DC Comics has a great tradition of continually updating it’s main continuity timeline. This is either great for some people or incredibly frustrating. DC, for me, has always stood for great stories where decisions matter. The various multiple worlds and different main timelines reflect that, unlike Marvel where they employ a “Floating Timeline” where time is dilated and condensed, making 40+ years of stories fit into around 15. Marvel is great at telling more reality based stories, but their timeline makes no sense to me, due to the fact that so much destruction and world shattering events happened in such a short period of time. DC does the opposite. Everything that happens in a series happens in a specific time frame in relation to other series and stories (with a few exceptions). The side effect is that sometimes, they have to softly or violently reset time. Whether it’s called a Crisis, a Flashpoint, or Rebirth, DC loves reboots. DC regularly updates the main timeline for various reasons; to condense ideas into one world, to expand and bring back a multiverse of ideas, or to set a specified number of universes to play in. This is where the frustrating part comes in; Where to start? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for.
The Long Way ‘Round
If you have the time and patience, you can find and read the entirety of DC Comics’ catalog in a year or five (depending on reading speed). For The Long Way ‘Round, you would need to start with Crisis on Infinite Earths. This was the first truly massive reboot DC went through back in 1985. Many stories and origins directly contradicted one another at the time, leading to a confusing mess that not even editors and writers could keep track of. To fix this, they set about creating a story that would hit the big old red button, blowing everything up so the record could be remade. Crisis was monumental for being the first major story to truly effect an entire universe permanently. Several characters died and weren’t seen from again (which is rare in the comics business). Heck, the entire multiverse was even discarded! This point of entry is not recommended as it’s difficult to find legal versions of a great deal of straight runs of series, but there are rumors of certain sites that have them for less scrupulous people.
The Interconnected Way
Another point of entry for the DC Universe is Infinite Crisis. This seven issue series is a direct sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, so it’s highly advised to read that first, but this entry point is much more recent, having been published just a decade ago in 2006. Infinite Crisis reintroduced the multiverse to the DC universe, bringing back long time favorite worlds and ideas, like the Golden Age Justice Society of Earth-2. In addition to being a sequel, Infinite Crisis led directly into another series with Final Crisis two years later, wrapping up the Crisis events for DC. In between, there’s two weekly series called 52 and Countdown. Some of DC’s greatest stories were written around this time frame, including Batman: Hush, World War III, and Identity Crisis (not part of the main, major crisis series). The “shotgun” approach here will work for some, as it gives readers a glimpse into practically every character in the DC pantheon. From these universe spanning stories, you could find a new favorite character you wouldn’t normally know about. A word of caution jumping into DC at this point, it requires a bit of foreknowledge, so this point of entry is for people that already have a few trades under their belts. It’s expensive and meandering, but it’s worth it to give this entry point a shot.
The Easy Way
The most recent, and far less confusing point of entry to DC’s world of heroes is with 2011’s Flashpoint. In Flashpoint, Barry Allen (the Flash who died during Crisis on Infinite Earths), has been brought back to life and tries to save his mother from being killed. In doing so, he creates a much darker timeline, as the world developed differently without his powers ever manifesting, affecting many major timelines and stories. This is the shortest series to enter into the DC universe with, at just five issues. As a result of Barry re-aligning the timelines, the DC universe experienced it’s first relaunch, as the New 52. A cryptic character hinted at an impending threat at the end of Flashpoint, which just ended as The Darkseid War in the pages of Justice League, effectively ending the New 52. Which brings us to…
The New Way
With the DC Rebirth one-shot going to a third printing, and at $2.99 there’s no excuse to not pick it up at your local comic store. This eighty page epic (that’s right eighty) sets the stage for a good deal of DC’s stories for the next year, including Wonder Woman’s search for an unknown man, Batman trying to figure out the age old question of who the Joker is, and Wally West (a Flash character) coming back. One thing DC is bringing back to the forefront of it’s stories is something many thought the New 52 lacked, heart. Just in the Rebirth special, we see Aquaman propose, Green Arrow get back with Black Canary, and a weepy reunion of Flashes. With every DC series restarting at number one this month and next, this is one of the best times to jump on board with “The World’s Greatest Heroes”.