This section may well be seen as the anchor of the Chronology: our own spot in history, from the Crisis forward. Nearly 20 years of stories, the most recent events, told in order; they should be canonical and relatively easy to organize. Right…?
Well, not quite. There are a few complications. For one thing, this has been one of the busiest periods in DC Universe history, with more titles featuring more characters, and more crossovers taking place between them, than ever before. For another, there’s the fact that some things established in the years between Crisis and Zero Hour were revised (but subtly!) by the latter event; and potentially all of it was revised yet again by Infinite Crisis (see the Section 6 Intro for more discussion of this). Centrally, there’s the unavoidable question of how much time these events have taken, and when exactly to place Crisis and Zero Hour themselves.
With every new reboot, of course, hope springs eternal that DC might make the shift to “real time” storytelling, but thus far any steps in that direction have been hesitant and piecemeal, overwhelmed by the weight of other titles carrying on in “comic-book time.” So while I’d prefer it were otherwise, I’ll continue to deal with compressed time for the purposes at hand. But that just leaves the question hanging… how much compression is plausible, exactly, before the timeline is overwhelmed by its own internal inconsistencies?
Let me stipulate up front to one necessary change from the previous version of this Chronology. My analysis at the time indicated five years passed from Luthor’s election year to the year of Infinite Crisis and 52. However, later stories made it clear that 52 itself spanned an election year (in #26 Lorraine (Firehawk) Reilly is elected to the U.S. Senate), and moreover a presidential year (it’s the only place the presidential election in Uncle Sam & the Freedom Fighters v1 can plausibly fit, notwithstanding that the preceding Battle for Blüdhaven mini-series seemingly had some “One Year Later” elements). Accordingly, IC must fall only four years after Luthor’s election, not five. I’ve carefully re-analyzed the intervening events and it is indeed possible (although not easy) to compress them into the reduced span.
(The events of 2008’s DCU: Decisions mini-series throw a monkey wrench into this calculus, forcing an additional presidential election cycle into DCU time with no possibility at all of four more years having passed… but although the comic makes no attempt to explain this oddity, it is possible to contrive feasible explanations without distorting the rest of the timeline. More on that in Section VI.)
The change just described is only the beginning of the complications, not the end. How much total “comic-book time” elapsed from the original Crisis to the events of IC? DC’s own official timelines both concur in placing Zero Hour roughly four years after the Crisis, and my Chronology did the same, then added another three between ZH and Luthor’s election (including more than a year of very compressed events, then the roughly real-time year of “No Man’s Land,” then the campaign year)—which results in 11 years (as adjusted above) from Crisis to IC.
Unfortunately, I can’t necessary treat that number as reliable. Various stories implicitly argue for both a much longer and a much shorter timescale.
Starting with the “longer” argument, the most conspicuous culprit is Green Arrow/Black Canary #5 <4.08>. Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen had just had his origin retold in Green Arrow: Year One <9-11.07>, and the GA/BC story explicitly tied in to that, recapping the history of Oliver’s son Connor Hawke (Green Arrow II) and setting his birth immediately after Ollie’s return from his life-transforming stay on an uncharted island. Traditionally, in previous accounts, Ollie began his career as GA pretty much immediately upon his return… which would place Connor’s birth early in “Year One” of DC’s silver age period.
The thing is, we know Connor met Ollie and became his successor in the months immediately after Zero Hour. He’s always been portrayed as about 18-19 at that time… but this revised origin would make him dramatically younger (only 15 by my analysis, and only 11 according to DC’s official timelines!). The story doesn’t suggest this at all; the implication is instead that far more years passed between Y1 and ZH than usually understood.
Such an analysis would also be supported by the various Vertigo titles that originated in the DCU and retain a connection with it (e.g., Hellblazer, Sandman, the various runs of Swamp Thing), most of which have steadfastly operated in real time over the years. Indeed, the Hellblazer and ST issues of Secret Files (<8.00> and <11.00> respectively) included timelines that blithely cited many DCU events as happening in their years of publication, completely unlike the timelines in any other Secret Files.
