“In the beginning the Universe was created.
“This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
– Douglas Adams
[I should tell you up front that this is going to be another one of those posts involving the history of the Multiverses. Hypertime shows up too, although just for a second. If your immediate reaction is along the lines of Arg! this is why I can't read DC comics, or What's that little pain in the back of my skull?, maybe you should come back later. I won't mind.]
At first, last week’s Justice Society of America Annual #1 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Jerry Ordway, inked by Bob Wiacek) seemed, well, mostly harmless. Then I started thinking about it.
In JSA Annual #1, Power Girl finds herself “back home” on what looks like a slightly updated Earth-2, surrounded by old friends she thought dead. First she must accept where she is; and then it turns out she’s not that Earth’s Power Girl. Here are the bullet points:
– The history of this Nu-Earth-2 seems fairly identical to that of the old Earth-2, right up to Crisis On Infinite Earths. Silver Scarab tells Power Girl that their interaction with parallel Earths ended “after the skies turned red.” With that, he says, “we thought they were all destroyed.”
– Moreover, according to those Justice Socialites, Nu-Earth-2 couldn’t have been “folded into” the current DC-Earth. If that were true, Nu-Earth-2 wouldn’t include counterparts of other “Earth-2 survivors” like Jade, Obsidian, Nuklon, and most of the rest of the membership. It might only include unique individuals like Helena Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Lyta Trevor Hall.
– Accordingly, Doctor Midnight postulates that Power Girl’s (i.e., the “main line”) Earth was a “byproduct of the Crisis,” not an “amalgamation of other Earths.”
However, as we know, that’s almost entirely backwards. Don’t blame this Justice Society; they weren’t there.
Here’s a (relatively) concise history of DC cosmology, as best I understand it:
1. The Universe (1956-62). As recounted in detail by Crisis On Infinite Earths #7, everything was going well until about 10 billion years ago. That’s when Krona’s experiments created both the Anti-Matter Universe and the Multiverse itself.* (Whether Krona’s experiments were directly responsible for the creation of Kurt Busiek has not yet been confirmed.)
2. The Multiverse (1962-85). Thus, space-time was reordered (from the Dawn Of Time forwards) into an infinite set of parallel universes, each vibrating at its own particular frequency. Because Krona was on Oa, that planet remained unique to its universe, but gained an anti-matter counterpart in the planet Qward. Each of those planets had a moon, and on each of those moons was born a Monitor. Eventually, the anti-matter Monitor (or Anti-Monitor for short) figured he’d destroy all the positive-matter universes, just in time for DC Comics to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. Indeed, his anti-matter wave did eradicate just about every last parallel universe (all infinity of them), except for five. Frustrated, the Anti-Monitor sought to remake creation in his own image by traveling back to before the Dawn Of Time.
3. The Universe, Beta-Test Edition (1985-86). The resulting scrum with DC’s superheroes reordered space-time again, into a single Universe which was stronger than the combined worlds of the Multiverse. (The Anti-Matter Universe survived as well.) The old vibratory frequencies could still be accessed — in Crisis #11, Jay Garrick, Wally West, and the two Supermen tried — but Earth-2 wasn’t there, just a yawning abyss crackling with unfriendly energy. This wasn’t surprising, since readers had seen Earth-2 destroyed by antimatter back in issue #4.
Here, at the risk of understating things, is where it starts to get tricky. Just about all of the superheroes remembered the Multiverse, because 95% of them were at the Pre-Dawn Of Time. (None of the Green Lanterns were there, interestingly enough — wonder if Geoff Johns remembers that?) For most of them, this wasn’t a problem, because they still had their own particular places in the Beta-Test Universe.
However, those displaced included the Earth-Prime Superboy, Earth-3′s Alexander Luthor, and the Earth-2 versions of Superman, Robin, and the Huntress. We know what happened to Superboy, Alex, and Superman. Robin and the Huntress were killed in Crisis #12′s super-fights. Various time-tweaks (including Wonder Woman’s “devolving” through time in Crisis #12) took care of the other stragglers. This brings us to…
4. The Universe 2.0 (1986-94). Here at last was the foundation of the post-Crisis DC Universe which readers would get to know over the next twenty-odd years. It didn’t dovetail exactly with the end of Crisis On Infinite Earths, because it included character-specific changes wrought by John Byrne, Marv Wolfman, George Pérez, Roy Thomas, Tim Truman, et al. To account for the differences, fans theorized that “waves of time” continued to wash over creation, each time removing pre-Crisis artifacts like the Lieutenant Marvels and Kal-El’s Superboy career. All those waves and changes got confusing, though, and finally culminated in…
5. The Universe 2.1 (1994-98). Towards the end of Zero Hour, Hal “Parallax” Jordan — who, I again feel compelled to point out, wasn’t at the Pre-Dawn Of Time party — tried to restart the timestream for his own quasi-altruistic purposes. Naturally, this didn’t happen; but it did give DC some breathing room on Hawkman. More generally, the “Zero Issues” allowed to set their heroes’ histories in stone, or at least some semi-solid material. Regardless, after a few years, the allure of a multiverse proved too much of a temptation for Silver Age aficionados Mark Waid and Grant Morrison, so they had the Phantom Stranger reveal …
6. Hypertime (1998-2006). Hypertime provided the biggest umbrella yet, covering not just the parallel worlds of the old Multiverse but every story involving DC’s characters. As a continuity patch it worked pretty well, but as a storytelling device it proved to be too cumbersome. (I’m not even going to get into the Superman: Birthright changes.) Anyway, thanks to Infinite Crisis and 52, we now have…
7. The Multiverse 2.0 (2006-??). In 52 #52, on “Week 0, Day 0,” Rip Hunter and Booster Gold witnessed the birth of the New Multiverse (including the current “New Earth”) — with, as Rip explained, “each parallel Earth an exact copy of ours in every way.” This new (or “Nu”) Multiverse was born from the excess energy released by the failure of Alex Luthor’s experiments. The 52 weren’t duplicates for long, though; and now one of them is home to a certain group of Golden Age heroes and their legacies….
