Every Wednesday, the publication of new comic books adds narrative to superhero multiverses, every one of which exists as a vast collection of interconnected and interminable serialized fiction. My love of these amazing superhero worlds stems from a hundred different things—uniqueness of character, costume design, sci-fi weirdness, dramatic scripts, gorgeous illustrations, socioeconomical commentary, cultural critique, discourse on sex politics, detailed world-building, shark-jumping, and much more. But it’s the myriad number of individual comic books and how they fit together that really piques my interest. How can hundreds of thousands of comic book titles, all drawn and written by various creators, possibly exist and function as a cohesive narrative that makes sense, especially over the course of decades? When faced with such a kaleidoscopic farrago, the comics combine to form a vast puzzle that is difficult to piece together. But piecing together this puzzle is exactly what the Real Batman Chronology Project is all about.
The original goal of The Real Batman Chronology Project, way back in 2009 when it first started, was to document the process of reading every single Modern Age Batman comic book. However, after I began reading I quickly realized that DC publishes a lot of monthly comic books that feature Batman, but they don’t tell you in what order to read them or how to organize them. And you can’t simply read them in the order they were published. It’s way more complex than that. Thus, an adventure in comic book reading evolved into the project you see before you: An attempt to stratify every Modern Age Batman appearance into chronological narrative reading order. The Real Batman Chronology Project was originally a blog, but its scope expanded tremendously and warranted significant change in 2011. Hence, the site you see here mirrors the blog, but in a more accessible and aesthetically pleasing format. The site also allows me to continue ongoing various research-based projects in regard to Batman Continuity—Continuity with a Capital C—including chronologies for the Golden Age Batman, Silver Age Batman, and New Age (New 52) Batman. The new blog contained within this site, called Discontinuity, also allows me to conduct commentaries on comic book narrative, authorship, fandom, culture, news, and more.
HOW THIS SITE WORKS
Batman has a long and renowned history that dates back to 1939—the reason for multiple timelines. This rich history, aside from niche areas of the Internet and very few books, has not been successfully evaluated and analyzed from the narratological perspective of serial-continuity. To understand why Batman has so many timelines in a more scrutable and scholarly way, one must have prerequisite knowledge about how DC has rebooted its characters about every twenty-five years. For Batman, the titular character debuts in 1939 and gets rebooted roughly somewhere from 1960 to 1964—about twenty-five years later. The second version of Batman—the Silver Age Batman of Earth-One—lasts until 1985/1986. That’s close to twenty-five years later. And guess what? You guessed correctly if you said DC rebooted Batman again another twenty-five years after that. 2011 brought about the third major reboot (don’t call it a relaunch) in the history of the DC Universe. Columnist/reviewer Keith Callbeck even goes so far as to refer to the post 2011 rebooted DCU as the “DCU 3.0,” making the post 1986 rebooted DCU the “DCU 2.0” and the original Silver Age DCU the “DCU 1.0.” Pretty interesting stuff, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The complexity and narratological structuring and re-structuring involved with serial fiction has always fascinated me. Batman has always been of particular interest. I hope you enjoy this project as much as I have enjoyed working on it. And I hope that you can learn something from it, not only about Batman, but about narrative continuity as told by multiple artists and authors in a variegated serial-fictional world.
“What is the correct chronological order for reading Batman comics?” The answer to this question, and the shibboleth you should repeat over and over while reading this site, simply is there is no right answer and there can never be a right answer. There are too many stories and too many retcons (RETtroactive CONtinuity changes that specifically contradict prior established narrative history) to even begin to answer properly or to arrive at firm conclusions. In fact, many canonical Batman stories are essentially interchangeable on a timeline. Furthermore, who is really to determine which books are canon and which are non-canon, anyway? I declare this time and time again in the various sections of the site: We don’t know the true reading order and we never will. Columnist Travis Hedge Coke says it best, “There is no canon. [Readers and fans] can, and have, ordered certain comics into several different, sometimes overlapping canons. Further, belonging to a canon does not ensure that works are aligned by a shared chronology or continuity. Canons are personally established, or they are established for business reasons, for marketing purposes, and that’s about it. It’s not a magic thing, it only means, at essence, ‘these works count towards…’ whatever you want them to count towards. Canon is not a judgment of total value or relevance to all things. And canons are rarely permanent, both the personal and the business sorts.” Furthermore, comic books tend to fall into the realm of reader-response criticism where “interpretive communities” of readers determine true narrative. Superhero texts control a reader’s responses while simultaneously containing “gaps” that a reader creatively fills. This obviously further complicates matters. Personally, based upon all the information above, I’ve come to define fictional canon as the collaborative perceptive processing of an ongoing work by both authors and readers, through which the story MAKES THE MOST NARRATIVE SENSE. It is with this definition firmly in mind that I build my timelines on this site.
