The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

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The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Sun Feb 07, 2010 5:30 pm

I was talking to GBF earlier about DC Comics, and he made the rather baffling statement that the DC Universe's continuity was actually confusing due to their various parallel worlds and multiple versions of the same character. Madness, I know! Nothing could be more straightforward, after all! So here, to prove it, is a rough guide to the DC Universe...

In 1935, DC (or rather, National Periodicals as they were then) began publishing comics featuring continuing characters (Dr Occult was one of the first) and in 1938 they pretty much invented the superhero genre when they published Superman. Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, the Flash, the Atom, Hawkman, Aquaman, Wildcat and a few hundred more followed over the next few years, most of them doing their bit in the fight against the Nazis, and other companies got in on the act with superheroes of their own, notably (for the purposes of this discussion) Quality Comics, who published characters like Uncle Sam, Doll Man and the Phantom Lady, and Fawcett, who came up with Captain Marvel. By the late 40s though, with the war over, the superheroes were beginning to fall out of favour, and so many of them faded away, as did the companies which created them.

In the mid 50's, however, there was something of a revival. A new generation of heroes were created, many of them with the same code names and roughly the same abilities as the 40's characters, though revamped with new costumes, historoies and secret identities. Thus, the Flash-who had previously been scientist Jay Garrick, a very speedy bloke in a tin hat reminiscent of Mercury, messanger of the gods-now became Barry Allen, a 'police scientist' in a red bodysuit and cowl, while the Green Lantern, previously an engineer named Alan Scott who had a magic ring, was now Hal Jordan, a test pilot with a 'power ring' given to him by aliens. And Hawkman, previously museum curator Carter Hall (the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince) was now...er...museum curator Carter Hall (actually an undercover alien police officer called Katar Hol from the planet Thanagar). The earlier versions of these characters were conveniently forgotten.

But, it turned out, not by the fans, who wanted to know what had happened to them, and not by writer Gardner Fox, who had actually created many of the characters (old and new versions) in the first place. In 1961, Fox revealed in the pages of Flash #123 ('Flash of Two Worlds') that the earlier Flash, Jay Garrick, was still around. He lived, it transpired, on Earth 2, a parallel world almost exactly like Earth 1, the world of the Barry Allen Flash, but where the superheroes had begun their careers twenty years earlier, and the two heroes met when Barry vibrated himself at super speed onto earth 2's 'vibrational plane' by accident (why the original world was now called Earth 2 while the later, current version was earth 1 was never very clear. Presumably it was because Barry Allen named it, not Jay Garrick. If I was Jay, I'd have had something to say about that).Over the next couple of years, virtually all of the characters who had had earlier, unconnected counterparts met them, and in the end, an annual tradition was instigated of Earth 1's Justice League of America (of which Barry, Hal and Carter were members) meeting up for a yearly get together with their predecessors, the Justice Society of America from Earth 2 (a group which include Jay, Alan and Katar). Things were only slightly complicated by the realisation that a handful of characters, specifically Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder woman, Aquaman, green Arrow and Speedy (Green Arrow's sidekick) had actually been in continuous publication since the 40s (Wonder Woman had been a regular member of the JSA, but was now a member of the JLA) but that was easily explained: Earth 2 also had counterparts of these guys who were basically the same as their Earth 1 counterparts but a few years older, thereby conveniently explaining how Superman, who was seemingly eternally 29, could have had all those adventures with Nazi U-Boats. The dividing line between the end of the 'Earth 2' Superman, Batman Etc's adventures and the beginning of their 'Earth 1' counterparts stories was never very clear but was reckoned to be sometime in the 1950s; readers had just been unaware at the time that they were suddenly reading the adventures of a different Batman than the guy who'd been around the previous month. Simple! Over time, as the Earth 2 characters were allowed to age while the Earth 1 versions (not tied to a specific point in history like the originals, who were inextricably linked to World War II) stayed young, subtle differences became apparent between the earlier and later versions of the duplicates: the modern day Superman, for instance, was Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet and long suffering colleague of Lois Lane, but his predecessor-though still Clark Kent-was now the middle aged editor of the Daily Star, and married to his Lois Lane.

And then, we found out that there were more than just two parallel Earths.

Flushed with success at his brilliant concept, Fox repeated it. And so did a whole slew of other writers. Earth 3 came first: this was the less than pleasant world where neither the JSA or the JLA fought for justice, their places having been taken by the evil Crime Syndicate of America, a strangely familiar group of bad guys comprised of Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Power ring and Johnny Quick. Then, in a truly mind boggling twist, the Flash discovered Earth Prime, supposedly our Earth, on which comic book writers were creating stories based on the real life adventures of the heroes of Earth's 1 and 2, which they 'tuned in to' in their dreams! Far out, man...

