Countdown to Crisis Chronology (Part 2 of 3)

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Continuing this three-part series investigating the chronology of the DC Universe from the Countdown 80-page special to Infinite Crisis (read Part 1 here), today we explore and explain a number of time gaps – both those that must be inserted into the chronology, and those that must be ignored.

(Beware: this column will be, inescapably, SPOILER-HEAVY.)

“Owww. It’s … it’s too big, J’onn – I can’t hold this in my head … It’s not a single big idea – it’s incredibly complex! I can’t hold the entire shape of the thing in my brain with any focus …”: Kyle Rayner, JLA:Classified #15 by Warren Ellis

The Gap Theories

Yesterday, I explored the core issues that make up the backbone of the chronology, and I explained how I arrived at a figure of almost exactly four weeks’ time between the Countdown 80-page special and the opening of Infinite Crisis. To make that logic work, two minor gaps must be inserted into the narrative and justified. To allow room for a host of other events across the DCU to fit into the timeline, two quite lengthy gaps must be inserted as well.

But wanton stretching of the timeline is not the only difficulty faced in building a comprehensive chronology during the period in question. Unfortunately, two fairly important structural gaps must be trimmed down considerably, and a few single-point-of-reference “X weeks later” captions must be thrown out. With some titles working to compress the timeline to a relatively short length and others fighting to stretch it much longer, certain references must be thrown out as irreconcilable with the whole.

These modifications and a handful of other notable anomalies will be discussed today.

Minor Gap 1: Blue Beetle’s death. Chapter 5 of Countdown is the “now” chapter of the issue, beginning just minutes after the framing sequence starting on Page 1. The four previous chapters each cover one of the four previous days, in sequence, with Chapter 4 covering the last 24 hours leading up to the “present.” The final chapter concluded with the day in which Blue Beetle was captured and, later, murdered.

Unfortunately, Greg Rucka throws a monkey wrench into the works early in The OMAC Project #1, when Booster Gold and Wonder Woman confer over when was the last time they had each seen Beetle. Booster says it was two days, Wonder Woman hasn’t seen Beetle in three. In fact, both of them had last seen Beetle on the same day, several hours apart, in Chapter 4 of Countdown. The two references are reconciled to each other easily enough by assuming Wonder Woman is counting inclusively, but a problem remains.

Unless a gap of about 36 hours is assumed to have occurred between Maxwell Lord capturing Blue Beetle and killing him, Booster Gold and Wonder Woman would only be 12 hours or so removed from their last meetings with him – not two or three days. The final pages of Countdown can be read to allow such a gap without much difficulty.

Minor Gap 2: Shipping time, Paris to Gotham. As mentioned in “Dependency vs. Calendar Placement” in yesterday’s column, the final pages of The OMAC Project #1 require a gap of indeterminate length to allow for a package to travel across the Atlantic. Nothing within the issue provides any clues as to the length of this gap, and I arbitrarily chose to insert two full days into the chronology here.

The most important effect of this assumed two-day gap is that it provides an opening for Birds of Prey #81-85, “The Battle Within.” During that arc, Oracle and Black Canary – with the JSA’s Wildcat tagging along – infiltrate and take down a south Asian drug ring while, on the other side of the world, Huntress makes a play for leadership of the Gotham mafia. (Unfortunately, Huntress also runs into Dick Grayson as “Crutches” on a night when he is probably committed elsewhere in the chronology as Nightwing.) A very miserly reading of these five issues allows the story to be squeezed into two days, and the guest appearances of Booster Gold (who does not yet know Blue Beetle is dead), Superman and Cyborg (who will be torn to pieces by a mad Superboy just about one day later, by my reckoning) place this arc perfectly within that presumed gap.

As a bonus, the gap eases slightly the chronological pretzel-twisting among the three Superman titles, a subject to be elaborated in “Metropolis Interruptus and Apocrypha” in Part 3 of this series.

Major Gap 1: Release of the footage. The final page of The OMAC Project #6, in which Brother Eye reveals to the world Wonder Woman’s ultimate sanction of Maxwell Lord, is clearly intended to carry the drama of of the miniseries directly into Infinite Crisis #1. This is a perfectly understandable thematic aim, and it served readers well in sustaining the dramatic pacing of the six-month Countdown publishing schedule. But there is simply no way – none, zip, nada – this event occurs hours or even mere days after the issue’s climactic fight in the Libyan desert. Far, far too much other activity throughout the DC Universe must be fit into the chronology between the Libya battle and the release of the footage.

