The original DC Multiverse was first acknowledged in 1961 in the pages of the Flash but retroactively, it existed from as early as 1935 with the first DC Comic, but technically could really be said to have first appeared with the first bit if fiction that ever existed or even as far back as the dawn of time.
The original Multiverse was not actually the original multiverse. Confused? Well, in DC lore, there once was one singular universe. Then a guy named Krona looked back to the dawn of time and that caused the universe to split into an infinite number of universes that made up the original multiverse.
This original multiverse consisted of every comic ever published by DC Comics, every comic ever published by a company that was bought by DC Comics, and every adaptation of a DC Comic or other property owned by DC. It also included a version of the real world, called Earth-Prime.
While fans like me liked the idea of a multiverse, where everything happened somewhere, writers and editors found it confusing and often made continuity mistakes. So in 1985, DC decided to do the first major reboot. I say major because technically over the previous 50 years, DC had done minor continuity changes with certain characters with the dawning of the silver age being the largest set of reboots prior to 1985.
DC explained the reboot with a 12 issue mini-series called Crisis on Infinite Earths, which spilled over to many other DC Comics titles. In the end, the original DC Multiverse ceased to exist, allegedly, and was replaced with a merged Earth.
This merged Earth that people often forget only lasted about eight months, depending on the title. The initial universe that emerged from the Crisis was a world where now golden age and silver age DC characters co-existed on the same Earth along with characters from Fawcett, Quality and Charlton, but it still maintained the pre-Crisis/silver age elements of continuity.
This was in my opinion based on poor editorial decisions. It was decided by DC that following the Crisis, there was a great opportunity to reboot the canon of many of its major characters, to update them for a modern era. But they weren’t quite ready in February 1986, so for eight months, we had this “merged Earth” before we got what is now commonly known as the real Post-Crisis era.
In the slow roll-out of this Post-Crisis era, we got John Bryne’s Man of Steel, Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, and George Perez’s Wonder Woman # 1. The Justice League was now filled with a membership of characters who previously existed on different Earths. Shazam got a lame reboot. Captain Atom was also drastically rebooted. Hawkman had a complicated retroactive reboot three years after the Crisis, leading to an awkward explanation of his appearances during those previous three years. And Secret Origins was putting out two or three post-Crisis retcon origins per month.
This was an exciting and confusing time. Some stories no longer existed. Others remained pretty much intact. Some heroes had been operating for some years with the same history as before, others had been operating for years but their history was now changed and unsure, and others who had previously had a long history were being re-introduced as brand new heroes with no history.
So DC wanted us to accept this was now the new reality, where some old stories still happened, some didn’t, and some happened slightly differently, and we’d figure it out as we go along. And there was just one universe with one history.
In 1987, DC started having to explain some problems. Superman had been rebooted. He was never Superboy in his new origin. But the Legion of Super-Heroes had not been rebooted. And yet, the Legion’s history is tied to Superboy.
And so, a “not a multiverse” started to appear. It was revealed that the Time Trapper had decided to mess with the Legion by creating a Pocket Earth where Superboy existed. When they went back in time, they were shifted each time to this pocket Earth.
Then in 1988, Grant Morrison messed with DC and us by creating Crisis II in Animal Man. The pre-Crisis multiverse returned briefly before disappearing again. Including the real world, where Animal Man met Grant Morrison.
In 1989, we got the Hawkworld reboot three years late, and the 30th century got a reboot of sorts where Glorith changed time, basically barely making any real effect on the DC Universe other than that now Superboy had only two meetings with the Legion instead of a longer history, and many Legion characters had tweaks especially where their relationship to the Superman mythos were concerned.
Then in early 1994, DC decided that even though there was just one universe… and a pocket universe… and those phantom ghosts of the pre-Crisis multiverse, there was still another universe!
DC had created a more diverse comics imprint called Milestone. If you haven’t heard of it, you probably know it’s most famous product, Static Shock. The Superman Family of titles had a crossover with all the Milestone comics, demonstrating that the Milestone Universe was a separate reality in this “not a multiverse”!
A few months later, DC decided that their continuity was too complicated… again, and decided to create a Crisis event… again… to solve the problem.
This was Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. Turns out that the effects of the original 1985 Crisis had ripple effects, which is why those reboots and retcons were slowly rolling out. But all the other versions of DC continuity still existed. Not only did we see a return of pre-Crisis DC characters during this event, but we also so incorporated the Elseworlds series of non-canon stories, and newer post-1985 adaptations to screen such as Batman: The Animated Series.
The story ended with one single universe… again, and though it was supposed to allow for a new, new timeline, really very little changed. Shazam and the Legion of Super-Heroes were the only ones to get major reboots.
And not only did Pocket Earth still exist, but it was now revealed that the Pre-Zero Hour Legion also had existed in another Pocket Earth!
But wait, there’s more. I will continue next time around talking about the thing called Hypertime and Infinite Crisis… Plus, DC Versus Marvel!