On the Road to a Crisis
So right now, we’re halfway through Final Crisis, a crossover involving the weakening of space and time and all of reality being endangered. In the prelude one-shot DC Universe #0, readers were recapped about the fact that this is the third universal crisis to happen to the DCU (which isn’t entirely accurate and we’ll get into that soon).
But some of you folks may want a little more detail about what happened before this. Why is this the "Final" Crisis? And considering the fact that the previous two crises both involved history being altered, what do the heroes involved truly remember about them?
So here is not only a rundown of the previous crises, but the major events that have led into them and certain side stories that writer Grant Morrison may refer to again very soon.
Before we talk about the Crisis, we have to talk about the eldest races in the mainstream DC Universe (or "DCU"). First, we begin with the Old Gods, celestial beings who died with the destruction of the "Third World." Millions of years later, remnants of their planet formed into two new planets, one light, one dark, collectively known as the "Fourth World."
The planets were called New Genesis, where lived the New Gods of light, and Apokolips, where lived the New Gods of evil, who were ruled by Darkseid the Destroyer. The New Gods created nearly magical technology, such as the stargates they called "Boom Tubes" and the Mother Boxes, living computers connected to the Source, an energy field that connects all life in the universe.
Darkseid himself was very powerful, armed with the Omega Force. It was said that Darkseid’s power was even such that he could resurrect any of his fellow evil New Gods if they were killed. Over the years, one of his greatest enemies was Orion, the "dog of war", who had been raised on New Genesis and was dedicated to the preservation of life.
Darkseid’s ultimate goal was to attain the "Anti-Life Equation", a formula which, when heard, robbed a sentient being of free will and hope. Interestingly, the Fourth World itself is not very old compared to a few other races in the DCU and most of the major events in its history, such as the rise of Darkseid, occurred only within the last thousand years.
Two New Gods who existed beyond the aspects of good and evil were Metron, who was dedicated to science and knowledge above all else, and the Black Racer, who was the New God avatar of death and thus had no loyalties. It is known that Metron visited ancient Earthmen in the days before recorded history.
Some time after the Old Gods had died, but long before the rise of the Fourth World, there was the alien race of Maltusians, blue-skinned immortals. One of them, a scientist named Krona, attempted to peer back into the past so he could witness the very beginning of time and space itself. Krona’s monitor screens displayed the image of a giant hand in a void, a hand grasping a swirling field of stars. But then the equipment blew up and it released forces of entropy. What’s more, it somehow caused space and time to rupture at the moment of the big bang. So what should have been a single universe split off into countless variations, a multiverse of possibilities co-existing, each vibrating at a different speed and frequency.
There was also the anti-matter universe. Some DC stories have claimed that Krona’s experiment created the anti-matter reality while others say it already existed and that Krona’s experiment merely cemented its connection with the main DCU. In any event, the anti-matter universe was a twisted mirror reality to the main positive matter universe.
The Maltusians decided they had to make up for Krona’s crime and renamed themselves the Guardians of the Universe (though other factions broke off, calling themselves the Controllers and the Zamarons). The Guardians set up shop on Oa, a planet said to be in the center of the universe, and it was from there that they created first the Manhunter robots and then, after those creations went rogue, the Green Lantern Corps.
The anti-matter equivalent of Oa was the planet Qward. The Qwardian Thunderers and Weaponers were people dedicated to violence and destruction.
Krona’s experiment apparently had another consequence. On Oa’s moon, a being emerged who would be called the Monitor. And on the moon of Qward, an Anti-Monitor came to life at the same time. It was originally believed that these opposite numbers were created as a direct result of Krona’s experiment and the birth of the multiverse, but that may not be the case.
The Monitor and Anti-Monitor fought and their battle left them both in a comatose state for several thousand years. Eventually though, they both woke up and so began the crossover Crisis On Infinite Earths. The Anti-Monitor used an anti-matter cannon to destroy the positive matter universes. Each universe’s death released incredible amounts of energy that the Anti-Monitor absorbed and he wasn’t going to stop until he basically became God.
