I've been in worse places than this. And I've gotten out.
— Superboy-Prime, at the end of Infinite Crisis
In 1985, DC decided to clean house and create a stabler, more singular continuity. And so they gave us Crisis on Infinite Earths. And it was good (reception-wise), even though it left some issues with continuity (many of which were addressed in Animal Man). Since then, DC has not been shy with the Crisis Crossovers, though most of them could not live up to the standard the original Crisis had set. Zero Hour: Crisis in Time mucked up continuity a bit, and Identity Crisis was in reality just a murder mystery with a plot the fanbase doesn't quite agree on. In honor of the Crisis' 20th anniversary, the editorial staff decided to tie up a few loose ends and create a full blown sequel to it. And in theory, it was a good idea.
Since the Crisis, fans had complained that nearly every title DC produced had been getting progressively Darker and Edgier. The Big Three had been hit hardest. Batman lost his sidekick, had his back broken, had Gotham hit by TWO plagues and an earthquake, and just barely saved Gotham from the No Man's Land. Superman died, was replaced four times (two of which were a clone and an evil cybernetic doppleganger), and came back to life JUST to start. Wonder Woman was arguably affected the least, but was recorded killing Max Lord to save Superman. The DCU was dark and getting worse, especially since the events of Identity Crisis, The O.M.A.C. Project and others came to light. The opinions of the fans had been heard, but a question was raised by DC: "What would the heroes of the Crisis -- what would the Golden Age Superman think?" Their conclusion? "We saved the wrong Earth." Their solution? Recreate the Multiverse into a Merged Reality.
Thus the foundation was set for Infinite Crisis.
The survivors of the Multiverse, Alexander Luthor Jr, the Golden Age Superman (Kal-L), Superboy-Prime, and Lois Lane entered a 'paradise dimension' at the end of the Crisis, but were able to watch the new Earth. As time went on, they were disappointed by the growing cynicism in the universe and Prime and Luthor began to plan to replace the Earth with a better one. Kal-L agreed, but was more attentive to his dying wife, which Prime and Luthor used to break free from their dimension and enter Earth. Due to Superboy-Prime's punching of the barriers of the dimension, several things changed without explanation. While Prime manipulated events in space, Luthor stayed on Earth and disguised himself as the regular Lex to form a Secret Society of Villains (sans The Joker) and even recruited the treacherous Psycho-Pirate from the original Crisis. When another hero, Pariah, who was instrumental in the fight with the Anti-Monitor, came to warn Lex Luthor of a coming danger, Alexander Luthor killed him.
Because of Wonder Woman's murder of Max Lord (who was responsible for the murder of Ted Kord), the treachery of the Justice League, the movement of the planet Rann into Thanagar's orbit, and the center of the universe no longer being Oa, chaos broke out all across the universe. With Hal Jordan revived, the Spectre was without a host and was tricked by Jean Loring, the new Eclipso, into destroying the magic of the universe, which ultimately led to the death of Shazam. Not to mention that before his death, Max Lord hijacked the Brother Mk. I satellite and injected millions of people with the O.M.A.C. nanoprobes which were to activate and transform people into cyborgs to eliminate any and all metahumans upon Lord's death (and it was later revealed that Alexander Luthor screwed up Brother Mk. I further, causing it to go rogue, rename itself Brother Eye, and try to kill as many heroes as it can with its O.M.A.C.'s). Finally, the story began with the abduction of the Martian Manhunter and the destruction of the Justice League Watchtower.
Whew! And that's just the prologue to the story!
In the main story, Alexander and Superboy-Prime take all the heroes and villains that they spent the past year kidnapping and attach them to a giant "dimensional tuning fork". This allows them to recreate the Multiverse and bring back all the Earths that were lost during the original Crisis, which Alexander can smash together to form what they consider the perfect Earth. Luckily for the Multiverse, Prime picks a fight with the regular Superboy. The fight escalates, and the two eventually crash into the fork, causing all the Earths to merge into one Earth. Prime snaps and flies to the center of the universe in an attempt to destroy and remake the universe. He is intercepted by Superman and Kal-L, who beat him into submission, but not before he kills Kal-L.
Plus a bunch of other stories involving the Secret Society of Supervillains trying to Take Over the World by force, Batman leading a team to take down Brother Eye, Superman and Kal-L fighting over Lighter and Softer versus Darker and Edgier, and a bunch of heroes trying to do something about Alexander messing with the universe.
As with Crisis on Infinite Earths, a great number of Retcons occurred as a result of the story, in this case caused by a combination of the recollapse of the once dead Multiverse and the punching of the Source Wall by Superboy-Prime.
Superboy-Prime's Changes were:
- Jason Todd was restored to life, even though everyone remembered his death.
- Elasti-Girl and Negative Man of the Doom Patrol were restored to life, the Chief was restored to his original body and the team's history rebooted. The team eventually remembered its original history.
- Superman, Donna Troy, and the Metal Men each had the inconsistencies in their origins reconciled.
- The various incarnations of Hawkman... got pretty badly mixed up.
- Hal Jordan was never an ex-con who served 90 days in prison for drunk driving.
- Maxwell Lord managed to return to his full human self, but gained a deep hatred for superheroes.
The changes caused by the rebirth and collapse of the Multiverse were:
- Joe Chill was arrested for the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and was subsequently released after serving his sentence.
- Superman was briefly active during his teenage years as Superboy. As a result, his adventures with the Legion of Super-Heroes are once again canon.
- After losing and then regaining his powers, he regained the perfect memory and super fast computer-like calculative processes he had Pre Crisis.
