In just two months, DC will introduce Convergence, a massive universe-mixing event that will see characters from multiple eras of DC Comics coming together, and eventually forming a brand new multiverse.
That means characters from before the New 52 reboot, heck, even beforeCrisis on Infinite Earths, will enter the mix. At the end of it all, DC will drop the New 52 imprint for good, launching 24 new series that will start at issue number one, alongside 25 existing series which will keep their current numbering.
This sounds like a huge deal, and in a way it is, but longtime comic book readers will probably be getting a strong sense of déjà vu at the moment. In fact, none of this is anything particularly novel, at least where DC Comics is concerned, and this whole Convergence business just kind of reminds me how often DC has done this same sort of thing in the past.
Building the DC Universe
The DC Comics universe proper was created back in 1940 with All-Star Comics #3, the issue that finally brought together the publisher’s major characters. Before this, those characters all had their own series, but it wasn’t assumed that they shared anything other than the company that owned them. With this issue though, readers got to see them living in a shared world, even forming a team that would eventually lead to DC’s most iconic organization, the Justice League.
Weirdly enough though, All-Star Comics #3 could also be considered an inter-company crossover of sorts. Half of the major characters were owned by the All-American Comics label (Flash, Green Lantern, Hawman, and the Atom), while more were being published by a sister company called National Comics (Dr. Fate, Sandman, Spectre, and Hourman). Both of these were using the logo of yet another company, Detective Comics Inc., the label that was publishing a little comic called The Batman at the time. All three formally merged a few years later as National Periodical Publications, before officially changing its name in the 70s as DC Comics.
Given how confusing and splintered just the formation of the DC Comics universe was, I guess it’s no surprise that the company would continue to struggle to form a cohesive vision for itself, even 75 years later.
DC catches reboot fever.
It didn’t take long after the creation of (what would become) the DC Universe for the company to dip its toes into its very first retcon.
In 1956, Showcase #4, DC introduced a new Flash, writing off the previous version of the character as a comic book character within their existing comic book world. This new Flash, Barry Allen, even took his superhero name from the now meta-fictionalized previous incarnation, Jay Garrick.
The new Flash was a hit though, and now developing a taste for this whole “reboot” thing, DC soon followed it up with a new Green Lantern (with a new alien backstory for his ring’s powers), a new Hawkman, and a new Atom.
This proclivity for wiping the slate clean and starting over was never meant to be a longterm strategy for the company, but the precedent they set in the 50s would have some very far reaching consequences for the DC universe…
… Or should I say, Multiverse.
In the 60s, DC would lay the foundations for what would become the most iconic facet of its mythology: the Multiverse. In Flash #123, Jay Garrick, the original Flash (the one who was turned into a comic-within-a-comic-book character), was reintroduced into the main DC universe. It was explained that this Flash was actually just living in an alternate dimension.
This led to the idea that the “main” DC universe was just one of many versions of parallel Earths, forming a larger setting known as the Multiverse. This let DC experiment with Multiverse-spanning crossover events, with characters from these worlds often finding their way into others for a variety of reasons.
DC’s increasing propensity to rely on these Multiverse crossovers for their big storylines was slowly becoming the publisher’s go-to strategy, in stark contrast to their top competitor’s approach. While Marvel has its own Multiverse structure (officially established by Alan Moore with the naming of Earth-616), the company has shied away from putting too much of an emphasis on it.
Former Marvel EIC Joe Quesada has stated that keeping track of the alternate Earths has always been more of a fan thing, and unfavorably compared the idea of a Marvel Multiverse to what DC had been trying to do:
I never use it, I hate the term pure and simple… I can’t remember ever hearing it in the office and only really see it used online for the most part. I think the term really came into vogue when the Ultimate Universe came into prominence, but in my world, the language and distinctions are simple, there is the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe. Anything other than that reeks of all that DC Earth 1, Earth 2, Earth Prime stuff which I’ve never really taken to.
DC, on the other hand, could not care less what Marvel had to say on that, and dove head first into building out their universe of universes.
Crisis on Infinite Earths
Unfortunately for DC, the 80s saw them struggling to keep up with Marvel in just about every way. Marvel was dominating their rival in sales, and DC’s Multiverse setup was starting to become cumbersome, rather than liberating like it had been in the past.
In an effort to swing back in a big way, DC launched their biggest storytelling event to date, a year-long series titled Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The story was bold, weird, and as confusing as it is memorable, but more than anything, it was clear what DC was trying to do: clean the slate. By this point, the Multiverse had grown far too complicated for new readers, with multiple versions of the same characters, continuity errors, and an overall lack of direction.
