Ooh boy. This is going to be a tough one. Previously, the Bronze Age ended with the publication of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns. From now on, due to the success of those two books, comics would take a turn for the dark and the edgy. You think, “Oh, how bad can it be?” but I haven’t even gotten to the part where a bunch of supervillains sell their souls to the Devil.
But let’s start with the first post-Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover:
DC didn’t even wait a year. The last issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths came out March 1986 and the first issue of Legends came out November 1986.
As crossovers go, however, it wasn’t that bad. It was about Darkseid trying to tarnish the “legend” of superheroes through the machinations of Glorious Godfrey posing as the American political pundit G. Gordon Godrey (wow, subtle!).
The series was more notable for what came out of it: it was the first appearance of post-Crisis Wonder Woman, it was the start of the Wally West Flash, and it led to the more humorous Justice League International and the supervillain team Suicide Squad. In fact, Amanda Waller first appeared in Legends #1.
And that’s where the good stuff ends. Savor it while it lasts, because it’s going to get bad.
Cosmic Odyssey came out in 1988 and was about Darkseid and his quest for the Anti-Life Equation. It turns out that the “true” Anti-Life Equation was actually a giant shadow monster. (A concept that Jim Starlin brought back for his Death of the New Gods mini-series years later, even though nobody asked for it.) It was notable for two reasons: Mike Mignola’s awesome art and that it managed to have spin-off the book New Gods.
And then, also in 1988, there was Millennium. Oh, Millennium. You know how there are some ideas that sound really good in your head and then they turn out to be poop? Yeah, that’s Millennium. New multi-ethnic important characters! Intrigue! Mystery! The enemy could be everywhere! Except...well, let me explain:
Prior to Millennium, the Guardians of the Universe and their female counterparts, the Zamarons, decided to leave this dimension. But they left one Guardian and one Zamaron behind to choose the New Guardians. Unbeknownst to everyone, however, the Manhunters (those robots the Guardians used before the Green Lanterns) had replaced a bunch of people with robots in an effort to stop the New Guardians from being assembled.
So, basically, every writer had to stop their plotlines and “reveal” how one or more characters was actually a Manhunter. It was, how you say, stupid. And then the New Guardians were assembled and...
...they were a bunch of ethnic stereotypes. There was an Australian woman who resided in the Dreamtime, a Peruvian male who was gay and HIV-positive, a Chinese woman who channeled the “Dragon Lines of the Earth,” and a Japanese man who became a being of silicon and electronics. They were spun-off into a short-lived series that became infamous due to a supervillain called SnowFlame, who got his powers from snorting cocaine.
...yes, you read that right: SnowFlame got his powers from snorting cocaine. The ‘80s were a helluva drug.
If you are thinking, “This is the worst,” then you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The next crossover, in 1988 and 1989, was Invasion! This was about a coalition of aliens that decided to invade Earth. The coalition was led to the incredibly racist Dominators. I mean, their appearance was incredibly racist, not that they were (although they might have been): they looked like an exaggerated version of the “Yellow Peril,” complete with a red sun on their foreheads.
The only things of actual consequence to come out of the crossover was the introduction of the metagene (and thus “metahumans”) and then the detonation of the Gene Bomb, which caused numerous superheroes and villains, including the Grant Morrison relaunch of Doom Patrol.
DC realized that they were perhaps overdoing it with the crossovers (four in three years), so they held off their next one until 1991.
Armageddon 2001 apparently took a look at the DC universe ten years in the future, where a tyrant called “Monarch” had conquered the world, killing most of the heroes. Matthew Ryder, aka Waverider, managed to travel back in time to try and stop Monarch before this happened.
There’s one interesting bit about Armageddon 2001 and that’s the fact that Waverider could see all the heroes’ futures by touching them. At one point, he touches Hank Hall (Hawk) and sees him die by Monarch’s hands. Then he touches Captain Atom and that accidentally opens a portal to the future that brings Monarch to the past.
At this point, everyone guessed that Captain Atom was actually Monarch. But, rather than accepting this, DC tried to figure out a way to keep their secret twist a secret and changed it at the last minute...to Hawk. The one person who it definitely could not be. This made absolutely no sense and basically invalidated any of the foreshadowing of the series, making the entire thing pointless. (Some writers ended up hating this ending so much it was retconned twice.) It did introduce the Linear Men, who were supposed to protect the timestream, however.
1991 also included War of the Gods, which was supposed to be George Perez’s magnum opus Wonder Woman crossover. It involved Circe manipulating the gods of every pantheon to go to war. Unfortunately, Perez was having troubles with DC and also drawing Infinity Gauntlet for Marvel, so the whole event didn’t come out that well.
This was almost immediately overshadowed, however, by a 1992 storyline called The Death of Superman where Superman (spoiler) dies.
The storyline came about because the writers were getting ready to marry off Clark Kent and Lois Lane, but the television show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman had just premiered and DC didn’t want Lois and Clark to be married in the comics and not in the show. Apparently, when the Superman writers met to discuss what they were going to do, Jerry Ordway said, “Let’s just kill ‘im.” And thus a story was born.
This story would have a domino effect, however: it led directly to the Reign of the Supermen storyline and that led directly to the Emerald Twilight storyline which, sigh, led directly to Zero Hour: Crisis in Time.
