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Crisis on Infinite Earths is a company-wide DC comics crossover that featured 60 superheroes and a number of Earths from parallel universes that had been part over the years of DC Comics shared fictional universe.
The fictional concept of the DC multiverse begins with the adventures of the JSA and the JLA central to which was the Flash. During the 1940s, after the debut of Superman in Action Comics #1 (1938), several costumed heroes surfaced such as Batman, Green Lantern, Flash and Hawkman. This introduced the concept of a shared universe where the characters would come to associate and go on adventures in the same stories under the flag team the Justice Society of America or JSA. This established that these characters existed in the same world. During the 1950s, the JSA's adventures would come to an end.
In 1956, Showcase #4 with the Flash would revive the concept of the superhero team. This new Flash named Barry Allen and not Jay Garrick would find success and would soon be given his own title. Three years later, characters such as Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), and Flash alongside Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter (introduced in 1955) would form the Justice League of America or JLA.
In 1961, Flash #123 firmly established the fictional concept of the DC multiverse. It published a story titled "Flash Of Two Worlds" where Barry Allen, the Flash met the old Flash, Jay Garrick.
The story explained that the two heroes existed on parallel Earths existing in the same space but vibrating at different frequencies. Many of the same events took place on both Earths, but some there were differences. On Jay's Earth, super-heroes were active during World War II and he was now middle-aged. On Barry's Earth, there had been not been a Justice Society. Instead, writer Gardner Fox was said to have "tuned in" on Jay's Earth in his dreams. These dreams were used as a basis for comic book stories published on Barry's Earth in which Jay Garrick was the Flash.
-- "The DC Universe Chronology," Mike's Amazing World
JLA and JSA first meet-up
Flash #137 (1963) featured the meeting between the two Flashes (Barry Allen and Jay Garrick) and in addition with other members of the JSA. It was found out that there were two Green Lanterns (Hal Jordan and Alan Scott), two versions of the Atom (Ray Palmer and Al). Doctor Mid-Nite and Martian Manhunter had no counterparts.
Two months later, DC Comics published Justice League of America #21 which featured the first ever meet-up between The JLA and JSA. The formal names of the JLA's and JSA's Earths were introduced: the JLA operated on Earth-1 and the JSA operated on Earth-2. The multiverse was born!
The meet-up occurs as a result of Earth-2 villains the Fiddle, the Icicle, and the Wizard arriving on Earth-1 and disguising themselves as the Crime Champions, a team of Chronos, Doctor Alchemy, and Felix Faust, to confuse the JLA. JLA then contacts the JSA with the Crystal Ball of Merlin when they are defeated in battle and held prisoners in the villains' Secret Sanctuary.
In Justice League of America #29 (1964), the JLA and the JSA are introduced to a third Earth: Earth-3. Here, the Earth-3 counterparts of the JLA are evil and formed the Crime Syndicate of America. Over the years, multiple Earths are introduced such as "Earth-A, Earth-X, Earth-S, Earth-C, Earth-4, Earth-Prime and more" (The DC Universe Chronology).
'Crisis On Infinite Earths' (1985-1986)
In 1985, DC Comics published Crisis on Infinite Earths in an attempt to revamp the company and solve its problems with storylines and multiple characters created by the concept of parallel universes. It was a 12-issue storyline that was a crossover all over the DC Comics multiverse. It began as an anti-matter wave began to wipe out the Earth-3 universe. The anti-matter wave eventually destroyed the positive matter parallel Earths. Only Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-S, Earth-X, and Earth-4 survived to merge into a single Earth with a merged history, that is, a single timeline.
The fictional concept of the DC multiverse is a theory that became popular during the 20th century as the theory of the multiverse. This theory posits that the Big Bang or multiple Big Bangs may be responsible for the creation of parallel universes with similar characteristics but differences. According to string theory, the multiverse is actually held together by strings that are the smallest units of dimension conceivable and it is possible to use string theory in order to prove the existence of a multiverse. In the branch of physics called cosmology, the theory of the multiverse appears at present as futile, useful only in science fiction, since it offers few applications in science and figures only as an interesting branch of research.
The fictional concept of the DC multiverse, however, rests on the notion of science-fiction, on establishing "parallel Earths existing in the same space but vibrating at different frequencies." In DC cosmology, it is an accident at the beginning of Time caused by a scientist's experimentation on time travel on Oa despite the legends on Oa that warned that calamity would ensue if one decided to find out about the origin of the universe, that caused the creation of the positive matter universe and the anti-matter universe. The multiverse was born from a scientific accident on Oa at the beginning of Time that caused a bolt of lightning to create it as Krona, the scientist in question, showed a vision to Oan scientists of the origin of the universe.
