Previously: the Golden Age had few, the Silver Age had more, the Bronze Age had the biggest one of all, and the Dark Age had some contenders for the worst. And now we get to the Modern Age, which had perhaps the most ambitious crossovers. Some of them hit their mark and some missed it completely.
First, a disclaimer: I am merely calling this the “Modern Age” as a convenience. The Ages of Comics Books tend to last around ten to fifteen years. The Golden Age lasted from 1938 (the first appearance of Superman) to the early ‘50s (you could try and pinpoint it to 1954, when the Comics Code Authority started, but it’s still pretty vague). The Silver Age lasted from 1956 (the first appearance of the Silver Age Flash) to 1970-71. The Bronze Age began then and ended in 1986 and the Dark Age appeared to end in 1996.
But if the Modern Age began in 1997, it’s been eighteen years without stopping. Some call the age before now the “Prismatic Age” for its ability to change between light and dark, but the current age also has that ability. Wikipedia doesn’t even list the Dark Age, just one long period starting from 1986 to now. So the name of the Age is just a placeholder until the official one is decided. But whatever it will be called, let’s get started, shall we?
By all accounts, Genesis (1997) should have been good, right? Grant Morrison’s JLA comic had just started to critical acclaim and now Genesis was a four-issue weekly mini-series crossover written by John Byrne and drawn by Ron Wagner. So what was it about?
Well, apparently, the Source Wall had unleashed something called the “Godwave” that spread throughout the universe. In the first pass, the Godwave created gods (Norse, Greek, Egyptian) and then it hit the edge of the universe (even though the universe has no edge? I guess?) and rebounded and created superheroes next. And now the Godwave was going on its third path and of course Darkseid wanted to take control of it.
A couple of issues: this posited that most superheroes got their powers from the “Godwave.” I get that Byrne was trying to make some sort of commentary about how superheroes were the new gods (not to be confused with the New Gods), but it really didn’t make any sense. Did the Godwave arrange for all those accidents? And what about the heroes who were aliens? Did the Godwave arrange for Superman’s planet to explode? Needless to say, no actual change came out of this story and it was quickly forgotten.
On the flip side, however, there was DC One Million (1998), a story that spun out of Morrison’s JLA about the Justice League Alpha, the heroes of the 853rd century. (This century was gotten by extrapolating what year it would be when the comics hit the 1,000,000 issue.) The JL Alpha switched places with the JLA and much fun was had.
And by fun, I mean: holy crap this was awesome. In the 853rd century, all the planets have been terraformed and each one is under the protection of a different superhero. The superheroes in the present have to contend with Vandal Savage and a virus from the future while the heroes in the future have to fight against Solaris the Tyrant Sun. (Also, it neatly ties into All-Star Superman later.)
The crossover also included a neat idea for tie-in issues: each issue would skip ahead to issue #1,000,000 and show what that character (or their analog in the future) was doing. The best one was probably Hitman #1,000,000. It was called “To Hell with the Future” and it was about some future kids dragging Tommy Monaghan into the 853rd century, where he encounters a superhero named Gunfire who can turn anything into an explosive weapon. Witness the glory:
Oh, if only that could happen during every crossover.
Then there was Day of Judgment (1999) written by Geoff Johns, starting off his kick on writing crossovers and bringing in Hal Jordan.
The plot was this: Etrigan the Demon gets the Spectre (now hostless) to bond with rogue angel Asmodel. He freezes Hell, which unleashes a bunch of demons and the Sentinels of Magic, along with a bunch of other superheroes, try to stop them and restore Hell and get the Spectre to just quit it.
Finally, the whole thing ended when the spirit of Hal Jordan (currently dead) entered the Spectre and asked to be it’s new host, saying that it would be appropriate punishment. The Spectre said yes, Hell is relit, no more demons. And we’re moving and we’re moving...
Our Worlds At War (2001) was next and it was about a giant war with an alient tyrant called Imperiax, who sought to destroy and remake the universe because he sensed a “flaw” at its core.
There were several complications, including Brainiac-13 absorbing Imperiax’s energies, but finally the heroes managed to transport Imperiax and Brainiac-13 to fourteen billion years go to the Big Bang, where both were destroyed (and, ironically, Imperiax realized that he was the flaw at the core of the universe).
The very unfortunate thing about this crossover was that it came out right before September 11, 2001. Adventures of Superman even unintentionally featured an image of the twin LexTowers heavily damaged and it was released weeks before the attack.