The Monitor gathered heroes from the main DC Universe, as well as champions from neighboring realities. As the fabric of the DCU weakened, the skies turned red and time anomalies began occurring. Cavemen found themselves in the Batcave and the 30th century team known as the Legion of Super-Heroes were suddenly getting a glimpse of alternate reality counterparts. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Anti-Monitor released an army of shadow demons across reality. To try and stabilize the chaos, the Monitor had various "vibrational towers" set up in different time periods, giving up his own life force to power them.
To further aid the heroes, the Monitor had taken in and educated young Alexander Luthor of Earth-3. Alexander was the son of his universe’s Alex Luthor and Lois Lane, who had both lived on an Earth where heroes were villains and vice versa. Alexander had been sent away just as his home universe was being eaten away by anti-matter and so he somehow became a being of both positive and anti-matter energies.
The Anti-Monitor wound up indirectly ensuring a large part of his own defeat. Early on, he captured Barry Allen, the modern-day Flash, since he had the power to travel between dimensions and even through time (with the help of his own technology). This made Barry a wild card and so the Anti-Monitor kept him in a cell where his lackey, the emotion-controlling Psycho-Pirate, tortured the hero for days. But Barry was able to escape his prison and then manipulated the Anti-Monitor’s entire army of Qwardians into attacking him. During this distraction, Barry went into the giant anti-matter cannon and figured out that if he ran fast enough, past the speed of light even, he’d cause an energy surge which would blow the whole thing up.
As Barry neared the speed of light, time started warping around him. Later texts would imply that this allowed Barry to pass on some of his energies and powers into the past, ensuring the creation of his side-kick Kid Flash years earlier. As he reached the end of his run, Barry’s body finally seemed to fade away, leaving nothing behind but an empty costume as the anti-matter cannon exploded, grinding many of the Anti-Monitor’s plans to a sudden halt and buying Earth’s heroes a greater opportunity to stop him. In later years, it would be said that Barry had run so fast that he had joined with the Speed Force, a universal energy field that empowers all super-speedsters. Following his death, his protege and nephew Wally West AKA Kid Flash took up the mantle of the Flash, becoming the third hero to use that name and the first sidekick in history to fulfill the unspoken promise of one day succeeding the mentor.
More battles ensued, including a "villains war" that involved Brainiac and Lex Luthor uniting all the super-villains into a massive army before they realized this wasn’t the best time to try and take over. After the destruction of his anti-matter cannon, the Anti-Monitor then traveled to the dawn of time, followed by the heroes, intending to control the moment of the Big Bang and manipulate all of reality to his whim. The Spectre, spirit of vengeance, showed up and fought him and then everything went boom.
The heroes found themselves all back home in the present-day. The time anomalies were gone and so apparently were the other universes. History had been altered so that instead of a multiverse being created, there had only been the main positive matter DCU and the anti-matter universe of Qward. The only survivors of the other realities were the immortal scientist called Pariah, Alexander Luthor of Earth-3, Lady Quark from Earth-6, an older-version of Superman from Earth-2, his wife Lois, and his cousin Power Girl.
There was also a young version of Clark Kent who was called Superboy-Prime and came from a parallel world that had been called Earth-Prime. On Earth-Prime, super-heroes didn’t exist except in comic books and this young Clark Kent had actually grown up reading about the adventures of Superman, Batman, the Justice League, the Justice Society and others. Soon after the Crisis had begun, this young Clark of Earth-Prime discovered that he was from his own universe’s version of Krypton and that he too had powers. He had then found himself flung into our reality and was now ready to fight the Anti-Monitor, despite having no experience in fighting or even using his powers before.
There was a big battle and even Darkseid joined in, not wishing the universe to die when he still had plans for it. The Anti-Monitor was finally killed, with Earth-2 Superman delivering the deathblow. Many heroes and villains had been killed during the Crisis, but now it was finally over. Believing they had no place in this surviving reality, Alexander Luthor, Earth-2 Superman and Lois, and Superboy-Prime all departed to a "paradise dimension" Alexander had discovered. As they left, the inhabitants of Earth had their collective memory adjusted by outside forces and no longer recalled the participation of Superboy-Prime, Alexander Luthor of Earth-3 or Superman of Earth-2. Power Girl was left in our universe, unsure of where she had come from or what her true nature was.