Still awake? Great!
Thus, Nu-Earth-2 is clearly a byproduct of Infinite Crisis by way of 52. While it’s certainly a tremendous coincidence that its residents have lived lives remarkably similar to those found in pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths comics, I have to believe that coincidence is all it is. The Earth-2 Huntress and Robin died in COIE #12 — they weren’t shunted into Limbo to be popped out when Nu-Earth-2 was created. According to 52 #52, they’re reconstituted versions of the originals, not the originals themselves.
Even the in-story explanations don’t add up. The defining principle of the original Earth-2 was that all those Golden Age adventures happened in something approaching real time. That is, the Earth-2 Superman’s first appearance matched up with the publication of Action Comics #1, the Justice Society retired when All Star Comics was cancelled, etc. As a result, Dick Grayson had to have been born in the late ‘20s (1928, according to this website) in order to be Robin by Spring 1940. He’d be around 80 in 2008. Likewise, the Helena Wayne who was born in the late 1950s (probably 1957), and became the Huntress in 1977, would be in her early 50s by now. Instead, they don’t look much older than they did in the mid-1980s.
We can ignore these dates, of course, or attempt to work around them in a few different ways. Maybe Power Girl was sent back in time as well. Maybe Ian Karkull’s energy continues to affect both Dick and Helena. Maybe “comic-book time” set in after the red skies went away. However, since part of the point of the original Earth-2 was to rationalize those real-world dates, any attempt to downplay them only cuts against the setting’s inherent value. It may seem pedantic, but it wouldn’t be Earth-2 otherwise.
Naturally, if all that is wrong — if, in other words, Doctor Midnight’s conference-room spitballing reflects the nature of Creation better than the personal recollection of Rip Hunter, Time Master — it would represent a massive cosmological shift. Furthermore, it would mean Geoff Johns contradicting himself, since he co-wrote 52 #52. Granted, that could just be the springboard to yet another Geoff Johns Continuity Patch (TM), but I think it’s merely a clue to the eventual resolution of “Escape From Earth-2.” A Nu-Earth-2 Superman may still be awaiting discovery by his Nu-Earth-2 cousin, and they (along with the rest of their Earth) might get a very rude awakening, Twilight-Zone-style.
(Another story element clearly involves the Nu-Earth-2 Spectre and Doctor Fate, who appear to have hidden their universe from the multiversal marauders seen in Countdown. I’m not going to get into the implications of multiple Spectres — I kinda did that already.)
All this is probably way past obvious to many of you, but I think it underscores the natures of both the Nu-Multiverse and the original. Inevitably it comes back to whatever universe represents the main line of superhero titles; which, for the past fifty years, has been some variation of the Silver Age status quo. From that perspective, Crisis On Infinite Earths did every other Earth a big favor. Instead of “assimilating” four universes’ worth of characters into Earth-1′s history, it integrated all of DC’s superheroes into the same nominally consistent timeline. It put everyone on the same level, as opposed to having “the Silver Age” and “the rest.”
What’s tricky about bringing back the Multiverse is this notion that the new versions of Earths-2, –4, -S, etc., are somehow valid substitutes for the originals. I’m not saying they can’t be, and in the case of the Marvel Family I’m certainly not saying they shouldn’t be. Still, if you trace the paths of these various characters through DC’s convoluted cosmology, the “originals” tend to end up on the main DC-Earth, while the post-52 counterparts are offshoots of that main timeline.
(Thankfully, none of this requires rewriting “our” Power Girl’s origin yet again. Both she and her Nu-Earth-2 counterpart can be survivors of a Krypton-2, as long as “ours” belongs to the original and the other to the Nu-Multiverse offshoot.)
To me, the appeal of the Multiverse (and the problem with getting rid of it) is its capacity for creating these specifically-designed settings. The original Earth-2′s guiding principle was “real time.” Characters grew old, married, had kids, and watched those kids grow old, get married, etc. Similarly, the original Earth-S was a place where the Marvel Family and all their friends and enemies could (and did) avoid growing old. The particular rules of each parallel universe perpetuated that universe’s mission statement — as opposed to the more flexible rules of the main-line Earth, which would adapt in order to keep its characters current.
Look, I probably sound more agitated about this issue than I really am. JSA Annual #1 was a decent issue, full of fine Ordway/Wiacek artwork (including a harrowing, almost Ditkoesque closeup of Power Girl accepting her surroundings). I wish it had played a little fairer with the traditional Earth-2 rules, and not made Justice Society Infinity look like a bunch of provincial goobers. No matter how faithful Johns, Ordway, and Wiacek tried to make it, that’s not the original Earth-2.
* [In 1992's Green Lantern: Ganthet’s Tale, a Guardian told Hal Jordan -- him again! -- that Krona’s experiments really robbed the universe of a billion years’ worth of existence; and the rest was just a smokescreen laid out by the Guardians to throw us mortals off the track. However, that account hasn’t exactly gotten a lot of traction.]