Armagideon Time

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.

17 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Crisis management”

  1. Thomas

    Ummmm….I read L.E.G.I.O.N. up until its transformation into R.E.B.E.L.S.

  2. Tim O'Neil

    I have never agreed with you more than at this moment.

  3. MrJM

    I too read L.E.G.I.O.N. but didn’t read R.E.B.E.L.S.

    — MrJM

  4. Patrick Rennie

    Wait, they made Lady Quark up? I always figured they killed off one of their least popular story universes to up the drama. I’d be disappointed – except I’m not really all that fond of the character or Crisis. Glad someone enjoys it, though. Crisis I mean, not Lady Quark.

  5. Kris

    …Yeah, I have to admit, I read L.E.G.I.O.N. too.Although I can’t really remember why at this point.I liked the art? A captain comet fetish? Who can say…

    As far as crisis goes,I caved & picked up the trade a few years ago & it caught my wifes attention.She asked about it and I basically said that unless she’d been reading comics regularly for the past 20 years she shouldn’t waste her time & she wouldn’t understand it.That went over as about as well as you’d guess & she was determined to read it.

    I don’t think she even made it to the half way mark.Frankly as someone who has read (wasted)20 years worth of comics,I don’t think I’d understand it if I hadn’t read it back in ’85…..

  6. Diabolu Frank

    L.E.G.I.O.N. was a pretty alright series. It was a darker, more twisted take on the 30th Century Legion, usually with better art (particularly when Barry Kitson was on board.) Vril Dox is one of DC’s great morally ambiguous manipulative geniuses and Lobo wasn’t completely pointless. I especially dug the later issues leading into Zero Hour, and after a rocky start with heinous art, R.E.B.E.L.S. Vol.I was great. Who wouldn’t love a series where a guy must battle his own facistic infant son in between diaper changes? It’s like Faith No More’s “The Zombie Eaters” writ large.

  7. Chris Gumprich

    I seem to recall that at one point Harbinger was going to have her own monthly series — even going so far as being listed in a subscription ad.

    Now that I think about it, that might not have sucked… she teams up with someone every month, and that someone saves the day.

  8. David Thiel

    While I hate the damage that “Crisis” wrought on my beloved DC multiverse–damage that’s still being undone 25 years later–I admit that it was one hell of a ride at the time.

    Seeing Harbinger and Pariah here reminds me of one inescapable truth: while George Perez was one of DC’s best artists, he was ass as a costume designer. Monitor, Jericho, Kole…DC’s Next Bottom Models.

  9. thom

    I second the sentiment that George Perez should leave costume design to someone else. His designs are so complicated that only he could draw them repeatedly. Also, enough with the puffy sleeves and asymmetry already. (Although, we know the queen of awful asymmetrical costumes, right?

    Anyway, isn’t this the fate of any character created specifically for a cross-over series? Remember that one guy who could travel between the Marvel and DC universes, and he’s made of rainbows or something? You know who I’m talking about, right? Waverider? He sucked, too.

  10. mikesensei

    I enjoyed the original issues of Crisis as they came out, and it was only when I sat down to read all 12 in one sitting that I realized just how poorly plotted it was.

    I think Pariah (or “Panic Boy,” as a reviewer in Amazing Heroes dubbed him back in the day) could be a fun character if played for laughs. An angsty foil for the Geffin-DeMatteis JLI or the Bierbaum incarnation of Matter-Eater Lad.

    And now can’t get the image out of my head of someone driving down the highway, and having Pariah appearing in the passenger seat, sobbing about great danger–and thus causing an accident.

  11. edosan

    Looking at that fourth panel, it’s sort of shocking to realize that Vibe isn’t the most pathetic character in that scene.

  12. Jeff R.

    I, too, admit to liking L.E.G.I.O.N. (In fact, I liked just about anything set in DC Universe outer space that was not connected too closely to Green Lantern mythology.)

    Pariah developed the schtick of ‘showing before the next crossover begins’, which later developed into ‘getting killed before the next crossover begins’ for the last few instances. I’m sure someone could do something interesting with him (I mean, he’s basically an alternate universe version of Krona.), but I doubt anyone ever will.

    So: if these three are the Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison of characters created for COIE, which out of the Anti-Monitor and Superboy Prime is Ringo and which is Pete Best?

  13. Your Obedient Serpent

    … 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.

    Just the other day, on the phone with a friend, I said almost exactly this. Being a heretic who actually lived through the Bronze Age, I said it in regard to Barry Frakking Allen.

    Barry was no Z-Lister, but he was a character who had a hard time finding an audience, and whose book wasn’t scraping enough sales together to keep in print, in a time when DC was less prone to killing a book and firing up a new #1 every six to eight months. His title was dragging, and his “retirement to the 30th century” wasn’t because Crisis was looming — it was because they’d finally canceled his book.

    In 1985, Barry Allen was Nobody’s Favorite.

    He didn’t become the iconic fan-favorite until Wolfman and Perez gave him his finest hour in Crisis.

  14. Sallyp

    God, Pariah was annoying. I’m so glad that I’m not the only one who thought so.

  15. Kid Kyoto

    I read LEGION and I read REBELS.

    Does that mean I win the thread?

  16. Kris

    If by win you mean “win” then sure.

  17. Sumguy

    I did kinda like Pariah’s outfit. The green and black just kind of worked for me.

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