When fans start talking about how confusing continuity has become in the DC Universe, they’re more likely than not to be talking about what has become of the Silver Age… a huge body of stories that are essential background for today’s still-active characters, yet which, in the aftermath of Crisis, Zero Hour, and Infinite Crisis, seem hardly ever to have happened as we remember from the original publications. Some of these tales (surprisingly many, in fact) have been retold in the new continuity… but the result is still a convoluted patchwork, at best. It is at once the most tortured period of DCU history, and the most crucial one for understanding its present.
Accordingly, it makes sense to focus some rigorous analysis here… as a result of which, this also stands revealed as the period where this Chronology differs most significantly from DC’s version. While I find DC’s treatment of this period inadequate, however, I do use it as a reference point, and I don’t want to be accused of casually dismissing it.
Let us consider again the nature of DC’s “official” Timeline(s). They don't match, and each is laden with blatant coincidences, distortions, and problems of compression. They essentially count backward from their own present moment, tracking back through 11 (later 12) years to Superman’s debut—and placing the Crisis itself in Year Seven (only four years after Dick Grayson’s debut as Robin!), not only drastically truncating the internal chronology of the era’s stories themselves but also contradicting the apparent ages of the characters in those stories . It’s all unavoidably arbitrary, and can't be taken at face value… but if nothing else, they do at least help to establish a touchstone to which other things can be compared.
It’s worth noting here (with reference back to the “rules of evidence”) that quite a few stories published since 1994 make reference to events set “ten years ago”—or, since 2000, “twelve years ago.” (E.g., the retelling of Hal Jordan’s test-pilot days in Green Lantern v3 #104 <9.98>.) These references seldom have any additional evidence or narrative context to support them, however, and thus stand exposed as no more than superficial writerly attempts to dovetail with the “official” timelines. As such, they can’t be taken to denote literal time, and should be read merely as equivalent to “early in the Silver Age.”
(The historical revisions caused by the events of Infinite Crisis have changed some significant events in this period, most notably Wonder Woman’s debut and the early roster of the JLA… and also have ripple effects that alter the sequence of some other events, albeit mostly in ways that are subtle, not drastic. For more details and thoughts on just how much change we should assume in post-IC “New Earth” history, and how to link these years to real dates, please see the Intros to Section V, “The Modern Age,” and Section VI, “The New Earth Era.”)
With that as a point of departure, let’s delve into a closer analysis.
The most prominent reliable evidence regarding Silver Age history involves the Batman, and various characters connected with him. As ever, the stories are our primary sources.
(A preliminary note is called for regarding Legends of the Dark Knight, which has always had a frank editorial policy of telling stories that aren’t necessarily “in continuity.” I’ve only included those stories that are both relevant (e.g., the introduction of “venom,” the first appearance of Lucius Fox) and not incompatible with other known data (e.g., Bruce Wayne disappearing for six months). Frankly, between LODK and an endless stream of mini-series and specials, Batman’s early years have now been chronicled to such absurd excess, by so many creative teams, that “consistency” is best viewed as a limit condition approached only asymptotically. There are many fine LODK stories that may or may not have “happened,” but fortunately (perhaps), many of these tales simply aren’t relevant in a larger sense, and can be safely disregarded. It’s beyond the scope of this project to assign priorities and placements to all of them, absent specific compelling evidence. I have, however, added “provisional” color-coding to any stories of questionable reliability.)
The most comprehensive and authoritative version of Batman’s origin, for our purposes, is Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One [Batman #404-407 <2-5.87>]. We know from it, to begin with, that the Batman debuted in costume on April 9 of what we’ll call “Year One” (hereafter “Y1” ), one of the most concrete dates in current DCU history.
Batman was without a partner during his first and second years of activity, but we know that Dick Grayson’s parents were murdered during Y2, and that Dick publicly debuted as Robin in Y3 [Batman (Year Three) #436-439 <8-10.89>], in the spring [Robin Annual #4 <1995>]. DC’s timelines actually concur on this much. (The LODK spinoff miniseries Dark Victory <12.99-12.00> places his debut in Y5, but it's full of continuity problems, and the weight of other evidence predominates.)
(It’s not precisely clear how old Dick was at the time of his parent’s death; various accounts [Secret Origins #13 <4.87>, Batman #436, Ms. Tree Quarterly #1 <Sum.90>, Robin #0 <10.94>, Robin Annual #4, the Nightwing mini-series <9-12.95>, etc.] differ on that and other details (such as the time of year of the murders, the date of his birthday, etc.). Most accounts agree he was around ten, though, give or take a little.)
