Crisis In Continuity? What Crisis?It’s Business As Usual In the DC Universe

First of an eight-part monthly series by Jim Kingman

In the beginning, what should have been the dawn of one universe instead became the birth of many, and it became known as the multiverse. The centerpiece was Earth-One, where superheroes of DC’s Silver and Bronze Age of comics flourished.

Earth-Two was “an almost-duplicate world, occupying the same space as ours, but vibrating at a different speed.” This is the text of the footnote in Justice League of America #100 (August, 1972) that explained to me at the age of 10 how the multiverse worked. On Earth-One resided the superheroes I was familiar with, the JLA, Supergirl, Batgirl, and their like, and on Earth-Two lived the older, but equally heroic and colorful, Justice Society of America.

For all the talk of its convolution, the DC multiverse was not that complicated. The concept of Earths One and Two was a stroke of creative genius that made the annual summer team-up of Earth-One’s JLA and Earth-Two’s JSA a very special occasion. Over the years, more Earths and their respective universes were introduced — Earth-3 (Crime Syndicate of America), Earth-X (Freedom Fighters) and Earth-S (Fawcett characters, including the Marvel Family) being the most notable (and all introduced in JLA, come to think of it) — but it never got so out of hand that a small scorecard couldn’t keep track of them all. While awkward character continuities and overlapping future timelines were constant thorns of annoyance to fans throughout the twenty-three year history of the multiverse (1963-1985), it was easily put into perspective by placing the stories that didn’t jibe with “established” continuity on Earth-B (short for editor Murray ‘B’oltinoff and writer ‘B’ob Haney, whose work only gets better over the years).

Still, there was enough of a continuity confusion outcry to warrant some streamlining as DC’s fiftieth anniversary in 1985 approached. The threat of change came to various DC titles in the form of the Monitor’s satellite and his concealed form on both Earths One and Two and along the DC timestream. Then came the ominous herald in the form of advertisement: “The DC Universe will never be the same!”

In the beginning of Crisis On Infinite Earths #1 (April, 1985), a moving white wall of anti-matter energy approached, closed in, and swept throughout each universe, causing red skies of raging, adverse weather conditions to blanket all worlds. Then the white wall consumed all, leaving nothingness, and what had once existed and thrived was gone forever. This was the devastating threat of the Anti-Monitor. The superheroes and supervillains of many planets and universes rose to the occasion to battle this relentless foe, and while good eventually emerged triumphant, much was lost, including the multiverse. What once had been many universes was now one.

Crisis On Infinite Earths, written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by George Perez, was a 12-issue maxiseries published in 1985 that successfully rebooted the DC universe and laid the foundation for a major revamping of its history and timeline. It’s a great story, a stirring, at times extraordinarily moving, narrative with a cast of hundreds; it is one of the ultimate superhero epics.

The post-Crisis universe consisted of many revamped and updated origins for DC’s superheroes, including Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Power Girl. Since Earth-2 was not a part of the new DC universe, the Golden Age Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman and Green Arrow never existed. Black Canary became one of the founding members of the Justice League of America, replacing Wonder Woman, whose origin came later. Most members of the Justice Society were shuffled off to limbo, where they would remain in constant battle with a threat to Earth. Superheroes of the defunct Charlton line, including Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, and the Question, were incorporated into the new DC universe.

(In Animal Man #24 [June, 1990] it was revealed that the memories of the pre-Crisis multiverse were leaking out of the Psycho Pirate’s mind and taking flesh-and-blood form. Not only did Ultraman, Power Ring, Streaky the Cat, the original Bizarro and Hercules of Hercules Unbound seep into existence, but Overman, an evil take on Superman, also came into being carrying a doomsday bomb that had been activated to obliterate the DC Universe. Fortunately, Animal Man broke through the fourth wall, slipped between panels, and compressed Overman out of four-color reality. He also turned off the doomsday bomb. With that, the Psycho Pirate faded out of existence, and the reverse-Crisis was averted. This is a great story [written by Grant Morrison], one that could be the springboard, and justification, for the reinstatement of the DC multiverse.)

As time went on in the reestablished DC universe, new origins were concocted that contradicted much of what had been logically carried over from the post-Crisis universe. Hawkman’s origin was completely ret-conned (short for “retro-continuity”) so that it dramatically conflicted with his already well-established Thanagarian/Earth origins, and Hal Jordan’s origin underwent some changes that didn’t quite jibe with his early years as a Green Lantern. Continuity problems continued to escalate, necessitating another house-cleaning, and into play came 1994’s Zero Hour.

