"Time Keeps On Slippin'
Into the Future"
Crisis On Infinite Earths, The Multiverse, Zero Hour, and Kingdom Come: How We Have Arrived At Hypertime
There is a saying that goes, "The more things change,
the more they stay they same". Or another one reads, "What goes
around, comes around". Such is the state arrived at in DC comics
as of December 30, 1998. Free-lance writer Mark Waid, for better or worse,
has revealed a former mystery of the DC universe: namely, hypertime.
The series that this was revealed in is the still-hot THE KINGDOM,
a two-issue, one-shot that featured characters based on those of 1996's
Kingom Come fame. The events in THE KINGDOM (now to be simply
referred to as Kingdom) will have ramifications for the DC universe
well into the millennium. He has made enemies and he has made new friends,
but everyone agrees that Mark Waid, with one broad sweep of the writer's
stroke, has changed the DC universe fundamentally and crucially. At this
point, I am optimistic that this is a change that will be looked back
at in 10-15 years as being a stroke of genius.
"Cry-sis" by Jas Ingram
So how did this state of affairs come about? Well, it goes back to
that terrific maxi-series from 1985, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS
(now to be referred to simply as Crisis). This was a 12-issue
series that had a single issue published each month over the course
of the year. At the time I was in college having my brain reduced to
mush (by some excellent profs, no less!) and one of the very few simple
joys that I had was reading comic books. The idea that a series would
have 12 issues and be released once a month over a year was a pretty
radical concept. How dare they make us wait an entire year, I thought!
Little did I, or many other comic fans, realize how significantly the
DC universe was going to be changing over that year. This was the 50th
anniversary of DC Comics and they were planning on entering their next
50 years with a clean slate, of sorts. This all involved the multiverse.
The multiverse was the explanation given, in a Garner Fox "Flash"
story "Flash Of Two Worlds" (from the early 1960's) to explain
how there was a Flash from the 1940's (Jay Garrick) and a different Flash
in the 1960's (Barry Allen). Apparently there were Earths (plural) that
existed on different dimensional planes (due to varying vibrational proprieties).
Barry chanced upon this mystery and encountered the Golden Age Flash and
other JSA members of World War 2 fame. The response to the idea of parallel
universes was positive. DC ended up using the concept on a yearly basis
in it's "JLA\JSA Crisis" visits. The JLA lived on "Earth-1"
and the JSA on "Earth-2". This yearly meeting of the of the
teams ( beginning in JLA's first series, issues #21-#22) was one of the
feature highlights of DC continuity for roughly the 20 years. It was subsequently
revealed that there were a plenitude of multiverse Earths in parallel
dimensions. The Shazam stories took place on Earth-S. The Freedom Fighters
lived on a Earth-X, where the Nazis had won WWII and Uncle Sam, the Human
Bomb, and others still battled against them.
"Guy takes a vow" by Melissa Wilson
In 1985, we had the ultimate JLA\JSA crisis manifest as Crisis On Infinite Earths. The consequences of this crisis were massive in scope and affected every single character that was ever in DC continuity.
"Lady Quark & Pariah" by Melissa Wilson
To be honest the number of parallel Earths had grown to insane proportions.
Every story that didn't take place on Earth-1 (the main Earth for the
then-current stories) simply had an Earth created to suit it. The following
list, courtesy of Jonathan Woodward, outlines how vast the multiverse
has become (this next section is taken from his The Annotated
Crisis On Infinite Earths, version 1.4).
Over the following decades on the order of two dozen Earths, out of a presumed infinity, were discovered or described. Furthermore, the "identical duplicate" problem was explained - there were two Supermen, one on Earth-2, member of the Justice Society, one on Earth-1, member of the Justice League. Several other characters also had identical duplicates, while some merely had "similar" equivalents, like the two Flashes. I've placed them into rough groups for ease of reference. (Note: The old plot/publishing distinction was far too blurry.)
Earths Seen in the Crisis
The Silver Age. Justice League, Superman II, Flash II (Barry Allen). Largely identical in history to the real world. Almost all post-Golden Age comics through the Crisis took place here, beginning between 1945 (first appearance of Superboy) and 1955 (first appearance of the Martian Manhunter). First defined in Flash v1#123 (1961), first named in JLA v1#21 (1963).
The Golden Age. Justice Society, Superman I, Flash I (Jay Garrick). Largely identical in history to the real world up through the mid-70s, at which point minor differences creep in (such as South Africa becoming free decades early). Only a few post-Golden Age comics were ever set there, notably Infinity Inc., the second run of All-Star Comics, and All-Star Squadron. "Defined" and "named" info same as for E1.
