A Retrospective Look at the Graphic Novel
Nearly Four Decades after its first publication, the landmark 2-book History of the DC UNIVERSE aimed to define an entirely new comic book continuity after an epic crisis event that had far-reaching consequences still impacting stories today.
In the mid to late 80s DC Comics was experiencing a true renaissance! The publishing imprint that had recently celebrated a landmark 50 years in the industry was literally on top of the world. The groundbreaking graphic novel Watchman (1986) by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons with colorist John Higgins altered how the public viewed the superhero genre. Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) would forever reshape the way audiences viewed the Caped Crusader’s mythology, just as it would profoundly influence every creative iteration of Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s character for generations to come.
Proving to keep pace with the evolving times and identifying the elevated sensibilities of its diversifying audience and readership, the senior editorial team took a closer look at its pantheon of characters and decided the time had come to make significant changes.
This watershed moment of creativity was all set in motion when DC Comics president Jenette Kahn requested that the publishing giant’s upcoming 50th anniversary be celebrated with an important event — one that would transcend the existing storylines and reignite interest in iconic characters like Superman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, and the Batman mentioned above. The comic book continuity had then become so complex and convoluted over the years, that it had inspired DC editor and legendary writer Marv Wolfman to wrangle and conspire with the equally legendary writer/artist George Pérez to determine what the story would be.
The result was DC’s first-ever maxi-series, the twelve-part Crisis on Infinite Earths. The story would incorporate heroes and villains from all across DC Comics for 5 decades (and more), and just as the tagline promised — some worlds will live, some worlds will die — this would be the most consequential storyline ever attempted in comic books. Wolfman and Pérez would be tasked with streamlining a multiverse that had kept Golden Age characters as relevant as their Modern Era counterparts, and at the same time integrate heroes and villains that existed on planes of their own, all up until now.
At the end of the crisis, the DC Comics continuity had been reset and all the characters existed on a “prime” earth inside of a single universe, although this still left plenty of room and opportunity for an “alternate” universe to pop up from time to time, and the inevitable next crisis that would reboot it all every decade or so. Still, Crisis on Infinite Earths remains revolutionary and one of the all-time best-selling stories ever published. To make heads and tails of the revised mythology, Wolfman and Pérez proceeded with a project to epilogue that 12-issue maxi-series with 2 prestige format special issues chronicling the History of the DC UNIVERSE.
The 2-book prestige graphic novels were published in 1986. To prepare for writing the two books that would serve as a guide of the post-crisis DC universe writer and artist, Marv Wolfman and George Pérez had an unorthodox approach to unraveling their narrative. The pair both agreed that the story would work better if they introduced a different format, allowing for text and graphic art to spin the tale. Wolfman would outline pages for Pérez while he went to work on the art and provided the space and frames that Wolfman would fill with blocks of text. Everything was being told from the perspective of the character of Harbinger, the Monitor’s ward introduced in the series, giving History its voice.
The character of Harbinger, also known as Lyla is rescued as a child by the Monitor, who grants her superhuman abilities to aid him in his mission to recruit the heroes of the multiverse to thwart his adversary, the Anti-Monitor’s scheme to destroy everything. Lyla is determined to finish the work started by her mentor and begins to chronicle the all-new streamlined history in search of answering the question: “What makes a hero?” Through Wolfman’s words and Pérez’s pictures, the DC universe is beautifully realigned and truly dictates the stuff of legend. The 2-books remain the benchmark by which the DC Heroic Universe was best illustrated and has been reprinted several times.
And although, DC continuity has been readdressed and revisited several times and survived multiple “crisis” events, the History of the DC Universe remains quite relevant to creative generations today.
As for the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the maxi-series has itself inspired multiple media experiences, from a 5-part live-action primetime adaptation that connected both the cinematic and television universes of DC heroes and villains and will now be presented in a 3-part animated story that is intended to reboot the multiple animated universes. The first part of the trilogy will be released in January 2024 and will be available in digital, as well as 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray.
Get your “FansEyeView" of the upcoming animated DC Universe Move Justice League: Crisis on Infinite Earths Part 1 from Warner Bros. Entertainment:
Death is coming. Worse than death: oblivion. Not just for our Earth, but for everyone, everywhere, in every universe! Against this ultimate destruction, the mysterious Monitor has gathered the greatest team of Super Heroes ever assembled. But what can the combined might of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and hundreds of Super Heroes from multiple Earths even do to save all of reality from an unstoppable antimatter armageddon?!
HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE | by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez | is available in a new hardcover edition with never-before-published art pages and a gatefold pinup illustration by celebrated DC artists with cover art by Alex Ross.