From the birth of the multiverse, evil arose in the universe.
The fictional concept of the DC multiverse accounts for parallel Earths, the conflict between science and religion on Oa in particular, and the birth of evil in the universe.
The DC multiverse can be understood in the context of the DC Comics as a story, a collection of storylines that converge and that coalesce around the concept of parallel Earths in an attempt to form a shared history and a single timeline. The DC multiverse centers on a quantum mechanical adaptation of power relations between parallel universes for the power over the DC multiverse.
"In order to sustain the theory of a mechanistic world, therefore, we always have to stipulate to what extent we are employing two fictions: the concept of motion (taken from our sense language) and the concept of the atom (=unity, deriving from our psychical 'experience'): the mechanistic theory presupposes a sense prejudice and a psychological prejudice...
The mechanistic world is imagined only as sight and touch imagine a world (as 'moved')—so as to be calculable-—thus causal unities are invented, "things" (atoms) whose effect remains constant (—transference of the false concept of subject to the concept of the atom)...
If we eliminate these additions, no things remain but only dynamic quanta, in a relation of tension to all other dynamic quanta: their essence lies in their relation to all other quanta, in their 'effect' upon the same. The will to power is not a being, not a becoming, but a pathos --the most elemental fact from which a becoming and effecting first emerge..."
-- from The Will to Power, s.635, Walter Kaufmann transl., Friedrich Nietzsche
At the quantum mechanical scale are the germ worlds that the monitors speak of in Final Crisis.
'The Orrery of Worlds'
Crisis on Infinite Earths begins with an anti-matter wave destroying Earth-3 and Alexander Luthor sending his new-born son to another Earth. Pariah, who announces the calamities, watches as another universe is erased. Flash goes into the past to warn the heroes but soon disappears. The Monitor sends for Harbinger to recruit the heroes of the positive matter universe in order to fight Anti-Monitor. He introduces himself as Monitor to the heroes and recruits them for a mission to protect the remaining Earths. Anti-Monitor sets his plan in motion and it is discovered that Alexander Luthor Jr is constituted of both positive matter and anti-matter. Harbinger kills the Monitor before he can have his machines begin protecting the other Earths. The cosmic essence of the Monitor is used to protect the remaining worlds from the anti-matter wave in the Monitor's satellite.
Only five Earths remain, and the remaining heroes regroup after the destruction of the Monitor's satellite. Harbinger tells of the origin of the DC multiverse and Pariah tells of his curse upon discovering its origin: to watch every universe die without being able to change it. Alexander Luthor Jr uses his positive matter and anti-matter powers to open a portal to the anti-matter universe in order for the heroes to confront Anti-Monitor on Qward, the anti-matter counterpart of Oa, center of the DC positive matter multiverse. Supergirl perishes in the battle and a memorial celebrates her passing on Earth-1. Flash dies preventing the firing of the anti-matter cannon built to destroy the positive matter universe. At the beginning of Time, Anti-Monitor attempts to change the origin of the DC multiverse in order to create the anti-matter universe as the sole universe. The Spectre intervenes with the mystical energies of Earth's mystical heroes and stalemates Anti-Monitor. The two disappear in a flash. The five Earths, Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-S, Earth-X, and Earth-4 have merged into a single Earth. The Earth is plunged into the anti-matter universe by the surviving Anti-Monitor and shadow demons are invading it as heroes fight them. A final battle ensues in the anti-matter universe during which the Earth-2 Superman deals the remaining armored Anti-Monitor a lethal blow.
Earth-2 Superman punches Anti-Monitor
Earth-2 Superman scatters the Anti-Monitor's remaining energies and in the end, they fall back into the star he was drawing energy from, only for the sun to implode.
Earth-2 Superman, Superboy, Lois Lane and Alexander Luthor Jr. retreat to a pocket idyllic dimension while Earth is merged into forming a shared history, a single timeline.
Crisis on Infinite Earths resulted in the formation of a shared history, a single Earth, and a single timeline. It removed the problems that DC Comics was having with its continuity, its storylines, its characters due to the concept of parallel universes and the DC multiverse. It led to the formation of a new universe, the Post-Crisis continuity that revealed an affinity for drama, heroic deaths—Superman died in 1992, six years after Crisis on Infinite Earths—and the popularity of the term "crisis." Since then, DC Comics has had many crises in an attempt to revamp its universe and establish a definitive origin of its characters: Zero Hour, Final Crisis, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, Flashpoint, Convergence, and now Rebirth.