1986 saw a complete upheaval of the DC multiverse with its Earth-shattering storyline, Crisis on Infinite Earths. This story brought together countless characters on a massive scale, completely upturning their worlds. Gone was the multiverse of old, separating different superheroes in various universes. In its place was a single, cohesive universe in which every superhero ever read about had existed at one time or another. With such massive story changes occurring in that series, DC was left with a rather daunting task: how to fit these innumerable characters into a single continuity without completely erasing all of their past stories?
Enter Marv Wolfman and George Perez. They were tasked with unifying this history, the result being the publication of their two-part series, History of the DC Universe, which directly followed their supremely popular Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline.
History is less of a comic and more of…well, a history, as the title suggests. There is a slight storyline throughout the trade, as Harbinger narrates the history as a means of fulfilling the Monitor’s wishes, but the origin of the universe, Earth, and all of its superheroes is the true focus.
Harbinger’s narrative begins with the formation of the universe and moves through time, noting any number of famed superheros and villains who had made previous appearances in DC’s numerous publications. I enjoyed seeing a host of familiar names mentioned, happy to note that they were not completely forgotten after Crisis.
Although a few heroes were mentioned as having existed in earlier times, it is clear that in this new history, superheroes truly began to become a presence during World War II (the same time that the first superheroes appeared in comics. What a coincidence…).
With this “Golden Age of Superheroes” we see a number of familiar figures, but three are notably absent.
Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are not mentioned at this time. In fact, it is noted that they were small children during the Golden Age.
Herein lies the first major change in DC continuity. If all of these characters exist in one linear time frame on one Earth, our three key superheroes should be elderly by now, and certainly well past their crimefighting days. Obviously, DC wasn’t ready to retire their three major draws, and so they simply decided to delay these characters’ first appearances, allowing them to exist in the contemporary world.
I admit, I found this change a bit jarring, especially where Superman was concerned.
After all, this was Superman. This was the superhero from which all other comic book characters drew inspiration. Yet here he was, late to the party, now arriving well after any number of other superheroes had already made a mark for themselves. I realized while reading this story that for the first time, there was a difference between comic lore and its own history: Superman was and will always be the first superhero for comic readers, but in the world within the comics, he may be the greatest, but he’s not the first.
The changes outlined in this brief narrative are key to an understanding of this new, unified world. This seems like a key read for anyone who loved comics at the time and wanted to figure out just what all changed after Crisis. Even now, I can see the merit in such a trade. With such wide-swept changes to the continuity, it was a brilliant move to publish a trade in which all of the changes are outlined for the reader. True, some changes are mentioned only briefly, but it’s enough to give the reader an understanding of the new world without bogging them down with too many backstories at once. Many of the new histories presented here I was already familiar with, but having them laid out in a single line of continuity showed me how they all tied together, something that is often difficult to determine when reading trades individually.
Although this trade didn’t progress any individual storylines, it helped tie many different histories together. Hopefully moving forward, the stories will continue to blend together and form a single narrative, rather than break off into disjointed individual stories.