Comic Book Girl 19 Explains: Why is a Superhero Cinematic Universe so hard to do?
The DC Universe (DCU) is the shared universe where most of the comic stories published by DC Comics take place.Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are well-knownsuperheroes from this universe. Note that in context, “DC Universe” is usually used to refer to the main DC continuity. Occasionally, “DC Universe” will be used to indicate the entire “DC Multiverse“; the collection of all continuities within DC Comics publications.
The concept of a shared universe was originally pioneered by DC Comics (originally known as National Periodical Publications) and in particular by writer Gardner Fox. The fact that DC Comics Characters co-existed in the same world was first established in All-Star Comics #3 (1940) where several superheroes (who starred in separate stories in the series up to that point) met each other, and soon founded the superhero team, the Justice Society of America. However, the majority of National/DC’s publications continued to be written with little regard of maintaining continuity with each other for the first few decades.
Over the course of its publishing history, DC has introduced different versions of its characters, sometimes presenting them as if the earlier version had never existed. For example, they introduced new versions of theFlash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman in the late 1950s, with similar powers but different names and personal histories. Similarly, they had characters such as Batman whose early adventures set in the 1940s could not easily be reconciled with stories featuring a still-youthful man in the 1970s. To explain this, they introduced the idea of the Multiverse in Flash #123 (1961) where the Silver Age Flash met his Golden Age counterpart. In addition to allowing the conflicting stories to “co-exist”, it allowed the differing versions of characters to meet, and even team up to combat cross-universe threats. The writers gave designations such as “Earth-One“, “Earth-Two“, and so forth, to certain universes, designations which at times were also used by the characters themselves.
Over the years, as the number of titles published increased and the volume of past stories accumulated, it became increasingly difficult to maintain internal consistency. In order to continue publishing stories of its most popular characters, maintaining the status quo became necessary. Although retcons were used as a way to explain apparent inconsistencies in stories written, editors at DC came to consider the varied continuity of multiple Earths too difficult to keep track of, and feared that it was an obstacle to accessibility for new readers. To address this, they published the cross-universe miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, which merged universes and characters, reducing the Multiverse to a single DC Universe with a single history. However, this arrangement removed the mechanism DC had been using to deal with the passage of time in the real world without having the characters age in the comics. Crisis also had failed to establish a coherent future history for the DC Universe, with conflicting versions of the future. The Zero Hour limited series (1994) gave them an opportunity to revise timelines and rewrite the DC Universe history.
As a result, almost once per decade since the 1980s, the DC Universe experiences a major crisis that allows any number of changes from new versions of characters to appear to a whole reboot of the universe, restarting nominally all the characters into a new and modernized version of their lives.
Meanwhile, DC has published occasional stories called “Elseworlds“, which often presented alternate versions of their characters. For example, one told the story of Bruce Wayne as a Green Lantern, another presented Kal-El as if he’d lived in the time of the American Civil War. In 1998, The Kingdom reintroduced a variant of the old Multiverse concept called Hypertime which essentially allows for alternate versions of characters and worlds again. The entire process was parodied in Alan Moore‘s meta-comic, “Supreme: Story of the Year”.
The Infinite Crisis event (2005-2006) remade the DC Universe yet again, with the changes made currently being determined. As later revealed in the pages of 52, a new Multiverse was created, consisting of 52 parallel universes. Some of these worlds were quite similar to Elseworlds tales, some a direct parallel to Pre-Crisis worlds like Earth-Two and Earth-S.
In 2011, DC merged DCU, Vertigo, and Mindstorm in an event called Flashpoint. This formed the New 52 or DCnU.