The “shorter” argument is equally problematic. A handful of stories published since IC have implied that a bare five years have passed from Crisis to the “OYL” year. These include Kurt Busiek’s Superman #654 <9.06>, describing Superman’s first flight with Lois as a mere “twelve years ago,” and Geoff Johns’ JSA #2 <3.07>, telescoping the family history of Citizen Steel… but the most blatant case by far is Johns’ Teen Titans v3 #42 <2.07>, which recaps the history of Eddie (Kid Devil) Bloomberg in some detail. It starts with his first team-up with Blue Devil (published contemporary with Crisis), including flashback dialogue that calls him a “twelve year old,” and ends in the present, with Eddie himself saying he’s only 17… all embedded in a plot involves a magical bargain that absolutely mandates he is, unavoidably, well under 20. It’s not even possible to “slide up” the Blue Devil history, since the new story also references an obscure older one [Blue Devil #19 <12.85>] in which Kid Devil teamed up with the short-lived Robin II (Jason Todd), and treats the two as peers—even though Jason Todd himself, since his revival before IC, has clearly been portrayed as an adult, not a teen. Perhaps most egregiously, Eddie reflects back on when Blue Devil joined the Justice League, “about a year” after his origin… even though that happened after ZH, which as you may recall has never been treated as less than four years after the Crisis.
Ultimately, the “shorter” interpretation is just as unworkable as the “longer” one, if not more so. Indeed, a five-year span from Crisis to “OYL” is just flatly impossible, since the presidential election stories described above clearly require five years to have elapsed just since Luthor’s election.
One can imagine contrivances to reconcile both examples: Connor Hawke (perhaps Ollie didn’t actually make his costumed debut right away after Connor’s birth?) and Kid Devil (perhaps Eddie lost or forgot a few years somewhere before ZH, via suspended animation or a limbo dimension or some other manifestation of the “weirdness” that always surrounded Blue Devil?)… but readers shouldn’t have to put in that sort of effort to make sense of what are, otherwise, pretty enjoyable stories in their own right. And despite the fact that both stories make heavy use of past “continuity”… far from making it easier to sort out the overall sequence of events in the shared universe, they actually make it considerably more complicated.
Still, evaluating such stories forced me to confront a dilemma. Could it be possible to reduce the Crisis-to-OYL time (and thus the total Chronology) to fewer than 12 years (if not down to five!), while still retaining the integrity of the stories within it? I tried and found that the answer is arguably yes… but also arguably no.
As an exercise, it’s (just barely) possible. We can crunch the span from Crisis to ZH from four years down to three (less even than DC’s official versions), and the span from ZH to Luthor’s election from three years down to two—reducing the combined total from seven to five, and the Crisis-to-OYL span down to ten.
However, the change does considerable violence to quite a few stories (especially those published from 1989-’92 and 1999-2000): for example, by abandoning the entire year-long internal chronology of “No Man’s Land” (including its poignant Christmas/New Year’s climaxes), and reducing both Gotham’s rebuilding and Luthor’s presidential campaign to almost impossibly brief spans (whereas before they were merely implausible). It also requires “zig-zagging” among story arcs vs. the original publishing order, and thus (A) risks violating internal story elements that might not be immediately obvious when events that should coincide no longer do so, and (B) possibly crowds other tales out entirely.
In short, I don’t like the idea. However, inasmuch as “New Earth” history is the result of the “soft reboot” of Infinite Crisis, there is at least a pretext at hand for making such changes.
This dovetails with the question of what actual calendar years to use to anchor the Chronology (which I stubbornly persist in doing for the sake of clarity; call me crazy). The previous version was pretty clearly anchored, both backward and forward, from the turn of the millennium—which was an important factor in “No Man’s Land,” “Y2K,” “Lex 2000,” and quite a few other stories. Of course, this would mean that the “present” stories in the DCU are only now making their way through 2006, as of what’s currently being published in 2009. Alternately, we could opt to slide Luthor’s election (and everything else) forward by four years to 2004… meaning that current stories are set in 2010. (Yes, ironically, in either case things are offset from publishing time.)
