A common criticism of DC Comics' recent relaunch, The New 52 is that continuity is a mess. Click on almost any message board discussion or blog entry that's critical of The New 52 and you'll find someone pointing out some of the many contradictions and problems thrown up by the reboot. Common questions include;
- How could Batman have gone through all those Robins if he's only been active for five years?
- How come the original Titans are referenced in Red Hood & the Outlaws #1, despite having never existed?
- Why is Tim Drake referred to as a former Robin when he's always supposed to have been Red Robin?
- Where does Batman Inc fit into all this?
- What big events still happened and how can certain characters exist without them?
- Where are Stephanie Brown, Wally West and Donna Troy?
There are certainly still knots to unravel with regards to continuity, particularly in the Bat-Universe where characters like Batman's ten-year old son, Damien Wayne, seem to fly in the face of the new five year timeline. But I would hesitate to say that this is evidence that DC Comics don't know what they're doing, or have planned all this in a slap-dash fashion at the last minute. In order to explain why I feel this isn't the case, let's take a look at DC's last big continuity reboot, Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Crisis was a 12 issue maxi series that ran from April 1985 to March 1986. Like The New 52 it rebooted continuity in the DC Universe and started the timelines of many characters from scratch. But these changes didn't happen all at once. In fact many of them didn't occur until several years after Crisis had finished. Let's take a look at some of these changes;
- Power Girl was a resident of Earth 2, a planet that was obliterated from existence during Crisis. For almost a year Power Girl was a girl without a past until Secret Origins #11 (February 1987) established that she was actually from ancient Atlantis. Her origin was still being tinkered with as recently as 2005.
- Batman and Catwoman's new origins didn't appear until Batman: Year One, the first chapter of which was published in February 1987. Jason Todd, the second Robin's new origin appeared shortly afterwards in Batman #408 (June 1987). For a year DC were still writing about the previous versions of these characters. Indeed, the previous version of Catwoman had featured as recently as January 1987 in Detective Comics #570
- Much like Wally West, Stephanie Brown and Donna Troy today DC had no idea what do with the Justice Society of America in 1986 and so they were literally packed off to limbo until 1992.
- Hawkman and Hawkwoman made several appearances in Justice League International throughout the late '80s until DC decided that they needed an update too. This occurred in Tim Truman's excellent Hawkworld miniseries in 1989. This mini-series and the ongoing series that followed it established that Hawkman and Hawkwoman were recent visitors to Earth, and their appearances in JLI were retroactively established to have been made by Thanagarian spies.
- Wonder Woman had been killed off during Crisis and a big relaunch of the character was in the works. Unfortunately the big relaunch wasn't to be ready until February 1987. DC needed to publish at least four issues of a Wonder Woman title a year or the rights to the character would revert to the Estate of her creator, William Marston. The result was The Legend of Wonder Woman, a four part mini-series published in 1986 in which Wonder Woman's mother looked back on the adventures of her deceased daughter.
- Aquaman received a new origin in The Atlantis Chronicles (1990). This completely contradicted a re-telling of his origin that had appeared after Crisis in a mini-series in 1986.
I'm by no means criticising the DC Comics of the 1980s but what I wanted to illustrate is that the rebooting of a fictional Universe is obviously a mammoth task. In the '80s it took several years before all of the many changes unfolded and settled into the DC Universe that many of us grew up with. Compare that with what DC have tried to achieve with The New 52. Fifty two titles, all relaunched from issue #1 in the same month, all occupying the same Universe. The fact that there's even anything resembling coherence at all between these titles is a testament to the hard work of the creators and editors at DC Comics. They're trying to accomplish something that took several years to achieve the last time they tried it. Personally I think they've done a pretty good job, but I'm not surprised that there are still inconsistencies. It would frankly be a miracle if there weren't.
So for those of you who don't like The New 52, I wouldn't dream of trying to change your mind, but there is one thing I would ask of you. Be a bit less judgemental in regards to continuity, because I would argue that DC continuity makes a damn sight more sense a year into The New 52 than it did a year after Crisis on Infinite Earths!