Meanwhile, the Joker had been having a bit of an upswing: first there was the 2000s storyline “Emperor Joker,” where the Joker cons Mister Mxyzptlk out of 99.99% of his powers and uses them to remake reality to his liking: completely and utterly insane. A bald Lois Lane is the new Lex Luthor (Lex is the Joker’s clown), everything is topsy-turvy, and Batman is killed every day only to be resurrected. The day is only won when it’s pointed out that the Joker can’t kill Batman forever, because he defines himself as his opposite.
And then there Joker: Last Laugh (2001-2002), where a doctor at Arkham convinces the Joker he is dying in an attempt to get him to reform. Instead, the Joker decides to go out with a bang and Jokerizes a bunch of different supervillains, sending them out to kill. This storyline is notable for just how dark it is: the Joker says that he would gleefully kill millions just to get Batman’s attention and Dick Grayson actually kills the Joker, although Batman manages to bring him back just so Dick won’t be a murderer.
Which brings us to Identity Crisis (2004) and the first of the new Crisis Trilogy. Written by Brad Meltzer and drawn by Rags Morales, Identity Crisis was a different type of crossover, both darker and more personal, exploring not some big threat, but a smaller one: a killer targeting superheroes’ loved ones. It was not a cosmic crisis, but a murder mystery.
It began with the murder of Sue Dibney and then things got worse and worse. The story was quite infamous for retconning the Satellite Era, that time during the Silver and Bronze Age when the JLA lived on a satellite, and making it so Doctor Light (the Teen Titan villain) had raped Sue Dibney and the League had erased his memories and, in fact, changed his mind so that he was more ineffectual. It was then revealed that whenever a villain figured out one of their secret identities, they erased their memories. And when Batman objected, they erased his memories, too.
On the whole, while Identity Crisis could have been an interesting story, it unfortunately came across as dark for darkness sake. The killer turned out to be Jean Loring, Ray Palmer’s ex-wife, who wanted to get together with Ray again (ignoring the fact that she had broken up with him) and devised a reason, only killing Sue by accident (although why she brought a flamethrower with her in unexplained). The end of the story had Ray leave for parts unknown and Batman regain his memories, making him more paranoid than ever. Which leads us to...
Infinite Crisis (2005) by Geoff Johns and Phil Jimenez. But before Infinite Crisis, we got a one-shot (Countdown to Infinite Crisis) and four mini-series setting it up: Day of Vengeance, The Rann-Thanagar War, Villains United, and The OMAC Project.
Okay, backstory time: Hal Jordan was revived, so the Spectre was again hostless and it was manipulated by Eclipso into destroying a bunch of mystical heroes including the wizard Shazam. Rann was moved into Thanagar’s orbit, precipitating a war. Batman’s paranoia led to him creating the Brother I satellite to monitor everyone, but the satellite was hijacked by Max Lord, who was actually a villain and had been making people into O.M.A.C.s and also killed the Blue Beetle. Max mind-controled Superman, so Wonder Woman snapped Max’s neck, which was recorded and played on TV. Also, the Secret Six was founded by Lex Luthor in order to go against the Society of Super-Villains led by...Lex Luthor?
Well, it turned out that it wasn’t the real Lex Luthor, but rather Alexander Luthor, Jr. from the original Crisis on Infinite Earths. Alexander Luthor Jr., Superboy-Prime, and the Earth-2 Superman and Lois Lane had been living in a paradise dimension since the end of the original Crisis, but they could still see what was going on the main universe and they didn’t like it. So Alexander decided to change it.
His big plan was to recreate the Multiverse and replace the current Earth with his more perfect one. Meanwhile, Superboy-Prime went off the reservation and began killing people. (He had already messed with continuity by punching reality.)
The entire thing ended with a “soft reset,” instead of a full blown continuity reboot. Some things were changed, others stayed the same. The best thing about Infinite Crisis, however, was what came out of it:
Immediately after Infinite Crisis, the entire DC universe jumped ahead one year (Marvel will be replicating this move after Secret Wars, but with eight months). And then DC released a series called 52 detailing what happened in that missing year, the year without Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman.
So what do you get when you combine Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and Keith Giffen with a weekly series? Only awesome things.
