‘Four Color Memories’ – by K. Patrick Glover – Installment the Fourteenth, In Which a Crisis is Brewing


‘Four Color Memories’ by K. Patrick Glover.

K. Patrick Glover is the writer of the webcomic The Invisible Skein, which is illustrated by Amanda Hayes.

‘Four Color Memories’ is a column about the comics of our youth, full of nostalgia for the days when heroes were heroes and villains were villains, before the Avengers were DARK and before the Lanterns were BLACK.

To see a directory of previous installments of the column, please click here!

Installment the Fourteenth

In Which a Crisis is Brewing

Okay, before we get started on this one, you might want to get yourself some aspirin, maybe a cocktail, something to calm the nerves. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you.

What we’re going to do today is take a look at DC’s history. We’ll look at how multiple earths led to a Crisis of epic proportions, how Marv Wolfman and George Perez put all the pieces back together again, and maybe wonder a little bit about why DC is mucking it all up.

Our story starts, long before I was born, in 1938, with the first appearance of Superman in a book called Action Comics #1. He was wildly successful, of course, and the editors at DC (then called, I believe, National Allied Publications) knew a good thing when they saw it, and decided to bring us some other super-heroes.

Characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Green Arrow - they all appeared in forms very familiar to us today; but we also had the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Atom - these characters were very different from what became their Silver Age counterparts. For example, Green Lantern used magic, not some gift from a dying alien, and Hawkman was human, not an alien himself.

The fans longed to see these characters interacting, and DC was happy to oblige, eventually bringing them, and others, together as the Justice Society of America. It was a solid concept, well executed and it even served as a morale booster in the darkest days of World War II. But, like all trends, the age of heroes came to pass.

All Star Comics (home of the aforementioned Justice Society) eventually became All Star Western, and many of the other super-hero books faded from view. DC still published adventures of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but the rest of its heroes just seemed to slip away.

At least until 1956, when DC re-introduced The Flash in the 4th issue of Showcase. The problem was, it wasn’t the same Flash. This one had a different costume, a different personality, and even a different name. Gone was Jay Garrick, in was Barry Allen. In fact, the original Flash is mentioned in the book as a comic book character that Barry had read about!

The new Flash was shortly followed by a new Green Lantern and a new Hawkman, both very different from their original counterparts. A special issue of The Flash (‘The Flash of Two Worlds’) attempted to sort this out. It posited two worlds existing on different vibrational frequencies, occupying the same space. Each world was similar, but different. The newly created characters occupied one world, the original, Golden Age characters occupied another. Eventually we would call the world of the current characters ‘Earth 1‘, and that of the oldies but goodies would be ‘Earth 2‘.

Sounds like a clever solution, doesn’t it? Yeah, time for that aspirin, now.

See, unlike Flash and Green Lantern, some characters like Superman and Batman had been published continuously since the 30s. In their older appearances they could interact with the ‘Earth 2′ characters, now they interacted with the ‘Earth 1′ characters. The fix, if you could call it that, was to say that there was a Superman and a Batman (and a Wonder Woman) on each Earth, and to simply take an arbitrary point in the characters’ series and call it the demarcation point. Everything that happened before this issue happened to the ‘Earth 2′ version, everything that happened after that issue happened on ‘Earth 1′.

Got that?

Everything would probably have been fine if DC had just left well enough alone. We all know the odds of that happening, right?

So they started letting the characters from each Earth meet up on a regular basis. They had an annual tradition of a Justice Society / Justice League (‘the Earth 1′ incarnation of the Society) team-up, where one team crossed to the others’ world to help them with an unprecedented Crisis. (See, there’s that word popping up already).

Then they started creating more Earths.

It started innocently enough. They wanted a world with an evil version of the League, so, let’s just make another Earth. Oh, and they bought the rights to Fawcett’s old super-hero line. Can’t just blend them in and say they’ve been there all along, let’s make another Earth for them.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

And by the early 80s everything was such a clusterfuck that nobody really knew what was going on. Sitting on the rack at the comic shop you could pick up Justice League or New Teen Titans (both ‘Earth 1′ books), or sitting right next to them, with no warning label or anything, All Star Squadron or Infinity Inc. (both ‘Earth 2′ books). Sometimes the books had variations of the same characters!

How was a poor kid supposed to make sense of it without a class or something?

So one day Marv Wolfman walks into editorial at DC and says, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. I can fix it. All of it.”

Unfortunately, we’re about out of time for the week. So be back here next time and I’ll let you know just what Marv did, and what the repercussions were.

Oh, yes, there were repercussions….

K. Patrick Glover

Related posts:

  1. ‘Four Color Memories’ – by K. Patrick Glover – Installment the Twelfth, In Which We Say Hello to Another Universe
  2. ‘Four Color Memories’ By K. Patrick Glover - Installment The Fourth, In Which Worlds Collide
  3. ‘Four Color Memories’ - by K. Patrick Glover - Installment the Seventh, In Which We Speak With Gerry Conway
  4. ‘Four Color Memories’ by K. Patrick Glover - Installment the Second, in Which Fear and Loathing is Entirely Appropriate
  5. ‘Four Color Memories’ By K. Patrick Glover - Installment The Fifth, In Which We Meet The Three Kings

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