"Lex Luthor" by Bill Wiist
Charlton Comics. Captain Atom, Blue Beetle. First DC appearance and named in Crisis #1.
Fawcett Comics. Captain Marvel (Billy Batson). First appearance in Whiz Comics #2 (1940), first DC appearance in Shazam! #1 (1973), first named in JLA v1#135 (1976). Earth-X Quality Comics. Freedom Fighters, Uncle Sam, the Ray. Noteworthy in that
World War II continues into the 1970s. First DC appearance and named in JLA v1#107 (1973).
"Reversed" Earth. Crime Syndicate, Ultraman, Johnny Quick II. First suggested in JLA v1#22, first appeared in JLA v1#29, destroyed in Crisis #1.
Proposed name for the world seen only on pages 2 and 3 of Crisis #1. No apparent superheroes. (Note: The real reason there is no explicitly-named Earth-5 is that "5" and "S" look too much alike, particularly when hand-lettered, so that number was skipped.)
"A cosmic anomaly." Lady Quark, Lord Volt, Princess Fern. Only appearance in Crisis #4.
The name given to the future timeline of Earth-1 which Kamandi inhabited, to distinguish it from the "real" timeline which led to the Legion of Super-Heroes. First appearance in Kamandi #1, last appearance in Crisis #4. (Technically an alternate timeline, not an alternate universe.)
In theory, the "real world". In actuality, merely a variant Earth with very few superbeings, in which most DC Comics characters are just comic book characters. Devastated by nuclear war in the late 80s. First appearance in Flash v1#179 (1968), named in JLA v1#123 (1975). Destroyed circa Crisis #10. (Does not technically appear in Crisis, but is referred to.)
Proposed name for Pariah's home universe, the first one destroyed by the anti-matter wave. Only appearance in flashback in Crisis #7.
Proposed name for the post-Crisis, pre-Zero Hour universe. "Sigma" for "the sum of what came before". Merger of Earths 1, 2, 4, S, and X, with
characters from at least 2 others present. First appeared in Crisis #11, destroyed in Zero Hour #1.
The Earth that appeared - and was destroyed in - the Legends of the DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths (1998). It featured an ethnically-diverse range of heroes, and is rumored to be what Wolfman thought the DC Universe should have been like after the Crisis. It is not the same as Milestone Earth.
Earth-1a / Alternate Earth-1
The Earth where the Superfriends comic was set.
Earth-2a / Alternate Earth-2
Created to account for certain 1950s Superman stories that could not be fit into Earths 1 or 2. Named in lettercol of Superman Family.
A humorous world. The Inferior Five, Awkwardman, Merryman. First appeared in Showcase #62 (1966), named in Oz-Wonderland War #3 (circa 1985).
Proposed name for the world seen in JLA v1#15, a very early example of an alternate Earth separated from another by a gap in time.
(I) The universe in which all Fourth World stories not written by Kirby, up through 1984, occurred. Mentioned in New Gods (reprint) #1.
A variant of Earth-1 created by the time-meddling of the Earth-1 version of
Johnny Thunder I. Lawless League. Only appearance in JLA v1#37-38 (1965). (Technically an alternate timeline, not an alternate universe.)
Created to account for certain stories that could not be fit into Earths 1 or 2 due to notable violations of continuity. (E.g., Batman having a brother, Catwoman committing murder.) It is also, rather jokingly, suggested that the continuity-shattering maxi-series DC Challenge took place on Earth-B.
A "funny animals" world. Zoo Crew, Captain Carrot, Pig Iron. First appeared
in The New Teen Titans #16 (1982). (Technically a parallel dimension, not an alternate universe.)
Earth-C- ("C Minus")
Ditto. Justa Lotta Animals. First appeared in Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #14 (1983). Earth-Prime and Earth-1 have the same relationship as C and C-, i.e., to the residents of Earth-C, Earth-C- is fictional. (Technically a parallel dimension, not an alternate universe.)
Created for certain "imaginary" (i.e., explicitly non-E1 nor E2) stories, particularly those involving the "Super Sons".
Fox Comics. Home to the original Blue Beetle. (The existence of this Earth is disputed.)
Earth-Quality / Alternate Earth-X / Earth-Xa
Similar to EX, except that WW2 ended on schedule. Exists to account for the Quality Comics stories featuring the Freedom Fighters which took place after World War II ended. No DC appearances.
Another name for either Earth-X or Earth-Quality. (Per Mark Waid, Amazing Heroes #91.)
The actual real world; the one outside your window. Has not appeared in any work of fiction, by definition. Named in some obscure lettercol.
The world where pre-Crisis DC-Marvel crossovers occurred. First appeared in Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man (1976). (Note that all post-Crisis DC-Marvel crossovers are caused by dimensional breaches, which the characters may or may not be aware of. The breaches can edit memories.)
