But it has to be done.
I just read the trade collection of the recent JLA: Cry for Justice miniseries, and it's more-or-less typical of modern DC comics - a joyless, unengaging bloodbath that kills off minor characters left and right, and racks up a five-digit bodycount of civilians, in an effort to be serious and dark and totally not for kids, honest. It also features Green Lantern and the Atom being totally okay with torturing captives for information, everyone's miserable and covered in blood half the time, people get their limbs pulled off and by the end you've lost the respect you once had for James Robinson for writing the excellent Starman back in the 90s.
That said, I've read worse. And some of the art was good.
Anyway, what I'm actually interested in is a one-shot added into the trade that shows how the villain Prometheus re-emerges from obscurity to become the Big Bad of the series. (And in the process killing off minor characters that Time Warner didn't want to use on Smallville to add pathos, although in saying that I liked this one-shot rather more than the actual CFJ series.) Here, it's revealed that Prometheus was put into a semi-vegetative state by the Martian Manhunter at the end of Grant Morrison's JLA run, reawakening only when MM was killed in Final Crisis. He later returns to one of his old hideouts, where a computer shows that it's been one year and nine months since he was last there.
Uh-oh. A firm date. That's like raw meat to a comics nerd, especially one who knows math, is bored tonight and can access Wikipedia.
So the last issue of Morrison's JLA was published in May 2000; Final Crisis #2 was published in August 2008. That's 99 months of real time, during which 21 months of DCU time elapsed. Let's round things for easier handling, and say that 100 months of real time equates to 20 months of DCU time. So now we have a 100:20 or 5:1 ratio, and can use this to work out when (and how rapidly) things happen in the DC Universe, working backwards from the end of 2010 (because the most recent issue is always happening 'right now').
For this demonstration, I'd like to refer to Wikipedia's Major Events of the DC Universe page, and kick things off with Crisis on Infinite Earths, because as we all know, everything started there. Crisis was published in 1985, 25 years ago; using our ratio, that means it occurred 5 years ago, in 2005. Let's say that happens at the end of the year, just for
- 2006: The Crisis redefined all of reality back in December '05. In February and March, Darkseid attempts to destroy the world's faith in superheroes. In late April, the Manhunters make heroes doubt the relationships they've formed since, well, Christmas. In June Darkseid comes back, attempting to gain the Anti-Life Equation. And in August Australia is invaded by an alien armada; the occupation lasts for less than three weeks. The rest of the year is pretty quiet, relatively speaking.
- 2007: In February Monarch threatens to destroy the world of 2001, which for some reason is considered to be ten years in the future rather than six years in the past. This is going on at roughly the same time that the Roman and Greek gods go to war; February was pretty busy. In late March Superman leads an army of heroes to repel Warworld, while at the same time Eclipso takes over a bunch of people to do evil stuff. At the end of April, Superman dies! And comes back to life in June, after two months of impostor Supermen running round, rather overshadowing Batman getting his back broken by Bane a couple of weeks earlier. But then Batman gets better around August and prevents Jean-Paul Valley from doing any more damage, after running around in his terrible costume for like five weeks. Oh, and during the whole April-July period, aliens are eating people's spines and creating a new batch of heroes who are destined to get killed off by Geoff Johns. In late August Hal Jordan and the Darkstars stop ancient evil space gods from doing something, um, evil in space; in September he snaps, becomes evil and pretty much decides to do it himself. The Milestone heroes visit for like a week in October, just before Parallax reboots the universe and creates a new timeline. Then Neron arrives to buy souls and wreck great evil in time for Christmas. Man, 2007 was off the fucking hook. A real shitty year for a lot of people.
- 2008: Then again, this year starts with the Sun going dead in February, so maybe '07 wasn't that bad. Don't worry, it only goes dark for a few days. Some stuff with gods and aliens happens at the end of April, but it's over quickly, and in May Superman gets over that whole blue phase he'd been in for about six weeks. In August the JLA travel in time and save the world from Solaris the Tryant Star, which is actually pretty damn awesome, and in September they give the whole world superpowers to stop Mageddon. Man, I wish I still had those powers. Gotham City gets destroyed by an earthquake in late August and stays a ravaged hellhole for, um, about two months, which is better than New Orleans fared. Oh, and Hal Jordan becomes the Spectre around the same time. Christmas is quiet this year, thankfully.
- 2009: Warworld and Braniac come back at the start of March, less than two years after their previous invasion, and this time more stuff blows up. Then nothing massive happens for months, other than the Avengers coming over for a crossover in August. September is a shitty time, though, with Sue Dibny getting murdered and everyone in the DCU getting much grumpier. This is all just a lead-in to the Infinite Crisis that occurs over December and into January, in which reality is rewritten for the third time in four years. Okay, not as much went down through the year, but 2009 ends on a fucking downer, especially for the millions of people and dozens of minor characters that got killed off. (At the end of this, a year passes off-screen and really throws this whole timeline into a cocked hat, so we're kinda going to ignore that).
- 2010: We shake off the 2009 blues with a quiet couple of months. Then the United States get invaded by mad Amazons in late March, while at roughly the same time Sinestro reactivates Warworld (you can't keep that thing down) and invades the rest of Earth with his Sinestro Corps. He's defeated by the Green Lanterns, led by Hal Jordan, who's a) alive and b) forgiven for all that mass murder he did back in 2007. People in the DCU either have short memories or get over things quickly, I guess. The Final Crisis consumes the whole world from July through to August, during which Bruce Wayne is (apparently) killed. He's only dead for a day or so before all hell breaks loose in Gotham, and Dick Grayson becomes Batman a day later, wearing the costume for a staggering three months before Bruce comes back in November. Also in August, New Krypton is established on the other side of the Sun for about two months, and the Black Lanterns attack and kill a bunch more B-list heroes in September while Green Lantern is distracted by all that torturing and dick-swinging he was doing. Christmas may or may not suck this year, depending on Geoff Johns' mood.
For extra added bonus fun, look up the career of your favourite DC hero, and see how long he/she's 'actually' in the role. Superman was created in 1938, 72 years ago, so that means he's been a hero for nearly 15 years, while Batman showed up about two months later. Wonder Woman has been in Man's World for nearly 14 years, as has Aquaman; Dick Grayson was Robin for eight years, Tim Drake for about four, Jason Todd for just one before getting killed.
...actually, those kind of work. And here I was trying to make fun of things.
Like Grant Morrison, I think it's a bit daft trying to make any real-world sense of superhero comic timelines; superheroes exist in an eternal present, constantly shifting with the reader, because they're more about myth and drawing meaning from a continuing cycle of storytelling than about calendarization. (Note: They are also about punching things.) But it's tempting to play with the things a careless sub-editor lets slip through into the final comic, and seeing if fanboys' heads explode when trying to justify things.
At this point, I will admit that I should have been doing much more constructive things with my time tonight. Let this be a lesson to you: COMICS ROT YOUR BRAIN. At five times the normal speed.