Worlds Will Live, Worlds Will Die: Myth, Metatext, Continuity and Cataclysm in DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths
In 1985-86, DC Comics launched an extensive campaign to revamp and revise its most important superhero characters for a new era. In many cases, this involved streamlining, retouching, or completely overhauling the characters’ fictional back-stories, while similarly renovating the shared fictional context in which their adventures take place, “the DC Universe.” To accomplish this act of revisionist history, DC resorted to a text-based performative gesture, Crisis on Infinite Earths. This thesis analyzes the impact of this singular text and the phenomena it inspired on the comic-book industry and the DC Comics fan community. The first chapter explains the nature and importance of the convention of “continuity” (i.e., intertextual diegetic storytelling, unfolding progressively over time) in superhero comics, identifying superhero fans’ attachment to continuity as a source of reading pleasure and cultural expressivity as the key factor informing the creation of the Crisis on Infinite Earths text. The second chapter consists of an eschatological reading of the text itself, in which it is argued that Crisis on Infinite Earths combines self-reflexive metafiction with the ideologically inflected symbolic language of apocalypse myth to provide DC Comics fans with a textual "rite of transition," to win their acceptance for DC’s mid-1980s project of self-rehistoricization and renewal. The third chapter enumerates developments in the comic-book industry and superhero fandom in the past twenty years that are attributable to the influence of Crisis on Infinite Earths. My final assessment is that although Crisis on Infinite Earths failed in some respects to have its intended effect on “the DC Universe” and its readership, it did serve as a powerful mythological mediator in the introduction of new ways for superhero stories to interact with their own fictional and historical contexts and with their audience, and it fostered new generic expectations and reading practices among the superhero fan community.
School:Bowling Green State University
School Location:USA - Ohio
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Keywords:crisis on infinite earths dc comics superhero continuity apocalypticism mythology historicism
Date of Publication:01/01/2006