The DCU, Old and New. Part 1 of 3

Doctor Q October 24, 2011 No Comments »

Greetings fellow fanboys and fangirls. The good folks here at SpaceGypsies asked me if I could pitch in and serve as their comics correspondent. Normally, for those that know me over on Steampunk Chronicle, I tend to be overly active in that world – so I jumped at the opportunity to talk about my other love, forgoing gears in the name of graphic novels.

October now brings us a full month into what is perhaps the biggest event in the major comics industry since the rise of the independent comics companies in the early 90s – arguably bigger. I am, of course, speaking of DC’s Relaunch, dubbed the New 52. As such, I will be writing this multi-part story to give all of you whom have been curious about the DC Universe, along with those well stepped in the lore of those within, my own take on this process covering both its history, legacy, present, and projected future. Ambitious, I know. Allow me to begin with some Comics Lore 101 as we go into the beginnings of what we call the DCU (that’s short for the “DC Comics Universe” for those unaware).

DC Comics was officially formed as National Allied Publications in 1935, which was then merged with Detective Comics, Inc. Its largest sellers at the time were the still-famed Superman and Batman, so they used the brand “Superman-DC.” They used this name often enough so that they became known colloquially as DC Comics long before they finally sealed it as their corporate name in 1977. However, the early days of DC has far more than just the spandex-clad heroes we know and love – they made westerns, romance, mystery, horror, and war comics. As a matter of fact, for a good long time in the world of comics, superheroes were the least popular genre within the medium. That changed in time and for the past 40 years or more the tights-wearing crimefighters have all but dominated the industry. Now DC, like its fellow major comic publisher, has strived to keep these franchises and their characters topical and modern to today’s readers. This is no small feat, as many of these characters have legacies that go back 60 years or more, and the world has changed by leaps and bounds since then. As such, reboots, retcons, rewrites, and retellings have become commonplace in comics.

As one of the “Big Two” publishing companies of comics, DC has also acquired many properties and characters as they’ve expanded over the decades and, in addition to their own legacies, they have acquired the history and creations of others that were once competitors of the company. The most famous acquisition, in my mind, would be the addition of Fawcett Comics and Captain Marvel and his family of characters. There was also the Charlton Comics acquisition that brought us many characters beloved by long-time DC readers such as Blue Beetle and the Question. However, as DC gained these properties, it was hard to find a way to work them into their already existing world. So they didn’t bother. Instead, they used the parallel world plot device and so the Marvel Family’s stories took place on Earth-S, and the heroes of Charlton Comics were on Earth-4, and the original Golden Age superheroes continued their adventures on Earth-1, with a nearly endless allotment of more ad-hoc continuity bandages. Wikipedia has a great list of them all.

This brings us to what is perhaps a major hallmark in the DCU – Crisis on Infinite Earths. This 12-part series published from 1985-86 was done in an attempt to correct and streamline 50 years of continuity. It took its name from the world-spanning crossovers of the past such as “Crisis on Earth-One!” (the infamous JLA/JSA crossover) and more. The story touched on the length and breadth of the major DC properties it had to date, with the mainstay heroes of the DCU alongside others from parallel Earths, as they did battle against a world-devouring entity hell-bent on total annihilation. After the dust settled, a New Earth was formed and the countless parallel worlds were phased out. The result, however contentious, did simplify things…slightly. Some characters got rebooted, others rewritten, and some were all but unchanged. Then in the intervening years that followed came more crossovers that used Crisis as their own inspiration. Perhaps each Crisis could be discussed at length here, but I am sure a good search will find you all the information you need.

It seemed to me that each Crisis was an attempt not only to tell a world-spanning story, but also to update and stream continuity. But each time was met with resistance, either on the part of fans, internal conflicts, etc., so that some characters were given fresh new life while others were too risky to reboot. And so what was an attempt for simplicity became mired in even more complexity. As such, the more current Crisis events gave us the 52 – 52 Unique Earths that comprise the epicenter of the multiverse. (See Infinite Crisis for the start of this, then the weekly series 52 that followed. Is it coincidence that the exact number of worlds corresponds to weeks in a publishing year? I thought not.) And so while the first Crisis gave us the “death” of the multiverse, Infinite Crisis brought about its re-creation. For the multiverse, much like the characters within it, can never seem to stay dead.

And it all probably could have culminated with Final Crisis. Thankfully, it didn’t. I don’t mean to talk ill of my beloved DC, but this event was billed as the final chapter of the Crisis saga… and even though years have passed I still have a hard time explaining it (seriously, read the DC wiki or Wikipedia for the details, it makes much more sense that way). The short version is the bad guys kind of won, Bruce Wayne was “killed” and all the heroes had a serious reckoning. The only plus side to it all was an end to all the Fourth World craziness. Sorry Darkseid fans, but I am just not fond of all things Apokolips. When you have actual mythological gods in the DCU, as well as the Creator, his right hand of Vengeance, and a slew of similar divine and mythic entities… these Fourth World fashion rejects never seemed to fit into it for me. Don’t hate me for that opinion, it’s purely personal. But I digress.

At some point, this Crisis was, in fact, not destined to renew fresh blood into the DCU. As a matter of fact, most of the universe saw little real effect outside of Gotham City after a year or two. Enter Flashpoint. Now I will be honest in saying I am still catching up on my Brightest Day reading and have not begun Flashpoint, but the Relaunch snuck up on me, and that’s a Flash Fact. As such, and by way of apology, I will be covering the Flashpoint story, the Genesis of the New 52, and an overview of the 52 books in a future article. But we now come to the end result – the New 52.

This monumental project looks to many like taking a giant leap into uncharted territory. But when looking at the various ways that DC has rebooted and rewritten their history, and to be honest, sell some books, they have always managed to do so cautiously, in fits and bursts. Perhaps a bold move is warranted this time. Dare I even say this would be a giant leap up, up, and away into a brave new world. Stay tuned for the next installment as we go further into the New 52!


Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *