “(non)adherence to past events” axis used by fanboys and anti-fanboy-fanboys of all kinds. More useful to sophisticated readers is “awareness of tradition,” of which “(non)adherence to continuity” is only a part. And we can retire “retcon” in favor of “reinterpretation,” which is all it is. Once we get rid of the comics jargon, we can see that the interesting thing about continuity isn’t history, it’s historiography—it’s not how the account of Captain America’s life in Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America contradicts Jack Kirby’s Captain America that’s interesting as much as how Gruenwald’s interpretation of Cap relates to Jack Kirby’s and those of other creators who’ve worked with Cap. Good stuff.

Now, The Invisibles and Crisis on Infinite Earths. The worlds in Crisis are destroyed by a “wall of anti-matter,” a white wall the color of a blank sheet of paper progressing implacably across the universes. Just behind the wall of white comes a cloud of inky black, the Antimatter Universe itself filling in the void left by the destruction of each universe. Pages 119-120 (of the TPB edition published 2000) is the best demonstration of this. On page 119, in seven panels that stretch entire height of the page, an image of some planets in the universe containing Earth-1 or Earth-2 (it’s not clear) goes from full color to increasingly washed-out blue, and the panels become increasingly narrow, until the seventh “panel” is an absence, without even a panel border, a unmarked field of white paper from the right side of the sixth panel all the way to the edge of the page. Page 120 has nine panels in a regular grid—the first panel again defines a negative space of blank white paper with no panel border, the second and third panels show wisps of gray gas or smoke moving in from the corners of the negative space, and the second and third rows of panels show the space filling with smoke until the final panel is the opposite of the first, a rectangle of black. Well, well, what could all this mean? Let’s let the Harbinger explain the Crisis.

Please, listen to me, for our current crisis began ten billion years ago… The Earth was little more than cooling gases, showing none of the possibilities time would someday offer.

No, the Crisis began elsewhere… on the world called Oa— a world of immorals…

…of limitless hope

…and of endless possibilities.

As Harbinger speaks, her speech bubbles are superimposed on images of the planet Oa and its enlightend inhabitants.

The Oans lived in paradise. Their minds and bodies were things of perfection. In such a world one would expect a winding down… a lessening of continued advancement… but such was not the case. They strove always for improvement of the mind and spirit…

Their science has never been equaled… but there were some who used their powers for their own twisted desires.

Now just wait till you see what those “twisted desires” were…

[Concerned Oan:] “Krona, you know the legends…”

[Krona:] “Bah! Such stories are tales only fools would fear. I seek to learn the origin of the universe!”

[Krona:] “And you talk of the legends of destruction should I learn the truth. You are a dolt!”

Krona’s not much like the other Oans. Sure, he’s blue like the rest of them, but he’s larger, stockier, he looks like he could kick most of their asses, and like he wants to. He’s always sneering, and he’s always drawn in closeup from below, so we’re looking right up his nose and he looks like a pig.

Despite all pleas, Krona continued his ceasless labors…

[Krona:] “An image forming? A shadow… like a giant hand… with something… a cluster of stars inside.”

Then it happened. A terrible cosmic bolt splintered his machine and would have destroyed Krona, too, had he not been immortal…

It was not the end of the universe as the Oan legends foretold… but the beginning of something new…

Something terrible!

Something… evil…

The universe shuddered… and the evil antimatter universe was formed. But more than that—the single universe was replicated. What was one became many. At that moment was born both the antimatter universe and the multiverse.

There’s a “twisted desire” for you—wanting to know the origin of the universe makes you evil! This is an epistemological critique of the state of the pre-Crisis DC universe, as Geoff Klock argues in his book How to Read Superhero Comics and Why:

…by looking into origins, existence is splintered into a variety of mutually exclusive interpretations that have no center. The current state of the DC universe—all of the continuity problems and confusions and paradoxes—Umberto Eco’s oneiric climate—is the retroactive result of looking too closely for a guiding principle (p. 20).

Creators playing in the DC universe constantly reinterpret and build upon the past, and those reinterpretations were actually incorporated into the fictional world through the multiverse concept. Flash with Barry Allen isn’t just a reinterpretation of the Jay Garrick Flash comics, it actually takes place in the next universe over and Barry can vibrate through the boundary and have a chat with Jay. It’s like the theory of temporal physics in which every probabilistic event causes one timeline to split into several timelines, one for each probabilistic outcome. The problem is, how do you know which is the original timeline? How do you distinguish Truth from the countless interpretations of the Truth? Marv Wolfman and George Pérez think they have an resolution to this crisis: don’t look. If you think you know the truth and you look to verify it, you’ll just end up finding all these interpretations of the truth, and how do you know your truth isn’t just another interpretation, and if it is then how do you figure out which one of the needles in this stack of needles is the real truth? Nasty question. So let’s say… this needle is the real one, and all these other needles—let’s just have the Anti-Monitor get rid of those ones, shall we? Tragic to lose all those needles, but at least now we only have one, and that’s much more convenient.

[Insertion, added 9:46 UTC] And obviously, the advancing antimatter wall is encroaching nihihlism. According to Wolfman and Pérez, the inevitable result of a multiplicity of interpretations of the truth is that we are all consumed by nihilism—unless some band of heroes manages to stop the nihilists (usually “postmodernists,” outside of superhero comics) from infecting the rest of the world with their poisonous “There is no truth!” philosophy. The metaphor arguably breaks down when the heroes’ method for defeating nhilism is to punch it a lot… or does it break down? Maybe physical combat is a good metaphor for the epistemological battle to save Truth.

But what does Grant Morrison have to say about all this in The Invisibles? That’s the question for next time!