Zero Hour was DC’s second attempt at streamlining its continuity. It was virtually a carbon copy of Crisis. Again, the DC universe was rebooted, but the changes more subtle (for example, Joe Chill, murderer of Bruce [Batman] Wayne’s parents, was never brought to justice). The major result of Zero Hour was that the modern age of the DC timeframe was compressed to ten years, so that Superman was introduced, relatively speaking, in 1984 and all the other modern superheroes emerged after that. Also, the entire history of the Legion of Super-Heroes was ret-conned and started over from scratch (similar to Superman’s revamping in 1986).

(There is a tendency to substitute the term “post-Zero Hour universe” with the more popular “post-Crisis universe.” Technically, however, that is wrong because the modern DC universe is not set in a post-Crisis universe. It’s an accepted habit of comics industry insiders and longtime fandom to sweep under the carpet certain stories they felt didn’t work, or over time seriously regret the existence of, and I’m as guilty of that as anyone else. But, hey, history is history and continuity is continuity, and until Zero Hour is officially ret-conned or stricken from the timeline, the DC universe is actually a post-Zero Hour universe.)

Yet even though the DC universe is in a post-Zero Hour state, there is a lot wrong with the current status quo. Superman’s origin was recently revamped in Superman: Birthright, basically striking out John Byrne’s revision that had been established as post-Crisis and held up well into the post-Zero Hour timeline (I want to make it clear, though, that while I have my own personal gripes about disrupting continuity, I’m not knocking the quality of the stories themselves; I love reading comics too much to do that). While Robin/Nightwing has aged eleven years, Superman has aged roughly seven to eight. The Legion of Super-Heroes have been re-conned again. Many storylines pick up “six months” or “one year” after, which throws the timeline askew. A simple “that never happened” gesture is often used for past stories, and Mark Waid’s clever creation of Hypertime in 1998 has never been fully utilized (or appreciated).

It is also my understanding that Chris Claremont’s Sovereign Seven, which was firmly established in late-1990s DC continuity, is no longer a part of it. That doesn’t make sense. As far as I know, there was no “crisis” to eradicate their existence, and there was no single storyline explaining this. Sovereign Seven and their place in the DCU has simply been removed from continuity because DC management at one point said so. And while I concur that there are legitimate reasons for this off the printed page and behind the scenes, it is totally disruptive to an overall sense of fictional continuity.

At this point I have to ask, arms thrown up in frustration, what is the point of continuity? Even forty plus years of continuity involving The Doom Patrol has been negated, which unceremoniously revises major aspects of overall DC continuity. Continuity, for all its pluses, for all its advocates, seems impossible to maintain over a long period of time. Still, history is not that complicated, and all it requires is a little imagination to make the DC universe run smoothly and coherently in its past, present, and future.

Unfortunately, the foundation that had been so carefully laid out at the end of Crisis On Infinite Earths (and given a showcase in the wonderful History of the DC Universe) has been shattered. And yet, continuity, as seen in the work of writers Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison, to name just two, is very important and very much appreciated. But once again, there are multiple universes in the current DCU. Earth-2. Earth-Vertigo. Earth-Seven Soldiers. The many universes and dimensions that constitute all of Hypertime. Earth-We’ll-Stick-It-Here-Because-It-Doesn’t-Fit-Into-What-We’re-Doing-Currently. And so on.

With the release earlier this year of Countdown to Infinite Crisis, cataclysmic events were set into motion. It had become official. Something big was going to happen to the DC Universe.

Villains United, The OMAC Project, The Rann-Thanagar War, Day of Vengeance, The Return of Donna Troy, and JLA all serve distinct purpose in the overall picture and are coming at different angles to show the vastness in scope that is building toward Infinite Crisis. But while you can call them lead-ins or setups, don’t even think of calling them complete. Despite all that’s raging in these titles, from the destruction of magic to interplanetary war, from the uniting of supervillains to the relentless attacks of activated OMACs, these are only calculated, conniving distractions, for there is something, someone, bigger, more threatening, behind it all. And the effects have spread fast and furious: the Justice League of America is in disarray, Power Girl is under emotional siege by the Psycho Pirate, key players, almost at random, are being transported to mysterious, snow-covered mountain peaks, and the Green Lantern Corps is reforming! Crisis! What crisis?! This is business as usual in the DC Universe!