The Psycho-Pirate, though, remembered the full, true nature of the Crisis and went mad as a result. Soon afterward, in the pages of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man run, the Psycho-Pirate attempted to recreate the multiverse out of his very thoughts. During this story, the hero Animal Man himself was approached by the strange yellow-skinned aliens who had given him his powers years before. The nameless yellow-skinned aliens explained that the universe had not fully recovered from the Crisis and that there were still anomalies scattered throughout reality.
Later on, Animal Man also visited a place called Limbo where there lived people who claimed that the universe had somehow forgotten about them (that is to say, they were comic book characters who no one wrote about anymore).
Years later, when Superman seemed to be dead, scientists attempted to clone him. What they got was a super-powered teenager who reluctantly agreed to be called Superboy. Over time, Superboy would prove to be a trusted hero and was welcomed into Superman’s family, taking the Kryptonian name of Kon-El and the civilian identity of Connor Kent. From his dimensional exile, Superboy-Prime saw this and grew jealous. Hadn’t he helped save the universe? Didn’t he deserve Connor’s life?
Hal Jordan, greatest of the Green Lanterns, later became corrupted by the fear avatar known as Parallax. Believing he had to "fix" the universe so that evil never existed, Hal utilized the anomalies left over from the Crisis to try and restart history from scratch. This event was chronicled in the crossover Zero Hour. He even intended to create parallel realities so that everyone could have their own perfect world, such as a separate Earth for the elder heroes of the Justice Society where they could remain eternally young.
Earth’s heroes defeated Hal, putting an end to this "crisis in time." Years later, Hal was finally cured of Parallax’s influence and resumed his role as a hero among the Green Lantern Corps.
During the events of Zero Hour, Wally West met Bart Allen, the grandson of Barry Allen, who was born with super-human speed. Bart donned a costume and mask and soon earned the name "Impulse", inspired by Batman’s warning to Wally that the kid seemed to move directly from thought to action without spending even a second to consider the consequences.
As the people of Earth went on with their lives, they were watched by Alexander Luthor, Earth-2 Superman and Superboy-Prime. The three were not satisfied with how things were turning out. It seemed like the heroes were growing increasingly darker and the villains were holding too much sway. Alexander Luthor decided to borrow an idea from Hal/Parallax and recreate the universe so that it was perfect and proper. Superboy-Prime agreed to help him, as he had become bitter towards the heroes whose world had lived while his own universe was sacrificed. He also felt betrayed by how many of them had changed and darkened from the figures he had once read in his comic books (many of us fanboys can relate, certainly).
Alexander Luthor had literally been born during the Crisis and never had a chance at growing up, so it’s not too surprising that he didn’t have a strong moral background that would allow him to cope with exile in another dimension. And Superboy-Prime was barely a teenager who never even had a chance to have a girlfriend and had only discovered his powers hours before he lost his entire universe, a concept that would shatter most of us. Such a trauma can certainly explain his own state of mind.
Superboy-Prime and Alexander Luthor began to manipulate events to weaken reality and further their own agenda and this was chronicled in the crossover Infinite Crisis. The skies went red once more; Earth’s villains were united as The Society; the Justice League moon base was destroyed; the city of Blüdhaven was devastated by a poisonous chemical explosion; the planets Thanagar and Rann went to war; and the Spectre, now without a human host and driven mad by the evil spirit Eclipso, warred against all magical forces in the universe. And during all this, the Batman had one of his own projects blow up in his face when Brother I, a satellite he’d created to monitor and police Earth’s heroes in case they went rogue, gained sentience and decided to war with the super-humans (it didn’t help that it was hacked twice, first by Alexander Luthor then by the corrupt Maxwell Lord). All over the planet, Earth’s heroes had to fight vicious soldiers known as OMACs, programmed to adapt to their abilities and kill them.
