I’ve always found it interesting that big comic book events overwhelmingly revolve around the concept of crisis, not massive scientific discoveries or exploratory voyages. It’s almost always a crisis that might destroy the human race.
I don’t exclusively mean crises from the DC universe, although the publisher’s largest events do carry the word as a promise of its heroes facing a superior threat. I mean crises as in all-encompassing problems that make the world lockdown, putting its heroes and resources against the wall in the face of insurmountable odds.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we might very well feel like we’re in a comic book crisis event. Quarantines have us constantly aware of the dangers outside, of what being infected by the virus means for us on a personal level and on a social level. It’s a scary thing, much like comic events tend to be when truly considering what it is that’s at stake if those who need to step up don’t.
And yet, comic book events also come with a promise: the forces of goodwill shall assemble and evil will be vanquished. People with masks and capes, with the support of first responders and concerned citizens, step up to the plate to present a unified front against all odds. Lives are lost and heroes fall, but the strength of many shows to be more than enough, most of the time, to push back and reclaim what was originally theirs.
Comic book crises, which are dominated by superhero stories, put our favorite characters through the wringer. We see them make mistakes first, find alliances later, battle skepticism and defeat, and then come to the realization that nothing gets accomplished without teamwork.
We might still be in that middle part of the process with the coronavirus, struggling with skepticism and defeat, but if comic book events offer any lessons as they reach the epic final battle it’s that nothing will get accomplished until everyone does their part to rescue that which is at risk of being lost forever.
This is not to say that comic book events are the same as the COVID-19 pandemic. But there are lessons that can be taken from those events that may be able to be applied to real-world situations. As with all works of fiction, these stories provide an experience that can make us think about life in all its dimensions. Comics are not the exception and they offer some valuable insight into our actions as people coexisting in society.
In that respect, here are 4 comic book events that deserve a read or reread in these times of crisis. They might carry lessons that’ll help us get through our current crisis.
- Final Crisis, by Grant Morrison, JG Jones, Doug Mahnke, and others
The anti-life equation threatens to live up to the name and change the universe forever. The Justice League faces Darkseid and his idea of what life should be in this third DC crisis, preceded by Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis (although some also include Identity Crisis in that line of events). Before all is said and done, heroes are beaten to a pulp, casualties ramp up (although some with the promise of rebirth), and apocalyptic destruction ensues in what is one of the most harrowing comic book events in the history of DC Comics.
I chose Final Crisis over the others because of its focus on Earth. The others are more cosmic in scope, while this one is all about the fate of humanity. Although the cosmic is most definitely present here, the grand design of the Multiverse is relegated to a second plane in favor of putting Earth’s people in the front lines.
Grant Morrison puts the heroes of the DCU through hell and makes them earn their victory as Darkseid unleashes his master plan to reorder life as we know it to shape it in his image. What makes Final Crisis so emotionally gut-wrenching is that victory comes with a cost that’s not always easy to comprehend. The sacrifices, the pain, and the loss are all worth the fight, but one is made to confront the fact that the price of surviving a crisis is constantly getting steeper. Hope here comes in how we answer the following question: what are we prepared to do in order to overcome?
- Secret Invasion, by Brian Michael Bendis and Francis Leinil Yu
The tagline for this event was “Who do you trust?” A worthy question to ask in times of uncertainty. In Secret Invasion, the Skrulls’ long-term invasion finally comes to the forefront as this race of shapeshifters reveals they’ve been impersonating Marvel’s superheroes for years. Trust becomes the central theme here, focusing on those doing things with humanity’s cause at heart while looking for those who have been silently trying to disrupt it.
This event poses the question of trust and intention above anything else and makes for a story where readers can contemplate the importance of a unified response. In the current context, this element is key. People trusting each other leads to the safety and good health of others. Bendis and Yu make us look beyond the shapeshifting and into individual actions. Who really has the intention of helping and how do they show it? It’s a powerful way of thinking about who’s doing their part in making a tough situation better and who’s still not contributing to the cause.
- Secret Empire, by Nick Spencer and Rod Reis, Steve McNiven, Andrea Sorrentino, and Daniel Acuña
This event is more political in scope, but that it speaks to the importance of information and power in times where it can save or destroy lives makes it an important entry. The story follows up Nick Spencer’s main Captain America book, where history is changed and Cap is revealed to be an agent of HYDRA. Hell-bent on becoming the Supreme Leader and installing a new world order, Captain America basically stages a coup that plunges America into a tyrannical state where basic rights change overnight and HYDRA’s idea of order colors the American experience.
This book was controversial, being released during the early days of the Trump administration, but I include it here because of its ruminations on information and how selling a narrative can put people at risk. Disinformation has been a deciding factor for many during this pandemic. People have resorted to fake reports to downplay the seriousness of the contagion and, in some cases, argued its veracity. In Secret Empire, this problem is amplified to show just how crucial facts are in a crisis. The idea is to go against being spoon-fed information that keeps people functioning under the impression things aren’t so bad.
In the end, heroes rise up and a good Captain America emerges to fight off evil Cap, but a lot of damage is done in the process. Damage that could’ve been avoided had both civilians and heroes dug deeper for reliable sources when contemplating the situation. The lesson? In times of crisis, demand more from your sources. Don’t stick with one article. Read.
- Forever Evil, by Geoff Johns and David Finch
Sometimes things get so bad, even the supervillains team-up. That’s the premise behind Forever Evil, a story where Earth-3’s Crime Syndicate jumps to Earth-0 to take over the world and make crime the new standard. Their plan includes ‘killing’ the Justice League (which means trapping them inside another villain) and then becoming the most powerful group of superbeings in the planet. This inspires Lex Luthor to create his own team, the Injustice League.
Forever Evil is a story about the need for everyone to band together even when those we rely on to save the world go missing. It’s not a happy-go-lucky type of story where DC’s villains see the value of good overall. It’s a story about necessity, of putting aside differences to tackle something that goes beyond them.
Geoff Johns and David Finch create a very dangerous set of circumstances and then put humanity right in the middle of it. Is submission the only sensible option in a world with an Evil Superman, an Evil Wonder Woman, and an Evil Batman calling the shots? Well, what if we could ask that in the inverse for our current situation? What if people, regardless of opinion and moral variances, recognize some things you just have to band together against?
It reminded me of how the politics surrounding the pandemic should ease up on partisan attacks and focus on moving past the virus. Not something we’ve seen a lot of, but some examples do exist and they should lead the discussion.
All of these stories offer hope come the close of the event. Heroes come together and, sometimes, villains put aside their evil plans in the name of survival. Events are great at providing examples of how we as a people should approach crises such as the one we’re going through now. So, with the amount of time we have on our hands, pick up one of these events, give it a read, and perhaps ask what some of our favorite characters would do in times like these.