Analyzing Time in the New 52

I’ll admit it. I love the new 52 DC Universe. Despite the jarring and sudden nature of its introduction, I have found the new mythology incredibly delightful. However, despite my love of the new continuity, there is still one thing that continues to create problems as this new DC moves forward. The issue in question is one of time.

Back in September 2011, we were introduced to a new DC Universe where Superman was, once again, the first super-hero that the world had ever known. The heroes whom had been known as the legacy heroes of the Justice Society of America no longer existed within the main universe. This was a universe where we were aware that the formation of the Justice League had occurred a scant 5 years before current stories. A 5-year time frame that saw the creation of the world’s greatest heroes and the DC Universe as we knew it. It is an appropriate time frame for the inception of the League in this new world, but not when it is applied to the entire DC Universe.

DC has utilized the one clarified timetable in their new universe as not only the doctrine for the Justice League, but for Superman and a few other heroes as well. Knowing that two laws bind the New 52 Universe (ie. Superman was the first public Super-hero and the Justice League formed 5-years ago) this doesn’t make much sense. Why? Because by placing the time tables of the other Justice League members into that same time table between Superman’s appearance and the League’s formation we understand that each of them had to undergo major character developments within the span of a few months.

In Geoff Johns’ run on Aquaman we know that Dr. Shin trained Aquaman in the use of his telepathic powers and other Atlantean abilities. Dr. Shin later ousted Aquaman to the public in what lead to Aquaman denouncing the surface world and fleeing to the sea to claim his rightful throne. Aquaman would then journey across the globe with a team of individuals each possessing Atlantean relics of great power, each searching for Black Manta. Superman is hinted at as already being revealed in this time frame, before Aquaman’s reveal, and with the knowledge of the 5-year time table we then know that Aquaman had less than a year to be ousted publicly, flee to Atlantis and rule it, come up with the Atlantean war plans that are being used in the ‘Throne of Atlantis’ crossover, lead the Others, and come back in time to save the Earth from Darkseid’s invasion in the first arc of the new 52. Why? Why would we need to confine ourselves to such a tight timeframe of less than a year for so much story development?

Further still, in the first issue of Justice League starts with Batman running from the police, claiming the world hates the super-hero community, while Grant Morrison’s first arc in Action Comics, theoretically set in that same year, shows people praising the world’s first super-hero for saving the world. How did this hatred come up? Did mistrust really form that quickly? Even further still, we know from the first six issues of Justice League that Green Lantern and Flash not only know each other’s identities, but also have had at least a few adventures together. How many adventures did they have, then, if they had only been doing the super-hero job within that year?

The strict timetable gives the readers an unfortunate problem because it causes us to suspend our suspension of disbelief. It was why we didn’t question the lack aging of heroes for years, and force any children heroes did have to either rapidly age to fight alongside their parent or vanish in some capacity. Having a measuring stick for us to empirically cite as the basis for time progression in the DC Universe makes us ask questions that, before, we didn’t need to ask. Even the elements of continuity that carried over to the new 52 Universe begin to take on a more confusing nature when pushed into the 5-year timetable. Damian Wayne makes less sense as Bruce’s ten-year-old son when the boy was conceived after Bruce became Batman five years ago. I can buy going through all of Emerald Twilight, Green Lantern: Reborn, The Sinestro War, and Blackest Night in the span of five years, only just barely, but it would be a different story to believe that they all happened within a year.

That is the situation DC finds themselves in now. By making a timetable for the sake of making the heroes more relatable is ok, but if the writers are disconnected then problems can arise. It is why a vague timeframe works for comics and why DC has always had a more timeless feel than Marvel. They don’t date themselves. They flow with the times, but concentrate on the mythology. By moving to an actual timetable we question the progression of events and when they take place. Had DC kept Superman’s first appearance a nondescript time period in the past we would not have this problem, mind you, but because of a disconnect at some level we now have a question of “when” that we didn’t need to have in the equation.

Over time, I see this timeframe undergoing a “soft retcon” where the material washes over this fact, but for now it brings up many questions that never needed to be asked. Still, I do plan on enjoying the new 52 as it proceeds forward, because, despite this one flaw, this change has been a real success with me. New stories. Fresh angles. Only time will tell how this experiment will end.

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Chance Thulin is a Missouri State University graduate of English marching on the forefronts of pop culture. He writes in hopes to spread the meanings and interpretations of comic books, graphic novels, and film to the masses. He is a dedicated fan of good fiction, and subscribes to both unconventional and profound writers such as Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. For several years, Chance Thulin has trained his analytical eye towards the mountains of material published by the market powerhouses, Marvel and DC, soldiering through while appreciating diamonds in the rough as well as the more prominent names in the industry. And he really really really likes Superman.

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