As Alexander began recreating the multiverse, sifting through each reality to decide what elements would best suit him, Superboy-Prime confronted the DCU Superboy, who had recently decided to retire. Superboy-Prime declared that he was the true Superboy and that Connor was not worthy of the life he had when he would willingly give up his super-hero career. The two fought and several other heroes showed up to help. But Superboy-Prime had never been in a fight before except against the Anti-Monitor and thus didn’t know his own strength nor understand how to hold back as both Superman and Superboy always do when fighting weaker opponents. And so, he accidentally killed some of the heroes who attacked him. But rather than accept responsibility, the troubled teen decided that it had been their own fault and that just being in the mainstream DC Universe was having a corrupting infuence on him.
By this point, the heroes discovered the existence of Alexander Luthor, Earth-2 Superman and Superboy-Prime. Earth-2 Superman told Power Girl her true origin and explained that she too was one of the last survivors of his universe. He said that he only wanted to bring his universe back into existence because it was a better one and because it was only there that his ailing wife Lois could actually survive. But Lois died anyway and Earth-2 Superman realized that Alexander had become corrupt and was threatening all of reality.
Superboy-Prime was dealt a devastating and traumatic blow when he was literally yanked out of reality by the combined forces of Wally West, his cousin Bart Allen (who now called himself Kid Flash II), and Jay Garrick, the original Flash. Wally West, his whole family, and Bart Allen were transported to a newly-formed parallel earth as a result. But as soon as they realized Superboy-Prime had found a way to make it back to the main DCU and rejoin the battle, Bart chose to follow him. Although only hours had passed in the DCU, Bart and Wally had been on their parallel Earth for a few years. Bart, now a twenty-something, returned to the DCU as the new fourth Flash, while Wally remained behind to continue raising his family in peace.
Alexander was using one of the Monitor’s old vibrational towers to try and remake reality and the clone Superboy of the DCU died in his efforts to destroy it, saving the universe. The machine’s destruction caused ripples in reality and also led to the creation of 50 stabilized parallel realities. Counting the main DCU and the anti-matter universe, this meant that there were now 52 alternate realities co-existing. Not only that, but the event had apparently caused the birth of several new "Multiversal Monitors", each of whom looked over one of the many realities and each of whom resembled, in part, the original Monitor who had died during the First Crisis. The re-birth of the multiverse also sparked the resurrection of the Anti-Monitor on Qward.
At the end of Infinite Crisis, Superboy-Prime was finally weakened and imprisoned by the Green Lantern Corps while Alexander Luthor was murdered by the Joker, who was offended at not being asked to join in his schemes. So ended what has been called the "Second Crisis."
Several heroes and villains had died during this crossover and others were left to deal with the fall-out. The very-flawed hero Booster Gold was recruited by "time master" Rip Hunter to help protect not only the timestream but the stability of the 52 universes. Animal Man wound up in deep space, along with the heroes Adam Strange and Starfire. While journeying back to Earth, Animal Man was once again met by the yellow-skinned aliens who had given him his powers and had told him about the side-effects of the First Crisis. The aliens simply remarked "So it begins," before vanishing to continue pursuing their own agenda. Back on Earth, the Spectre, now tethered to newly-deceased Gotham City cop Crispis Allen, effectively ushered in the tenth age of Magic, the rules of which are said to be different than the previous age (though what this means is still notclear to readers).
Eventually, Superboy-Prime was released and joined with the newly-formed Sinestro Corps, based in the anti-matter universe. His true purpose in joining was to bide his time until he could kill the resurrected Anti-Monitor, who now served as the "Guardian" of the Sinestro Corps. Soon after he joined, Superboy-Prime fought alongside the evil Corps in their war with the Green Lanterns. These events were chronicled in the crossover Sinestro Corps War.
At the end of the war, the Anti-Monitor was seemingly delivered a mortal blow, only to have his body suddenly encased inside a giant black lantern. The full nature of this event will be touched on in next year’s crossover Blackest Night. Meanwhile, Superboy-Prime was attacked by a Guardian and was accidentally transported into a parallel universe. Realizing that the multiverse was back, he set off in search of his own "perfect" world, believing it had to be out there somewhere. His efforts were for naught and during one of his many battles, he caused the newly formed Earth-51to become a lifeless "graveyard world."
