A few years back, I had cause to buy the novelization of ‘Infinite Crisis’, by Greg Cox. (I was working on a book project that has since fallen through on account of being terminally over-ambitious and unfinishable, and it involved reading a lot of crossovers.) I didn’t get around to reading it…see “unfinishable and over-ambitious, terminally”, above…but it’s been sitting on my bookshelf ever since. And because I never get rid of a book I paid money for without reading it, I finally sat down and read the damned thing.
Having read it, let me first say that Greg Cox really does do the best he can with the material he’s given. The prose tends towards functional, but he’s writing the dialogue that was in the original crossover. The plot is labored, with big chunks of the early plot given over to exposition, but that’s unavoidable when you have to write up a single novel that begins where DC had spent two solid years building up to. (The opening prologue, where Martian Manhunter watches the monitors in the Watchtower and recaps the events leading up to IC must have made Cox sweat bullets when he wrote it.) The novel is, I think, the absolute best adaptation of ‘Infinite crisis’ possible.
Sadly, though, reading the story without Phil Jimenez’ wonderful art to distract you, the flaws in the story only become more apparent. Which is a shame, because on paper, the basic idea for ‘Infinite Crisis’ is a wonderful one: All the shit in the DC Universe hits the fan at the exact same time. Every single thing goes wrong at once in a perfect example of the catastrophe curve in action; all the villains in the DC Universe organize into a single gigantic gang, the Spectre goes on a mad rampage, killer cyborgs swarm throughout the world wiping out metahumans, cosmic war threatens to engulf the galaxy, and the three most important heroes can’t stop it because they’ve been pushed to their breaking point. Batman’s lost in his paranoia and has actually helped precipitate events, Wonder Woman has lost the balance between hero and warrior, and Superman no longer knows how to inspire a people lost to despair.
And just when things are at their darkest, these figures from pre-Crisis DC step in and say, “This world is broken. The Crisis created a corrupted, debauched reality. We all know things used to be better. You can feel it. Just let us do what needs doing, and we will create a finer universe, the kind that we used to have.” It feels right, in the middle of all this.
Only then you find out that in fact, they’re the ones who have precipitated all this. The chaos, the darkness, the madness and war are all actually the fault of people so blinded by nostalgia that they’ve become the monsters. They’re so determined to recreate a perfect world that never really existed that they will destroy everything that’s real. The heroes find their way by opposing this madness, and the storm breaks. With the crisis over, Earth can begin to heal.
That’s the idea, of course, but the actual story muddles it. The story insists that no, Luthor did nothing to manipulate the heroes into becoming more brutal, paranoid and anti-heroic (except for the Spectre); Luthor’s statement that this Earth is a fucked-up disaster filled with inferior versions of the real DC heroes goes more or less unchallenged. The reader is left with the distinct feeling that Luthor is entirely right, especially as the Big Three heroes are never really allowed any kind of moment where they overcome their tragic flaws and make things right. (Okay, arguably Batman does, when he blows up Brother Eye. But given that Batman’s decision isn’t just flawed but out-and-out villainous, he needs far more redemption than the other two by that point.) Then, when Luthor actually succeeds at recreating the pre-Crisis multiverse (more or less…ish…kinda…) we’re left with the feeling that he may have been right after all. In the end, it feels like nobody’s right and nothing has been resolved, which is not a good ending to a story even in a comic-book universe where you have to put out another book next month.
As I’ve said before, I really do feel like the story only needs minor changes to make it all work. If the Psycho-Pirate had been revealed to be behind events, manipulating the minds of everyone involved to bring them to the point where he can finally bring back the Multiverse he remembers, I think that it would have taken some of the edge off of the unsympathetic actions of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in the story. (As well as resolving some of the major plot holes…can someone really explain to me how Luthor “tricks” General Wade Eiling into working with Captain Nazi, or convinces Black Adam to back Captain Light’s self-righteous “they went too far” act? It all makes a lot more sense if Psycho-Pirate was smoothing things over.)
Even then, the story has flaws; the constant deaths of characters Geoff Johns doesn’t feel are popular enough to survive another crossover aren’t shocking anymore, they’re just irritating. And for all that I’d agree that Superboy-Prime really is the kind of villain who succeeds in making you root like hell against him, he needed his actual comeuppance at the end of the story. Saving him for another crossover was a mistake.
On the whole, I repeat my assertion that this was the best possible ‘Infinite Crisis’ adaptation we could hope for. That’s exactly the problem with it.