DC Comics timelines, part 2: Silver Age/Earth-1

Last time, I discussed the pros and cons of DC Comics’ Golden Age/Earth-2 timeline, where continuity was treated as either something to be ignored (originally) or moved in real time (especially in post-Golden Age “Earth-2” depictions). Today, we’ll move on to the Silver Age, or “Earth-1,” where things get more complicated as compressed time comes into play.

Background

The Silver Age started in the late 50s, with the debut of the then-modern Flash, Barry Allen. It continued with the debuts of Silver Age versions of the Atom, Green Lantern, Hawkman, etc. Superman under Weisinger gained more and more of his own familiar mythos elements, such as the Phantom Zone, the Fortress of Solitude, Supergirl, Krypto, etc. Even Aquaman got a revised origin story (and, eventually, a sidekick and wife). The Justice League of America made its first appearance in comics in 1960. A short time later, Flash discovered that the Golden Age universe (now dubbed “Earth-2,” versus the Silver Age world’s “Earth-1”) existed.

At this point in the real world, comics started to gain enough of a question-asking fandom that somewhat more attention started to be paid to continuity by DC (and newcomer Marvel). Perhaps the debut of letter columns had something to do with such, not to mention the appearance of more continuity references in stories (editor’s boxes noting “see Action Comics #262,” more frequent origin/backstory retellings, etc.). DC’s multiverse in itself was a continuity explanation—a way to explain away the earliest versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in Golden Age stories as being irrelevant to the then-modern versions.

The Bronze Age stories of the 70s cemented various continuity rules even moreso, with more elements introduced, such as Earth-1’s Superman being 29 years old (per the youth movement at the time).

The floating timeline’s introduced

The biggest continuity change (one that’s lasted to this day), however, might have come with Superboy. Superboy, whose setting until then was either ignored, vague, or set in the early 30s (before Superman’s 1938 debut), was put on a floating timeline starting in a 1971 story. Moving his era up to the 50s was one consequence of this. However, it also meant that the rest of Earth-1’s stories also had to be set on a floating timeline.

Some writers ignored this floating timeline. Steve Englehart’s origin version in 1977’s “Justice League of America” assumed the heroes were all adults even back in the late 50s, and somehow completely unaged since then. The Earth-2 heroes, meanwhile, had their advancing age emphasized more and more during the 70s. Its version of Superman sporting graying hair along his temples, for instance.

1985-86’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” eliminated Earth-1 from continuity, with the post-Crisis continuity (with a single Earth, no multiverse) meant to “clear up” continuity issues. By this point, Earth-1 included almost all DC stories published between the mid-50s and 1986, or about 30 years (real time, not comic time) of stories.

Brief timeline of Earth-1

JLA #200
The original founding JLA members, from “Justice League of America” #200 (March 1982). Art by George Perez and Brett Breeding.

Earth-1’s timeline roughly fits the following rules:

  • Superman debuted as Earth-1’s first superhero as Superboy, at the age of 8.
  • Superboy spent most of his childhood as Earth-1’s only prominent superhero, save his contemporary Aquaman (as “Aquaboy”).
  • Superboy changed his name to “Superman” during college, around age 20 or 21. At about the same time, other heroes (Batman, Robin, Green Lantern, etc.) debuted.
  • The Justice League debuted, and eventually the Teen Titans.
  • Superman in the “present” was 29 years old, at least in most 70s/80s stories. (The “Superman is 29” declaration came in the previously mentioned 1971 Superboy story.) During the 50s/60s, Superman’s age was either left undefined or assumed to be greater than 29. Most other heroes were of a similar age (such as Batman) or their ages left unclear.

Earth-1’s timeline is the longest of the sliding timelines, as Superboy’s debut through the “present” makes it last about 21 years. However, since most of Earth-1’s superhero activity comes during Superman’s era, that reduces it largely to about a 8-9 year period (or even 10 years if generous), which is still longer than the “five years” of the “New 52.”

I’ve discussed the nature of sliding timelines in a previous post. Now, onto the pros and cons of Earth-1’s timeline…

Pros

Less need to reconcile the JSA/Golden Age aspects

The Golden Age comics are written off as being on Earth-2. Thus, they don’t have to be reconciled with Earth-1’s perpetually-young characters’ setting. The JSAers lived on Earth-2, where they could age normally. They also had most of the early-comic-version oddities, such as Two-Face being named “Harvey Kent,” not “Dent.” Meanwhile, the Earth-1 timeline had the familiar, contemporary elements.

