The DC Timeline, the Reboot, Zero Hour and Superman

One of the things that frustrated me about DC Comics’ post-Zero Hour “soft” reboot was the 10-year sliding timeline. Not that it existed, but that it crammed everything from DC’s Silver Age (1956) onward into a timeline tied to the first appearance of Superman, 10 years ago.

It always seemed to me that it would free things up if they’d just allow the characters to be different ages. Let (for instance) Barry Allen and Oliver Queen be a decade older than Superman, and let their super-hero careers have started earlier. They can still have worked together in the Justice League. Superman launched the age of super-heroes in the real world, but he doesn’t have to have done so in the fictional world. Especially when you have a whole Golden Age worth of characters who started their careers decades earlier.

Of course, the Golden Agers introduce another problem: If DC keeps them tied to World War II, but keeps the rest of the timeline sliding at 10 years ago or even 20 years ago, the gap keeps widening. It makes it increasingly hard to explain…

  • Why is the original Justice Society still alive and (relatively) fit? (Magic and the speed force have both been cited.)
  • Why are their children in their 20s and 30s? Did they all wait until they were over 60 to have kids?
  • Why weren’t there any major super-heroes between 1950 and 10 years ago? And more importantly, why weren’t there any major super-villains or cosmic threats during that time?

You can mitigate this a bit by rearranging some of the Silver Age characters to be older than Superman, as I suggested — or by letting Superman himself be older — but eventually DC would have to bite the (speeding) bullet and disconnect the JSA from one end of the timeline or the other.

So.

Now that details of the Superman relaunch are out, DC has clarified a bit of their latest timeline juggling.

DiDio said Action Comics by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales will take place five years in the past at the “dawn of the age of superheroes,”

Part of Superman’s introduction to the DCU will also be told in Justice League, the new comic that Lee is drawing for writer Geoff Johns. In the comic, which also takes place five years in the past (like Action Comics), the Justice League team members will come together for the first time. This new Superman will be among those heroes that discover each other in Justice League during the “dawning of the age of superheroes.”

“It’s really about re-introducing the concept of superheroes in the DC Universe, and doing it in a more contemporary, timely way,” Lee said. “We wanted a situation in Action and in Justice League where we show the first public emergence of these so-called super-beings and how they impact society, politics, the world.

“In many ways, it starts out in a way that one would imagine in today’s day and age with fear and caution, and people literally freaking out about this,” he said. “It’s through the introduction of a character like Superman and the Justice League that the public starts understanding and accepting these characters for who they are and sees them as heroes for the very first time, coining the word ‘superhero.'”

DC has been insisting that this isn’t a complete reboot, that they’re not erasing all their history. But really…taking a history that was too big to fit in ten years and cramming it into five? Nightwing’s an adult but used to be Robin, on a five-year timeline? It’s a sure bet that Wally West’s years as The Flash, if they existed at all in this universe, have been crammed into a few weeks or months at most. Maybe Barry was dead for an afternoon? Or not at all?

And the Justice Society? If the general public hasn’t encountered super-heroes until five years ago, it sounds like the team hasn’t just been “rested,” which could have simply meant DC wasn’t going to spotlight them for a while, but erased entirely. So much for Jay Garrick.

Though I suppose that solves the problem of what to do with them in the present day.

I agree that DC’s timeline was broken. But it’s become clear that one of the things I thought was a problem — tying everyone to Superman — DC thought was a necessity. And they’d rather break the rest of it even further than repair it.

11 thoughts on “The DC Timeline, the Reboot, Zero Hour and Superman

  1. Lex

    My theory is that the Justice Society existed, but no one called them superheroes in this new timeline. Instead, they were probably refered to as “mystery men” or something. That’s how they can claim the term “superhero” is first used for Superman and the Justice League.

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      They’ve specifically said that Superman and the Justice League are the first time the public has been generally aware of super-beings. Here’s another interview:

      Jim Lee: It’s really about re-introducing the concept of superheroes in the DC Universe, and doing it in a more contemporary, timely way. Even though you have books like Demon Knights or even All-Star Western, it’s not about public recognition or understanding that there are beings amongst us with extraordinary powers.

      ENLARGE
      We wanted a situation in Action and in Justice League where we show the first public emergence of these so-called super-beings and how they impact society, politics, the world. In many ways, it starts out in a way that one would imagine in today’s day and age with fear and caution, and people literally freaking out about this. It’s through the introduction of a character like Superman and the Justice League that the public starts understanding and accepting these characters for who they are and sees them as heroes for the very first time, coining the word “superhero.”

      So Stormwatch can have a long history because they’ve been operating behind the scenes. Batman and related characters could probably have a long history because he was operating in the shadows, believed to be an urban legend. Green Lantern could probably have a long history if Hal started out mostly being active in space instead of on Earth.

      But the Justice Society?

      Sounds like they’re toast.

      Reply
      1. Lex

        Not necessarily. Their history might’ve been changed so they weren’t as public as they were before. Maybe they were FDR’s top secret weapon during the war or something like that? Maybe it was similar to that Secret Society of Super-Heroes Elseworlds?

        Or you might be right and the JSA never existed. We’ll probably have to wait to see how Justice League #1 and Mr. Terrific #1 handle the past characters. I’m hoping someone asks about this during one of the many San Diego panels.

        Reply
  2. hugo

    >Nightwing’s an adult but used to be Robin, on a five-year timeline?

    It’s worst than that : In five years, Jason Todd was also a Robin, Tim Drake was probably also a Robin, Damian (Bruce Wayne’s 10-YEAR OLD SON) is a Robin.

    Glad you made this article because I was asking myself the exact same questions with this really odd time frame for a “soft reboot”.

    Concerning the JSA, I think most of them found a new alternate Earth to play with. Perhaps will we see them in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity ?

    The “Soft reboot” intent is to gain new readers with “accessibility” and not lose old ones.

    But eventually, I have the feeling I will complicate even more the DCU history…

    Reply
    1. Devin

      Well they are holding on to this old reader by a thread. I hate to be one of those fans but a big fat “meh” to all of this. Every announcement makes it worse. They are better off now just leaving the rest until September, maybe then I’ll still pick up one of their new books.

      Reply
      1. Kelson Post author

        In my case, I have no interest in most of the “mainstream” DCU titles. Aside from Flash, everything on my list is on the weird side. Frankenstein as a secret agent, the occult side of the Justice League, medieval super-heroes, and a guy who gets a new power every time he’s resurrected.

        In short: everything I’m looking at picking up could’ve been done without a reboot of any sort, just by launching a new series.

        Reply
  3. Matt

    I definitely think it will be explained that batman has been active longer than 5 years but prior to the league forming was thought to be an urban legend. Similarly the JSA could have been active during WWII without the public knowing it

    Reply
  4. Kyle

    Soft reboot my ass! It’s throwing away EVERYTHING in it’s history. Dick as Nightwing, Jason as Robin now Red Hood, and Tim maybe a Robin. Why, oh why are they doing this to us???

    And no more JSA?? Again???? *shakes head* They got a screw loose I think at DC

    Reply
  5. Lee H

    I can’t imagine that Jay Garrick will be gone for long. Maybe they’ll be on Earth-2 again? Or maybe the original Flash of Keystone City will be an urban legend who was never proven to exist?

    Reply
  6. Zachary Adams

    The idea that went through my head on hearing DiDio’s comments was simple: “Flash didn’t die in the first Crisis, Kid Flash did.”

    Reply

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