Actually deriving a specific length of time for this gap is a tenuous, roundabout exercise in creative cross-referencing (as described in “The Backbone” yesterday), resulting in a gap of about two and a half weeks. But the initial release of the footage is quite specifically located very late in the chronology by Geoff Johns in Teen Titans #29, on the Sunday evening of Infinite Crisis’ cataclysmic opening. The main drawback to forcing this gap into the narrative is that it only amplifies the chronology difficulties already rife within the Wonder Woman title (see below).

Major Gap 2: The Watchtower destroyed. At the end of “Crisis of Conscience” in JLA #119, an unknown attacker who appears to be Superman captures Martian Manhunter and destroys the JLA Watchtower on the Moon, which, along with the release of the Wonder Woman footage and the destruction of the Rock of Eternity over Gotham, is one of the three cataclysmic events that occur during the opening to Infinite Crisis. Several events elsewhere in the DCU force a gap of indeterminate length into the final pages of this JLA issue, between the dissolution of the League and the destruction of the Watchtower. According to my research, this gap must be roughly a week and a half long.

The most obvious difficulty of “Crisis of Conscience” is the involvement of Hawkman. The entirety of the Rann/Thanagar War miniseries must come after this arc, judging by Hawkman’s activities in both storylines. If Firestorm’s kidnapping by the Society (as seen in Villains United #4 and Firestorm #16-17) is indeed roughly concurrent with “Conscience,” then the gap must include the indeterminate gap shown in the Villains United #6 epilogue, which must allow enough time for Deadshot to partially recover from injury. Also, Adventures of Superman #644 and #645 explicitly (more or less) force a substantial gap as well, since in AoS #644, Zatanna mentions the events of “Crisis of Conscience” being “the other day,” and AoS #645 (which must include Lois Lane’s travel time to the Iraq-proxy nation of Umec) concludes with Superman receiving a distress signal that the Watchtower has just been destroyed.

A generous reading of JLA #119 allows for this gap with little difficulty.

Trouble with Wonder Woman. Despite Greg Rucka’s role as one of the primary architects of the Countdown period, his Wonder Woman run beginning with issue #217 lines up with the rest of the chronology poorly enough to verge on the apocryphal. Bizarrely, even Wonder Woman #223-224 – involving the massive OMAC assault on Themyscira and the Amazons’ ultimate retreat from this plane of reality – bears almost no resemblance to the portrayal of the same event shown in Infinite Crisis #2-3.

Wonder Woman was blinded sometime between Identity Crisis and the Countdown 80-page special. She did not regain her sight until WW #217, just two issues before the final part of the “Sacrifice” interlude of The OMAC Project in issue #219. WW #218, the intervening issue, gives no indication that more than a week has passed, which certainly must. Rather, WW #218 gives every indication that it begins immediately after Diana has regained her sight in the previous issue, and ends with a cliffhanger that is resolved – apparently only hours later – in WW #220, the immediate aftermath of “Sacrifice.”

Furthermore, the issue includes a sequence with Wonder Girl and Superboy set explicitly before “Insiders” (which is itself days before “Sacrifice”). Issue #218 must be stretched almost beyond credibility to accommodate the timeline.

Wonder Woman #221, again, feels distinctly as if it occurs immediately after the previous issue. In fact, it occurs on the Sunday night of the fateful footage being released to the world. If Rucka’s material in OMAC, WW and AoS is all that is considered, there’s little problem here. But if the goal is to account for the full breadth of activity in the entire Crisis-related DCU, a gap of more than two weeks must be forced in between WW #220 and #221. The events in the Wonder Woman title, while certainly enjoyable for fans of the character and author, are largely discredited as an accurate account.

Irreconcilable, though explicit, gaps. If any of the preceding rationale seems to be forcing too much gap-time into a space of activity clearly intended by the various authors as being much more compact, there are two major time references which actually push the chronology toward being much longer. These references, in Batman #635 by Judd Winick and Teen Titans #26 by Geoff Johns, must, unfortunately, be chopped down significantly or disregarded altogether. Either way, altering these references does real damage to the internal pacing of both titles, no matter how irreconcilable they are to the chronology as a whole.

Red Hood/Jason Todd. In Batman #635, Winick’s first post-”War Games” issue (issue #634 being an immediate epilogue to “War Games”), the first half of the issue is said to take place fully five weeks after the rest of the Red Hood arc in Batman #635-638. In the chronology, this issue is labeled twice as Batman #635b (the earliest events) and Batman #635a (the unveiling of Jason Todd as Red Hood, concurrent with issue #641).

