Crisis on a Brave New Earth

It’s no secret that DC found itself with an enormous hit on its hands in CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, the anniversary limited series produced by Marv Wolfman and George Perez designed to restructure and streamline the DC continuity. It was that rare Event series that both left a lasting change upon the line in its aftermath and which was exceedingly popular even as it came out. While it’s true that DC wasn’t prepared for quite how popular–and indeed, the plan to reorganize their line wasn’t ready and in place when CRISIS wrapped up its yearlong run–they were hardly oblivious to how well it had all worked. And so they began to solicit ideas from their editors and creators for a sequel series, a second CRISIS or line-wide crossover. Eventually, this would see print as LEGENDS, and it took a longer time to materialize than anybody had really planned. But on teh road there, there were any number of false starts, as well as a lot of argument, in-fighting, conflicting ideas and a general sense of disagreement about what the remit of a second CRISIS should even be.

One of those who was the most ill-served by CRISIS was writer/editor Roy Thomas. One of the most respected creators in the field at this time, Roy had come to DC in order to preside over Earth-2, the home of DC’s Golden Age characters, the heroes of his youth. Now, suddenly, as a result of CRISIS, Earth-2 didn’t exist any longer–this despite the fact that there were two ongoing titles explicitly taking place there. None of this was to Roy’s liking, though he tried to be a good soldier and to accommodate whatever alterations to the landscape that were required. But you can feel a lot of the energy go out of his titles around then. In any case, Roy was asked by Dick Giordano to propose various ideas for a new CRISIS, and Roy did not disappoint. Rather than coming up with a plot (from context, a general plot had been brainstormed a month earlier between Roy, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman and the DC Editorial staff) , Roy instead lists a number of potential outcomes for different characters within the DC canon. This is fascinating to me, in that it both communicates a sense as to what the feeling was to these characters at the time both within DC and in the world at large, as well as where Roy’s personal sensibilities were focused. Put simply, the range of ideas presented here go from nice ideas to stuff that is a bit bananas. But that’s what makes it fun to read today.

In particular, I love bullet point 6 here. It’s very revealing. It’s worth remembering that, in 1985, while Batman was still a hugely popular and recognizable character, his series was at best a midlist title. Frank Miller wouldn’t come along to re-energize the character in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS for another year, and the ever-looming possibility of a BATMAN feature film was still half a decade away. So this is a very Roy solution to what he perceives of as the problem–give the guy genuine super-powers. It was something that Roy would often do himself on features in which he had non-powered characters such as Union Jack or Liberty Belle. By this same token, suggestion 1 is to kill off the non-powered Challengers of the Unknown and replace them with new characters with super-powers as well.

These exchanges were all going on before CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS had run its course, which is why Roy here makes the suggestion that Kid Flash should become the new Flash, rather than introducing some other new character with the name, as was the original intention. This would wind up happening, but almost by default, as the search for a new concept for a new Flash (the character wasn’t to be a super-speedster) hadn’t borne any fruit. I’m also intrigued about that reference to “reasons we all know” for proposing killing Amazing Man, a relatively minor new character introduced by Roy in ALL-STAR SQUADRON. As the character was heavily influenced by Bill Everett and his assorted creations, I wonder if the family may have registered some displeasure with the way it was all done.

“We could blind or maim Jimmy Olsen, if we’re in that kind of a mood.” Classic. I also love the line, “Perhaps he gains the power to get undressed in the course of the story, but must give it up again.” which sounds absurd unless you know that the premise of Blue Devil was that he had been mystically merged with a costume he was wearing for a movie role. Still, it’s phrased in a very funny manner.

“Perhaps Manhunter could be given some super-powers to aid him in his stalking.” The Roy of this period definitely seems to feel that a lack of super-powers is a problem for heroes–this despite having authored CONAN for a decade. But still, different genre.

Roy proposes turning the Freedom Fighters into super-villains, and expressed his interest in the notion of turning some other company’s heroes into villains–something that he would later do in INVADERS over at Marvel. To be honest, I’ve always found that approach to be a bit disrespectful to the original creators of those characters, so I’m happy to find that the idea never gained any traction here.

40 thoughts on “Crisis on a Brave New Earth

  1. This seems like a misunderstanding of the point of CRISIS, which was “Let’s rework the DC line into something more commercial.” With a few exceptions, Roy (and Gerry) seem to be suggesting “Let’s make big changes for the sake of making big changes.”

    If DC did an event like that every year, in just a few years you’d end up with the chaos and instability it took them 20-30 years to get to otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there was definitely a misunderstanding of what made CRISIS work. But that’s a relatively typical thing to have happen. Remember when everybody thought the secret to MARVELS’ appeal was acetate covers…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thomas suggesting Batman get powers (along the lines of what the Thomas-created MU Batman knockoff Nighthawk has) is pretty bonkers. Thomas of all people should know that if Sherlock Holmes or Tarzan aren’t selling its not because they can’t fly or turn into a werewolf. He wrote Conan for how many issues and never felt the need to turn him into Thor to boost interest.