Here’s where it gets interesting: we also know that when Batman severed their partnership, after Robin’s shooting [Batman #408 <6.87>], they had worked together for six years [Batman #416 <2.88>]—i.e., it was Y9. This occurred just before Dick started college (staying just one semester) [Batman #416, Secret Origins #13, Action Weekly #613 <9.88>]. Shortly after that (thus c. early Y10) the New Titans started, and the Crisis happened over a year after that [New Titans #14 <11.85>, Secret Origins Annual #3 <89>, etc.—the ZH Timeline even concurs on that part]. Thus, the Crisis falls in Y11, not Y7 as DC’s Timeline(s) would have it.
(Marv Wolfman’s recent “321 Days” story in Nightwing #133-137 <8-12.07> complicates this sequence somewhat in terms of “New Earth” history, but not impossibly so. See the Notes in the relevant entries under 1996/Yr8 and 1997/Yr9 for details.)
So thus far, this gives us:
We know, furthermore, that Dick turned 20 very shortly after the Crisis [New Titans #18 <3.86>/Secret Origins #13] (and the Nightwing story just mentioned strongly supports a summer date for his birthday in current canon, offering indirect corroboration and superseding the “spring” birthdate from Robin Annual #4). Accordingly, we see he was 18 when he finished high school, two years earlier; turned 12 the year he became Robin; and was 10 or 11 when his parents were killed. It all fits the commonly understood picture of his history fairly neatly. (In contrast, DC’s Timelines would reduce his time as Batman’s partner to a mere two or three years and make him much older at his origin than has ever been depicted, as implied by the timeline in Nightwing Secret Files <10.99>—or alternately a high school graduate at 15 or younger, a degree of precocity for which we have no evidence).
Barbara Gordon’s history also corroborates all this. We know [thanks to Secret Origins #20 <11.87>] that she moved in with her uncle James at age 13, and from all appearances this occurred during Y2 [LODK #159-161 <11.02-1.03>]. Unlike Dick, she was somewhat precocious: she started college at 16 (i.e. Y4) [same source], and was elected to Congress the year she was 20 (i.e. Y8), with a Master’s degree under her belt [same source]. She had already finished her term of office before the Crisis—a two-year term which would have started no earlier than January of Y9 and thus ended in January of Y11. (While it’s noteworthy that her term in Congress is still canonical in post-Crisis history, the special (fictitious) legislative loophole used to have her elected at 20 is a perfect example of the sort of tortuous convolutions necessary to keep characters artificially young. In contrast, Batman Family #10 <3-4.77> originally described her as 25 during her time in Congress.)
This dovetails nicely with her team-ups with Robin during his solo period, as reaffirmed in Nightwing Annual #2 <07>, and leaves us in the same year as above when the Crisis arrives. (It also confirms that Barbara is older than Dick—by about three years—contrary to some readers’ impressions.)
From Dick Grayson’s history it’s a natural transition to that of the Teen Titans, which leads to similar conclusions. It’s established that the original Teen Titans formed when the charter members were “barely teenagers” [New Titans #0 <10.94>]. For Dick, given the timescale above, this would have been early in Y4 (just after the fall/winter events recounted in Robin: Year One <1-4.01>). The team’s origin has most recently been retold in Teen Titans: Year One #1-6 <3-8.08>, which does nothing to change this backdrop (although it includes an arguably anachronistic scene featuring online instant messages). The best overall recounting of the Titans’ history remains the Pérez-written Secret Origins Annual #3 <89>, which establishes that the original team was active for three years before disbanding (thus, Y7); that the brief second team (including Titans West) was formed and dissolved two years later, around the time most members were finishing high school (thus, Y9… although we now know it clearly existed as far back as mid-Y8, per the Nightwing #133-137 story mentioned above); and that the New Titans formed the next year (Y10), the year before the Crisis—leaving us again in Y11.
All of this dovetails neatly with Dick’s personal history: the team’s second incarnation folds during the same year (two years before the Crisis) as the end of the Batman/Robin partnership and Dick’s departure for college.
DC’s official timelines have great difficulty accommodating the history of the Titans (and in one instance actually place the original team’s founding after the deaths of the original Doom Patrol, no less, thereby totally obliterating Gar Logan’s personal history), and completely omit the second incarnation of the team. (This despite the fact that the existence of the second team has been reaffirmed in numerous places, such as Teen Titans v2 #12 <9.97> and the abovementioned Nightwing #133-137. TitansSF <3.99> also clarified this and much other material as still canonical, although regrettably its dates are totally inconsistent with any other source.)
Further corroboration: we know that Wally (Flash) West turned 20 shortly after the events of the Legends crossover [Flash #1 <6.87>], and 21 during the Invasion [Flash #21 <Hol.88>]; allowing for proportionate time compression we may conclude that he was 19 during the Crisis. We also know that he gained his powers and became Kid Flash during the summer he was ten [Secret Origins Annual #2 <88>, Flash #62-65 <5-8.92>], which (counting back from Y11) would be summer Y2, the year after the Flash’s own debut—just as we’re told it should be [Life Story of the Flash GN <97>]. Forward and back, the character’s history matches cleanly with our expanded timescale.
