Earths in Crisis Week Kicks Off

Final Crisis is upon us, which just makes me want to reflect on past multiple worlds shenanigans...

LAST DAYS OF THE JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA SPECIAL #1, DC Comics, 1986
One of my favorite comic book stories of all time, the Last Days was Golden Age comics expert Roy Thomas's fond farewell to some of the greatest heroes of the DC universe at a time when DC thought best to retire them because they had, in a sense, become redundant.

See, the Crisis on Infinite Earths had just happened and... need a primer on this? Ok. In a nutshell... (This is harder than I thought...) Um... Ok. It's like this: DC's been publishing since the 1930s, and since that time, they've also bought out a number of companies and their characters. So to use all those characters, an editor by the name of Julius Schwartz invented the concept of the DC multiverse. Most comics take place on Earth-1, see, but the World War II comics took place on Earth-2 (explains how Superman could "slap a Jap"!). The stuff DC bought would turn up on similar Earths, so Captain Marvel (Shazam!) was on Earth-S, the Charlton heroes on Earth-4, the Quality Comics heroes on Earth-X, and so on. In the mid-80s, a 12-issue mini-series called Crisis on Infinite Earths made all these worlds crash together - it was the end of the worlds. At the end, you had only one Earth, one history, one continuity, which included parts of each surviving universe.

So suddenly, the World War II heroes really had fought in our own heroes' past, so our Flash must've been inspired by the Golden Age Flash, etc. Characters who simply survived unchanged from the 40s to the 60s just didn't exist in the past anymore, so any story with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in the 40s just never happened, or simply not in that way, possibly with other characters filling in. Confused yet?

The real confusing thing is that while many books were rebooted with totally new continuity right after Crisis (Superman and Wonder Woman being the most dramatic), some weren't (the Titans or Batman, for example, changed little), and some were only rebooted much later (like Hawkman, throwing all appearances between Crisis and his new series into confusion). My take is that at the end of Crisis, reality took a while to settle, and history kept changing for quite a few years as it tried to heal its wounds, erasing a character here, retconning events there. The Last Days of the JSA occurs in this post-Crisis chaos.

After all, though there was never a Golden Age Batman and Robin, the JSA are standing over their graves. They remember Earth-2 and believe that they are now simply tired copies of younger, stronger heroes. Hawkman gives a eulogy which is as much for fallen friends as for his entire generation and he announces the JSA's retirement. Cue the Spectre, probably the most powerful being ever given his own series, this guy is now the universe itself... and he's dying!!!

It would seem that history is already trying to rid the world of the JSA in the first of many post-Crisis birth pains, as the Earth has been destroyed since 1945! Naturally, the JSA is confused by this (are you?), but Dr. Fate (who's been given the appropriate information and can run it movie-style for everyone) explains in the few minutes they have left before that new history catches up to 1986 and wipes us all out.

It all comes down to the greatest comic book villain of all time. Lex Luthor? The Joker? Doctor Doom? (Get out of here, Marvel Zombie.) No, I'm talking about Adolf Hitler. Cuz listen, you can't beat a Nazi for nastiness, and Hitler's the lord and master of all Nazis. Best. Villain. Ever. And just like in Indiana Jones, he likes to collect occult artifacts of immense power. In this reality, he's got his hands on the Spear of Destiny, and in the closing days of the war, he means to unleash its full power and bring about Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, the End o' the Frickin' World! That's just the kind of rat bastard he is, what can I say?
In the new history, the JSA leave FDR's funeral bent on stopping the Fürer. Except the "magical" heroes who have always been restricted from entering occupied territory by the Spear (and from changing the course of the war, I'm sure). That's Wonder Woman, Superman (?), Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Dr. Fate and the Spectre. I've got to mention Wonder Woman's weird well-wishing here: "May Aphrodite be with you all." Athena yes, Hera maybe, but Aphrodite? The goddess of fertility and love? All that incantation is gonna do is get the JSA screwed, if you know what I mean.

And as predicted, a bunch of them get shot dead. First Starman (no!), then the Golden Age Atom (noooooo, he's one of my favorites!!!), Hourman (nooooo), Mr. Terrific (...), and Dr. Mid-Nite (nooo, it's not his fault he can't spell, he's blind!). That's when my actual favorite, Wildcat, loses it:
There's nothing like some rockin' action from Wildcat. And that was just a Nazi anyway, right? But in the end, it's not enough, and the world blows up real good!
So what's the plan now? Dr. Fate brings the older JSA to a time before the apocalypse and has them fight Ragnarok themselves. Yep, they go right up to Asgard, take the places and roles of the Norse Gods (Starman is Heimdall, GL is Thor, Hawkman is Odin, etc.) to try and buy time, drag out the Final Battle That Will Bring About the End of All That IsTM long enough for Hitler to give up on it and shoot himself in the head already.

But it's not gonna be easy. We get the Saga of the Norse Gods recited to us during the battle, and if the action is following that story hit for hit, everybody has to die.
This becomes apparent when the Flash (in the role of Frey) gets burned alive by Surtur, the Fire Giant With a Diaper of Doom.
Mmm, fast-fry... Time for more Wildcat action as he takes on the wolf-dog Garm: "Somewhere along the line, the JSAers gotta change the script somehow... and if somebody's got to start the ball rollin'..."
"...it might as well be the one-and-only Wildcat!" Yee-haw!
Elsewhere, one of the weirdest deaths in a comic book - ever - occurs when Starman decapitates Loki whose hair had become stiff like horns. The head flies off and slams him in the back, stabbing him fatally! That's straight from the Saga, kids! Those Vikings knew their comics!
The JSA win their battles, but most of 'em get skewered, poisoned or devoured in the process. When there are only a couple left alive, Dr. Fate resurrects the others (death isn't really permanent in this timeless place), but the evil Gods do the same and so our heroes get locked in an eternal battle. If they ever leave, Ragnarok will come to an end and destroy the whole of reality. And so the Greatest Generation of Heroes ends not at the old folks' home, but in a never-ending battle to keep us safe. Wow.

Eventually, the story will be debunked, dispelled, reversed and forgotten, but it doesn't matter. For a good long while, this is how the JSA saga ended, and it was a great one. I'm happy to have them be among the living again (those that are), don't get me wrong, but if they had to go, what a way to do it.

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