I’ve been a comic book fan for decades. More than fan even, if you ask my friends or family comics have become a sort of obsession for me over the years. And it’s with this otherwise useless knowledge of the history of comics that I will now write about the absurdly poor state DC comics has found themselves in, and how they are going to try and solve it all with what they are calling Rebirth.
If you’re new to DC, or comics in general then I feel sorry for you. This is a poor time to be picking up the hobby, especially if you are interested in the popular DC side of things like Batman, Superman or any of their mainstays really. Before we talk about the deformity that is the current DC universe lets look back a little at how they got where they are.
From the 1930’s to 40’s Detective Comics had some real hits under their belt. Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash to name a few. Post WWII they thought it would be a good idea to try and reinvent some of those characters, under the supervision of Editor Julius Schwartz in 1950 they started a new comic called DC Showcase. A place to try out new ideas, if they didn’t like them they could just scrap them all together. The first thing they did was introduce Barry Allen as The Flash with a more modern origin for his powers and dropped the previous version of the character (Jay Garrick). They did the same with Green Lantern’s Allen Scott who was more magic, with Hal Jordan who’s character was more sci-fi based. This confused a lot of people as DC literally introduced the new versions of the characters and stopped printing anything with the old ones. To explain what happened to Garrick and Scott they introduced readers to the “multiverse” in a miniseries titled “The Flash of Two Worlds (1961)” in which Barry Allen meets Jay Garrick. This is very important, because this concept of the multiverse, for the next six decades, becomes the cause of all the reboots in the companies history.
In 1984 DC had created so many different universes and variations of the characters that it was not only difficult to follow story lines, but hard for new readers to find a way in to reading any one comic series. It was decided to scrap the whole idea of a multiverse, this is done through the storyline “Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985)”.
To sum it up; two god like characters fight, the monitor and anti-monitor, major characters are removed completely from the landscape, and all of the multiverse is condensed. So that should fix everything right? It would have if they had planned it all the way through. There were still major discrepancies in some of the remaining characters. Kept because of readership and sales numbers, their very existence in some cases made no sense with the new continuity. Supergirl for example was now dead, but Power Girl was alive and well (the earth 2 super girl), but she shouldn’t exist if Superman was now supposed to be the only survivor of Krypton, and Supergirl dies in Crisis… See what I mean? Worse was that the Justice Society, the original heroes from the silver age of comics and predecessors of the Justice league (normally from Earth 2) were now supposed to be from the same universe, just a time before Superman and Batman et all. But if that were true, why did the Justice Society some times look on par or younger than Justice League members? Rather than answer these questions once again we REBOOT!
In mid 1994 DC runs a story arc involving the Hal Jordan Green Lantern called “Zero Hour: Crisis in Time”. The issues count down, ending in issue zero.
In short something terrible happens, Hal kills everyone, absorbs all the Lantern Corps energy, and he reboots the universe in a timeline we call “Post Zero Hour”. This reboot was so confusing to even DC that it had to publish a guide of what was and wasn’t in the universe anymore, In the zero issue of the series there are a series of charts explaining was has now happened to all of the major characters and teams post Crisis. This again left fans very confused, so rather than trying to fix things… you guessed it REBOOT!
This one is not as involved as all the others, it’s more of a soft reboot and takes place in the story line called “Infinite Crisis”.
The story concludes with the multiverse returning for a little while as we saw it before Crisis on Infinite Earths, but then it goes away again, and everything is very close to Post Zero Hour with a few exceptions that fix some plot holes, and retcon some weird choices DC had made. For example Jason Todd (Robin), previously killed by the Joker, was now very much not dead, was only thought to be dead, comes back as a villain, but ends up a hero, and that’s a whole story in itself. This version of the DC landscape was actually working out pretty well in this writers opinion, but some executive thought otherwise and… REBOOT.
Now well into the 2000’s DC starts it’s yearlong 52 event leading to “Final Crisis”.
The way it’s written, it seems like this was to be the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis concluding in Final Crisis. However, aside from the epic scale battles, and resurgence of some of the villains from the 1985 plotline the story is kind of a mess and makes far more problems than it solves. In sum, everyone fights Darkseid, someone called Mandrak, and at the end of it all Superman uses a magic wish-granting machine to reboot the universe to sort of where it was, kind of. Characters were now aware the multiverse existed. This now made the DC worlds able to cross over with one another, and with that DC was free to re-write any characters story they felt didn’t work at this point.
Then Flashpoint happened in 2011. Flashpoint was a great story centred around the new origin of The Flash, and what would happen if he went back in time to change one thing in his own past. I won’t spoil it because you should really read it it for yourself. In it we see a great alternate future which conflicts in a fantastic way to what was the current DC core universe. However, the aftermath of it is the New 52, which pretty much merges all things into one thing. It kills most of the multiverse all-together, DC re-launches all its main titles with new origins for the characters, all to make it easier for new readers to get into the stories and start fresh. So everything is rebooted… Except Batman, Green Lantern and Superman. Batman we are told all of his pre-52 stories happened, just within a 5 year time period before New 52 starts, and similar things are said for Green Lantern and Superman.
This was done, of course, because those were the best selling titles, and they wouldn’t dare try to tell fans all of their favorite stories for those characters never happened, or try telling them again. This reinventing of characters, changing of origins, and condensing of timelines went about as well as you would imagine. Some of the stories were amazing, but in the context of the past and future of the characters they made no sense. They shouldn’t have existed in the main continuity. Maybe DC should have gone back to the DC Showcase and released them as one shots, but keeping these new tales in the context of the main universe really broke it apart. New readers who thought they knew a character were now being told otherwise. And fans who had been long time readers were now being introduced to weird new parts of characters back stories, or changes to the fundamentals of the landscape of that character.
For me the downward spiral started with the Batman storyline Death of The Family.
The series starts with The Joker cutting his own face off. And at one point just being in the bat cave. This is explained, as he always has known where the bat cave was and who Batman is. WHAT?! And then they kill Joker. But not really because they bring him back in the next story arc, but only to kill him and Batman, they go on to explain the Joker can’t be killed, because he’s magic (that’s my summation of events), and in Bruce Waynes absence(because he’s dead, but again, not really…) Commissioner Gordon becomes Batman in a robot-Batman-suit. It was at this point I checked out as a reader and haven’t gone back to anything DC.
Oh, and then they did something called Convergence, which literally restores every iteration of the multiverse and every character that has ever existed. But I stopped reading at that point.
The DC universe is a mess. It’s been that way since early 2012, and I have been joking with all of my comic reading friends since Flashpoint that they were just going to scrap things and reboot the whole bloody thing. Well at Wonder Con this year, DC announced just that With “Rebirth”. The best part is how they say, and I’m paraphrasing here “Marvel did it with Sercret Wars, so why not?”. The Marvel comics universes is not something you should use as a shining example of a working, self sustaining model.
There are no details about Rebirth really, just that’s it’s official and it’s coming soon. I just hope they make a proper map of where they want to go with this reboot for at least the next decade. Plan ahead a little maybe. But who knows, in 2017 I’m sure we’ll get “Infinite Rebirth”, then “Rebirth of The Worlds”, and “Final Rebirth”. I can’t wait.
If you’re interested in a visual guide to the DC multiverse as it stands as of the publication of this article, Gotham City Memes has a great post about it on Facebook.