It also puts everyone on the same sliding timescale, which makes things easier (save an occasional few hiccups).

A lengthy timeline

Earth-1 has a fairly lengthy timeline. For two decades, people have been used to the presence of superheroes. This means an entire generation (like in real life) would’ve grown up used to the idea of publicly active superheroes. Compare this to the New 52’s five-year timeline, or post-Crisis’ 10-12 year one.

Superman is the first superhero

Superman is the first superhero in-universe, much like in real life comics publishing history.

Almost every story happened as-is

Despite the time compression, it’s still assumed almost all stories (pop culture references aside) happened “as-is.” Thus, fewer torturous or counter-intuitive retcons, as seen post-Crisis. A few sliding-scale-related retcons did eventually appear by the 80s, however, such as a 60s Superman-meets-JFK story becoming Superboy-meets-JFK by the 80s.

Cons

Superman’s age and time compression issues

The fact that Superman’s age was held in the 70s/80s as being at 29 (and the other heroes being of a similar age) might’ve forced some compression issues.

Mix of Earth-2’s real time with Earth-1’s sliding timeline

The mix of “real time” with “sliding time” with the JLA-JSA teamups. To the JSAers, the JLA must’ve stayed amazingly nearly frozen in time for years! This did became briefly mentioned, if I recall clearly, in the 1980s’ “America versus the Justice Society.”

Dick Grayson and the Teen Titans aging

One big issue of Earth-1, however, is that the sidekicks were eventually allowed to age, but not their adult mentors. Basically, the old “how come Dick Grayson grew up, but Bruce Wayne stayed the same age?” conundrum.

Perhaps the success of the Teen Titans as solo heroes, plus increasing emphasis in superhero comics on younger heroes (led by Marvel’s flagship character, Spider-Man), might’ve led to the teen characters’ aging? By the time of the “New Teen Titans” series, the now-former sidekicks by this point had been aged to being about 18-20 years of age, with some of the characters even marrying. Meanwhile, Superman was still 29 or 30 years old. The other JLAers were also similarly unchanging in age. On top of that, some stories claim Dick debuted as Robin as young as age 8.

Besides Dick’s aging issues, the other prominent sidekick-aging issue involves…

Donna Troy’s origin (and Wonder Woman’s career length)

Teen Titans #23
“Teen Titans” #23 (October 1969). Art by Nick Cardy.

Donna Troy’s pre-Crisis origin stated she was rescued as an infant (or preschooler) by Wonder Woman from a fire. Diana took the now-orphaned Donna to Paradise Island. There, Donna was raised by the Amazons, and given powers like Diana’s. Taking the name “Wonder Girl,” Donna went out into the world to fight crime/spread Amazonian ideals. She also joined the Teen Titans.

All well and good, and vastly preferable over the brain-breaking post-Crisis origin revisions she’s endured. However, the only issue is how long Wonder Woman’s been active as a hero. Earth-1’s timeline usually assumes superheroes didn’t debut en masse until Superboy reached adulthood, during the aforementioned 8-10 year timespan. Donna’s pre-Crisis origin came just a few years before DC set up their sliding timeline (and declared Superman being 29). I suspect before then, DC probably viewed the JLAers as a fair number of years older than their Titans counterparts, which allowed Donna’s origin to work.

Some have suggested Wonder Woman could’ve debuted during Superboy’s era, with rescuing Donna one of her very first superhero activities. However, that seems to go against the idea of Superboy being one of Earth-1’s only superpowered heroes (the teenaged Aquaboy aside) until he grew up.

The other solution might’ve been to age the JLAers into their mid-30s while leaving the Titans in their late teens/early 20s. This would give Earth-1’s Superman-era a much longer timespan. It’d also put more years between the JLA and the increasingly popular Titans. Post-Crisis stories did age the JLAers into their mid-30s.

Conclusion

That sums up Earth-1’s timeline aspects. While not in “real time,” outside of the issues above, Earth-1’s timeline seems pretty OK. Next time, I’ll discuss the post-Crisis timeline.

(Updated 7/7/17)

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