I’m just going to come out and say it:
Crisis on Infinite Earths is one of my favorite superhero tales ever, information pills ranking right up there with the first appearance of Mister Atom and the issue of Captain America where Ronald Reagan turned into a nevernude snake-man.
My affection for DC’s 1985 line-changing event book is not of the blind variety, however. CIOE‘s flaws are many, varied, and intimately linked to its function as an internal audit posing as an epic narrative. Taken together, the twelve issues of the maxiseries come off as a series of nonsensical and unresolved plot points and tie-in seeds lurching toward an editorially determined conclusion — the streamlining of a tangled multiverse into a single coherent “DC Universe.”
The rest was just fan service, but it was exceptional fan service. Any comic that features a team of forgotten Silver Age sci-fi characters teaming up with Darkseid to save the universe a is going to earn a thumbs up from me. Even if the various components didn’t quite gel as a long-form story, they were extremely effective in incremental doses staggered out over the course of twelve months, which is how my thirteen year old self originally read the series.
COIE is a perfect example how the sum of the parts can outweigh the whole. In between the plot’s ever-shifting goalposts and layers of tugid exposition (“Gee, Nuklon, if your nuclear powered strength is of no use, what hope do I, Mr. Tawny the Talking Tiger, have?”) are scores of little shining moments. As I mentioned in my takedown of Peacemaker, one of the strengths of COIE is how the creative team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez were able to make even the most tragic z-listers seem cool, if only for a panel or three. Crisis on Infinite Earths may have failed at being a cohesive epic, but it did succeed in presenting the rich tapestry of DC’s fifty-year history as something vital, exciting, and worth following (and in that sense, it accomplished its primary intent).
Unfortunately, Wolfman and Perez’s marketing wizardy didn’t extend to the handful of characters created specifically for the maxiseries. The big reveal — after months of shadowy teaser appearances — of the mysterious Monitor, which presented the McGuffin-in-Charge as a battle-armored Ed Asner was disappointing, but also hilarious from standpoint of high expectations gone silly. (See also: the Zombie Cookie Monster look rocked by the Monitor’s anti-matter nemesis in the later issues.)
Crisis‘s other came-with-the-frame new bloods — specifically the trio of walking plot devices that collectively constitute this week’s Nobody’s Favorite — couldn’t even attain that level of unintentional hilarity.
Meet Pariah, Lady Quark, and Harbinger: a trio of yesteryear’s up-and-comers on the road to nowhere.
Harbinger made her debut as “Lyla,” the Monitor’s bodysuited personal assistant, in the character’s pre-Crisis teaser appearances. Once the multiverse-destroying festivities began in earnest, she donned a crimson lacrosse helmet and a kicky off-the-shoulder set of Flashdance Mk. VI battle armor before setting forth to gather the diverse roster of heroes required to fulfill her boss’s incomprehensible plan. (“Arm-Fall-Off Boy? I am Harbinger. The universe is in danger and your powers are needed.”)
As it turned out, the whole “gathering of heroes” thing was a bit of pointless busywork to pass the time until the evil Anti-Monitor could take control of one of Harbinger’s duplicate bodies and murder her boss. Dont worry, kids. It was part of Cosmic Lou Grant’s grand plan.
Harbinger’s role for the remainder of the Crisis consisted of losing her powers, regaining them, losing them again, regaining them again, and providing readers with the requisite volumes of backstory, in case they were having trouble keeping up.
In contrast to Harbinger’s proactive stance as a plot device, the purple-haired Pariah took a more reactive position. Formerly a hubristic scientist from an alternate Earth, Pariah made the usual mistake of tampering in God’s domain by attempting to videotape the birth of the multiverse. His efforts unleashed the universe-gobbling Anti-Monitor from eons of captivity, dooming his own universe and countless others. (Or not. Wolfman flip-flops quite a bit on Pariah’s level of culpability.)
In any case, it was all part of the Monitor’s amazing plan, as the unleashed energies turned Pariah into an invulnerable prophet of doom forever drawn to “places of great danger” (like Detroit or the passenger seat of an SUV where the driver is texting at highway speed). As such, he served as a “foreshadowing elemental,” freeing up Wolfman from having to waste valuable call-out and exposition time on trivial matters like plot or pacing.
Pariah also possessed the emo-riffic power to weep profusely. Which he did. A lot.
Finally we have Lady Quark, the nuclear-powered former monarch and sole survivor of Earth-6. Rescued from her doom by Pariah, Quark served the story by…um…well she…huh…give me a second…had a vital role because…no…
Well, she certainly was in Crisis on Infinite Earths. There’s no denying that. (No matter how much one might like to.)
Following the conclusion of Crisis, the trio took their act on the road for a short time, landing a guest spot in one of the odd post-Crisis transition issues (though the foundations of the revised DCU were laid down in Crisis, the actual heavy lifting everyone remembers didn’t start in earnest until the follow-up Legends miniseries a year later) of DC Comics Presents.
Harbinger went on rack up an impressive resume of appearances in such well-loved titles as Millennium, New Guardians (soon, yes, I promise), and the 2000’s jailbait incarnation of Supergirl, before cacking it and coming back to challenge Terry Long as the most uncalled for Black Lantern of all.
Pariah’s rather limited skillset made it difficult for him to score meaningful work in the post-Crisis DCU, though he did manage to pop up long enough to meet his long deferred demise…and, of course, return as the angstiest member of the Black Lantern Corps. (“Ahhhh! We’re doomed! We’re all going to di–oh, wait.”)
Lady Quark eventually found a home in the astonishingly long-lived L.E.G.I.O.N. book (did anyone read that series? Besides Mike Sterling, I mean), whose members had been looking for an albino Grace Jones to fill out the roster of instantly forgettable characters. Though she also met an an unceremonious demise, she was spared the indiginity of Black Lanternhood. Thanks to the fairy dust of misguided nostalgia, Quark was able to return alive and well in the pages of Infinite Crisis, thus allowing a whole new generation of readers the opportunity to not give a shit about her.
While I have a strong and enudring love for Crisis on Infinite Earths, that affection does not extend to the trinity of supporting ciphers left behind in its wake — which is why Harbinger, Pariah, and Lady Quark shall share the distinction of being this week’s Nobody’s Favorite.