In the Beginning the DC Universe was a multiverse consisting of several parallel universes referred to as “Earths”. It is a fictional history that has been changed by events or crises throughout the 80-years that DC Comics has been around.
I love reading comics from any of the periods – the Golden, Silver, Bronze and Dark Ages. Many of the stories that I read take place in other dimensions, other worlds, other realities than the current reality that that we know as the “DC Universe”. At one point, some of these past realities” were considered as having “never existed”. As a result, I sometimes get confused about what the definition of “is” is. Therefore, without going into a lot of detail here is a brief history of the DC Universe(s) for my personal edification as much as anyone else’s.
The term Pre-Crisis refers to the 50-year period before 1985 and before the publication of the 12-issue miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In the beginning there was one Earth and it was known as Earth-2. Think of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman of the 1940s. It was first introduced in February 1935 in the premier issue of New Fun Comics. In other words, the first comic book published by the company that became DC Comics established the “reality” in which this fictional history takes place. Following the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 in June 1938, other super-heroes began to appear. In January 1940, a college athlete named Jay Garrick became the fastest-man alive. The Flash first appeared in Flash Comics #1.
Other than a hint here or there throughout the years the concept of there being parallel universes was not fully fleshed out until the appearance of another “fastest-man alive” – a second Flash named Barry Allen who first appeared in Showcase #4. (October 1956). In addition, Superboy’s origin story, as told in More Fun Comics #101 (January 1945), differs from the Superman introduced in Action Comics #1 (June 1938), Superboy is considered to exist in a different parallel universe from that which the original Golden age Superman existed. That parallel universe in which Superboy, Barry Allen and Silver-Age heroes existed is was known as Earth-1.
Throughout the course of the Silver age other earths were introduced. For example, there was Earth-3 where villains had taken over and ruled that universe as The Crime Syndicate of America.
Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985)
After the first 50 years the writers and artists who produced the wonderful world that is DC comics decided that the origin-stories, the back-stories, and story-arc-stories had all become convoluted and difficult to follow for new readers. As a result, it was decided to destroy the multiverse that had become the DC Universe and to reduce it down to one “New Earth“. This story was told in a 12-issue miniseries published between 1985 and 1986 – Crisis on Infinite Earths (COIE)
Thousands of Earths (Universes) were destroyed in the making of COIE, but the reader only got visibility on only a handful of Earths.
Earth-3, home of the evil counterparts of Earth-1 heroes, was destroyed early in the story. This universe was home to The Crime Syndicate of America, a group of super villains who was introduced in the second annual “crisis” in Justice League of America #29 (August 1964).
Also, early in the story the reader witnesses the destruction of Earth-6. On this Earth, the United States lost the Revolutionary War and in 1985, Lady Quark and Lord Volt rule America as superpowered monarchs. The sole survivor of Earth-6 was Lady Quark. Earth-6 and Lady Quark made their debuts in Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 (July 1985). Which make me wonder why even bother? Yet, Lady Quark’s story does make for a unique origin story and her presence in the revised reality was one of a number of anomalies requiring explanation by Harbinger.
Later in the series it was down to five Earths: Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-4, Earth-S, and Earth-X.
In issue #6, Earth-1 and Earth-2 were taken away to a “nether-verse” described as Limbo. These two universes separated by vibrational differences were in the process of merging while the focus of the story switched to activities on the other Earths.
Earth-4 was the universe designated as the home of super-heroes such as Blue Beetle and Captain Atom. These heroes came to DC by way of Charlton Comics. Most of Charlton’s superhero characters were acquired in 1983 by DC Comics.
Earth-S was the home of Capt. Marvel and the Marvel family. Capt. Marvel first appeared in Whiz Comics #2 (February 1940) publish by Fawcett Comics. DC acquired the rights to Capt. Marvel when it bought Charlton.
Earth-X was an Earth where the Nazis won World War II and the Freedom Fighters from Quality Comics lead the resistance. This Earth was first introduced in Justice League of America #107 (October 1973) in the story-arc titled “Crisis on Earth-X!”. This past November, this Earth-X was revived in a crossover-event in the Arrowverse in episodes of the live-action television series Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow on the CW
New Earth (1985-2011)
At the end of COIE, all Earths had been destroyed except for five. Those five were Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-4, Earth-S, and Earth-X. These five were then merged to form New Earth. This became the focus of the DC Universe for the next 25 years.
Zero Hour (1994)
While COIE solved many continuity problems, a course-correction was required in 1994. In the 8-issue mini-series, Zero Hour, Green Lantern Hal Jordan went berserk when Coast City was destroyed. He became Parallax and went on a rampage throughout the universe. In the end of that miniseries, the entire timestream went through a correction in which the existence of infinite dimensions became accessible once again to the writers and artists of DC comics. However, these extra-dimensional realities were known to be unstable.
Infinite Crisis (2005)
In 2006, to mark the 20th anniversary of COIE, the seven issue Geoff Johns crossover event, Infinite Crisis, picked up where COIE left off with Superboy-Prime and the others who had been stranded in a pocket universe. At the end of this event Superboy-Prime shattered reality and brought back the multi-verse. The Infinite Crisis story-arc was vast. It was covered in over 131 tie-ins and one-shots between 2005/06.
Superboy-Prime’s attempts to punch his way out of the extradimensional space in which he had been trapped since the Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series caused ripples in the fabric of reality. As a result, events in the present became undone and were replaced by different versions of events. For example, the Hawkman/Hawkgirl continuity was revised to allow for multiple incarnations of the characters.
According to Wikipedia, the infinite Earths, which had collapsed into a single world during Crisis on Infinite Earths, diverged again into multiple Earths during Infinite Crisis only to collapse back into a single “New Earth” with a slightly altered history.
52 was a limited series published weekly for one year from May 2006 to May 2007. I have attempted, twice now, to read the two-volume collection of 52, each time at Hoopla. The problem is that these digitized e-books can only be checked-out for three weeks at a time and each volume is 600+ pages.
As one might imagine this epic tome is on the level of a Russian novel containing all sorts of subplots and minor story arcs. In terms of impact to the multiversity, the multiple earths created at the end of Infinite Crisis by the efforts of Alexander Luther, collapsed back together. The resulting single entity known as “New Earth” was too small to contain the energy inside it and it began replicating into 52 identical universes. However, this was a secret known only to a few select individuals – the Monitor and the Guardians of the Universe.
Up until 52, I was cool with everything that had taken place in the fictional history that is DC comics. Perhaps it is because I have not finished reading 52 that I must admit that I do not get it. I am thinking What’s the point?
This obviously a work-in-progress as attempt to wrap my head around life, the (DC) Universe, and everything…
In the next post, I will continue this (supposedly brief) exploration of the DC Universe with my notes on:
- Final Crisis (2008)
- Flashpoint (2011)
- Convergence (2015)
- Dark Metal (2017)