The plot was long and labyrinthine. It was divided into five continuing storylines: Booster Gold and his quest for fame; Steel and his niece, who gained powers from Lex Luthor’s Everyman Project; Ralph Dibney and his investigation into a Kryptonian cult; heroes Starfire, Animal Man, and Adam Strange’s journey back from deep space where they encountered Lady Styx; and Renee Montoya and the Question’s investigation into the Religion of Crime. All of them were awesome. The series ended with a confirmation that the Multiverse was back and consisted of 52 Earths.
DC unfortunately followed this up in 2007 with Amazons Attack! It was a storyline that, well, made no sense.
The Amazons attacked Washington, DC, in retaliation for the US government imprisoning Diana after she killed Max Lord. But Diana was acquitted and also she works for the US government (she was then employed by the Department of Metahuman Affairs).
And then the Amazons unleashed a bee weapon. Bees. My god. (Well, okay, “Stygian Killer Wasps.” But Batman calls them bees. My god.)
It turned out that the Amazons were being manipulated by Circe (again) and also Granny Goodness, who had taken the place of Athena.
Thankfully, after that was a Green Lantern crossover called The Sinestro Corps War.
Sinestro had long ago gotten a yellow ring that ran on fear instead of willpower. On the planet Qward, he was able to concentrate and create more yellow rings, which he spread out across the universe and created the Sinestro Corps.
This was the beginning of Geoff John’s War of Light epic and it was so good. It has been described as “World War II in space.” The Anti-Monitor himself, resurrected due to Infinite Crisis, became a member of the Sinestro Corps, but they managed to stop him and Sinestro and stop the destruction of Coast City again. And at the end, while the other Guardians tried to deny the “Blackest Night” prophecy, the Guardians Ganthet and Sayd left to create a blue ring.
At the same time this was happening, there was another weekly series: Countdown / Countdown to Final Crisis (2007-2008), which was so stupid, nothing that happened in it mattered. If you must know: Darkseid tempted Mary Marvel with new powers and she blindly accepted for some reason; Donna Troy, Jason Todd, and Kyle Rayner traveled the Multiverse looking for Ray Palmer; Jimmy Olsen jimmy olsened around; the Legionnaires who were stuck in the present got a virus or something; Monarch returned (now actually Captain Atom) and got a bunch of alternate heroes from the Multiverse to fight for some reason and Superboy-Prime yelled out “I’ll kill you to death!”; and finally, in the one moment of awesomeness, the Pied Piper was kidnapped to Apokolips to give up a section of the Anti-Life Equation in his mind. So he played “The Show Must Go On” on his pipe and this caused Apokolips to explode.
This brings us to 2008 and Final Crisis, the last in the Crisis Trilogy. It was the Day Evil Won.
After Infinite Crisis, the Monitors had returned, one for each Earth. But there was something wrong. When the Monitor of Earth-51, Nix Uotan, failed in his duty and Earth-51 was rendered uninhabitable, he was sentenced to live out his life on Earth as a normal human.
Meanwhile, Darkseid had gained the Anti-Life Equation. There was a War in Heaven and evil won. All of the Apokoliptian New Gods now inhabit new bodies. They captured Batman, released a virus upon the superheroes, and, after Darkseid took over the body of Dan Turpin, he unleashed the Anti-Life Equation and enslaved half the world.
Just read this:
I. Am. The. New. God. All is one in Darkseid. This mighty body is my church. When I command your surrender, I speak with three billion voices. When I make a fist to crush your resistance. It is with three billion hands. When I stare into your eyes and shatter your dreams. And break your heart. It is with six billion eyes! Nothing like Darkseid has ever come among you: Nothing will again. I will take you to a hell without exit or end. And there I will murder your souls! And make you crawl and beg! And die! Die! Die for Darkseid!
And also this:
Man, Grant Morrison writes good Darkseid.
Final Crisis was a gigantic storyline and Darkseid wasn’t the only villain: there was also Mandrakk the Dark Monitor, who just wanted to feed and feed until he was the only thing left “beneath a skyfull of murdered stars.” It got so serious that Batman used a gun (he only wounds Darkseid) and then Batman is “killed” (actually sent back into the Stone Age). It was also criticized for being incredibly complicated, often requiring more than one reading to understand what was going on, and for squeezing a lot of events into short sequences. (But then again, this is Grant Morrison. That’s what he does.)
Since this is the last part of the Crisis Trilogy, it seems like a good place for Part One to end. Part Two includes zombies, pilgrim Batman, and, unfortunately, another complete reboot.