End of Summer

Growing Up (or not) in the DC Universe

by Michael Hutchison

When the DC Timeline was unveiled at the end of "Zero Hour" in 1994, it drew a lot of incredulous guffaws. The Flash's adventures all occurred in just six years? Metamorpho, the Doom Patrol and the Metal Men appeared before Superman, universally regarded as the first superhero? The Rocket Reds will always have appeared three years ago, regardless of the fact that each year brings us further away from even the last year of communism in Europe?

The early years of the timeline seem terribly roomy, considering how crammed the last five years are. If Elongated Man appeared in the seventh issue of Barry Allen's Flash comic book, and Elongated Man is introduced in the second year of the timeline, this means that Barry Allen had only a smattering of stories in his first year and then had to stuff his many other adventures into just five years. Elongated Man's first appearance is also a good marker for the JLA, as he appeared the month after they did. According to the timeline, the Justice League appeared at the end of "Ten Years Ago" (the first year of the current era of heroes) and Elongated Man "Nine Years Ago." Thus, the divider between Year One and Year Two is precisely between March and April of 1960.

Obviously, there's no reason why the Atom, Kid Flash and Elongated Man couldn't have appeared in the first year, thus opening up much more time. And eventually, they will have to be moved up to make room for the many events which have happened since Zero Hour. It's already been well over a year, given that Starman has appeared, had several adventures and fathered a child who is now several months old in the time since Zero Hour.

Regardless of how impractical it is, the need for the ten-year timeline is understandable. DC can't allow Batman and Superman to get any older than their mid-30s. Ideally, none of their characters would age…but comics themselves have grown up too much. The comic book-reading audience no longer consists of pre-teens who will accept characters who never change or grow.

Any timeline is going to require suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. It is IMPOSSIBLE to fit all of the stories which have transpired into just ten years. Some Batman stories span a period of a month or two. In "Batman: Venom", Batman locked himself in the Batcave for a month! That's one month out of the entire timeline. Green Lantern was once exiled to outer space for an entire year; similarly, Amanda Waller spent an entire year in prison in-between two issues of Suicide Squad. Yet those years aren't marked on the timeline…and they can't be. We just accept the timeline with a grain of salt and assume that these superheroes have crammed several cases into every day, 365 days a year for the last several years.

But there's one thing which we can't ignore: kids.

Babies and teen-agers are the bane of continuity. Indeed, if Robin the Boy Wonder had never been allowed to become the Teen Wonder and then the College Wonder, it is probable that everyone in the DC Universe would have lived in Little Orphan Annie-esque ageless bliss. But as Dick Grayson aged, so did the rest of the Teen Titans. And thus we're left with an impossibility.

According to the timeline, Robin appeared about eight years ago. It is believed that Nightwing is about 24 now, meaning that he would have to have been 16 when he became Robin! Traditionally, Robin was about twelve. It doesn't help that the timeline doesn't introduce him until Batman's third year; while readers want to read of Batman's early adventures without Robin , the only way for Robin to age properly is if he appeared in Batman's first or second year.

Traditionally, if you can't freeze a kid at one age together, the next option is to remove him or her. Kids either die (Arthur Curry, Jr. - killed by Aquaman's enemy, Black Manta) or magically grow to adulthood (Power Girl's son) or appear only in imaginary stories and alternate futures. It's not just an interesting plotline…it's a necessity.

Here's another twist on the "kids vs. timeline" conflict: Metamorpho's wife Sapphire Stagg was pregnant when he was killed during Millenium ("3 years ago") and was born sometime during Metamorpho's first death. Metamorpho was reborn during Invasion ("2 years ago") to find his newborn son. So, his son was about two at the time of Zero Hour…and as noted above, it's been at least a year since Zero Hour. Why bring this up? Because Metamorpho's infant son was seen at his latest funeral in JLA #5, a time when he should be at least three years old. (And while we're talking continuity errors, the caveman holding the baby had his brains blown out in the Metamorpho mini-series.)

Sometimes, in my more whimsical moments, I like to envision a DC universe where people really could grow old. Not necessarily at the same 12-issues-equals-a-year rate as us, but grow old nonetheless. A world where Blue Beetle can lose his hair and Fire might gain some wrinkles. A world where Elongated Man and Sue can continue to imitate Nick and Nora Charles by taking the next step and having a baby. A world where Kyle Rayner may actually become a mature adult. Why not? Why can't characters be allowed to grow and age and watch their children grow up just like normal people?

Nah. Never happen. Most likely, Metamorpho's son is pre-destined to die just to prevent fanboys from saying, "How can he be in college if Invasion happened two years ago?"

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