…continued from FICTIONAL CANON: WHAT COUNTS?…
RELAUNCHED, REBOOTED, AND BEWILDERED
We’ve already discussed the function of the Real Batman Chronology Project and its very reason for existence by dipping our toes into the concept of fictional canon and peeking at how it pertains to superhero comics. It’s easy to see how difficult it is to build a single coherent and functional timeline. But, to make matters worse, Batman actually has multiple canonical timelines. This isn’t simply due to Batman’s long publishing history or different media outlets, which are only part of the justification, but more so due to DC’s major reboots.
Superhero continuity, as defined by journalist Abraham Riesman, is “the sum of all the stories about every character in a given fictional universe.” Riesman explains, “What Superman does in one issue can be referenced 20 issues later; what Batman does in one story arc might affect what happens to Wonder Woman in another. As decades of tales roll on, continuity becomes more and more byzantine. To understand a new story, you often need to be familiar with a pile of existing continuity, which presents a dauntingly high bar for a newbie. It has been attempts at treating that chronic illness that compelled DC to initiate its many line-wide reboots.” Sure enough, DC has indeed initiated reboots in the past, having reset its characters roughly every twenty-five years since the company took off in the late 1930s. Since reboots influence reader experience (in relation to canon) more than anything else, one must have prerequisite scrutable knowledge about them to fully understand Batman’s multiple timelines and continuity in general. Let’s take a gander at the history of DC’s reboots now.
Superman debuted in 1938 and Batman in 1939, essentially starting DC Comics’ shared narrative universe—and the Golden Age of comics. In the 1950s, DC wanted a fresh start with a new type of modern hero. Thus, the Silver Age was born. However, unlike a total line-wide reboot, DC staggered this reboot title-to-title, which gives the Silver Age reboot a debatable starting point. The Silver Age start-date technically can be plotted anywhere from the mid Fifties to the mid Sixties, depending on how you look at it. I won’t get into those nitty-gritty details, but I’ve written about the Silver Age re-launch extensively on my website if you are interested in learning more. Essentially, DC rebooted approximately twenty-five years after it started. This uniquely created two main Earths—the characters that started in the late 30s and early 40s, now much older and semi-retired, continued on Earth-2 while the rebooted rookie versions got the main focus on DC’s primary line featured on Earth-1.
Almost as if on cue, roughly twenty-five years later, in 1986, the seminal Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover was published, which collapsed the existing multiverse and rebooted it all into one new unified Earth where all characters had a new shared history, which was slowly meted-out bit-by-bit over the course of the following decade. This is the dawn of the Modern Age of superhero comics.
(After this, DC had two minor soft-reboots, 1994’s Zero Hour and 2006’s Infinite Crisis, that are both worth mentioning but not really that important for our discussion.)
Twenty-five years after the original 1986 Crisis, Flashpoint brought about the third major reboot (don’t call it a relaunch) in the history of the DC Universe. In 2011, with Flashpoint, DC rebooted yet again into our current continuity that we see today. 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.” Heidi MacDonald of “The Beat” echoes Callbeck, but more appropriately numbers the original Silver Age DCU as “DCU 2.0,” since it comes from the first reboot and is therefore the second DCU. The Golden Age is “DCU 1.0.” According to that same logic, the New Age is “DCU 4.0.”
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 were in a state of flux from 2011 to 2015, with each change seeming like a response from upper-management to the direct market, feeling out what audiences would go for or reject. In 2015, Marvel’s “All New, All Different” soft-relaunch brought about lighter and more diverse fare. And also in 2015, DC’s line-wide storytelling shift, entitled “Rebirth,” brought the company’s orientation back to continuity-driven legacy-focused storytelling.) 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 SECOND GOLDEN AGE (conceived by Paul Levitz), 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.
By catering to this complex history of reboots it might seem as though DC is acting exclusionary and doing itself a disservice by making things so convoluted and sprawling. While knowledge of this history is essential if you want to track canon or continuity, it doesn’t need to be understood or even known to simply enjoy the comics. They stand on their own—you can pick up a collected trade paperback and read a totally inclusive story that begins, has rising action, a climax, and denouement. But the beauty, especially for me, is that if you already like comics, then knowing about this history will only serve to augment your enjoyment.
Our next section will detail my process when it comes to creating timelines. Click on the following link to read BUILDING TIMELINES FOR DUMMIES.
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: In 2014-2015, Grant Morrison put out a series called The Multiversity, in which he took DC’s NON-FICTIONAL publication history that I just told to you about and turned it into FICTIONAL CANON. While The Multiversity was a follow-up to Morrison’s previous meta-dabbling-with-fictional-canon story Final Crisis, The Multiversity went even deeper down the rabbit hole and entered much wilder territory. We are talking never-before-achieved-or-attempted levels of meta-meta-meta-narrative being reached. Geoff Johns, not long after, in the pages of Justice League Vol. 2 (2015) and DC Universe: Rebirth (2016), pulled off the same narrative maneuver and garnered equally amazing ultra-meta results. Jeff King attempted a similar feat with Convergence, but his 2015 arc was a miserable failure that never came close to achieving the heightened level of sophistication, understanding, or general deference for fictional canon as the works of Morrison or Johns. Obviously there’s more to say, but that is a topic for another discussion!↩