Summing up again:
The Titans, interestingly enough, let us segue directly to the history of the Justice Society. We know Gar (Changeling) Logan witnessed the Flash rescue Jay Garrick and Keystone City from suspended animation during the summer he was eight years old [Secret Origins #50 <8.90>]. (This is also the last plausible year Gar could have been present prior to his own acquisition of powers and the subsequent turmoil in his life, according to his established personal history.) We also know Gar was 16 when the Crisis happened [New Titans #14 <8.85>] (admittedly a source published concurrent with Crisis itself , but it’s never been contradicted, and fits later events in his biography). Thus, working backwards from a Y11 Crisis, as determined above, the two Flashes met eight years earlier, in Y3… quite a reasonable fit. (DC’s timelines cannot accommodate this span at all!)
(We can interpolate other events, as well: Gar was only 11 when adopted by Steve Dayton and Rita Farr near the end of the Doom Patrol’s existence (Tales of the NTT mini-series #3 <8.82>)—admittedly a pre-Crisis source, yet itself already an early retcon of his original appearances (Doom Patrol #110 <3.67>, etc.), which described him as a teen—thus, between the dates above, suggesting that team’s tragic demise should fall in Y6.)
Now: we know the Justice League was already in existence when the Flashes met, and that the Justice Society formally regrouped soon after [JLA Secret Files <10.97>, JLA: Year One <1-12.98>, etc.]. Still, the question remains: how long had the JLA been in existence at that point, and (correspondingly) how early did it form?
In fact, the answers are obtainable, and they support the overall framework described thus far—but the route is roundabout. To wit…
In post-Crisis history, I built an argument based around events in the Man of Steel mini-series <10-12.86> and the World’s Finest mini-series <4.99-1.00> to support a JLA founding in mid-Y2, without Superman and Batman. However, we now know that in “New Earth” history at least some of those events are cast in doubt, since not only Superman and Batman but also Wonder Woman were in on the League’s founding and served as active members from an early date. Infinite Crisis #6 <5.06> alluded to this, and JLofA v2 #0 <10.06> not only corroborates it but establishes via flashback that the three decided to join up after Robin was already active as Batman’s partner (and, by the by, that Clark and Bruce already knew one another’s secret identities at that time).
Does this Robin reference then push the entire team’s origin into Y3? Not necessarily. To the rescue comes the backup feature in 52 #51 <4.07> (which in passing also clarifies open questions about Black Canary’s role as a founder now that Wonder Woman’s back in the picture). It both shows and clearly states, “[After the Appellaxian invasion], drawing inspiration from the retired Justice Society, these ‘freshmen heroes’ formed a league of their own. Initially, Black Canary, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter formed the group’s core. Before long, co-founders Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman assumed full membership, as well.” This allows us to keep the origin in Y2, along with the much-liked JLA:Y1 story, without contradicting the new/old history depicted in JLofA v2 #0.
It also allows us to keep the early histories of most of the team members relatively intact, as established post-Crisis (subject of course to as-yet-unrevealed revisions). To touch on those:
We know that after Superman’s debut, about eight months passed before his first meeting with the Batman [Man of Steel #3 <11.86>]. We can deduce that this eight-month “window” must contain the Batman’s debut, in April of Y1, as described above [Batman (Year One) #405 <3.87>], and that the subsequent months must contain Black Canary’s debut, and Superman’s first meetings with Green Lantern and the Flash, set in August [all following Batman, as depicted in Superman: Man of Steel Annual #4 <95>]. These limits leave us with provisional date ranges: meeting with Batman = April-August Y1; counting back, Superman’s debut = August-December of Year Zero (YØ). (I prefer September, as it’s the better fit for Clark’s post-collegiate summer abroad [Adventures of Superman #0 <10.94>, etc.]—and the weather as depicted is certainly mild enough for fall jackets, although admittedly weather in comics is often a very unreliable clue).
We also know that the JLA’s founding must occur within a year of the August Y1 events above, as Black Canary was 19 when she debuted [Black Canary/Oracle: Birds of Prey #1 <3.96> [text page]], and still 19 when the JLA began [JLA: Year One #1 <1.98>]. That limits how late it might be; is there a limit to how early?
Yes. We know of two significant delays that must precede JLA:Y1 #1: First, shortly after Hal Jordan received his power ring (which we now know occurred on the day of the Rose Bowl [Booster Gold v2 #2 <11.07>], always January 1), Hal spent 90 days in jail [Emerald Dawn II <6-11.91>] (allowing the caveat that this may be revised by his retold “Secret Origin” appearing at this writing in Green Lantern v4 #29-34 <5-10.08>.) Then, shortly after first meeting Hal, Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen spent three months overseas in Minglia [Legends of the DCU #7-9 <8-10.98>]. (Although not a founder, Oliver was important to the team’s origin as a source of funds). If we sandwich Superman’s August meeting with Hal between these two events, we end up very near the end of Y1.