Over time, DC acquired the rights to publish characters created by the defunct Quality and Fawcett Comics, and to explain where these 'new' characters came from, they gave us yet more parallels: Uncle Sam, Doll Man, Phantom Lady and company lived on Earth X, a world where the Nazis had eventually won the war, and where Uncle Sam and his 'Freedom Fighters' (the few surviving Quality superheroes) had fought a desperate, secret war to topple them ever since (eventually, of course, the JLA and JSA were summoned to help them, and with Earth X liberated, the Freedom Fighters migrated to Earth 1 out of boredom). Captain Marvel and his friends, meanwhile, lived on Earth S (for 'Shazam', the name the Captain now went by; while the Fawcett characters were defunct, Marvel Comics had trademarked the name Captain Marvel).

Over time, writers who weren't paying close attention became mildly confused, with unfortunate results. Bob Haney and E Nelson Bridwell several times had the modern day Batman team up with wildcat in the pages of The Brave & the Bold, for instance-the only problem being, Wildcat was a JSA member and lived on Earth 2, there was no Wildcat of Earth 1! Not a problem: clearly, these guys were the Batman and Wildcat of a previously unsuspected Earth, 'Earth B' (for Bob Haney, or Nelson Bridwell), which combined aspects of Earth's 1 and 2. Simples! Readers also queried how the Nazis could have won the war on Earth X when Quality were still publishing adventures of Doll Man and company in the post war years, which led to the positing of a hypothetical 'Earth Q' where alternate versions of the Freedom Fighters had lived a peaceful post war existence, but this was never confirmed and we certainly never saw it in print. We did, however, see two completely conflicting versions of the 30th Century, the bright and shiny world of the Legion of Super Heroes and the post apocalyptic nightmare inhabited by Kamandi, the last boy on earth; DC even had alternate futures, now! When they acquired the former Charlton Comics characters (including the Blue Beetle and Captain Atom)in the early eighties, it was decided that they would be inhabitants of Earth 4, but their introduction was delayed for awhile...

And then, in 1985, someone decided this was all getting a bit much. DC Comics was 50, it had five decades of continuity behind it which writers were having a hard time keeping up with (the lightweights; us readers had no problem with it!) and it needed sorting out. And so, the company celebrated its fiftieth with the epic 'Crisis on Infinite Earths', a 12 issue limited series in which worlds lived, worlds died, and history itself was rewritten by the actions of the villainous Anti-Monitor...and in its aftermath, there was just one Earth, a new Earth, created by the fusing together of the five surviving Earths of the multiverse-Earths 1, 2, 4, X and S. On this new world, things had happened differently. There was only one Superman, the young Superman of the JLA (his older counterpart had, through a cosmic glitch, survived the restructuring of reality, but had buggered off to a voluntary exile in another dimension with his Lois, young Alex Luthor of Earth 3 and the Superboy of Earth Prime, a now dead world which had turned out not to be ours after all). There was only one Batman (and Robin). There was only one Wonder Woman, and Aquaman, and Green Arrow (and, indeed, Speedy). There was, mercifully, only one Wildcat. There were still two Flashes and two Green Lanterns, but Jay Garrick and Alan Scott had retired years before Barry Allen and Hal Jordan took up their legacies (don't even ask me about Hawkman-some things are just too complicated!). The JSA were the inspiration for the JLA, and now functioned as mentors to young heroes, while the Freedom Fighters had disbanded decades ago (they've reformed since, mostly second and third generation versions of the originals). And both Captain Marvel and Blue Beetle joined the JLA.

Fast forward to 2005. DC Comics is 70. A celebration is needed. And a celebration, of sorts, is what we get...in the shape of Infinite Crisis, in which the disillusioned survivors of the first Crisis (including the original Superman of Earth 2), who have been watching events on the now fashionably grim 'n gritty new Earth with deepening horror from their vantage point outside time and space, decide that something must be done. Crashing back into reality, they instigate a daring plan-to restore the multiverse, at the cost of the existence of everyone on the new Earth! Thankfully, the elder Superman eventually realises his folly and helps the heroes of new Earth to stop Alex Luthor and Superboy Prime from achieving their ambitions (at the apparent cost of his own life) but somehow, the multiverse is partially recreated anyway-in the shape of 52 separate alternate Earths, including a recreated Earth 2!

The only problem now being, the JSA still exist on 'new Earth', and now have duplicates on Earth 2. The Blue Beetle is still around on 'new Earth' (well, actually he's dead, but a new guy has taken his place), but also exists on Earth 4 (where he isn't dead, luckily). And Captain Marvel has a duplicate on Earth 5, which is as near to Earth S as makes no difference (and yes, rather cleverly, the Freedom Fighters' Earth X has now become Earth 10).

So we're pretty much back where we started, but with about ten times as many alternate Earths as we had in 1985 when DC decided to simplify things...