    Also… “kill off Hal Jordan so he doesn’t become DC’s Tony Stark” is that a possible reference to both characters having their alter egos taken over by Jon Stewart and Jim Rhodes during this time period? or is it some other thing entirely?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m glad as well that the Freedom Fighters didn’t turn to villainy. As a fan of Golden Age characters, I was annoyed for the very same reason you state when Roy used public domain superheroes as the heavies in that Invaders miniseries.


  4. “It’s worth remembering that, in 1985, while Batman was still a hugely popular and recognizable character, his series was at best a midlist title.”

    That understates just how awful Batman sales were at that point. The sales for the 1985-1986 sales year (approximately the issues published between April 1985 and March 1986) were the worst the feature had seen. The reported sales of the Batman series were 89,747. The sales of Detective Comics were 70,483.

    Those numbers might not sound bad by current standards, but in 1985 they were terrible. By comparison, Mad sold over 700,000 an issue. X-Men sold over 400,000. G. I. Joe and Transformers both sold over 300,000. Marvel had at least seven other ongoing titles that sold over 200,000. Marvel’s sales policy at the time was to cancel color newsstand titles that sold less than 125,000. (Groo and Marvel Tales were exceptions, but that was most likely due to lower overhead for those two series.)

    To be fair, DC was in terrible shape at the time. The only title that publicly reported sales greater than 100,000 per issue was the newsstand Teen Titans book.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for this info.

      I see from the post you linked to that Superman sold 98,443 and Action Comics an insanely low 61,157 copies. Any idea what the sales were for Wonder Woman in that 1985 to 1986 period?

      There are aspects of Crisis on Infinite Earths and its aftermath that I do not like, specifically the destruction of Earth Two and the erasing of Superboy from continuity. All-Star Squadron, Legion of Super-Heroes, and to a lesser degree New Teen Titans were negatively impacted by all of that.

      However, I really believe that both the Batman and Superman books desperately needed shaking up at this point, especially Superman. Looking at the Superman comics from the first half of the 1980s, in general one gets the feeling that editor Julius Schwartz was just letting them coast along while he marked time for his retirement. Crisis enabled DC to do the John Byrne reboot of Superman which, while not without its flaws, reenergized the characters & series, and brought in a whole bunch of new readers, myself included.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Crisis did not erase Superboy, technically Man of Steel a Legion oSH did. How the overall thing was planned remains a mistery to me, but I think Superboy Prime was meant to play a role in that and then they changed course erasing him, instead (or at least they tried to).
        I never understood whta the purpose of a Superboy born on Earth Prime was, possibly a way to separate Superboy from Superman? That would have worked better than the pocket universe, but then again, it wouldn’t with only one Earth available.
        Maybe that’s was the reason of the change of course…


      2. My impression reading the Superboy prime original story was that it was just for fun — a kid named Clark Kent growing up conscious he wasn’t THE Clark Kent like in the comics.
        I will say the death of the pocket universe Superboy was the one chance to properly mourn Earth One’s Superman who was otherwise just erased and forgotten.


      3. Yeah, my impression was that as CRISIS was looming, creators knew a continuity reset would happen, and one of the ways the Schwartz office took advantage of that was to do stories they wouldn’t have been able to do before, like Superboy of Earth-Prime and the Supergirl marriage. Just having fun.

        But I have no insider information on that.


  5. I remember reading Roy’s memo when I was in the DC offices at the time, and telling whichever editor shared it with me “He doesn’t understand the basic idea of the Challengers!” This was much more upsetting to me than the idea of giving Batman powers!

    I was also tangentially involved in “Crisis II”— I had been picked to ink the Crisis sequel (over Jerry Ordway’s pencils) so attended at least 1 lunch where ideas were discussed. At one point it was going to be called “Crisis of the Soul” and the Big Fallout from the series was that one DC Hero would break bad and become a villain. The top choice was Aquaman which I— the lowly inker— pointed out sounded a little too much like Marvel’s Namor. I suggested Martian Manhunter instead. (And I really like the Martian Manhunter!) Luckily, in the end no one had to worry about this.

    DC had the last laugh when, years later, they decided to turn Hawk (from Hawk & Dove— I book I co-wrote) into a villain. I guess that was my karmic come-uppence.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Your and Barbara Kesel’s Hawk and Dove was the only time I’ve given a crap about those characters.
      The best idea for the Challengers post-Silver Age was Mark Waid in Brave and Bold revealing they’d literally cheated fate. Though it obviously didn’t elevate them into hits.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Karl: your’s and Barbara’s Hawk & Dove series made me love those characters; thank you so much for that. I still re-read it all (the miniseries as well as the subsequent ongoing) at least once a year. I absolutely hated what they did to the characters in Armageddon 2001, and am still salty about it to this day. A stupid, stupid, stupid decision that made no sense and absolutely ruined the characters that you two, along with Greg Guler, had so skillfully built up. The characters deserved so much better than that.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Was the Hawk reveal for Armageddon 2001 a last-minute switch after the original plan, which was for it to be Captain Atom as the villain, got leaked to the public?


