Just about two years ago, DC Comics decided it was time to shake things up. This was no surprise. A revolution had been coming for a while, but this time DC was starting over from issue #1 on everything in their universe. When they said everything, they meant everything, including titles that had been around since the beginning, such as Action Comics, Detective Comics, Superman and Batman. Previously these books were untouchable, the holy relics of the comic book industry, and to do something this radical to them was a risky undertaking to say the least. As we approach the two year mark of this experiment, I think it’s worth taking some time to look back and evaluate how each of the New 52 titles is doing. So each Thursday in September (and the last in August. I’m looking at you, Justice League) we’ll take a short look at those books that came out two years earlier.
Before we get into the books themselves, it’s probably a good idea to take a look even further back and see how DC got to the point of needing a completely clean slate. DC has a long and convoluted archive of continuity that has often been intimidating to new comic book readers trying to jump on. More than once DC has tried to pull off a universe-wide reboot, but it hasn’t always gone according to plan.
Back in 1985, DC came to the realization that fifty years of uncoordinated continuity had become too unwieldy. How could they explain to new readers that Golden Age Superman was old but alive and working with the Justice Society, while Silver Age Superman was young and a part of the Justice League? Were there two Supermans? The original attempt to explain things away was the Multiverse, an idea that many of these characters existed at the same time, but in parallel universes, each one with its own history. This worked for a while, but after time these different Earths began to cross over with an increasing frequency that once again made it difficult to keep things straight, and it was decided that something had to be done. Enter Crisis on Infinite Earths, a universe-spanning event comic that would radically alter the face of the DCU. By the end, whole swaths of characters had been removed from existence, the Multiverse was eliminated and a single Earth (with a single Superman) was left behind.
Soon, events and characters were referred to as Pre- and Post-Crisis and all was well. At least for a little while. Over the next several years, writers began to reintroduce characters and plot elements that had been wiped out in Crisis. What was originally a pretty clean restart slowly began to resemble the Pre-Crisis DCU with all of its twists and turns. Throughout all of this, though, the Multiverse stayed gone. With no Multiverse there was still a limit on how crazy plotlines could get because all the characters had to exist within the same universe. That all came crashing down when the Multiverse was brought back in Infinite Crisis. Following several lead-in mini-series, Infinite Crisis revealed that Golden Age Superman had not perished during Crisis on Infinite Earths, but had, in fact, gone into hiding with his wife Lois, Superboy Prime, and Alexander Luthor (Lex Luthor from a different Earth). When Lois’ health starts to fail, Superman determines that her health will improve if she is returned to her Earth, and they leave their hiding place and begin an attempt to replace the current Earth-1 with their Earth-2. Eventually Superboy Prime goes crazy and kills several heroes and villains, including his Earth-1 counterpart, Connor Kent. Superboy Prime is stopped, but not without causing both Supermans to be depowered and a considerable body count.
The fallout from Infinite Crisis was taken up by the breakthrough series 52. An ambitious concept, 52 released an issue a week for a full year. Even more shocking was that this series would not include DC’s holy trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. This decision allowed writers to use lesser known heroes, relying on character development rather than just big names. The year started out with a series of stories which are interesting but mostly unrelated, but as the weeks passed the stories became more intertwined until it culminated with the reveal of the existence of fifty-two new parallel universes, created at the end of Infinite Crisis.
Now you may think “at least we’ve made it to the New 52”, but alas, you’d be wrong. Next, fans were made to suffer through Countdown to Final Crisis, a disasterous follow up to 52 which followed 52’s weekly release schedule, but lacked its overall appeal. The storytelling was questionable at best and it was populated by characters that most people didn’t really care about. Additionally, the plotlines became so skewed as the series progressed that by the time it ended they no longer lined up with Final Crisis. Subsequently most of the storylines were retroactively removed from continuity.
Thankfully Final Crisis turned out much better than its lead-in event. Written by DC’s powerhouse writers Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones, Final Crisis was a well written, if confusing story. Further tapping into lesser known characters, and adding more than a few of his own, Morrison made considerable use of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, most of whom had not seen much use in recent years. Additionally, the Multiverse played a major role in the Final Crisis with the inclusion of the Monitors, a whole race based on one of the key players from Crisis on Infinite Earths. While a great story, Final Crisis was anything but final and did little to help maintain the clean continuity that DC had attempted to setup all those years ago. And oh yeah, Batman died.
This being comics however, Batman came back (Turns out he was just trapped in the past. Happens to me all the time), just like many characters before him. While he was gone, however, readers were treated to Dick Grayson as Batman, as well as the DCU-spanning Green Lantern event, Blackest Night. As if things hadn’t been confusing enough, Blackest Night brought many dead heroes and their loved ones back to life as Black Lanterns (If your head wasn’t hurting before this, it should be right about now). While impressive for its cosmic scale, Blackest Night was a nightmare for those not intimately familiar with DC’s continuity.
The final stop on our journey to the New 52 is Flashpoint. The Flash (Barry Allen) wakes up in what he believes to be an alternate timeline in which Wonder Woman and Aquaman are at war with one another and Batman is Thomas Wayne, whose son Bruce was killed in Crime Alley. Eventually Barry finds out that he is not in an alternate timeline, but in his own timeline that has changed after he attempted to travel back in time to save his mother from dying. Barry is eventually forced to undo what he has done and in the process the DC universe merges with those of its imprints, Vertigo and Wildstorm, and the timeline resets, leaving us with the New 52.
This controlled reboot of the DCU was twenty-six years in the making and took several failed attempts to get right. Through the next five weeks, Therefore I Geek will explore the things DC has gotten thing right and point out areas in which they took a misstep or two. Each week we will discuss the first wave books that were released that week two years ago and see where they’ve been, what’s going on now, and where they are headed. Lucky for you, Week One only consists of one book, Justice League. Stand by for Weeks Two through Five and join us for a look at the state of the DCU.