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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, July 7, 2018


In TRANSITIVE AND INTRANSITIVE ENSEMBLES, I explored some of the ways in which various characters did or did not belong to ensembles occupying a work's narrative center. For instance, I regarded Captain America to be the only centric star of CAPTAIN AMERICA CIVIL WAR. while the Avengers and other superheroes were all "guest stars." Yet in AVENGERS: INFINITY WARS, it's not just the Avengers, but most of the heroes, including Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy, who provide the ensemble. Only a smattering of goodguy protagonists, like Wong and Nick Fury, don't qualify as members of the centric ensemble,  because they function largely as support-cast

This line of thought was designed to cope with the extended casts of multi-character smorgashbords, such as the Jim Starlin mashups that influenced INFINITY WAR. Generally speaking, I think most of these mashups follow the same pattern as INFINITY WAR, with one big exception: CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. 

I scanned through the twelve-issue series recently, and found that it was not structured quite the same as the usual superhero smorgasbord. Marvel's competing project of the time, SECRET WARS, included a huge ensemble-cast, most of whom were Marvel's most popular heroes. That said. as I commented in TRANSITIVE, one of the participants in the "Wars," Lockheed the Dragon, still rated no more than support-cast status.

CRISIS, however, was much more ambitious than SECRET WARS, given that it was a sendoff to DC Comics' complicated continuity. Whether for reasons of sentiment or marketing, Wolfman, Perez and whoever else worked behind the scenes attempted to work in not only all the DC heroes being published at the time, but dozens of characters without a current berth, ranging from Rip Hunter Time Master to Detective Chimp. I didn't even attempt to count all of the heroes who participated in the battle against the Anti-Monitor, but it seems obvious that, in order to function as part of the ensemble, a given character would have to "stand out" from the madding crowd.

Some characters are clearly front-and-center. like Superman and his dead cousin.

And the Flash, who also bites the big one here.

But when Wolfman and Perez kill off an almost forgotten western hero, the Nighthawk, within one page, I would have to say that the late, not-great Nighthawk is no more than a guest-star.

Ditto more celebrated heroes who just participate for a panel or two, like the Metal Men.

Even getting a few pages to themselves, as happens with this motley crew (one of whom is the Atomic Knight, an unsuccessful reboot of a John Broome concept), doesn't serve to make the likes of Dolphin and Captain Comet part of the centric ensemble. I seem to remember that Animal-Man (seen there behind Atomic Knight) plays a little more central role in another section, but this raises the question: what criterion here does separate the assembled from the disassembled?

In features with regular characters-- like, say, the MCU's Captain America series-- guest-stars are narratively subordinate to the starring characters. I've made similar arguments in regard to horror-stories, arguing that Doctor Moreau, not his animal-people, is the star of Wells' ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU , while Stevenson's Edward Hyde assumes more narrative importance than his alter ego Henry Jekyll. So clearly, if I were ever moved to list exactly which characters in the compendious CRISIS belonged to the ensemble, I would probably include only those that had a very strong influence upon the outcome of the overall plot.

Not that I anticipate doing so at any near point in the future, though.

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