Given that DC Comics’ miniseries Final Crisis starts at the end of this month, here’s a mind-breaking question about the prior “Crisis” events for nerd readers to argue endlessly about in the Responses below — the question that DC editors and writers endlessly dodge or give contradictory, off-the-cuff answers to, lacking the Nietzschean courage to stare directly into the abyss for fear of going mad:
In New Earth history (that is, the history of the main world as it was remade in DC Comics’ Infinite Crisis miniseries and 52 in 2005-2007), was the big Crisis of a few years earlier, the one involving the Anti-Monitor’s shadow demons and the death of Barry Allen, a Crisis on Infinite Earths (as the title of the original mini-series called it back in 1985) or merely a Crisis on 52 Earths (since New Earth exists in a finite multiverse, unlike the infinite one in which DC Comics stories used to take place, back in the days when the Anti-Monitor’s first appearance was actually published) — or was it perhaps even a Crisis on One Earth (the New one, whose inhabitants arguably only recently became aware of alternate Earths)? What did the people now living see during the big Crisis, and what did the surviving heroes think about the state of the multiverse when that Crisis ended? And if you answer, please specify which multiverse.
I notice that many fans — some with an enviable naivete that spares them even having to get headaches about this stuff — will readily and confidently answer such questions merely by reference to publication history, that is, by saying, much as the useless Donna Troy might, that “there were Infinite Earths, then they got destroyed, then there was one Earth, then fifty-one others got created,” as if it’s as simple as recounting World War I being succeeded by the inter-war years being succeeded by World War II, but obviously each successive transformation hinted at in that quote was meant, thanks to time travel-type stuff, to be retroactive to the dawn of creation, so it’s genuinely unclear, I would contend, what “now” is supposed to have happened back in Barry’s final days. If it were a simple question, I wouldn’t ask. (From New Earth, can you watch multiverses live and die while your own history proceeds forward normally, like an island of temporal safety in a larger changing sea, or did New Earth know only the 52, or perhaps only itself, until recently?)
BONUS QUESTION (perhaps to be clarified in July’s Justice Society of America annual): What does Power Girl now remember her life being like in the time between her apparent arrival as a costumed young adult on New Earth (back in the days before, say, the New Teen Titans arose) and, say, the Crisis on Infinite/52 Earths? Did she walk around wondering where she was and being asked where she’d come from prior to arriving on the JSA’s doorstep? Did a confusing conversation about multiple versions of Superman and the JSA ensue when she met the JSA, or did everyone at that point think she fit seamlessly into New Earth events, only learning recently that she’s anomalous?
Again, I’m not asking what the comics showed at the time — I know what the comics have shown — I’m asking if we can correctly deduce what must have happened in New Earth history, which remains technically undepicted. I’m inclined to think, implausible as it sounds physics-wise, that she arrived on New Earth from (the new) Earth-2 and promptly had her mind subtly refashioned by the universe itself so that she “fit into” it, believing herself a cousin of the New Earth Superman for a couple years — perhaps even telling him so — before being told by Arion that that was false and that she was actually an Atlantean, leading her to believe that for a few years, before having her memories of the new Earth-2 restored during Infinite Crisis.
She should not remember the old Earth-2 even though the Power Girl we read about in the actual pages of Infinite Crisis in 2005 did — but again, those pages (at least the first several issues) weren’t in “New Earth” history, merely pre-52 “clutter Earth” history, and now Power Girl presumably fits into the history of the current multiverse, living one Earth away from where her childhood occurred, not being a complete outsider to the whole current multiverse. She’s not quite as anomalous as she used to be from our perspective, you might say.
NOTE ON DONNA TROY: As for Donna Troy, there’s really no good reason (in the sense of being shunted from one Earth to another or one multiverse to another, given her current history) for her having a special awareness of such temporal anomalies other than it being a sort of happenstance superpower she has — “knowing about the multiverse and its history” (because of things “she” went through in versions of history other than the current one). That’s slightly annoying in a way similar to those endings where something was all a dream but leaves one small artifact in the dreamer’s pocket (reality shouldn’t be half-assed, we continuity-nerds implicitly believe). It might be simplest if the writers just had that awareness of hers fade and let her get back to be a perfectly normal magical twin sister of Wonder Woman — but then, she’s supposed to be meta-monitoring the multiversal Monitors now, I gather, so the temptation to involve her in time-weirdness may prove irresistible to future writers. Who Does Donna Troy Think She Is, Anyway?
PATH OF LEAST RESISTANCE? Perhaps the easiest thing to do to prevent future mistakes (or rather, third-easiest, the two easiest solutions being [a] start over from scratch with one universe or [b] just declare time/history completely malleable, as was attempted briefly with DC’s now-abandoned “Hypertime” concept) would be to make the situation on New Earth approximate as closely as possible the reader’s experience of history by declaring New Earth even more vaunted relative to other Earths than it currently appears, such that from it one can see not only other universes but whole multiverses rising and falling — or at least becoming “accessible” and “inaccessible” from the main timeline — over the course of New Earth history. Then — despite history restarting from the Big Bang within each of the other, lesser universes — from the privileged vantage point of New Earth heroes it might well appear that there was an “old multiverse” unveiled to most of them a few years ago (fictional time), around the time of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, which destroyed that multiverse, then a period of seeming temporal unity, then a period of Hypertime, then an Infinite Crisis that unveiled a “new multiverse” the New Earthers hadn’t seen before.
The downside of this plan would be having to keep track, forever more, of the fact that when New Earth characters say, for instance, “Earth-2,” they need to specify whether they’re referring to the old one or the new one — instead of just being blissfully ignorant of the old one or assuming their old experiences have been revised to incorporate contact with the new/only Earth-2.
THE MYSTERY: The starkest way of putting the whole question may be: Do our heroes remember talking about the multiverse prior to Infinite Crisis (in the same straightforward, non-privileged-by-time-travel way they remember, say, watching Welcome Back, Kotter, sharing those memories with members of the general public in a completely normal fashion)? If they remember talking about the multiverse in the past, how did they describe that multiverse in those old conversations? We still haven’t really been told. Glossing over it works only so long as certain sorts of flashback/history stories are ruthlessly avoided (and for the past few years, they pretty much have been, a rather high price to pay for progress, though perhaps worth it).
There have, of course, been the grand historical overviews provided by Donna Troy and the Monitors, but those overviews are utterly useless for answering these sorts of questions for precisely the reason that those characters speak from a privileged perspective more akin to the all-knowing reader’s than to ordinary human perspectives “within” the current version of normal history. And it is that normal history fans want to know and understand, despite DC’s shameful, irresponsible obfuscation over the past twenty-two years, indicative of their own internal slap-dash confusion and apathy.
The question, in short, is not what some God’s-eye character like Darkseid remembers but what a hundred-year-old, non-superpowered human historian would remember, having observed New Earth history for the past seven decades in the conventional fashion. Didio? Johns? Morrison? Hilty? Anyone at DC have a real answer for the first time in twenty-two years?