As a result of the Sinestro Corps War, the Guardians of the Universe decided there had to be a few changes. They re-programmed the Green Lantern rings so that now the weapons could be used to kill. And they created the new Alpha Lanterns, GLs who have been fused to their rings and power batteries and were then merged with robotic Manhunter technology, making them cold, logical cyborgs who act as the "Internal Affairs of the Corps."
The 30th century team known as the Legion of Super-Heroes traveled back to the present-day in order to retrieve someone they wouldn’t identify. A "side-effect" resulted in them accidentally bringing Wally West and his family back to the DCU. At the very same moment, Bart Allen was fighting the villains known as the Rogues and his evil clone Inertia. The efforts of Inertia and the sudden presence of Wally West caused Bart’s powers to fail him and he was killed in the battle.
Wally reluctantly returned to his role as the Flash and did his best to avenge Bart’s death. The Rogues went on the run after that, furious that working with Inertia had caused them to break their fundamental rule of never killing a super-hero (lest it invite the vengeance of other heroes).
Around this time, the celestial beings known as the New Gods began dying. The universe was about to move into a new age (the age of the "Fifth World") and that meant it was their time to go, to make way for gods yet to come. During Grant Morrison’s run on JLA, Metron had implied that the gods of the Fifth World would come from Earth.
But the evil Darkseid had made arrangements beforehand, apparently. Years before the Crisis, the Justice League fought a villain named Libra who attempted to absorb the power of reality itself and instead disintegrated, his atoms scattered into infinity. But somehow, Libra came back (or perhaps he was brought back) and Darkseid chose him as his new tool.
Acting as Darkseid’s prophet, Libra has used the "Crime Bible" (also known as the Book of Cain) and the doctrine of Anti-Life to gather super-villains and criminals as followers and worshipers the New Gods of evil. With their faith and their praising of his name, Darkseid’s spirit re-ignited, taking refuge in a human body. Using his power to re-create his fellow evil New Gods, Darkseid has done so, placing their energies and souls within other human forms. And so, Darkseid is now on Earth again, as are his people, and all the New Gods of light and goodness are gone. What’s more, Darkseid now knows the Anti-Life Equation and both he and Libra have begun using it to gather new soldiers and slaves to their side. As far as Darkseid the Destroyer is concerned, evil has won.
What Darkseid’s full plan is, we don’t know. But the skies are turning red again, which means the barriers between universes are weakening, allowing us to see the Bleed, the membrane that exists between realities. Time anomalies seem to be happening again, in very subtle ways. And what’s more, Barry Allen has somehow come back from the dead, emerging from a tunnel of light, and chased by the Black Racer, thus literally outrunning death itself. Has the universe brought back Barry because he was the key to its salvation years ago?
Libra has also been making efforts to remove any super-speedsters from the playing field. For in each Crisis, a Flash has played a crucial role in helping the heroes achieve victory.
And what about Metron’s early visits to primitive man? The first issue of Final Crisis implies that he left humanity a weapon to combat Darkseid. What could it be? What did the yellow aliens mean by "So it begins" when they found Animal Man out in space?
I don’t have the answers. You’re all caught up now. For anything else, we’ll just have to wait and see.
If you’ve noticed I’ve left out certain details and subplots, it’s because I wanted this to be a general rundown and focus on the events that are most often referenced and have had the most lasting effects. I also didn’t go into detail about all the retcons and history alterations that happened as a result of the different crises as I believe they have been covered by many other people (myself included) quite extensively. If you wish to learn more about the details of the Crisis and what exactly was changed when and how, feel free to go to Wikipedia.org or check out my own Crisis Files on my web-site.
Until next time, cheers!
Alan Kistler actually met Superboy-Prime at the New York Comic-Con and was nearly killed after calling him "a whiney fanboy with a Flash phobia." He has been recognized by Warner Bros. Pictures and mainstream media outlets such as the New York Daily News as a comic book historian, and can be seen in the "Special Features" sections of the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. His personal website can be found at: http://KistlerUniverse.com. One of these days he’d love to write for DC, Marvel or Doctor Who.