Intro to the Modern Age

If you didn't read the end note for the last post then here it is again in all its glory. The Modern Age is officially upon us!  (Technically, we've been in the Modern Age this whole time, but now that the Crisis is over, we are officially Modernized story-wise as well).  And the new era begins (specifically for Batman) with Batman #401 by Barbara Randall/Trevor Von Eeden. (It would/should have started with Batman #392, which was the first Batman issue to be released after the original Crisis. However, the storyline that takes place from Batman #392 through Batman #399 was written before the original Crisis had concluded, so it didn't reflect any of the changes that had occurred. Also, Batman #400 is an out-of-continuity anniversary special, so obviously that doesn't count either). We'll pick up with Batman #401 (following both the funeral of Barry Allen and the Modern Age JLA story that precede the issue) a bit later, but first there are some nerdy things you should know...

Let's talk about time for a moment. Time itself functions differently in the fictional DC Universe than it does in real life. We've already established that Batman's Year One Era is actually about ten years long--the first couple solo years, then the couple years with Dick at his side. In Miller's Year One, Batman is 26. The Modern Age picked up right after the Year One Era ended in 1986 with Bruce 36 years-old. As the mid-Nineties approached, DC editors realized that Batman was already in his early 40s. Fearful of a future where all the other heroes were getting too old, and because there was money to be made and tons of great (and bad) tales yet to be told, DC Editors felt they needed to make Batman and company more contemporary, and they did so in 1994 with Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. Since not everyone can write a badass geriatric super-hero the way Frank Miller can, DC wanted to make sure that they dealt with the issue of superheroes getting too old too fast as soon as possible.

In the Zero Hour storyline, Green Lantern Hal Jordan goes insane and becomes the cosmically-powered being known as Parallax. Wielding immense power and a equal amount of rage to match, he alters time, eventually compacting the entire 18 year DC Universe time-line (10 years of Year One Era plus 8 years of post-original Crisis stuff) into fewer in-story years. Their next move was to make those first years lead up to the current year which, at the time, was 1994. The timeline then later further slid and led up to 1998, then 2000, then 2002. How? Why? DC editors (through the character of Parallax) had invented a sliding timeline which used Zero Hour as a place-marker. To keep stories contemporary, DC editors kept sliding the entire DC history forward for several years, continuously bringing the debuts of the major heroes to a more current date. Technically, the year 2000 was the last time they officially slid the timeline (in Guide to the DC Universe 2000 Secret Files), but it is pretty apparent that the Zero Hour place-marker was shifted once more to 2002 based upon character ages and current story-arcs going on today.  One can even argue that DC has continually slid the timeline beyond this point, but that is debatable, and for the purposes of this blog, we'll ignore that argument.  To re-iterate, one of the end results of this massive time upheaval is that Bruce becomes Batman in 1988 (instead of in 1976). See, it's more contemporary! Thankfully, DC editors didn't do any shifting of timelines after the unofficial move in 2002.  (Although, the company-wide Flashpoint reboot would occur in 2011 anyway).  In fact, all of the time-sliding and time-shifting combined with the incredibly vast multitude of stories that were produced, at one point, actually moved DC's universal clock ahead of our "real-time" calendar in order to compensate. I always hoped that DC editors would have eventually shifted to "real-time" storytelling, but they never did and they probably never will.

After all is said and done with sliding timelines, the Year One Era ends in 1999 and Bruce is age 36. The 8 actual years worth of stories that take place between the end of the Year One Era and Zero Hour have been compacted into 4 in-story years, which changes the in-story date of Zero Hour to 2002. The 15 actual years worth of storytelling that make-up the rest of the Modern Age from that point until today have been compacted into 7 in-story years. Still following me? If we do the new math correctly, 36 (Bruce's age at the end of the Year One Era) + 4 (the years leading up to Zero Hour) + 7 (the rest of the Modern Age so far) = 47. So, Bruce is 47 years old in 2010. Grant Morrison drove me into a frenzy when he had Jezebel Jet say that Bruce was merely turning 40 in the 2009 "Batman R.I.P." story-arc. However, this dialogue was delivered from a character that might not have known his true age, especially since at this point Bruce would have been resurrected by a Lazarus Pit, mystically healed, bathed in a "fountain of life," and returned from the dead among many other things. Basically, Bruce, even at age 47, would appear to be much younger.

There is one huge problem created by the use of a sliding-time-line that absolutely must be discussed before we continue. Even when the sliding-time-line does manage to solve both time and age discrepancies, it totally shits on any stories which use cultural or topical references, such as the large bunch of late 80s Cold War/Reagan Era stories that are definitively canon ("Ten Nights of the Beast" and every single issue of JLI stand out in my mind). Is it possible that in the DC Universe, Soviet Communism didn't fall until the late 90s instead of late 80s? Most scholars will say that while the stories canonically should remain intact and be read in-full, any anachronistic references to The U.S.S.R., the Ayatollah, Reagan, or phrases like "It IS the Eighties!" (as Jason Todd loved to proclaim on occasion) are simply topical and therefore apocryphal, meaning they should be retconned-out in your mind i.e. just plain ignored. Essentially, the stories should read as follows; instead of Reagan insert generic U.S. President, instead of U.S.S.R. insert Russia (and treat the country as a viable post-Cold War super power), instead of Gorbachev insert generic Russian President, instead of "It IS the Eighties" insert your favorite "Holy Batman!" catchphrase, etc... I think I might like the idea that the Cold War lasted until 1999 in the DC Universe better now that I think of it.

If anyone out there can answer these questions or give any more insight that would be great. Before I go on, I just wanted to say that a lot of the information I've written about here was directly influenced by the unbelievably amazing Unauthorized Chronology of the DC Universe by Chris J. Miller. If you haven't seen this site, then you aren't a true continuity buff or worthy or the title comic book nerd. This herculean effort is truly inspirational and I encourage everyone to check it out!

One final note. I will attempt to keep the same year-by-year format for the upcoming Modern Age posts. This will prove to be a bit more difficult, but anytime I can definitively extract specific amounts of time from the information given in the stories, you can be rest-assured that I will categorize them into yearly groups accordingly. I won't number everything like before as there are literally tens of thousands of issues in the continued Modern Age and there's no way I can list them all numerically. However, I will list as many storylines and arcs (no matter how big or small) as possible in chronological order.  My ultimate goal is to include every single canonical issue that exists.  Like I always say, this project is meant to be comprehensive and I mean it.


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