Despite having addressed the ostensible futility of building comic book timelines, the Real Batman Chronology Project is definitely not a complete waste of time. This project is a labor of love and if you examine each panel of as many Batman stories as you can get your hands on, you will see that things do fit into a timeline in the most pleasantly unexpected ways. Of course, the maddeningly opposite happens almost just as often. But that is simply a part of the process. Theoretically, if the perfect suggested order is compiled, then we have the closest thing to answering our dreaded chronological question. Finding continuity is a game—It’s piecing together an impossibly intricate jigsaw puzzle. There’s no greater satisfaction than stepping back and seeing the final picture as a whole.
The zoologist/psychologist couple David Barash and Judith Lipton once said, “Although we seek ultimately to unravel genuine external truths about the natural world, not simply to validate our own preconceptions, one of those truths is that we are readily seduced by our own ideas and just as reluctant to give up on them—even in the face of contrary evidence—as anyone else.” I may not be trying to solve anthropological or biological mysteries by building superhero timelines, but this quote readily applies to my process. This site is meant to be entirely non-opinionated and nonobjective, and not some random fanboy list of my own personal favorite Batman stories. I’ll be the first to admit that I geek out a bit harder (and usually write a bit more positively) about my faves, and likewise, write a bit more negatively about things I don’t like as much. That being said, this does not mean that I’m trying to alienate any fans or tell any of my readers what’s good and what’s bad. I’ll leave that to the reviewers and the critics. This website is not a comic book review or critique site. This website is home to an intensive scholarly research project, through-in and throughout. There are a ton of stories I’ve included on my timelines that I despise and many more that I absolutely adore, which are absent since they are non-canon. I can’t stress this enough: The Real Batman Chronology Project is meant to be uninfluenced, unbiased, and most importantly, a scientific research-based endeavor that examines the continuity of Batman via a narratological reading based solely upon the facts (admittedly as I see them) in the comic books themselves. Every tale—and I mean every tale—that is slotted into my chronology is done so only after a thorough examination of narrative and an intense regard to continuous in-story information. There is no such thing as a definitive right or a definitive wrong when it comes to creating these comic-book-world timelines. As the late curmudgeonly genius Robert Anton Wilson quipped, “I don’t think most issues in the sensory-sensual spacetime world (the world of experience) actually reduce to two-valued logic.” The same mentality can and should also be applied to Batman comics that exist in the sensory-sensual spacetime world of the DC multiverse and the greater omniverse in which it dwells.
If you are so inclined, please check out http://therealbatmanchronoproject.blogspot.com and add yourself as a follower! And feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!
And last but certainly not least, thanks to Ashley Jean Mastrine and Ross Holtry for supporting me from the awkward beginning. Thanks also for the multitude of assistance that I’ve received along the way from countless friends and strangers alike.
ABOUT THE SITE CREATOR/PROJECT MANAGER:
Collin Colsher is a writer, filmmaker, teacher, and comic book scholar that currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He is the creator of The Real Batman Chronology Project and disCONTINUITY. Collin also serves on the jury for the annual Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, which is sponsored by the US Library of Congress.
-  COLLIN COLSHER: I should clarify, when I say “DC” I refer to the corporate beast that is “DC the company.” Unfortunately, the business of comic books has a long documented tradition of screwing over some creators, writers, and artists. The unethical treatment of workers in the comic book “industry” isn’t something that I will tackle very often on this site, but I felt there should be at least something said. All superhero comics, including Batman books, are the products of many different creative minds, but in the end it is the corporate bigwigs, publishers, and editors that control the characters and the worlds in which they live—even if most of the time these said bigwigs, publishers, and editors have contributed little or nothing towards either. Thus, from a narratological perspective, innovation and strong continuity or story development are tough things to achieve in the capitalist consumer-driven market. It’s a sad state of affairs, and probably a topic of discussion for another venue, but it is interesting to see how the hierarchical dynamics of the mainstream superhero comic book genre directly affect how story and character are shaped. On the other hand, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I love comics. And without Disney, Warner Bros, and other conglomerates, my favorite characters and stories would not exist in the forms they do today. Plus, it is my wholehearted belief that comic book art and stories, despite everything (and despite what Alan Moore says), are evolving for the better every year! So, as you can see, the complexity of the issue only gets more complicated as you peel back layer after layer. ↩
-  COLLIN COLSHER: For the intents and purposes of the Real Batman Chronology Project, I will refer to the classical comic book ages that were born from line-wide continuity reboots—the GOLDEN AGE (1938-1960), the SILVER AGE (1960-1986), the MODERN AGE (1986-2011), and NEW AGE (2011-the present).
