Demythify: Marvel Now’s Age of Ultron, DC Comics’ Flashpoint Paradox & New 52 Tackle The Challenge of Comic Book Time

Thanks for popping by and checking out my weekly Monday Demythify column.

I’m also writing a weekly weekend column for Bleeding Cool called Comics Realism.

This past weekend my BC topic was: Pay vs. Say And The Spandex Nostalgia Of Marvel Now And DC New 52. Check it out!

Alrighty with that out of the way, in this week’s Demythify I talk about Age of Ultron, Flashpoint and the perils of comic book time.

Marvel & DC’s Divergent Fixes For Comic Book Time Problem

I’ve been reading comic books long enough to know that we always had a comic book time paradox in the medium, but it only became a noticeable problem when comic companies acknowledged it and tried to fix it. Even before DC’s 2011 Flashpoint mini-series’ universe altering effects, Superman was still born in 1938. He’s had adventures to that point for over 70 years. Spider-Man has been around since 1962 and he’s either still a college student or a teenager in the comics.

Marvel has been more subtle in tweaking their timelines except in the case of 2007’s One More Day storyline that had a deal with the devil – literally – divorce Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Parker from his true love Mary Jane Watson; afterall marriage makes character seem older. (DC doesn’t get a pass on this either as Flashpoint similarly resulted in un-married heroes like Superman, Flash, etc.) Most of Marvel’s other continuity tweaks have been subtle or just changed without any in-continuity rationale; just “boom” new origin, let’s move on.

In that spirit, in May 2013 Iron Man / Tony Stark’s “secret origin” will begin to be unveiled in the comics. I imagine some of that will be net new material and others will be continuity tweaks like previous changes that had Tony Stark (created in 1963) become Iron Man during the Vietnam War (1955-1975), then the Gulf War (1990-1991) and then during the Afghanistan War (2001).

Conversely, DC has made a bigger deal of its continuity. In 1986 we had the Crisis on Infinite Earths (COIE) destroy its multiverse and bring all of DC’s super-hero characters onto one Earth.

Then in 1994 DC gave us Zero Hour that intended to fix that one Earth’s timeline as the 1986 Crisis wasn’t a seemless merger.

Between 2006 and 2008 DC put out the year-long weekly maxi-series called 52, plus the “middle” Infinite Crisis mini-series, and the Final Crisis mini, DC restored and played with a new multiverse.

As part of Final Crisis, DC also published the Legion of Three Worlds that had three versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes (LOSH) – essentially the pre-1986 COIE version, the post-1994 Zero Hour version, and the 2004 threeboot version – battling the Time Trapper and Superboy-Prime with the multiverse in jeopardy.

The Legion was the most damaged DC property due its time mending editorial edicts. It is so damaged in fact, despite solid story and art in the New 52, the LOSH may very well be Justice Leagued in the future. How do you like the title: Legion of Super-Heroes, Tomorrow’s Justice League?

I’m a HUGE science fiction and fantasy fan so I have enjoyed these big, bold, universe encompassing yarns.

However, before 1986, I was equally satisfied with the pre-COIE done-in-one Superman stories where the stories were self-contained.

Marvel and DC have had different approaches to their shared comic book time problem, with aged icons not having appeared to age a day since the Gold and Silver Ages, between the the publishing years of the 1980s and 2000s. Does that change in the 2010s?

DC New 52, Marvel Now & The Big Two Shuffle

The strength of Marvel Comics has been its down-to-Earth heroes and characters. Their characters are grounded and generally relatable. DC Comics on the other hand has fantasy with heroes and characters as its core. Its stories tend to be more cosmic soap opera with accessible themes; Batman notwithstanding. Two different strengths for the Big Two publishers.

Throughout history, particularly since the advent of the Marvel Comics we know today in the Silver Age, there has been healthy competition between DC and Marvel. There have been debates about which team came first, really, between Marvel’s X-Men and DC’s Doom Patrol. There has also been “homage” between the two with Marvel creating their own Justice League with the Squadron Supreme, Marvel creating their own Darkseid with Thanos, and even DC creating a Doom Force with a wink to Marvel’s 1990’s X-Force.