Batman #635b discusses the corporate shenanigans within Wayne Industries and Kord, and thus correlates well to the day before Chapter 1 of Countdown. Batman #636-638 – in which Batman and Nightwing come across the shipment of Kryptonite stolen in Countdown Chapter 2 – fits well with the closing chapters of Countdown, before OMAC Project #1. But if the “Five weeks earlier” reference in Batman #635 is taken literally, then, given the rest of the chronology I have established, Jason Todd does not reveal himself to Batman until after Infinite Crisis #1. Clearly, this is impossible, since Batman #642-649 (and Detective Comics #809-810) follow this revelation with days or weeks’ worth of additional pre-Infinite Crisis action.

Though it presents some trouble in explaining the impact Red Hood makes on the Gotham underworld before the Crisis, the five weeks reference in Batman #635 must be disregarded.

Superboy’s exile, and The Return of Donna Troy. After Superboy’s traumatic experience being forced by Lex Luthor into attacking his fellow Teen Titans in “Insiders,” Connor goes into a self-imposed exile on the Kent farm in Smallville. The very next issue, Teen Titans #26 (published the same month as “Sacrifice”), begins with the caption, “One month later,” and shows Superboy and Raven dealing with his feelings of self-doubt. Though it’s a time reference provided by Infinite Crisis author Geoff Johns, it must be ignored.

According to the chronology I have established, a one month gap would place this issue after Infinite Crisis #1, but more importantly, there are references in other titles that argue against this gap as well.

When Raven visits Superboy in Teen Titans #26, she tells him that Cyborg has been rebuilt and Robin’s arm is “almost healed,” suggesting both heroes were out of action for a significant amount of time after Superboy wounded them. In fact, the involvement of a team of Titans and Outsiders in The Return of Donna Troy mini-series seems to begin within a week of “Insiders,” based on a tenuous reference in issue #1, and Cyborg was fully functional for that adventure. And while the Robin solo title presents a host of chronological difficulties all its own, Robin’s foray into military combat in Afghanistan in Robin #142 must take place within a couple of days of his arm being shattered in “Insiders.” One suspects Tim enjoyed the ministrations of a Themysciran purple ray before heading off on that adventure. (Incidentally, this Afghanistan episode cannot easily be written off as apocryphal, as will be explained below.)

The triple-threaded tapestry of the Superman titles published in the two months after “Sacrifice” lends further evidence that the “One month later” reference of Teen Titans #26 is impossible. Superman #220, published the next month, features Clark visiting Conner in Smallville, and is quite clearly intended to follow Teen Titans #26, possibly even occurring on the same day. But several items within Superman #220 and Action Comics #830-831 (which tie together in curious fashion due to a featured race between Bizarro and Zoom) make it clear these issues are only a few days after “Sacrifice.”

Placing Teen Titans #26 is a rather arbitrary exercise, then. And if it’s placed before Return of Donna Troy, it is, at best, no more than three or four days after “Insiders,” not a full month. A longer gap fits the emotional tone of the story better, but, unfortunately, cannot be justified.

Day (or Three Weeks?) of Vengeance. Aside from the first issue’s prologue, the entirety of the Day of Vengeance mini-series is well defined as a two-day adventure, apparently concluding on the Sunday or Monday in which the Rock of Eternity shattered over Gotham City and Infinite Crisis #1 began.

The prologue in issue #1, in which Eclipso seizes Jean Loring as its new host and seduces the Spectre into beginning his onslaught on magic, is noted as occurring three weeks before the rest of the series. But this gap is about a week too short to fit with the rest of the chronology. Not a major problem, but worth elaborating.

Placing the beginning of the Eclipso/Spectre relationship is tricky. The June ’05 cover-dated Superman titles comprised the trilogy “Lightning Strikes Twice,” and served as a prelude to the Day of Vengeance series. In that trilogy, Eclipso briefly seizes Superman as its host before being vanquished by Captain Marvel, the Wizard Shazam and Spectre over the course of two consecutive nights. The epilogue of “Lightning” shows Eclipso finding Jean Loring in Arkham Assylum, a scene repeated in greater detail in the Day of Vengeance #1 prologue. But “Lightning” does not even follow in sequence with the Superman titles it interrupted due to a couple of contradictions, so this Eclipso-oriented prelude story offers little help in locating Day of Vengeance within the chronology.

