Superman Comic Books

Superman Comics Continuity “Post-Infinite Crisis”

By Steve Younis

Originally published in the "Big Blue Report #142" newsletter emailed out on April 15, 2007

Over the last few days Neal Bailey has been lucky enough to have carried on an email exchange with ACTION COMICS writer Kurt Busiek. Basically, Neal has shared with Kurt some of the frustrations fans have coming to terms with continuity in the current Superman comic books.

It appears as though DC Comics has a different understanding of what the current state of continuity is than that of their readers (or those I and Neal have spoken to and heard from anyway).

Man of Steel In 1986 DC Comics hired John Byrne to revamp/reboot Superman comics. We call this the Byrne era or Post-Crisis comics (the crisis referenced being the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" saga which reset the entire DC Universe at the time). This Post-Crisis era basically started out with a fresh new slate. Superman's story was started from scratch. This was a new continuity with no prior history. We understood that everything that came before was no longer part of this new era.

While many Silver Age fans were disappointed by this reboot, there was now a clear point of origin from which new and old fans alike could latch on to and work from. For nearly 20 years this continuity worked well.

Starting in late 2005 DC Comics published "Infinite Crisis", a saga which changed the DC Universe once again. Due to the machinations of Alexander Luthor (from Earth-3) and Superboy (of Earth-Prime), various versions of different Earths were ultimately combined in to a "New Earth".

"Infinite Crisis" caused a "cosmic reset" (as Kurt Busiek calls it). We're now in the "Post-Infinite Crisis" era (or Post-IC) as many fans are calling it. Here's where it gets tricky though...

Where Byrne's "Post-Crisis" era started from scratch, wiping the slate clean and starting all over again, "Post-IC" has not started from scratch, it appears as though some of the "Post-Crisis" era history remains... but not in a clear linear fashion.

It works like this (if I understand it correctly), the cosmic reset from "Infinite Crisis" created a new set of historical events which are similar to what happened in Post-Crisis continuity but not the same.

For example, if, as it's been officially stated, all previous versions of Zod (prior to the current "Last Son" story in ACTION COMICS) never happened, how then does one explain the "Our Worlds at War" saga which featured the Russian Zod? Well according to Kurt Busiek, "This is a question that comes up a lot. People assume that if you eliminate one story or story element, then any subsequent story that continues from or depends on that element must simply vanish, erased from continuity. Or maybe it's like a house of cards, where you pull out one card and the rest of it all collapses. But that's almost never true, in a traditional retcon -- for instance, after CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, it was said that Wonder Woman had not been a founding JLA member. This didn't mean that since she wasn't there to take part in the origin, the JLA therefore ceased to exist. It meant that the JLA still existed, but they had a revised origin story. DC didn't get around to telling that revised origin for a couple of years, but when they did, we saw that the origin was largely similar, but Black Canary was involved. Instead of the 'house of cards' of the post-Crisis DCU collapsing, it turned out that the card that had been removed had been replaced with another card, and the house still stood, the JLA still existed.

Our Worlds at War "So in a traditional retcon, with 'Our Worlds At War,' as Russian Zod didn't exist, maybe someone else played that role, as Black Canary did with Wonder Woman's role in the JLA origin. Or maybe there was a new character named Yod. Or Zad. Or the Iron Commissar. Or some name that doesn't suck as hard as those. You get the picture.

"Anyway, that's what would happen in a traditional retcon. INFINITE CRISIS, like CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, was rather bigger in scope."

And for those fans who have been trying to fit current continuity in with stories that happened prior to "Infinite Crisis" Kurt has this to say...

"Like the post-Crisis era, the new era that follows INFINITE CRISIS is a new era. As such, it isn't trying to fit snugly into the facts of the previous era. To use the 'house of cards' metaphor again, it isn't a matter of taking out a bunch of cards and slipping in another bunch, but preserving the same basic structure. In the wake of a continuity-revamping crisis, what you have is a new house. A brand new structure, not the old one with cards missing. It may have features that look like the old house, and features that don't, but that doesn't mean it's the old house with a facelift. It's a new house. It's full of some things familiar, some things unfamiliar, some things changed, some things new. And now we get to explore it and see what's there. You don't need to know everything that's in there going in. You didn't the first time you picked up a comic, after all. You can explore and learn and discover. It does mean that, yes, all that stuff you knew about the old era is now outdated information -- still true of the old era, and a valuable part of it in the "Man of Steel" trade paperbacks and all those back issues on my reference shelf -- but not something that necessarily fits into the new one."

Infinite Crisis So, while the DC Universe Post-IC might look like a continuation of the Post-Crisis era, it's not. It's a totally new continuity where things look similar but are different. That's fair enough, I think DC just needs to make this clearer to its readers.

However, it appears as though DC Comics is somewhat perplexed as to why readers can't just go along for the ride like we did with Byrne's reboot. I think I know why... it's because Byrne's reboot was a clean slate. New beginning, no prior continuity existed. This Post-IC cosmic reset does not have the appearance of a clean slate. It draws from the previous era's continuity without clearly stating what parts it's keeping and what parts it has changed.

