Countdown to Final Crisis, Part 0: ORIGINS
by Damian Hospital
DC Comics has announced that May 2008 will feature “Final Crisis”, which will wrap up DC’s continuity changing storyline that have been happening for the last 5 years, although it many ways, it has always happened since the first DC comic ever published. I’d though I’d write a series of posts describing the events that lead up to “Final Crisis”.
There are countless (infinite? heh) websites and blogs that outline the fictional and real publication history of the DC Universe, so I will try and make my take on CRISIS different: to explain it to a layperson or casual reader, as opposed to a so-called “expert”.
For those of you who have no idea what DC Universe or CRISIS is, allow me to briefly explain:
Casual readers or non-comic book readers may wonder how it is possible for Bruce Wayne (Batman) to still be a crime fighter since the 1940′s, or if Superman remembers his encounters with FDR, JFK, Reagan, or Bush (both of them).
Or perhaps you don’t care, just like you don’t care about the aging of comic strip characters like Beetle Bailey or Blondie, or animated characters like Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny.
But comic book fans? Comic book fans are of a different breed, and have always demanded continuity and consistency(yet never received full satisfaction).
The truth is original comic book were solely for kids, but the older kids had a science fiction and pulp background, which promoted a tendency to question everything, and for all inconsistencies to be explained in print.
The sad fact is many writers (to this day) simply wanted to meet deadlines and make end’s meat, and didn’t have the time, desire, or even awareness to make sure every issue was free from past inconsistencies. Editors doubled as writers or marketers, so as long as an individual comic was free from glaring errors, it passed Quality Control, sort to speak.
The first true continuity controversy occurred when fans wrote into DC comics after Superboy appeared. Originally Superman was adopted as a baby, was the sole survivor of Krypton, and assumed his costumed career as an adult. However, DC wanted to capitalize on youthful super-heroes (which were side-kicks) by actually showing Superman’s “unrevealed adventures”…as a boy.
1) The additions of Smallville, Ma and Pa Kent, Lana Lang, Krypto, Supergirl etc. were all NEW additions to his Superman’s history, and began to be incorporated into his main book, even though he had said and done things which contradicted this. This is called retroactive continuity (RETCON). Although it was not called that, and although retcons have existed since the Bible (for thousand of years, the serpent in the Garden of Eden was…just a serpent. Hundreds of years after Jesus’s death, he became… Satan), members of the comic book community coined that term, after identifying it as a legitimate phenomena.
2) Superboy’s adventures occurred during the present day (1940′s), when it SHOULD have been around 1925. But the writers wanted a contemporary feel, not isolate the audience they were targeting. So Superboy made topical references and had technology of 1940′s, not 1925.
Later on, DC brought back heroes that they had stop published during World War II, which were original versions of The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and others. But they had already made new versions of these characters in the 1950′s and 1960′s. So DC compromised by having the original characters meet the updated ones, but by “revealing” the existence of parallel earths. In effect, the 1940′s heroes had (all along) lived on a different earth than the modern counterparts.
What about Superman, Wonder Woman, or Batman, who had continued to be published all through those decades? Well, they had different versions, too, and those Superboy stories were later revised as well- to a different earth.
I hope not, because it gets more fun!
Fans enjoyed this multiple earth set up, which was called the multiverse. It appeased older fans who appreciated the older history, the newer fans, and nitpicking fans. Of course, it eventually became a great marketing gimmick- to have superheros from multiple earths team up to face super-villain masterminds who joined forces. Can’t get any better than that, for a fan!
For over 20 years, there were many Crisis on Multiple Earths stories, and most of the earths were identified by numbers or letters. In fact, there were not a whole lot of complaints in the letter pages, just questions to clarify which earth an adventure took place in.
However, in 1984 the editors and writers began to see that they were still glaring errors, editors had to become continuity police, writers had to do research on each earth, and the duplicity of it all made heroes seem irrelevant and not unique (there were an infinite number of Batmen- so why is the Batman of “Earth-1″ so special? Answer: he’s not.)
So to celebrate DC’s 50th Anniversary in 1985, they promised to change everything. This was the first attempt for DC to blatantly revise the rules and history of the universe during an in-story drama. [To date, Marvel Comics (publisher of Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron-Man, Hulk, Fantastic Four, X-men) have never done this, and instead pick and choose which stories remain in cannon, and generally use a 5 or 10 year time-line for their entire history.]
To be technical, any DC comic published before 1986 is “pre-Crisis”, and is divided into 3 ages: Golden, Silver, and Bronze. DC’s sales began to slide in the 70′s and 80′s, as Marvel Comics (generally) ruled. To bring life into the sagging comic book titles, DC had Marv Wolfman and George Perez team up (they were very $$$uccessful with The New Teen Titans) to create CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, which according to issue one started in July, 1985.
My next Countdown to Final Crisis post will focus on that.
- The Golden Age Bat-Man who made his debut in Detective Comics in 1939, was killed off in the late 1970′s, with no fanfare or media attention. He had married Catwoman, and had a daughter named the Huntress.
- The Golden Age Superman, who made his debut in Action Comics#1 and is regarded as the first super-powered hero, was actually weaker than the Silver Age version. There is no fine division in publishing history (no issue saying “And now, here’s a new Superman!”) separating when the focus of Superman comics switched from Golden Age to Silver Age, although major revisions to his origin help us determine a date. However, keep in mind, the official naming of Earth-1 and Earth-2 occurred in 1961 , so any reference to a “Earth-2″ Superman story after then is a retcon.
- Modern writer, editor, and fanboy Mark Waid was able to list every earth (even some that were never named) in 1986, but there is no indication that the early writers and editors had any idea of the details and histories of the different earths- especially freelance writers.
- Anytime DC bought a new property (like Captain Marvel “Shazam!”), it was usually put on its own earth (like Earth-S!).
- Over time, Roy Thomas and other authors, writers, and editors (who were fanboys themselves) went out of their way to explain every published appearance by using the multiverse to explain them. In other words, for example, if Superman met Bugs Bunny, it had to be explained in a letter column or even as a note inside the comic as “actually happening” on Earth-WB. In effect, any published comic became “cannon” on its own earth, separate from “Earth-1″ where all the popular and young heroes (in their primes) had adventures in.