      1. Yes. The Captain Atom ending was leaked to a 1-800 number that gave out info on upcoming comics. The creatives on Armageddon 2001 believed that the leaker was someone at DC who was looking for clout.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m surprised Roy suggested using Manhunter as that’s one death nobody seems interested in undoing (which suits me fine) — of course, that’s because he has clones.
    The list does seem very big on “make them a villain” which isn’t much of a change in that it’s easy to retcon out (as Brubaker put it in the trial of the Winter Soldier, it’s always mind control).
    I hated LEGENDS which read like they’d written an X-Men event and scribbled “hero hater” in crayon everywhere Claremont had “mutie hater.” A shame as the idea of Darkseid destroying the heroic ideal is good in concept.
    That is indeed a bizarre list but “let Steve Trevor live and Wonder Woman die!” got a laugh out of me.


  7. A thing I find surprising is that Roy is invoicing for this brainstorming. I would’ve assumed that this would be the equivalent of a pitch that wasn’t accepted and consequently unpaid work. I assume that in this case, Roy was billing DC $1000 because Dick Giordano asked his writers and editors to come up with possible ideas for a Crisis sequel?


  8. And man, reading Thomas’ suggestions to give various non-powers characters superpowers reminds me of how much I disliked it when he gave Liberty Belle full-blown sonic superpowers in All-Star Squadron (following his giving her a more typical superhero costume a few years before). For me that killed most of the charm the character had. You’ve got to love those jodhpurs!


  9. Wow. After reading all of the added stuff provided with the Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths volume, I always felt bad for Roy because all of his memos made it sound like he was trying so hard to play ball with everyone involved in the maxi series while preserving his Earth Two stuff, and then they pretty much screwed him over. But his ideas for Crisis II sound pretty terrible.


  10. This is some fascinating stuff. Some of these points did make their way into the pages, in some form or another, which is always interesting to see. What really caught my eye was point twelve:

    “If Harlan Ellison doesn’t write that graphic novel…”

    Where there plans for Ellison to write a graphic novel staring The Flash, or even rebook the character completely?! I hadn’t heard of this, would love to know more!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marv Wolfman in Titans had Wally suffering from a super-speed malfunction so that using his powers was killing him — which was the plan. I don’t remember which letter column I read it in but Ellison called Wolfman, said he saw where Marv was headed and rattled off all his ideas for rebooting Wally. This convinced Wolfman not to kill him but obviously the Ellison take never materialized.
      If I’ve gotten some details wrong, I’m sure someone here will know more.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Roy has a history of turning old heroes into villains (Red Raven, Marvel Boy/Crusader), or bringing them back only to kill them outright (Toro, the Sir Percy Black Knight, and [again!] Red Raven and Marvel Boy/Crusader). His cavalier and sometimes disrespectful treatment of older characters always struck me as odd, as Roy has always professed his love for the Golden Age heroes of his youth.


    1. I was thinking the other day that it’s surprising the end of the Kree/Skrull War says its Golden Age cast (Vision I, Patriot, Angel, Blazing Skull, the Fin) are fictional comics characters, unlike Cap, Namor and the Torch.


    1. The funny thing is, the powers he’s talking about — sonar, night-vision — are easily duplicated by Batman’s tech so what’s the point? Greater strength isn’t that exciting to someone who’s already so formidable hand to hand.


    2. Batman’s my favorite, in large part that he doesn’t have super powers. If that had changed, I’d have dumped his books. Moench’s work was on par w/ Conway’s for me. But I loved Gene Colan’s Batman back then, especially whenever inked by Klaus Janson.


  12. $1000 in 1985 was worth more than it is today. Roy’s asking it for doing what countless fans do for free, with many ideas better than what he proposed.

    And I know comicbook artists now who work several days, 10-12 hour days, hunched over, hands cramping, to make the same $1000. Doesn’t seem just.


    1. “Roy’s asking it for doing what countless fans do for free, with many ideas better than what he proposed.”

      Roy’s not doing it as a fan. Roy was acting as a contract professional, fulfilling a request from his employer. DC pays for editorial work. I don’t think Roy was on salary, so his editorial work got paid for on a piecemeal basis.

      “And I know comicbook artists now who work several days, 10-12 hour days, hunched over, hands cramping, to make the same $1000. Doesn’t seem just.”

      If it’s not, then I’d think the artists should be paid more, rather than editors and writers working for free.

      Writers’ hands rarely cramp, but that doesn’t make what they do not work. And in this case, you don’t know how much work is under discussion — Roy refers to work done previously, and to a series concept worked out the previous month.

      But whether or not you like Roy’s ideas — those seen here and those unseen — if his employer asked him to do the work, they should compensate him for doing it.

      In my experience, DC was more likely to pay $500 for something like this in the 1980s, but maybe that’s what Dick would come back with to Roy. Or maybe he’d figure the maxi-series concept would be $500 and the ancillary ideas were another $500. Or maybe Roy just got paid more than I did for concept work — I was a nobody at the time and he was Roy Thomas.


      Liked by 2 people

  13. I didn’t say editors & writers should work for free. The $ and status separates these professional proposals by Roy from fan ideas. Not the quality of the ideas. I’d expect better for that much $. Especially when the work took a lot less time to do than how much an artist would have to work for the same amount of $.


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