Batman wasn’t around until the Golden Age of comic books, but before that there was the so-called PRE-MODERN AGE (or PLATINUM AGE, VICTORIAN AGE, or PULP AGE), which has its roots in the mid nineteenth century, ending in 1938. In a sense, this first ever “comic book reboot” began with the creation of Superman and Batman at DC at the end of the 1930s. Scholar Ken Quattro has also coined the term NASCENT AGE to describe the period between 1933-1938, which either replaces or overlaps the end of the Pre-Modern Age. According to Quattro, 1933 was the first year that the format of comic books began to resemble what they would look like in the Golden Age and beyond.
In 1938, Superman was born and the Golden Age (1938-1960, roughly) started off with a bang. Batman was created a year later, cementing the new era. Ken Quattro has labeled the end of the Golden Age as the GENRE AGE or CODE ERA, reflecting the late 1950s boom of EC’s horror line, horror’s influence on the medium as a whole, and the subsequent Comics Code Authority being created in response. The official end of the Golden Age is highly debatable since the beginnings of the Silver Age have a wide-range of possible starting points. We will now briefly examine that wide range.
The origin of the Silver Age starts as early as 1954, but is highly debatable, running for a nearly decade-long span where many different (and valid) arguments can be made supporting various starting points within that time frame. One can split the subsequent Silver Age into subsections: The early years of the Silver Age being the SILVER AGE PROPER (1960-1971, roughly) versus the later portion being the BRONZE AGE (1971-1986). Writers Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs have also goofily referred to the Bronze Age as the AWKWARD AGE—a sort of transitional era from Silver Age to Modern Age. Ken Quattro often refers to the Bronze Age as the NEO-SILVER AGE. Keith Callbeck lists the entire Silver Age (Bronze Age included) as “DC 1.0,” referring both to the fact that its in-story continuity took place primarily on the DCU’s Earth 1, but also to the fact that the Silver Age reboot started what was to become a more continuity-driven type of storytelling within the industry as a whole, hence a sort of “Continuity 1.0.”
Likewise, one can also split the Modern Age (1986-2011) into subsections: The early years of the Modern Age in the late 1980s being the IRON AGE, DARK AGE, or COPPER AGE where comics became more “adult-themed” and darker in general; the CHROMIUM AGE, GILDED AGE, or IMAGE AGE of the 1990s, named after Image Comics and the subsequent style that permeated all companies in that decade—which was then followed by the bubble bursting in 1996 and the steady decline of the industry for five years until…; the DYNAMIC AGE from 2001 to 2011 where DC and Marvel began branching out with more forward-looking, diverse storytelling by contracted big-name talents. Keith Callbeck, naturally following his own logic, lists the entire Modern Age as “DC 2.0,” referring to the fact that the original Crisis erased the old “Continuity 1.0” to replace it with a brand new “Continuity 2.0.” The New 52 Batman Wiki site refers to the period between the original Crisis and Zero Hour (1986-1994) as the SIGMA TIMELINE. A few other names attributed to the later Modern Age canon: the DOWNLOADABLE TORRENT AGE (as half-jokingly named by Mike Sterling); the FAN-FICTION AGE (as angrily named by Alan David Doane); the ZERO TIMELINE (a post Zero Hour name coined by The New 52 Batman Wiki site); the POLYBAG AGE (not attributed to anyone specifically); and the FINAL AGE (also not attributed to anyone specifically).
And the NEW AGE of comics (as I like to call it) began in 2011. DC, with its huge “New 52” hard-reboot in 2011, and Marvel, with its “NOW!” soft-reboot in 2012, both companies spawned a whole new era. Both DC and Marvel ushered in the New Age around this time with a re-purposed focus on nostalgia, even darker themes, decompressed continuity, and mega event crossovers. (Although, these themes changed rather quickly as both Marvel and DC started playing more fast-and-loose with continuity and publishing more light-hearted fare—specifically after DC dropped the “New 52” moniker in 2015 and after Marvel’s “All New, All Different” soft-relaunch in 2015.) Since the New Age really won’t be officially categorized until after it has ended, it currently has several different names, such as: The NEW GOLDEN AGE (as claimed by Douglas Wolk); the PRISMATIC AGE (as defined by Andrew Kunka, Grant Morrison, and the Mindless Ones blog); the BOUTIQUE AGE (as labeled by Ken Quattro); and the MEGA-CORPORATE AGE (as labeled by Charles Hatfield). And as before, Keith Callbeck calls the New Age “DC 3.0,” referring to the fact that Flashpoint erased the old “Continuity 2.0” to replace it with a brand new “Continuity 3.0.”
And that brings us to where we are now. But as I was emphasizing, for the purposes of this site, these subdivisions and alternate names will be ignored. I will focus on the typical Golden Age, Silver Age (Bronze Age included within), Modern Age, and New Age. ↩
-  TRAVIS HEDGE COKE ↩
-  COLLIN COLSHER: Read the critical theory of Wolfgang Iser, Stanley Fish, Norman Holland, and Louise Rosenblatt for more information in regard to these complex ideas about reader-response. See also “Reader-Response Criticism.” ↩