(While Day of Vengeance, my personal favorite of the lead-ins, is not a complete story in itself, what it sets out to accomplish is impressive. First, it creates a colorful team of magical characters spanning over fifty years of DC history. Detective Chimp was introduced in 1953 [Rex, The Wonder Dog #4], Nightshade and Enchantress [Captain Atom #82, the former, and Strange Adventures #187, the latter] in 1966, Nightmaster in 1969 [Showcase #82], Ragman in 1976 [Ragman #1], and Blue Devil in 1984 [Fury of Firestorm #24]. In the space of six issues they are each given distinct personalities and narrative voice and are ready to rock the magical corners of the DC universe. Second, actual change takes place in the destruction of the Rock of Eternity. With the death of the old wizard Shazam and his mystical home, much evil, including the Seven Deadly Sins, have been unleashed on Earth, and it remains to be seen what effects such abundant evil will have on the spiritual and material planes of reality. Also, the Spectre has taken on additional, almost matchless, power. Where there was a slim — albeit effective, but that would have been too easy — chance of stopping the Astral Avenger in Day of Vengeance there is virtually no hope now, so it remains to be seen if a new host can haul in the reins of the Spectre. Who will be the new Spectre, if anyone, is any fanboy’s guess [I’m leaning toward Black Alice, just as I’m leaning toward Booster Gold becoming the new Blue Beetle], but I certainly wouldn’t mind being surprised. Finally, there is the loose end of Jean Loring, the new Eclipso, imprisoned in non-decaying orbit around the sun. I wonder how Ray [The Atom] Palmer is going to feel about that when he finds out.)

Hopefully, Infinite Crisis will be what Crisis On Infinite Earths was, a sound, convincing, streamlining solution to a convoluted universe, and a grand, epic story that led to major repercussions. Infinite Crisis has the potential to be all that and more.

While there’s a lot of speculation that the Anti-Monitor is the major villainous force behind Infinite Crisis (and it’s pretty much a given if what I’m seeing at the end of Rann-Thanager War #6 is what I think I’m seeing), I personally hope it’s the more obscure Anti-Matter Man, who made his sole appearance in the pages of Justice League of America #46-47 (1966). The Anti-Matter Man, a wandering explorer from the anti-matter universe (same universe as the Anti-Monitor, as far I can gather), would have obliterated Earths One and Two with the merest touch if not for the combined forces of the JLA and JSA. In one of the most entertaining and ludicrous attacks I’ve ever read in the pages of a comic book, the world’s greatest superheroes, along with the cosmic ripples of an exploding Spectre, were able to send the Anti-Matter Man back to his own universe where he’s had some forty years to stew and plot revenge. And he would really have it in for the Spectre, which would explain a lot of the Spectre’s actions in Day of Vengeance.

What would I like to see come out of Infinite Crisis? The return of the Earth-Two universe (or at least the memory of it in the DCU). The expansion of the modern superhero timeframe to twenty years. (Yes, I know, that’ll make Superman over forty. But he’s Kryptonian, he can still look 29. Or, he doesn’t have to be the first superhero to come along. The Martian Manhunter, the Challengers of the Unknown, and other superheroes introduced in the mid- to late-1950s could be established first.) The return of footnotes and letter columns (in abundance). I’ll settle for any two out of three. Honestly, the comics reader in me wants a really good story, while the comics fanboy in me wants a multiverse once again; rich in characters, vast in history, complex in continuity, just not poised for convolution and casual dismissal as DC’s illustrious history carries on.

Thirty years ago, in November of 1975, at a time when Elton John was rocking the air waves and Jim Rockford was a popular TV sleuth, I bought a copy of Man-Bat #2 (Feb.-March, 1976). In it there was a reference made to a hidden race of creatures living beneath the North Pole, and in my mind I made the connection; the reference was referring to a story published two years before in Superman #267 (September, 1973). It was at this moment that the entire concept of continuity clicked in my mind; I realized that the DC Universe wasn’t just a bunch of disparate superheroes in their respective cities teaming up from time to time or meeting on a monthly basis as some superhero team. It was all connected, the stories, the characters, the geography, the chronology, the history. It gave my comics reading an enormous sense of depth and perspective that had not been there before, and it was happening right at that time (writer/editor Gerry Conway had come over to DC from Marvel earlier in the year, and he really pushed, successfully, to tie the entire DCU together). Thirty years later, as I read the many DCU titles in their varied incarnations, I am feeling, once again, that same wondrous, enormous sense of depth and perspective. I am beginning to believe, having read recent interviews with Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, and Dan DiDio, that DC feels it, too. And if that is honestly the case, I don’t think the future of the DC Universe is going to disappoint.

It kicked into gear October 12 with the release of Infinite Crisis #1. And I’ll be following and commenting on it every step of the way.

Trivia Questions:

In what DC comic did the Monitor of Crisis On Infinite Earths make his first appearance?

Name at least two DC comics published in 1985 that depicted the red skies of the crisis on their respective covers, but were not official “Crisis Crossovers.”

Who said this in Crisis On Infinite Earths: “And you’re a human with wings! Reality holds surprises for everyone!”

What popular DC superhero team book published throughout 1985 never had an official Crisis Crosssover?

According to a DC house ad published in 1984, what was the first title of Crisis On Infinite Earths?

What DC comic published in 1984 had the last panel caption announcement: “At last — The Monitor’s scheme! It begins in Crisis On Infinite Earths!”

About The Author

Jim Kingman is a writer for Comics Bulletin