People new to DC Comics who try to pick up back issues might find things a bit daunting so here’s a guide to the various eras of Dc stories a bit confusing so here’s a brief summary to help make sense of things. Terms are used by DC and its fans unless noted.
Note: After I typed this I realized that I had already tackled this before (something I thought I might have but couldn’t find the original post). However, this does take a somewhat different approach (despite some obvious overlap) So I’m posting this anyway.
For comparison sake, here is the earlier post: http://saneinsanities.blogspot.com/2011/12/history-of-dcs-history-changes.html
PIONEER ERA (My term)
First Appearance: New Comics#1 February 1935
Back Story: None
Traits: Continuity largely minimal. Concepts introduced in one story might reappear later but for the most part stories were pretty self-contained. There was considerably stringer within a title than between titles. Occasionally a character from one title would appear in another character’s books, but there as almost no further connection between the two books. A notable exception is that the team book All Star Comics (Justice Socieyty) would occasional pick up on continuity from a character’s solo book.
First Appearance: Flash #123 September 1961 (some would argue sooner, but I think this era is pretty distinct from the Pioneer Era)
Back Story: The Flash (Barry Allen) travels from Earth-1 to Earth-2 and learns that the comic book hero he enjoyed read about, the 1940s Flash (Jay Garrick) lives there.
Traits: For characters who had a distinct new version in the 1950s, the old version hailed from Earth-2. For characters whose runs were interrupted, their 1930s-part of 1950s runs were seen as Earth-2 and the rest Earth-1. This gave a much stronger sense of a shared universe. At first crossovers between titles were still limited, but thanks to team books like Justice League and Teen Titans and team-up books such as Brave and the Bold, continuity between titles gradually became stronger to the point where by the 1980s, the shared universe concept was strongly entrenched in what was now called the DC Universe. Additional Earths such as for characters purchased from other companies also appeared. Als, from this era-on, characters are firmly entrenched in the larger continuity.
First Appearance: Crisis on Infinite Earths#11 February 1986
Back Story: In order to stop an other-dimensional monster who was destroying the multiverse, heroes had to change history at the beginning of time, thus eliminating the multiverse.
Traits: For most of this world’s history, there was a single Earth with a single timeline, though this was gradually eroded. Certain characters had their histories significantly altered (Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain Atom, etc.); in most cases this happened early on though in some cases like Hawkman tye old continuity was still used for a time. In most cases where the 1940s version of a character had the same alter ago as a later version, the earlier version was eliminated entirely. As with subsequent eras, because some characters’ histories were changed almost completely and others had only cosmetic changes, stories were written to explain discrepancies (e.. the fact that a particular character could no longer have been present).
First Appearance: Zero Hour: Crisis in Time#1 September 1994
Back Story: A fight with heroes against Parallax (at the time believed to be the Green Lantern Hal Jordan gone bad) resulted in another history change.
Traits: To a large degree this history change was largely cosmetic. However, the Legion of Super-Heroes’ history was completely revamped. Attempts to streamline Hawkman’s continuity inadvertently made his back story even more confusing, though as this era progress a way to use him again was worked out. Batman had a number of history changes, though not as drastic as other characters significantly changed by Crisis or Zero Hour. As with Post-Crisis, there’s a bit of a tug of war between the single war concept and the mulitverse concept, with the former largely winning.
First Appearance: Infinite Crisis#7 June 2006
Back Story: A bit complicated to explain to people not already well versed in DC’s history. Basically plans by former heroes shunted to another dimension in Crisis on Infinite Earths#12 go awry and a new universe is the result.
Traits: As first there seemed to once again be a single universe, but by the end of the 52-issue series 52 there was a multiverse of exactly 52 worlds. Manly concepts were similar to post-Zero Hour, but with a few notable exceptions, such as older concepts being restored to Superman’s back story and to the Justice League team history. There was an Earth-2 that wasn’t quite the same as the Pre-Crisis Earth-2, but very close.
First appearance: Final Crisis#7 March 2009 (I think)
Back Story: I read the series but honestly couldn’t tell you. Something to do with one of the major alien threats, Darkseid
Traits: Not that much different than Post-Infinite Crisis, but the Legion of Super-Heroes’ back story was restored to roughly what it was in late1980s comics. I think there may have been a few other history changes here and there. The Flash (Barry Allen) pretty much just decided to stop being dead, a state he’d been in since Crisis on Infinite Earths.
POST-FLASHPOINT (aka NEW 52)
First Appearance: Justice League #1 August 2011 I think
Back Story: By this point I finally abandoned the DC Universe so this is all secondhand. I understand it had to do with a clash between the Flash (Barry Allen) and his arch-nemesis Professor Zoom.
Traits: Again, keep in mind that this is pretty much secondhand. Once again, certain characters (Batman, Green Lantern, Legion of Super-Heroes) made it through this history change mostly unscathed while others seem to have had major changes to their back stories. Again, I’m not reading these stories so I honestly don’t know a lot of the specifics. One thing that is definite is that characters were generally made younger and had costume redesigns. As a result some younger characters were eliminated from continuity, notably the Flash (Wally West) while others are closer to the same age now as their mentor heroes. There is an Earth-2 with characters having the same alter egos as Pre-Crisis Earth-2 characters but otherwise this Earth-2 seems to bear very little resemblance to its predecessor.