But first, let us get one of the most ‘90s storylines out of the way: Bloodlines.
Oh man. Look at that cover. Look at Superman’s giant fist. This is gonna suck.
Bloodlines was a 1993 crossover about a group of shapeshifting parasitic aliens that invaded and drained the spinal fluid from humans, which killed some of them and gave some others powers.
These new heroes were called the New Blood and they had a short-lived spin-off called The Blood Pack. These new heroes included Gunfire (who could make things explode or fire energy), Geist (who was “only visible in the dark” whatever that means), Nightblade, Ballistic, and the unfortunately named Mongrel. You can probably guess that DC was trying to go after the Image Comics audience.
The only good thing that came out of this crossover was Hitman by Garth Ennis and John McCrea, about a hitman who gets the power of x-ray vision and telepathy. Unlike all the others, Ennis immediately started making fun of everything and kept on doing it for 61 issues. (Some side characters from Hitman, a team of rejects called Section Eight, will be returning for a new series post-Convergence.)
Okay, back to Emerald Twilight. During the Reign of the Supermen, a fight between Mongul and the Cyborg-Superman ended up destroying Coast City, Hal Jordan’s hometown. Hal tried to recreate it using his ring, but the Guardians forbade it...so Hal went crazy and killed the Guardians and all of the Green Lanterns. Hal jumped into the central power battery, absorbed all the power, and emerged as Parallax. (Meanwhile, the one Guardian who escaped chose a young artist, Kyle Rayner, as the last Green Lantern.)
Originally, Emerald Twilight was going to be something much different: it was going to be a story of Hal Jordan on the run from the Guardians, who had been taken over by the Zamarons. But DC found that that story wasn’t interesting enough and wanted a clean slate for a new Green Lantern, so Hal Jordan went evil.
This led to the 1994 crossover Zero Hour: A Crisis in Time. In it, Parallax tried to destroy and recreate the universe in order to “fix” it.
The format of the crossover was actually interesting: it started at issue #4 and then counted down until issue #0, each cover getting whiter and whiter, until there it was entirely blank.
Unfortunately, the story itself didn’t make much sense. The villain is first presented as the evil Hawk, now calling himself Extant, until it’s revealed that he’s only working for Parallax. And then after Parallax destroyed the universe, a new Big Bang is triggered. This was supposed to fix some continuity issues involving Hawkman, but it just ended up creating more. The only thing that was actually rebooted was the Legion of Super-Heroes.
There was also a crossover between DC and Milestone Comics called Worlds Collide in 1994. Unfortunately, it took place right before Zero Hour and was thus wiped out for the DC characters (the Milestone characters still remembered it).
And then in 1995, there was Underworld Unleashed, where Neron, the new ruler of Hell, appeared to a bunch of superheroes and supervillains and offered them their greatest wish in exchange for their souls.
Since the crossover was mainly written by Mark Waid, the entire thing was much better than it had any right to be. At one point, it’s revealed that the Joker sold his soul...for a box of Cuban cigars. Other supervillains sell their souls for souped up powers, including Ocean Master, who got a staff with amazing powers...but got excruciating pain when not touching it. Also, almost all of the Flash’s Rogues were killed off, which, according to Mark Waid, was to save them from the excesses of the ‘90s:
“Brian and I arranged for them to lie low in hell for a little while, if only to keep some knuckleheaded creator from, oh, say, turning Heat Wave into a living pillar of fire.”
Thankfully, 1996 was a great year. It was the year that was so good, it ended the Dark Age for DC.
First up was Kingdom Come, a 1996 Elseworlds mini-series written by Mark Waid and beautifully painted by Alex Ross.
Kingdom Come was an absolute celebration of DC comics and superheroes in general and it completely rejected the violent superheroes of the ‘90s. The story took place in the future, after Superman retired once he realized crowds of people were cheering for Magog, a superhero who killed his villains.
While not a traditional crossover, the book still acted to bring together the future versions of many different characters, showing the possible futures of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and many others. It was later incorporated into the DC universe as a possible future and a sequel, The Kingdom, was made. Kingdom Come is still considered one of the best superhero comics ever made.
And then there was The Final Night in November 1996, written by Karl Kesel and art by Stuart Immonen. Unlike many other crossovers, there was no big villain, no big continuity changing crisis.
No, the plot is very simple: a creature called the Sun-Eater appeared and ate the sun. (Well, it absorbed the sun’s energy, extinguishing its light and heat.) All the heroes have five days before the Earth is completely uninhabitable.
The whole series is one tinged with sadness. There was a futility to their efforts, but finally, there was hope: a ship that can destroy the Sun-Eater. At first, Ferro Lad (a Legionnaire) tried to pilot it, but instead Hal Jordan took control and piloted it into the sun, reigniting the it, killing the Sun-Eater, and redeeming himself.
Those long dark days were finally over. The low-selling Justice League spin-offs were cancelled and Mark Waid wrote Justice League: A Midsummer’s Nightmare, which established a new team. And in 1997, Grant Morrison’s JLA would use a “back to basics” approach that would strike a chord with readers and made it a hit. Things were looking up.
The Dark Age was finally over. The Modern Age had just begun.