Crisis on Infinite Earths changed all that, killing off certain characters, and reinventing even more (Crisis was the turning point for the Batman/Superman relationship, altering their dynamic from best friends to allies by necessity, something Zack Snyder’s upcoming Batman V. Superman owes a lot to). Others who had existed on the fringe of DC storytelling, like the Question (a character they recently acquired from Charlton Comics), were folded into the “main” universe.
As the dust settled on the series, DC was ready to start fresh, with an issue one Superman series leading the charge. Crisis on Infinite Earths was supposed to be a permanent solution to DC’s Multiverse problem, and for a little while, it seemed like it worked. Unfortunately, old habits die hard, and this would be far from the last time that the DC universe would be rebooted.
Jumping forward to less than a decade later, DC’s continuity was in trouble again. Zero Hour is remembered for a lot of reasons (mainly for turning Green Lantern into the bad guy Parallax), but DC’s real goal was to quietly brush under the rug a number of timeline paradoxes that remained after Crisis. Things like, why Superboy was living in a separate pocket universe, and why there were still multiple versions of certain characters running around at the same time.
As you might expect by now, Zero Hour did not prove to be a one-stop solution though. With many of its writers still pulling plot elements that had been “officially” killed in Zero Hour, DC eventually came up with the idea of Hypertime: the fairly progressive idea that the DC canon was not, well, one singular story. Instead, it was a collection of an infinite number of different variations and permutations of the DC Universe; a way to basically recognize it for what it was: a piece of evolving fiction.
To say that this was an unpopular idea is an understatement, and the concept was widely ignored until it was officially canned just six years later.
So here we are, it’s 2005, nearly 20 years after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Up until now, DC had managed to hold itself back from resorting to full-blown reboots (although retcons were certainly not off the table, Superman himself’s origin story included). That all changed with Infinite Crisis, an insanely bizarre affair that sees Earth Prime Superboy, locked in a pocket dimension, literally punching reality so hard that it reshapes the timeline. It also more or less brought back the idea of the Multiverse, in case the story wasn’t complex enough for you.
If that sounds like an incredibly silly way to fix your world building, you’re not wrong, and DC would continue to spend the next decade on the losing end of a war with its own continuity.
Just a half decade later, and DC was at it again, attempting to wipe the slate completely clean with Flashpoint, and the resulting (and incredibly divisive) “New 52” line of comics.
The event introduces a pretty kooky time travel plot in which the Flash travels back in time, creating an alternate universe. Then with the help of Reverse-Flash, he travels back in time again, in the process merging the DC comics universe with the Vertigo and WildStorm ones. If that made absolutely no sense to you, don’t worry, actually reading it doesn’t make it significantly more comprehensible.
While incorporating elements of Vertigo and WildStorm comics into the main DC continuity was definitely a gamechanger, the bigger and more relevant ramification of Flashpoint was the creation of the New 52.
The New 52 was ostensibly a relaunch of all of DC’s books as Issue #1’s, with the goal of finally putting a definitive stamp on the timeline… expect that it wasn’t. Even among the DC Comics execs, the New 52 was a controversial effort, and this divisiveness showed in the company’s creative output. Some comics, like Green Lantern, almost completely ignored the relaunch; while others had major characters given complete origin story overhauls.
It was a bit of a mess, and while it’s mostly been sorted out by now, it doesn’t really matter, as it’s all coming to an end with…
Next month will see the beginning of Convergence, a two month weekly miniseries that sounds like it will put every other DC reboot’s insanity to shame.
The story has Braniac trapping cities from various DC universe timelines, then throwing them all together for shits and giggles. That’s already a pretty ludicrous start, but it got a heck of a lot crazier when DC announced that it will also feature the return of characters from the pre-Flashpoint era. That’s right, DC is officially rebooting the reboots now.
During the event, all of the regular series will be put on hold, replaced by 40 miniseries tie-ins. And at the end of it all, the New 52 label will be retired, with DC launching 24 new series that will begin at issue 1. This will be on top of 25 ongoing series that will continue where they left off pre-Convergence. Confused yet?
We’ll have to wait and see what Convergence will actually look like, but at this point, it really feels like DC has a way of doing things, and you’re either on board with it or not.
Convergence might be amazing, it might fall flat on its face, or it might just pump some much needed energy into the DC universe. Either way though, in five to ten years (or less), let’s not act surprised when they decide to try it all over again.