Making this “slide” would make the DCU a bit more forward-compatible as it continues to tell new stories (while stubbornly ignoring real time). On the other hand, it would make it a bit less backward-compatible, since as noted in the previous version of this Chronology many stories involved timespans carefully synchronized with other past events (e.g., 1960s-era JSA tales referenced in James Robinson’s celebrated Starman run). And, of course, since not everything slides forward identically, it would give me a lot more work to sort out these details and make the change.
I worked out a matrix to determine what the overall results would be for this Chronology, treating each of these options as a variable. As you can see, the combination adds up to a dramatic difference:
|“Present” set at…||2006||2010|
Silver Age begins: Year 1/1983
Silver Age begins: Year 1/1987
Silver Age begins: Year 1/1985
Silver Age begins: Year 1/1989
My previous version of this Chronology followed Option A. What are the pros and cons of making changes? To review: on the one hand, SHORTENING the timeline:
On the other hand, shortening the timeline also:
Meanwhile, SLIDING the timeline:
On the other hand, sliding the timeline also:
I have literally agonized about this, and gone back and forth over how to proceed. You may notice that most of the “advantages” are non-diegetical. Ordinarily I would reject both of these possibilities, the extra compression and the forward slide, on the ground that the analysis of the existing stories rests on reliable logic and should be allowed to stand. (From my ground rules: “Fidelity to the stories themselves trumps other considerations.”) Under present circumstances, though, the “soft reboot” does open the door to explaining away such changes… so if such concessions are ever to be made, now would be the time, when there’s at least an in-story pretext.
I have therefore decided (however reluctantly) to implement both of these changes, and follow Option D in this updated Chronology.
I retain my right to change my mind about this, though (hey, the whole project is completely unofficial anyway, right?), so if anyone reading this notices logical shortcomings in the new, recompressed version of this section, by all means please let me know. Needless to say (I hope), I certainly didn’t re-read all the stories in question, merely re-assessed the contents of the Chronology in light of new data.
Despite the changes discussed here, however, most events since the Crisis should still be canonical as published… so in contrast to the pre-Crisis sections, I don’t try to include every single event that’s been established. I’ve merely listed landmark events that deserve mention in their own right, or that provide a chronological framework into which others can be interpolated… which even so amounts to a heckuva lot. Within that framework, events and characters I deem particularly notable are highlighted in bold, as usual.
Through all of this, it remains true even in this section that some DCU events continue to adhere to real time (most notably those published under the Vertigo imprint), presenting an ongoing dilemma, as one “branch” of the universe progresses faster than the other, and the divergence between them grows more unwieldy… just as it does with Golden Age/JSA-related characters and events in earlier sections. Year by year, it'll grow harder to explain how John Constantine could have had a romantic fling with Zatanna (without whole new unsavory implications, at least!), how Dream’s Ruby could have been used by Doctor Destiny, or how Daniel the Sandman could be Lyta Trevor’s child. (DC can and does minimize crossovers between the “mainstream” DCU and the Vertigo titles that share its universe, and for some time did the same between modern characters and their WW II predecessors, but sweeping such elements under the rug can’t change the fact that they’re still all bound together in a single reality.)
While I’ve certainly tried my best to honor real time for the titles that adhere to it, some considerable “tweaking“ is required to reconcile various Vertigo characters and stories and other real-time events interspersed throughout these years (and such entries still appear without the otherwise nearly ubiquitous “black bar of ambiguity” at the left)—so in the interests of full disclosure and maximum clarity, I ask now for open-mindedness on those points, recognizing that DC has left us with no perfect solution.To attentive readers, all these contortions demonstrate yet again the incompatibility of depicting change and progress over time, yet still trying to keep characters artificially ageless and detached from that time’s passage. This tension afflicts the fictional universe with a frustrating lack of cohesiveness. One can only hope the editorial powers-that-be see the absurdity of letting events keep sliding into an indeterminate future, and at some point find and seize the opportunity to keep the DCU moving forward… by rooting it in real time, and letting the characters grow and change in sync with the world around them!
And here’s the summary, showing clearly just how chaotically busy this period has been…