Another "reversed" Earth in which Flash II is a villain and his Rogues Gallery are heroes.
[W]here Jim Shooter still manages a fast-food restaurant
" (Per Mark
Waid, Amazing Heroes #91.)
"Harbinger" by Jas Ingram
Well, take a deep breath, and let's carry on! Thanks again, Jonathan, for a tremendous amount of pre-Crisis multiverse info.
The story of Crisis involved two main characters: the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor. The latter was a villain of nihilistic temperament who would settle for nothing less than the complete eradication of all the positive matter universes i.e., the multiverse. We are talking the ultimate existential holocaust. The destiny of trillions of lives was at stake. And the Anti-Monitor was a being, along with his para-demons, who was completely capable of pulling the whole plan off. Almost, that is.
Now enters the Monitor into the picture. He has been watching the Anti-Monitor's
plans and observing his attacks from somewhat of a distance, all the
while putting his "pieces into place". A number of DC comics
prior to the release of the first issue of Crisis showed a hidden figure
who was obviously making preparations for some sort of confrontation.
It had been the Monitor. Little did we know that he was on the side
of our heroes and heroines. Over the course of the 12 issues of Crisis
we see the multiverse torn into a bloody mess. Universe after universe
"dies; (i.e., ceases to exist in DC continuity anymore) and hundreds
of billions upon hundreds of billions of lives are brutally slaughtered
by the racages of anti-matter. By the end of the Crisis there is but
a single remaining universe in DC. What was is no longer. A tragic and
most painful end had come to an important era and a new era had just
"Death of the Flash" by Christian Moore
The cost of Crisis was stunning. Now dead were the Flash (Barry Allen); Supergirl (Kara Zor-El); Wonder Woman; the Earth-2's Huntress, Green Arrow, and Robin; the Monitor; and many, many others. I remember finishing reading Crisis #12 and literally being stunned from the impact of what had come about over the past 12 months. How could they do this, I thought. This can't be real.
But it was.
Writer Marv Wolfman and writer\artist George Perez were the creative
team who beautifully orchestrated the Crisis event. I still think that
the destruction of the multiverse was unnecessary, hasty, and short-sighted
(in hindsight!), but there is no questioning that the sheer scope in
which this duo had rendered the telling and visuals of the tale was
fully compelling, thorough, intelligent, and invigorating. It
was an unparalled epic in DC publishing history. To this day,
to Wolfman's credit, most DC fans talk about the "pre-Crisis"
and "post-Crisis" DC universe. Following the Crisis, the "big
three" (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) were given new
origins (though Batman's remained pretty much the same). Superman now
had parents who were still alive, had never been "Superboy",
and had never had a dog from Krypton whom he named Krypto. Ironically,
most of us readers were still reeling from the shock of the precious
multiverse being annihilated. Most of us hoped that this Crisis had
been one very long and exaggerated imaginary story! We couldn't
have been more in denial.
From 1986 through 1994 the DC universe took on a new look. Old faces took on new qualities in specific cases, others remained pretty much the same. It was a time for writers to experiment with the new DC universe. Time travel was not allowed anymore (i.e. until the Superman "Time And Time Again" storyline") and a coherent effort was made to rigorously enforce a single-continuity scheme for the DC universe. The pre-Crisis multiverse wasn't even remembered anymore (and those very few characters would did know never mentioned it). The Crisis affair had been cast in a revisionist-clothe, with the death of Barry Allen still remembered but the existence\death of Supergirl (Kara Zor-El) not. Even figures of pivotal importance were affected. The original Golden Age Superman, the ultimate DC figure, had been written entirely out of DC continuity. That enraged me as a reader. Many fans remained unconvinced from 1986-1994 that the death of the multiverse had been necessary. And the very thing that was to simplify things, a single DC universe, ended up in a equally big mess. Thus, we come to Zero Hour.
"Dr. Light" by Melissa Wilson
This was Dan Jurgens "baby" that was going to resolve the glitches that were seriously beginning to become bigger problems for DC writers. Though I thoroughly enjoyed his "The Death of Superman" series of books, I was quite disappointed with the manner in which Zero Hour ran it's course. One "slap in the face" was that the villain in the series was the former Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, who now went by the name Parallax. Having never recovered from the devastation caused to his beloved Coast City, Hal went into a state of madness whereby he single-handedly killed numerous Green Lanterns; effectively destroyed the Green Lantern Corps, Guardians and the main power battery of Oa; and murdered his longtime enemy, Sinestro. Hal disappeared at the end of Green lantern #50 with the power of the power battery of Oa at his disposal and his agenda still firm in mind.