Corroboratively, the first encounter between J’onn J’onzz and the Batman [Martian Manhunter v2 #22 <9.00>], which necessarily precedes the JLA’s founding, involves Jim Gordon as a police captain—a position he attained only circa December of Y1 [Batman (Year One) #407 <5.87>].
Putting it all together, we can derive the basic framework seen below. Note that it corresponds roughly, in both sequence and proportion, to DC’s history as we remember actually reading it, both pre- and post-Crisis. From this framework it becomes a fairly straightforward matter to fill in the remaining details.
At this point some factors can lead one to suppose that even more time might be called for in this framework. We know that the JLA and JSA held regular gatherings, just as in pre-Crisis history (reaffirmed in numerous places). Of course, of the 22 chronicled annual gatherings, some simply cannot have happened in current continuity; the plots depended on parallel earths, or characters who now never existed as portrayed. However, there are several JLA/JSA meetings which we can confidently state did happen in post-Crisis continuity (albeit not exactly as originally depicted). A total of eleven, in fact… even though there are only eight available years (Y3 through Y10) in which they could take place.
In sequence, the gatherings are:
However, it is my considered opinion that making major structural changes to accommodate this apparent eleven-into-eight discrepancy would introduce more complications than it would resolve. The framework described thus far fits together remarkably well; rather than extend it, it is reasonable to allow for other plausible JLA/JSA team-ups to be provisionally canonical, sufficient to make the meetings semi-annual, rather than annual. (It’s also worth remembering that prior to the 1973 story, the crossovers weren’t necessarily treated in-story as regularly scheduled events.) At any rate, of the 12 other gatherings not officially reaffirmed, three fit reasonably well without causing any obvious continuity conflicts (specifically, the 1967 encounter with alien “Black Spheres,” the 1970 encounter with Creator2, and the 1982 encounter with Per Degaton and the All-Star Squadron). (The 1978 encounter with the Lord of Time and various Old West heroes could theoretically work as well, but attempting to include it wreaks havoc with the sequencing of other events.) For details on my placement of specific team-ups, see the Chronology itself. Meanwhile, suffice it to say that DC’s official timelines have crowded them furiously into the earliest years of the JLA’s history, heedless even of consistency with their own placement of other related events.
The possibility might also be raised of reducing the length of this period, getting this Chronology closer to the timespan indicated in DC’s version(s). It’s arguably possible to condense an extra year or two out of the middle of the Silver Age (reducing Y5-Y10 from six years to perhaps four, and thus the whole period to nine) by boiling away all but the essential JSA stories, and slightly retconning the ages and career lengths of several characters . However, I strongly disagree with that option. It’s a more rather than less complicated approach that raises definite problems of its own, and does no justice to the characters or their stories; all one would accomplish would be to trivialize and literally diminish a much-loved period of comics history, when it fits far more comfortably and convincingly into the framework laid out thus far. Nor would it even serve to reduce the present ages of Dick Grayson and his peers, since (as noted above) those are anchored by post-Crisis stories.
(As for DC’s seven-year version of the Silver Age? In my opinion you just can’t plausibly distort everything into that ruthlessly compressed allotted span (although even if it could be done, DC still badly botches the attempt).)
Eleven years from Superman to the Crisis: the stories speak for themselves.
And here’s the “highlights reel,” based on the outline above but with other key events added in, and character ages added where they can be determined.
The logic applied above works whatever the specific years may be, but I’ve continued to use real calendar dates, as before, synchronized with the “Year X” framework plotted out above. Relative “X Years Ago” dating as in DC’s timeline(s) seems to me just a way of obfuscating what could as easily be clear. (For example: does “10 years ago” mean from exactly ten years ago to ten years, 11 months, and 29 days ago? Or does it mean from nine years and one day to a full ten years ago? Or perhaps the calendar year bracketing a moment exactly ten years ago? The writers of DC’s various Secret Files Timelines evidently interpreted such things in differing ways.)
Real dates are more controversial for this period than for others, because of the ubiquitous controversies over character aging and the effectiveness of real time in comics. Events in this part of the Chronology are still compressed, unavoidably, as discussed… but not beyond the bounds of logic.
Subsequent events may yet occur on a more realistic scale, or (more likely) future editorial dictates may force the timeline to slide still further forward on the calendar, a possibility which one may or may not choose to find aggravating. But a shift to acknowledging real time, in some manner, becomes more urgent with every passing year… lest we see the origins of a generation of heroes slip out of the 20th century entirely… further and further from their forebears, from their own roots, and from any sense of a reason for being.