How to Cope with Crisis: Examining the Regressive state of Comics through DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths


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Virginia Tech


The sudden and popular rise of comic book during the last decade has seen many new readers, filmgoers, and television watchers attempt to navigate the world of comics amid a staggering influx of content produced by both Marvel and DC Comics. This process of navigation is, of course, not without precedence: a similar phenomenon occurred during the 1980s in which new readers turned to the genre as superhero comics began to saturate the cultural consciousness after a long period of absence. And, just as was the case during that time, such a navigation can prove difficult as a veritable network of information—much of which is contradictory—vies for attention.

How does one navigate a medium to which comic books, graphic novels, movies, television shows, and other supplementary forms all contribute? Such a task has, in the past, proven to be near insurmountable. DC Comics is no stranger to this predicament: during the second boom of superhero comics, it sought to untangle the canonical mess made by decades of overlapping history to the groundbreaking limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths, released to streamline its then collection of stories by essentially nullifying its previous canon and starting from scratch. But in its attempt to further impose order on their sprawling body of work, the monolithic comic books company also further solidified a perception of comics as a conservative and retrogressive medium.

This thesis will explore Crisis on Infinite Earths as a means of revealing its status as a lens through which the traditionalist nature of comics can be understood. By examining Crisis through three crucial lenses—narrative, historical, and economic—I will argue that the text ostensibly designed to push past the canonical maze erected by its predecessors had the unintended consequence of actually rooting it further in its own history.



Comics Studies, Narratology, Continuity