The classic argument for why Crisis on Infinite Earths was necessary was that DC’s multiple Earths were just too confusing to new readers, turning them off. As someone who started reading with Justice League of America #30, part two of the original Crime Syndicate story, I’ve always found that funny. I didn’t have any trouble grasping the concept of multiple earths — maybe because at six years old, I had no reason to think there couldn’t be multiple earths.
But the other day I was thinking about that issue, and others I read back then, and how much they did confuse me. Although they didn’t discourage me reading more at all.
JLA #30, for example, was my first introduction to any of the characters. As a kid in England, I hadn’t even encountered Superman before. Because the JLA and JSA spent the entire story in costume, with no hint they had secret identities, I assumed they didn’t, not even the guys in masks. They just sat around the Secret Sanctuary (with the JSA sitting around their HQ on Earth Two) and … well, chatted and had dinner in between fighting crime, I guess. I also assumed the five members of each Justice team were the grand total of superheroes. I was pleasantly surprised to get JLA #28 (I’d hoped for #29, the first part of the Crime Syndicate yarn, but missed it) and learn otherwise.
Lack of knowledge led to other misconceptions later. For example, when the Atom bluffed some aliens in Atom #11 by claiming to be a gremlin, I assumed he was telling the truth. I didn’t know his origin, and it would have been no weirder than coming from Mars or Krypton.
With Adventure #310 it was more about art. It must have been very early in my comics reading days because I hadn’t grasped the concept of the splash panel (JLA #30 just had a text recap of Part One). I remember very clearly assuming that the opening panel, where Mask Man is gloating over the heroes he’s already killed, must be summing up a previous issue. When the various dead heroes showed up later in the story, I was completely baffled (“But .. he killed them already!”). Nevertheless the story made me a Legion of Super-Heroes fan. I figured out splash panels soon afterwards.
“Steal, Shadow — Steal!” from Hawkman #5 was the first story I can remember confusing me with continuity. Rather than just reference the previous Shadow Thief story, Gardner Fox took some time to explain how Carl Sands could return after losing his powers, and why his powers had changed. The explanations were just complicated enough to distract me from the plot.
Even so, I loved the issue. Murphy Anderson art, medieval weapons and the idea of a villain who can hurt you but you can’t touch him? Wow!
If there’s a moral to this post, it’s that if the stories are good, people will forgive not grasping everything at once. Or maybe that learning a new medium, even one that looks so simple, is always a bit confusing.
Art by Murphy Anderson (top and bottom) and John Forte. #SFWApro