He re-appeared during Zero Hour as Parallax. He was now going to gain the power and means needed to re-create Coast City (as he had tried in Green Lantern #48-#50). In the process, he teamed up with Extant (the former-known enemy Monarch). He also was key in seeing the JSA retiring (because a number of their members were murdered in this series). To put it simply, Hal failed. But in the process of trying to change the DC universe he did manage to change it some. This was the opportunity that DC had hoped would correct mistakes made (or facilitated) as a result of Crisis. Sadly it, too, ended up causing more problems that it resolved. The appearance of pre-Crisis heroes\heroines in the Zero Hour storyline didn't help matters either. It only served to stir the longing of older readers for the "days of old", i.e., the multiverse.
The year 1996 saw the release of a much-anticipated tale simply known as Kingdom Come. It was an epic illustrated and told by Alex Ross and Mark Waid. This DC Elsewhere story took place in the 21st century. Superman had "retired" 10 years earlier. The world had gone to "hell in a handbasket", with banal nihilism being the rule of order. A crisis results in the return of the Man of Steel to active duty, the return of the JLA, the confrontation between factions that vie for international control, and a devastating battle (that culminates in a nuclear attack upon the "heroes") that forces meta-humans to fundamentally alter the manner in which they relate to regular humans. Many readers deemed that this had been the first series published by DC a decade in a calibre with The Watchmen of 1980's fame. More importantly to most readers was the question if this was the future for the DC universe. That inquiry brings us to where we are today. Kingdom Come provided great entertainment but it also stirred the longing for a richer DC universe(s).
"Jay and Wally" by Bill Wiist
Hypertime. The Kingdom. These are the catchwords of the past three months. What is hypertime? How does The Kingdom relate to 1996's Kingdom Come? How can Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman of the KC-future visit the DC-prime heroes\heroines if their stories are simply Elseworld stories? Is the multiverse returning? Will we then see the return of many parallel Earths, variant Supermen, etc
or is this a whole new ball of wax? Is the Golden Age Superman (of Earth-2 fame), who disappeared in Crisis issue #12, going to appear from limbo after 12 years? And, perhaps biggest question of all, was the whole post-Crisis On Infinite Earths continuity going to be erased in the same manner that the Crisis had eliminated (deconstructed) the continuity prior to it? These are all good questions. Let's take a look at the answers.
Yes, things have permanently changed again. Put in simple terms, hypertime is a former mystery that now explains that the DC universe had always been a omniverse of sorts, as Mark Waid explains it. Though there is still one primary DC continuity (i.e. timesteam), there are an infinite number of tributaries that enter and deviate at certain points from the primary path. The most important function that this serves is to give every single DC comic book story that has ever taken shape a place within DC continuity. Put another way, they have all taken place, in one way, place, shape or another. Let me quote Mark Waid (co-designer of hypertime) in this matter:
"As Grant [Morrison, JLA writer] and I explained to the powers
that be, as far as we're concerned, it's ABSOLUTELY NOT just some cheap
device with which I can go tell Krypto the Super-Dog stories next month.
I have no interest in that anymore. The entire rationale behind Hypertime
was simply to once more throw open the doors at DC, to remind readers
that continuity should follow stories, not vice-versa, and that the
DCU should be a place where ANYTHING can happen. We're especially proud
about the structure of Hypertime--that is to say, if you want to use
it, you can, but if you're a creator or editor offended by it, that's
fine, too, YOU DON'T HAVE TO USE IT. It's there as a tool, NOT AS A
RULE." (quoted from Bruce Bachand's interview with Mark Waid, Jan.
'99 *see www.fanzing.com for the complete interview).
It is a bright day for older fans (those who loved there pre-Crisis DC multiverse). Newer fans have known nothing but the DC universe of post-Crisis name. Now they have to get ready for some potentially huge changes. This I doubt. We will not see anything on par with Crisis anytime soon. Even Waid alludes to this as likely. Only Batman is the character most likely to see significant and fundamentally radical changes over the next 12 months. Many of the other DC heroes\heroines will remain as they are. Fans have grown weary of predictably crappy annuals every summer, expensive prices for gimmicky covers, dark anti-heroes\heroines, and painful attempts to categorize every single DC story within a single, coherent continuity. With a stroke of brilliance, Waid and Morrison have knit the past into the present in a way that is full of integrity, imagination, fun, and opportunity. Writers can use or not use hypertime
but it is there to be used. And after 13 years of persistently hoping for something better than the post-Crisis state-of-affairs, I believe that I have seen some substantial and lasting hope in these regards. Finally. Now if we can just get Captain Carrot into the JLA
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Bruce Bachand.
All artwork is © 1999 by their respective artists.