In our universe, in our continuity, the old DC Universe has ended. The new DC Universe (DCnU as it’s often called) has risen.
I’m going to look at the event comics I’ve loved and hated, and why this change is necessary. There are more events of varying quality, but these are the ones which have affected the DC Universe as a whole.
CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS
A giant, otherworldly force screws with the multiverse (hundreds of alternate universes DC established to get away with huge concepts like killing Batman). A few obscure and alternate reality heroes band together and save the worlds, only to have them merge with each other to make one Earth.
This was the first big continuity tidy-up, smoothing the lines, removing unnecessary creases in the world. Superman’s origin was completely re-done while some titles like the Legion of Super-Heroes pretty much continued as it, getting rid of continuity problems as and when they arose. Pretty much like the New 52’s doing. In fact, those two examples are exactly what the New 52 is doing.
It was good, and despite the scope of the story, you didn’t need a vast amount of knowledge, I know this as I don’t know much about the non-Legion teams from this time.
Again, time goes on, and time gets messed with. Green Lantern Hal Jordan (the 60’s to 80’s one) turned evil, destroyed the Green Lantern Corps (think the police of space) and in this series, he tried making time ‘better’. He restored Batgirl’s ability to walk, brought Green Arrow back from the dead, and more. Time was restored at the end of it, but origins were tweaked again, people were made younger. This seemed to be a habit DC would do once a decade or so. A hard reset which didn’t wipe the slate clean, but did modify it.
This is an awkward one. It’s a brilliantly-told story, all apart from a couple of aspects. The loved one of a minor Justice Leaguer dies, and we realise that as more supporting characters fall, even the most invulnerable heroes have weaknesses. The people they love, fathers, sons, husbands and wives. It’s tragic, and it humanises the Justice League more than almost anything before it had.
There is a bugbear, and that is rape. Sue Dibny was the only non-hero to hold a membership with the Justice League of America, she was the sane wife to the Elongated Man, but that still made her a gleeful eccentric compared to the rest of the JLA. She was funny, charming and very much the heart of at least one League line-up. In the first issue she dies and it’s tragic. It’s terrible. For me it doesn’t feel like a case of “women in refrigerators” because she’s such a core to the continuity, she’s not a non-essential love interest who dies and makes a quest happen.
But there’s the elephant in the room. In a flashback, it is revealed that the villain Doctor Light raped Sue Dibny and the Justice League of the time wiped his memory, then rewrote his personality. Batman found out and they had to wipe his memory, too. This had to happen for future stories, but it felt unnecessary, it felt cruel. It explained why Lex Luthor could unmask the whole JLA and then still not know who Superman was. It wrapped up past continuity, it created future continuity. It was like a terrible, terrible sacrifice at the altar of DC Comics. I don’t like it, but it’s there, locked in to the timeline of DC.
That aside, the story was fantastic, it was heartbreaking. Green Arrow was a character I didn’t care about and as the witness to the events, he was deeply humanised. The cast were all vulnerable people, none more so than one of the youngest heroes to suffer a loss. I’ll keep spoiler free as this is a story that is worth reading, but the build towards that scene, the repercussions and the horrible inevitability of a life as a super hero were some of the most affecting scenes I’ve read in comics.
But there we had it, the dark DC was here to stay.
For the anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC undid what happened before, they recreated the multiverse. It’s a fun event story, but way too mired in past continuity both before and after the original Crisis. If you can get over not understanding 50-75% of the minutiae, you can do this book. This is where I started following modern DC Comics not called The Legion of Super-Heroes.
Continuity got several hard and soft resets because a psychotic alternate universe Superboy punched reality. Yes. That happened, and his personality was based on whiny internet trolls, to make things simultaneously better and worse.
Anything which changed could be answered with, “Superboy Prime punched reality” as if that was enough. Thanks to Let’s Be Friends Again, the retort to anything as weird as this has become, “Comics Everybody!” amongst my friends. They’ve reached meme-hood as we expect this level of weird from our comic books now.
An amazing project. DC skipped ahead a year after Infinite Crisis, but this showed that missing year and was the best thing DC put out for ages, and the best thing they would put out for at least another year.
This was supposed to be a ‘Tour of the DC Universe’ during a time where Superman was powerless, Batman was cruising around the world with his sidekicks and Wonder Woman was cultivating a new secret identity. It turned into brilliant tales of C/D list DC heroes and made most of them stars. This had the best of DC writers behind it and is a wonderful four-volume series.