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by felneymike on Sun Feb 07, 2010 5:40 pm

If you ask me Amalgamated Press had the right idea, simply have the characters not age or change circumstances even though the rest of the world does... and don't comment on it at all XD.

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by felneymike on Sun Feb 07, 2010 5:41 pm

Actually don't DC own a lot of the former Amalgamated Press characters, now? Maybe one of those 52 earths is AP-Earth. Maybe one day Superman will have to face the evil Buntor, who is creating a worldwide famine by his constant scoffing... OK, maye not.

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Sun Feb 07, 2010 5:47 pm

felneymike wrote:Actually don't DC own a lot of the former Amalgamated Press characters, now? Maybe one of those 52 earths is AP-Earth. Maybe one day Superman will have to face the evil Buntor, who is creating a worldwide famine by his constant scoffing... OK, maybe not.
DC's Wildstorm imprint were the publishers of Albion, the limited series which gave us updated, aged versions of many of the old Fleetway characters, as well as limited series' starring Battler Britton and a re-imagined Thunderbolt Jaxon (you did read Crikey! #12, right?). It's not beyond the bounds of possibility...

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Sun Feb 07, 2010 5:51 pm

Here, just because I like it, is the cover to the comic which started all the confusion.


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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by Hourglass on Mon Feb 08, 2010 4:09 pm

interesting read Tony, thanks.

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Mon Feb 08, 2010 7:18 pm

Thanks. I've just realised, though: I completely forgot to mention the single most important alternate Earth in the DCU. Earth C, home of Captain Carrot & His Amazing Zoo Crew!

And Earth C Minus, home of the 'other' JLA: the Justa Lotta Animals... Very Happy

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by Hourglass on Mon Feb 08, 2010 9:07 pm

The big question is HOW CAN WE NEW FANS ACTUALLY BE EXPECTED TO KNOW ALL OF THIS Evil or Very Mad

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Mon Feb 08, 2010 9:13 pm

Hourglass wrote:The big question is HOW CAN WE NEW FANS ACTUALLY BE EXPECTED TO KNOW ALL OF THIS Evil or Very Mad
That's been a bit of a thorny question for some decades. But the simple fact is, if you have characters who've been around for 75 years, then they're going to have 75 years worth of backstory. DC are attempting to address this by publishing a new series of their 'character Bibe', Who's Who in the DC Universe, starting next month (it's been fifteen years since the last edition).

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by felneymike on Tue Feb 09, 2010 7:10 pm

I like big fictional universes, but i don't like superhero comics. So i fancy buying the Who's Who book, but not reading anything it refers to XD.

My own fictional universe now has at least 3 permutations @_@, i'm turning into a DC all by myself!

Edit: come to think of it, 5 permutations...


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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Tue Feb 09, 2010 7:19 pm

felneymike wrote:I like big fictional universes, but i don't like superhero comics. So i fancy buying the Who's Who book, but not reading anything it refers to XD.

My own fictional universe now has at least 3 permutations @_@, i'm turning into a DC all by myself!
DC doesn't just do superheroes!

They also publish Jonah Hex...

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by alanultron5 on Fri Apr 09, 2010 2:16 pm

There is a DC character called `Dharma` who has been melding the two earths back together when they were affected by the `death` of `Darkseid` (I think that is the plot!) I gleaned this from the new JLA series 29 to 34. Must admit those issues rather puzzled me-I couldn't figure out excactly who/what the `Shadow Cabinet` supposed to represent!

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Fri Apr 09, 2010 3:12 pm

alanultron5 wrote:There is a DC character called `Dharma` who has been melding the two earths back together when they were affected by the `death` of `Darkseid` (I think that is the plot!) I gleaned this from the new JLA series 29 to 34. Must admit those issues rather puzzled me-I couldn't figure out excactly who/what the `Shadow Cabinet` supposed to represent!
No, Dharma's alternate Earth was a completely different one; the home of the Shadow Cabinet, heroes from DC's short lived 'Milestone Comics' sub division. Milestone was created to showcase a selection of ethnically diverse characters, created by a group of creators worried that African Americans weren't well enough represented in mainstream comics. It fizzled out quite quickly and that JLA story was their way of bringing the Milestone characters into mainstream DC continuity.

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by Hourglass on Fri Apr 09, 2010 4:15 pm

Where abouts does justice league fit in to each characters timeline?

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by felneymike on Fri Apr 09, 2010 5:42 pm

My own fictional universe now has at least 3 permutations @_@, i'm turning into a DC all by myself!

Edit: come to think of it, 5 permutations...

...13 permutations...

Named after Greek letters, with other letters as 'spares'. Mind you 3 of them are the Doom, Doctor Who and Sexton Blake universes...

