Crisis counseling
DC Comics embarks on a seven-month story that destroys its heroes and ups the stakes for villains

While most publishers dread the next crisis, DC Comics spent the past two years planning one. Infinite Crisis, launching on october 12, stands as DC Comics's biggest, most-aggressive venture in 20 years. The seven-issue tale - penned by Geoff Johns, arguably the best superhero writer in the genre, and featuring art by Phil Jimenez, one of sequential art's most prolific and well-respected artists - will streamline the DC universe of heroes, villains, and stories, redefine the publisher's most well-known characters, and serve as a jumping-on point for new readers.

"[People] are going to get angry, and that's good; that means they're involved, but the one thing we'll never do is let them feel cheated," explains DC's VP-Executive Editor Dan DiDio, who along with Johns and a handful of other DC writers planned the project over a weekend in Burbank, California. DC hopes that by putting its biggest characters at the center of the action, the new epic will serve as the perfect place for both new readers and those who left after the '90s bust to dive back into the medium. While previous large-scale events have helped elevate lesser-known characters, the point of Infinite Crisis is to give readers from six to 60 a complete experience without bogging them down with heavy continuity or the need to be a lifelong comic-book aficionado.

The series - its title is inspired by 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths, which itself redefined DC's big guns for a new generation and destroyed the DC universes that featured worlds where heroes still fought World War II villains, where some heroes had evil counterparts, and even one world where the only hero was a young Superboy - is still being held under tight wraps by DiDio and the series's creative team. But the events leading up to the event have already shocked, amazed, and - in some cases - severely upset fans. Already shaking up the continuity and stability of the fictional-comic-book world, fans have been privy to Batman discovering he was betrayed years ago by the Justice League, Wonder Woman killing a powerful villain running a shadowy government organization, and the world's largest villains regaining their most evil intentions, killing, murdering, and even raping their way through a bloody lead-in to the events of Infinite Crisis. "We're really trying to make Crisis as accessible as possible, which is extremely difficult to do because it involves so many characters," says Johns. "But, again, you don't need to know all the details. obviously the mainstays are there - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman - and heavily focused on. There are a ton of great characters, and a lot happens to them over the course of Infinite Crisis. Some change and evolve, others fall, but it really is about trying to bring everybody on stage. We probably have 90 percent of the DCU showing up, if not more - but without losing focus on what the story is."

Jimenez, best known for fine line detail and dynamic scenes reminiscent of classics such as artist George Perez's Crisis on Infinite Earths and trained by legends such as the innovative graphic-novel inventor Will Eisner, will take time off from his creator-owned series for DC's Vertigo line to produce the series.

"Honestly, what I'm most looking forward to is drawing Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman together," admits Jimenez. "I have a longstanding love affair with Wonder Woman, but for me, the three of them are far more interesting in the context of each other than they are separately. Their backgrounds, their Mos, their sensibilities, the way they approach their jobs - it's all fascinating. For readers, they provide three different alternatives to the heroic ideal. For characters, it's much the same - each one can provide a very different inspiration. As our three premier characters, there are so many dramatic possibilities. For instance, though Superman stands for 'truth, justice, and the American way,' sometimes truth might clash with the American way."

Although the new series stands on its own, the planning goes back 24 months to Identity Crisis - a major DC spectacle by New York Times-bestselling novelist Brad Meltzer - which revealed that the Justice League has for years toyed with villains' minds to make them less threatening, and did the same to Batman when he discovered the League's plot. That series then launched into four new monthly six-part miniseries - Rann/Thanagar War, which showcased DC's outer-space heroes; Villains United, which saw Lex Luthor form a new society of evil baddies to take down the JLA; The oMAC Project, which revealed a shadowy government conspiracy to keep powerful heroes such as Superman and Wonder Woman in check; and Day of Vengeance, which featured the publisher's mystical heroes in a fight to the death to preserve the sorcerers of DC continuity.

These stories all dovetail in the new Crisis, where DC will also do the unthinkable - jump its universe ahead an entire year at the beginning of February. As Infinite Crisis hits its fifth issue, all the titles in the entire line will leap forward one year, leaving hardcore fans to pick up the miniseries to find out how and why some of their favorite characters have changed or evolved so drastically after the climax of what DiDio calls, "the worst day ever in the DC Universe." "This is going to be pretty big for us," says Jaben Wyneken, a trend buyer at Newbury Comics. "This is the biggest preorder I've ever done on a comic as far as a single issue goes. The build-up by DC has really helped; from what I see number-wise this is much bigger than any standard DC or Marvel miniseries, sales-wise."

According to Johns, while the new focus on DC's heroes and amazing sales is nice, his biggest concerns are making sure fans of the genre - both new and old - receive a story that stays with them long after putting down an individual issue, and making the DC Universe a much more dangerous place for its illusory inhabitants.

"Hopefully this is the payoff of all the work everybody's been doing for where we're taking the DC Universe into 2006 and beyond," says Johns. "Everything's story-driven. We're all trying to do the best stories we can. These villains have to be real threats. They've got to be as tough as the heroes are, or tougher, because that makes our heroes stronger. There's nothing better than having a hero go up against someone more powerful and smarter than them, and winning anyway because they're doing the right thing. That's why I like making villains capable, powerful, and nasty - because it makes our good guys look that much better."

Infinite Crisis is sure to be the talk of Wizard World, a comics/movies/action-figure fest being held from September 30 to october 2 at the Bayside Expo Center. Go to BostonPhoenix.com for details.