In 2011, DC Comics decided to shake-up its universe in the grand tradition of the Crisis of Infinite Earths. With Flashpoint they recreated their universe by merging its core super-hero universe with its WildStorm properties and its corporate-owned Vertigo characters. That then gave us the DC New 52 where DC restarted all of its core super-hero books, now totalling 52, from #1. This kind of branding and story reboot synergy was what some DC execs wanted in the 1980’s as an outcome of COIE, but didn’t pull the trigger on.

The DC New 52 actually led to blockbuster sales for DC, even allowing it overtake Marvel in sales for several months, and also grew the broader comic book reading population. Some of DC’s titles continue to soar and others soured leading to several different waves of cancellations and new launches.

Seeing DC being more competitive in the market, Marvel followed DC’s rebranding plan and launched the Marvel Now initiative. Instead of wholesale title relaunches in one month like DC Comics did in September 2011, Marvel cancelled series and staggered new or freshened up series debuts from #1 over several months in 2012 and into 2013. Marvel’s approach has allowed it to retake market dominance with DC a stronger competitor as part of the Big Two.

Interestingly, Marvel is also currently publishing a time-bending, universe-shaking maxi-series called Age of Ultron; a twice monthly shipping series over 10 issues. The series starts off chronicling a postapocalyptic future with Avengers Big Bad and sentient machine Ultron having devastated Earth and its heroes. The vestiges of those heroes battle amongst themselves and Ultron with an eye to changing their future fortunes in part in the past.

It certainly appears that one of the endgames may be to rationalize Marvel’s timeline in an in-continuity way or at least set that up to occur in a later twice monthly shipping maxi-series from Marvel; we’ll see when AoU wraps. However, this theory gains credence when you read the solicitation for Marvel’s July 2013 shipping Indestructible Hulk #11:


    Spinning out of the events of Age of Ultron!

    Hulk’s sent on his most dangerous mission yet, working for a secret subdivision of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

    History’s breaking–and only the Hulk is strong enough to hold it together!

Age of Ultron may also lead to the much rumored shuttering of a separate Ultimate Universe with a merging with the 616 Marvel Universe. How would you feel about a Miles Morales Spider-Man swinging alongside a Peter Parker Spider-Man (because we know Doc Ock won’t stay Superior forever) permanently this time?

There are a lot of possibilities for the outcome of Age of Ultron, but it is looking very likely it will follow in the Flashpoint footsteps and fix / tweak / whathaveyou Marvel’s comic book time problem. Whether it leads to hard reboot or a subtle one, it certainly is playing with Marvel’s timestream currently and maybe even its multiverse to come.

I’m intrigued by AoU, despite my colleagues here at the Nexus lamenting its slow start. However, they also say business has just picked up and that AoU is firing on all cylinders. I’m curious as where it will take us.

I like grand universe-impacting yarns with consequences. I’m hoping Marvel’s Age of Ultron does that for the 616. The lasting impacts of AoU should be in the usual mighty Marvel fashion; changes to continuity (subtle or grand, take your pick) whose ramifications are told and felt through the impacts on its ground-level relatable heroes and characters.

If you like those kind of stories, don’t forget to pick up the DC animated movie Flashpoint Paradox that hits DVD and Blu-Ray store shelves on July 30, 2013. I’m intrigued how the 2011 comic book series can be effectively translated into a direct-to-home film. I’m feeling excitement and dread all at the same time.

It is a great year to be a fan of comic books.

Happy Birthday!

It is fitting that a column on Comic Book Time also acknowledge that on April 18th Superman, Lois Lane and a few other DC Comics characters celebrated their 75th birthdays! A HUGE milestone for Action Comics #1, a book that ushered in super-hero comic books that changed pop culture forever.

I wonder if Superman will grace the cover of Time Magazine for his 75th birthday as he did for his 50th birthday?

Here’s a look at the key Superman costumes through the ages.

Ah, good times.

Thanks for reading. All feedback welcome.

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