- Lex Luthor spent his youth in Smallville and knew Superboy, eventually leaving under suspicious circumstances.
- The Original Seven (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), The Flash (Barry Allen), the Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman) were once again the founding members of the Justice League of America.
- The Justice Society founders regained their memories of the Golden Age Superman, Kal-L.
- The various versions of General Zod were replaced by a modern Kryptonian Zod (similar to the one in the movies).
Needless to say, in order to fully appreciate Infinite Crisis, you'd better have done your research, especially with the tie-ins as all of the above would eventually become more important later on. Worlds lived, worlds died (the same could be said of many characters), and the DC Universe was never the same... literally, as it was later revealed, due to the events of Infinite Crisis, The Multiverse was brought back, albeit with a definite number. Later references would call this event the "middle Crisis"; part of a saga that started with Crisis on Infinite Earths, and ran through Final Crisis. The Multiverse and the fate of it and many of the DC superheroes characters (read: plotlines) were later revealed and concluded in the immediate sequel, 52.
Currently being unofficially converted into an audio drama, albeit very, very slowly. There is also an official adaptation released by Graphic Audio... it's good for a car ride, if you're well-versed in the DC Universe.
- Battle Royale With Cheese: Twice. The first is the Teen Titans, the Doom Patrol, the Justice Society and some others versus Superboy-Prime, and the second is the battle for Metropolis.
- Because I'm Jonesy: When Lex comes face to face with a disguised Alex.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: Alexander and Prime. Kal-L doesn't really get involved in their schemes since he's too busy taking care of his wife (not that they told him what was going on anyway).
- Big "Shut Up!": Superboy-Prime, on Kal-L's Rousing Speech.
- Brought Down to Normal: Happens to Superman and Superboy-Prime at the end of the story.
- Chekhov's Gunman: In the second issue, The Joker is pissed off that he wasn't invited into the Society by Alexander for being too crazy and unpredictable. In the last issue he kills Alexander in an alleyway as revenge.
- C-List Fodder: According to The Other Wiki, over sixty named characters were killed in this event. At best, only ten of those characters were really cared about.
- Combat Breakdown: The final fight between Superboy-Prime and Superman and Kal-L as their powers begin to fade due to the red sun radiation they've absorbed.
- Continuity Snarl: The series was an attempt to fix a couple of DCs more infamous ones. While the explanation for what happened was mocked, the results were pretty decent.
- Criminal Doppelganger: Alexander Luthor Jr. for mainstream Luthor (who is also a criminal, but at least keeps his hands clean).
- Debate and Switch: Initially there was some ambiguity about whether survivors of the original Multiverse could be right in regards to the moral condition of the current universe. After the first couple of issues it was gone; the rest of the series had Alex Luthor and Superboy-Prime as the clear-cut villains and Kal-L ended up changing sides.
- However, Alex Luthor told Power Girl that he accepted that, no matter which universe or reality, a Superman and a Luthor will always be enemies.
- Facing the Bullets One-Liner
Blue Beetle: Rot in Hell, Max.
Superboy: I know Cass. Isn't it cool?
- Final Battle: The Battle of Metropolis. All the villains versus all the heroes.
- And leading the charge for the villains? Doomsday.
- Gondor Calls for Aid: During the Battle of Metropolis.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: At the end of the storyline, Prime carves the Superman insignia on his chest.
- Homage: Mongul Jr. shows up to menace Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman on the moon in a manner similar to the way his father did in For the Man Who Has Everything. Notably, the battle shows how divided the heroes are. It then becomes Continuity Nod in a tie-in issue of Green Lantern, which reveals that he was there to take the Black Mercy.
- Golden Age Superman smashing a car into Modern Superman in the same way he smashed a car on the cover of Action Comics #1.
- Hurl It Into the Sun: variant: Golden Age and Modern Superman carry Prime while flying through Rao (a red sun) in order to remove Prime's powers.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: The Joker has killed the members of the Royal Flush Gang and demanded to know why he wasn't included in the latest Society of Super-Villains:
- Insignia Rip Off Ritual: Superman does this to Prime.
- Join or Die: The Society's default recruiting tactic when would-be members don't believe that Evil Is One Big Happy Family.
- Kick the Dog: Batman gets a moment in the first issue when he tells Superman that the last time he inspired anyone was when he died.
- In a literal example, Superboy-Prime hurting Krypto.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: While searching for the perfect Earth, Alexander at one point reaches through panels to grab the reader.
- Legion of Doom: One of the largest iterations of the Secret Society.
- Medium Awareness: The connection that all the kidnapped heroes and villains had was that there were aware on some level of the full extent of Crisis on Infinite Earths. For some, that included knowing that the whole thing was a comic book event.
- Somewhere in issue 6, Alexander Luthor is standing in the middle of representation of the multiple Earths, searching for Earth-Prime (the "real world" from the Bronze Age stories)
- Never My Fault/Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Superboy Prime does a lot of victim-blaming on his rampages.
- Throwaway Country: The city of Bludhaven gets nuked when the villain Chemo gets dropped on it.
- Together in Death: Golden Age Superman and Lois.
- Too Dumb to Live: Alex Luthor underestimated the mainstream Lex Luthor and paid the price for not letting Joker get involved.
Lex Luthor: Now who's stupid?
- Unwitting Pawn: Kal-L, for Alex Luthor.
- What Could Have Been: Nightwing was originally supposed to die during the event; Ironically, the reason he survived is the same reason his death was considered in the first place - Dick Grayson is arguably The Heart of the DCU & his death would send shockwaves through the entire company.