DC put this book out weekly as a test and it worked amazingly. It wasn’t quite an event, but it outshone anything else DC was doing at the time. And it gives me an excuse to talk about…
COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS
Oh Countdown… This is the best reason for the New DC Universe. The four writers of 52 were The Beatles. They were all legends in their own right and made an amazing product, but those personalities were bigger than editorial’s control could ever be. Countdown was supposed to be another weekly series, building up to Final Crisis. Instead it’s been ignored by everyone. That’s the best thing for it. When I lend the big events out, I skip this, just like I’m skipping the story of it here.
Brilliant, confusing and divisive. Final Crisis was the day that evil won. Darkseid took over earth with evil maths which took over people’s minds. Everything was lost, it was written. Grant Morrison, the mad scot, had Superman do his most Superman thing, he used a miracle machine to rewrite the end of the story, to make good win. Because Superman exists, so must good.
It was perfect, but the style of telling the story was jarring, hearkening back to the pacing of old events. As the planet was being sucked down a black hole of time and space, the narrative itself was reduced into dramatic beats, into non sequiturs. It’s a good, heady idea, but didn’t come off well to the people who just wanted the JLA fighting dudes.
Originally a Green Lantern event, it took over the DC Universe for as long as it was fun and then some. The dead came back as monsters who inspired and fed on emotions, less like Night of the Living Dead and more like Conversations With Dead People. Death itself was fed up with the endless resurrections and decided to make everything dead. The DC Universe won, thanks to the Green Lantern events, and people from the past came back to life. It smacked of, “You remember the past? You miss the past right? Let’s do that instead of something new, okay?”
It was a fun event at first, but even hardened, apologist fans like me wanted it over.
The final event. The world changes. There’s no dignified last hurrah for the DC Heroes. Barry Allen, The Flash, wakes up and the world’s terrible. Batman’s a psychopath who kills people and runs a chain of casinos, worse, he’s the mentally unstable father of Bruce Wayne, who died on that fateful night in Crime Alley. Superman is a weak experiment in a lab, never exposed to the yellow sun of Krypton. Wonder Woman and Aquaman are warlords who have destroyed most of the world, fighting in the ruins of the United Kingdom, now claimed by the Amazons.
Every JLA member’s life has gone wrong and only Flash knows.
This is the final straw of my patience with event comics, so it’s good that this is the end.
The Flash is the only person who knows the world has changed, he reckons it’s the Reverse Flash, who wants to change the world and screw with the man who was his inspiration, but he can’t kill him, or he won’t exist. It’s a difficult conundrum for him.
The JLA equivalent of this world team up to stop the Aquaman/Wonder Woman war from destroying the world while Thomas Wayne Batman and Flash try to change the world back. Tom wants to die if it brings Bruce back.
There’s a big war scene where it’s Aquaman vs Wonder Woman vs JLA. Most people are killed, and Reverse Flash appears.
He reveals that it wasn’t him who made this world. It was Flash. Recently it was discovered that Reverse Flash went back in time and killed the proper Flash’s mother. He made the inciting incident which made Flash who he was. Grieving, the Flash went back in time, saved her and wrecked continuity. It was such a big change of time it rippled to everyone he was connected to, past, present or otherworldly. He’d made Flashpoint and had to undo it. He does when he’s reminded (as are we) that the war we’ve been privy to for five months doesn’t matter and runs back in time to make things back like they were.
Flash does this, travels to the present and everything’s a little different. He’s in the New DC Universe, but isn’t aware that things were ever NOT this way. The end.
Now what I’ve told you sounds half way coherent. Only half, but still, that’s an improvement on the book. Flashpoint requires two things of the audience, and this is why it fails at storytelling. It may not be set in the old DC, but you need to know about it to take in the changes and the little things like the Flash/Reverse Flash issues involving the Flash’s mother. Everything is different in context of what it is now, it doesn’t feel like Age of Apocalypse in X-Men which was a whole, self-contained universe.
The other caveat is that you will read everything else. Most of the issues meander around and demand that ‘to get the full story’ you need to check out the other comics. It’s not mandatory, but it is, really.
Why is Superman like this? Read Superman. Why are Aquaman and Wonder Woman warring? Read their books. Who are Grifter and the Resistance? Read Lois Lane and the Resistance. And so on.
In comics-space and in our own reality, it’s the inciting incident and the reason why we need a New 52.
Next time, my thoughts on the Justice League…