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:12 pm

Hourglass wrote:Where abouts does justice league fit in to each characters timeline?
The Justice League first appeared as a team in 1960, and originally consisted of Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman the second Flash and Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter, though others soon joined. The presence of Superman, Batman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman alongside the reinvented versions of Flash and Green Lantern when they had previously been seen working with the original Flash and GL in the 1940s is the first real indicator we have that these four are not precisely the same ones who'd debuted between 1938 and 1941, though the whole Earth 1/Earth 2 situation wasn't 'revealed' until Flash #123 (September 1961). There've been various incarnations of the team since then: the original JLA disbanded in 1983 and was reorganised as a group of new, young heroes led by former League members Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, but that team lasted less than three years before half of them were slaughtered and the rest quit. The team was rebuilt in 1987 as 'Justice League International', a task force of superheroes with embassies all over the world, but they were shut down in 1994 and eventually re-emerged as the Justice League of America again. The founder members have drifted in and out of the book over the years, along with several dozen other members who've stayed for varying lengths of time.

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Fri Apr 09, 2010 6:14 pm

felneymike wrote:
My own fictional universe now has at least 3 permutations @_@, i'm turning into a DC all by myself!

Edit: come to think of it, 5 permutations...

...13 permutations...

Named after Greek letters, with other letters as 'spares'. Mind you 3 of them are the Doom, Doctor Who and Sexton Blake universes...
Hold on; you're laying claim to three established fictional universes? Shocked Mad

Send for the Living Tribunal!

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by felneymike on Fri Apr 09, 2010 8:27 pm

Nah those are just for 'crossovers'... which happen in another universe. It was going to feature the Craille Institute from Sexton Blake owning thier own Tardis teaming up with the Daleks to fight against a crazy Italian who was uploading crappy doom wads to the doom archive, who has sided with the renegade Daleks. Oh and there'd be a detour to Lincoln which is under zombie siege and to Malaysia who find a crazy woman who also uploaded rubbish wads (but at least hers were funny), and also Skaro and Hell.

One day i might start it even though the "subject" of it is long gone.

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Mon May 03, 2010 2:22 pm

Just located the 1990s series of 'Who's Who in the DC Universe' (a kind of loose leaf encyclopedia of the worlds of DC) and thought it might be fun to display a few entries here. Feel free to nominate anyone you'd like to see...




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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Mon May 03, 2010 2:25 pm

This guy is a little more obscure, though he may seem strangely familiar to older readers...




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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Mon May 03, 2010 2:28 pm

And this is an updated version of a very early superheroine...




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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by GBF on Tue May 04, 2010 3:15 pm

...and Tony calls ME mad...but then again, SAD could be put into this 'little' ditty…

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by GBF on Tue May 04, 2010 3:20 pm

...and looking at that artwork above, shouldn't it read "Phantom Lady BOY"??!!

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Tue May 04, 2010 3:35 pm

GBF wrote:...and looking at that artwork above, shouldn't it read "Phantom Lady BOY"??!!
Delilah Tyler was all woman-but I agree, the artist has not flattered her. This was published in the early nineties though, when most oof the supposedly 'hot' US artists seemingly had little grasp of anatomy. Everyone was over muscled and out of proportion...

Maybe the original Phantom Lady is more to your liking?





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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by GBF on Tue May 04, 2010 3:37 pm

...they should use those things on the front of ones head...er...what are they called...oh,yeah! EYES!!!!!

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Tue May 04, 2010 7:23 pm

GBF wrote:...they should use those things on the front of ones head...er...what are they called...oh,yeah! EYES!!!!!
Have you ever seen Rob Liefeld's work? I wouldn't always guarantee that his characters had eyes on the front of their heads. He seemed incapable of giving anyone pupils or irises...

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by felneymike on Tue May 04, 2010 9:54 pm

Heh, i remember on another comic forum i used to visit (can't even remember it's name and it was overly dominated by a verbose feminist) somebody posted a picture of Captain America where you could see his muscles and logo on his chest but also most of his back... it was very well done and painted but anatomically was like some demented hall of mirrors... same era? XD

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by tony ingram on Tue May 04, 2010 10:30 pm

felneymike wrote:Heh, i remember on another comic forum i used to visit (can't even remember it's name and it was overly dominated by a verbose feminist) somebody posted a picture of Captain America where you could see his muscles and logo on his chest but also most of his back... it was very well done and painted but anatomically was like some demented hall of mirrors... same era? XD
Sounds like it. I've a friend who runs a comic shop who has a sideline as an artist. He keeps a copy of Liefeld's 'X-Force'#1 under the counter as an example of how not to draw the human form.

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

Post by GBF on Wed May 05, 2010 8:47 am

..that's more like a woman - but the second illi falls into the "Shucks - do I have to cover her up" rather "I've drawn a foxy lady!"...Ingram - you have far too many comics...

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Re: The DC Universe: a Rough Guide

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