Kurt quibbles with this view, at least a little. "Post-Crisis -- or, technically, shortly thereafter -- the Superman books did have a hard reboot, like the Wonder Woman book did. But the DCU as a whole had a 'soft reboot,' with lots and lots of material carrying over from the Bronze Age and Silver Age and Golden Age, be it Flash history or Green Lantern history or Justice League history. And some of that history involved Superman. So there were Superman elements from the past that were a part of the, well, Steel Age, for lack of a better term.

"But I'll agree that John [Byrne] and Marv [Wolfman], like George over in WONDER WOMAN, swept away most of what had gone before, and reintroduced or reestablished the elements they wanted to keep over time, and in that respect, the new DCU era, including the Superman books, is more like what happened to books like FLASH or JLA post-Crisis. There were elements that continued over, and elements that didn't. But it didn't follow that, say, since 'Flash of Two Worlds' had no longer happened, that any story that referenced it or involved an Earth-Two crossover must have been wiped from the new continuity. It just meant things had happened, but differently. And it wasn't until 1990 that we found out how 'Flash of Two Worlds' happened in the new continuity, but in the meantime, there was still a Jay Garrick, a Barry Allen and a Wally West -- we just didn't know all the details of their history yet, and we learned them over time.

"That's what we're doing now. Readers didn't know everything about the new DCU a year after CRISIS, either in a hard-reboot book like SUPERMAN or a softer-reboot book like JUSTICE LEAGUE. That new era got explored and built up over time, and this one will, too. You'll see more ways in which the Super-history was different in upcoming issues -- SUPERMAN #665 and ACTION #850 and #852, to name a few -- and get a better idea of what the structure is, and what there is to explore."

The reason we could wait for the Byrne-era to spell things out through the comic stories was because there was no prior history for us to try and connect it with. Byrne did NOT state that anything pre-Crisis was in continuity. This "New Earth" era DOES draw from the previous era, with certain events assumed to have still happened (if somewhat differently).

Kurt responds, "John may not have stated that, but he did draw from the previous era, bringing in some elements whole, like the existence of the Daily Planet, Perry White, Lois, Jimmy and so on, and importing others with few revisions, like Lori Lemaris and Bizarro. Many DCU events established in earlier eras did indeed still happen, from the invasions of Starro and Despero to the wedding of Barry and Iris -- though more for non-Superman books than for Superman books, certainly.

"Ultimately, what I seem to be asked for a lot is an explanation of how this new stuff can be stitched into the old continuity. It won't be, is the main answer. As we roll along and explore the new world, you'll see more of the new world, and see how it fits together, not how it stitches into the previous world."

I think that's where the confusion lies. DC Comics has not stated clearly enough that this is a totally new continuity, with a totally different history (if somewhat familiar). I guess what's frustrating long-time readers is that we know they're not going to go back and explain how those older events are different in this new continuity. The message is: Accept it and move on.

Kurt chimes in one last time: "Many of the older events may well be revisited in the new era, just as the Steel Age showed newer versions of how Superman met Mongul, how the Legion connected to Superman, what the Cadmus Project was, and so on. But those didn't all get explained in the first year, either, so we've got time, I think. And some, doubtless, won't get revisited -- just as, I'm sure, there are Earth-1/Earth-2 crossover adventures that have never been reinterpreted to fit post-Crisis FLASH continuity. But there'll be a history and a structure to it all, and it'll get explored.

"As for the message being 'Accept it and move on,' I'll note that that's Steve's phrasing, not mine. And more, I'll note that we're specifically talking about the idea of continuity conflicts. I understand -- and I'm sure everyone up at DC understood when they chose to do this -- that some readers aren't going to like the idea that this is a new era, a new reality rather than a revised, reworked version of the previous one. But for good or ill, that's what it is -- and as such, while readers and critics can argue for years (and probably will, if the previous Crisis was anything to judge by) over whether it was a good idea, it at least answers the continuity questions clearly:

"'Why doesn't this new element fit with the previous continuity?' 'Because there was a crisis and it's a new continuity now. Things are different.'

"The debates about whether the new adventures are good or not will go on as long as there are new adventures. But hopefully the question of how the new era fits into the previous continuity, at least, is settled. It doesn't. It isn't trying to. It's trying to fit together into a new structure, one that'll hopefully win over readers old and new, as we build it, explore it and showcase that never-ending battle that continues regardless of era."

Hopefully this newsletter, Kurt's comments, and articles and interviews across the internet will help readers understand where DC Comics are coming from and where they're headed. However I think DC should seriously consider some in-comic explanation, because while this newsletter reaches a large portion of Superman fans, there's a much larger fan-base out there who read Superman comics (and DCU comics as a whole) who won't come across articles like this one, who will be wondering about the same things Kurt has just helped us all to understand.

Thanks to Kurt for his input on this matter. Look for more Superman Homepage exclusives from Kurt Busiek over the coming weeks.

Steve Younis