Shiny Shelf

Infinite Crisis #2

By Jim Smith on 24 November 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

I was, I’ll admit it, really quite moved by the final page of ‘Infinite Crisis’ #1 the appearance of Kal-L, the Golden Age Superman, the first, best, character in super hero comics and the progenitor of the whole of this medium’s primary genre. Between that, the astonishing ‘All Star Superman’ #1 and the tear-inducing brilliance of the ‘Returns’ teaser trailer, it looks like Superman may own 2006 in the same way George Lucas owned 2005.

‘Infinite Crisis’ is a twentieth anniversary celebration of a fiftieth anniversary story which is, in itself, probably my favourite thing in the history of superhero comics – and as such it’s exactly the kind of cosmic crossover nonsense I usually embrace.

You’d expect me to love ‘Infinite Crisis’ as much as m’colleague here Lance Parkin does, but to be honest, I just can’t. There’s a problem, and it’s this; I do not mesh, personally, with much of the work of ‘Infinite Crisis’ writer Geoff Johns. While we seem to like many of the same characters and creators and share a lot of enthusiasms, I personally feel the he has a misconceived understanding of how and why a lot of them work. I also have, and this is an odd thing to say, the odd ethical issue with the way he writes comic books.

On the one hand Johns’ work fetishises the brightness and innocence of the gold and silver ages and insists that the ‘dark’ comics of the last twenty years are a mistake. On the other, he frequently has his characters do such things as blithely announce an absolute faith in the state’s right to ‘execute’ criminals. Wally West’s statement ‘Some people just deserve to die’ in a recent issue of ‘The Flash’ made me feel slightly ill; this wasn’t the rantings of a negative character, as it is when Luthor or the Joker says or does something immoral or insane, this was the clearly considered words of one of the purest heroes in comics; of Barry Allen’s heir.

Equally, the ‘Kandaq’ arcs in ‘JSA’ have been spectacularly confused politically and ethically; it seems that the question of which group of heroes was ‘right’ has been left unresolved not for the purposes of dramatic ambiguity (as happened in, say, Morales’ ‘Captain America’’ run) but because the writer is unclear in his own mind as to what he’s trying to say. The result is often characters who insist on their own righteousness and then do or say unconscionable things, seemingly without any irony or distance on the part of the author at all. At times Johns’ writing seems reminiscent of a man in shock, with that odd combination of a sentimentality, excuse-making and a desire for vengeance that one associates with the traumatised.

To put it bluntly, I don’t trust Johns’ judgement, and this means I doubly don’t trust him to get the big, sweeping, epic things right – and I call the creative disaster/retcon hell that was ‘Green Lantern: Rebirth’ as my first witness for the prosecution. The state of anticipation between issues of a Johns series (well, one that isn’t ‘The Flash’) is more to do with a dread of what he’s going to do wrong next than the gee-whiz anticipation one feels at the end of a Bendis, Waid or Peter David book. I honestly don’t know from the end of ‘Infinite Crisis’ #2 whether he intends to make Kal-L the villain of this story or not and if not then how he can explain Kal’s actions as being different to those of the Anti-Monitor back in ‘Crisis’ itself.

That’s a bizarrely existential worry to apply to superhero comics, I know, but these character – this character in particular – are role models and Johns’ record shows him as someone quite capable of not joining the dots. I don’t mind characters acting in a questionable manner (I think, for example, it’s essential to Green Arrow’s personality that he does) but when characters behaviour is not only totally out of whack with what’s acceptable but this isn’t at all commented on, I worry. I wouldn’t worry that Kal-L was about to slaughter millions if I didn’t think that earlier Johns’ comics demonstrate an alarming tendency to excuse the actions of certain characters because they are committed by those characters; as if means and ends can be separated, as if ‘bad’ things are sometimes acceptable when ‘good’ people do them.

I don’t want to be overly negative and so I’ll say that, misgivings aside, cautious approval is, honestly, where I am now with ‘Infinite Crisis’. I like the art, I like the meta-fictional games it plays (where the ‘in story’ reasons for continuity mistakes are related to editorial policy) , I like the Golden Age retro, I like the flashback to the actual ‘Crisis’ (is that an uncredited Perez pencil job there?) and I even like the (over) use of Power Girl. (I’m an old time ‘Infinity Inc’ fanboy, after all).

‘Infinite Crisis’ is the kind of thing I like, but still the writer’s track record niggles at me, there’s a queasy feeling lurking in gut whenever I think about what may come next and it’s not anticipation, it’s fear. Don’t mess up the return of Kal-L, Geoff. Please.

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