Conceptually, the beginning of the Eclipso/Spectre relationship should occur around the time of the Countdown 80-page special. Chapter 3 of that issue depicts Blue Beetle visiting the Wizard on the Rock of Eternity and leaving his scarab behind, two days before his murder by Maxwell Lord. Once Beetle is dismissed by Shazam in Chapter 3, the Wizard has a conversation with someone unseen. As it turns out, the conversation is with an imprisoned Mordru, and it fits word-for-word with scenes in JSA #73 and the final pages of Day of Vengeance #1 – one of the best examples of the exquisite coordination achieved throughout DC Comics’ entire enterprise over the past year.

The complete sequence comes a very short time after Eclipso has made contact with Spectre, and involves the Wizard bantering with Mordru, commissioning Captain Marvel with the task of delaying the Spectre, and meeting Blue Beetle. In order, the complete sequence can be read as follows:

* JSA #73a (pp. 13-15);
* Day of Vengeance #1 epilogue (p. 23, actually set around the time of the prologue);
* JSA #73b (p. 16, panel 1);
* Countdown Chapter 3 (pp. 38-42);
* JSA #73c (p. 16, panels 2-7).

If – and this point is certainly debatable – this combined sequence on the Rock of Eternity can be taken as a point of reference for when events should be placed in earthly time, then the beginning of the Eclipso/Spectre relationship occurs during the first couple of days of the Countdown 80-page special, and the Day of Vengeance #1 prologue is located. The “Three weeks later” reference in that issue must be revised to four, so that the remainder of the mini-series is concurrent with the Sunday/Monday opening of Infinite Crisis #1.

Admittedly, the vagaries of time in the mystic realms allow for some fluidity on the question of whether the Shadowpact is actually observing the Spectre killing the Wizard and destroying the Rock of Eternity in real time, as shown in Day of Vengeance #6. But for dramatic purposes, I have gone with a literal reading and placed the whole series (minus the issue #1 prologue) at the very end of the Countdown period.

One mitigating point remains. Bill Willingham, who wrote Day of Vengeance, also wrote Robin during this period. He can certainly be forgiven for introducing three of his Shadowpact characters into Robin #143-145 (all published after DoV #6), since they were so engagingly developed in his mini-series. Unfortunately, even though this three-issue sequence in Robin hit the stands simultaneously with Infinite Crisis #1-3, it actually occurs well before the Crisis – and well before the formation of the Shadowpact team. The Robin sequence involves a mass OMAC assault on Bludhaven, and is unquestionably simultaneous with the OMAC Project #6 battle in Libya. This is, according to my chronology, two and a half weeks before the Sunday/Monday timeframe of the Rock of Eternity’s destruction.

Could the Shadowpact actually have fought their final battle against Spectre before this Bludhaven action, and only witnessed the Rock of Eternity’s certain future in DoV #6, thus allowing them to appear after their own mini-series in Bludhaven? It’s a workable idea, but it also works against the “Three weeks later” reference in DoV #1. Given the uncertainties of drawing conclusions about time in the magical realms, the entire placement of “Lightning Strikes Twice,” Day of Vengeance, Robin #143-145 and relevant JSA tie-ins could be revisted in a later version of this chronology.

Lesser difficulties: Robin. The relevance of the Robin title has already been seen in dealing with other difficulties in the timeline. Robin’s mission with a military outfit in Afghanistan in issue #142 certainly seems, at first blush, to be a truly peculiar storyline for the character. But chronology-wise, it can’t be ignored. It is his military comrades who fight alongside him and the Shadowpact members to handle the OMAC assault on Bludhaven, and they are in-flight from the conclusion of the Afghan adventure when the OMACs attack. This is, as has been noted, simultaneous with the Libya battle in OMAC Project #6, which is just days after Robin had his arm shattered by Superboy in “Insiders.” And only a week previous, in Robin #141, Superboy had visited Robin in Bludhaven, clearly before “Insiders.”

In fact, the entire Willingham run of Robin post-”War Games”, from Robin #132 forward, is littered with specific references to the passage of explicit numbers of days from one issue to the next. The primary problem? In counting up those days and considering events in the title explicitly located on weekends, most of Robin’s weekends are accounted for in the Robin title – leaving precious little allowance for his central involvement in all of the major events of the Teen Titans run during the Countdown period. Furthermore, a careful chronology of the Robin title alone results in at least two weeks too many between “War Games” and the OMAC battle in Bludhaven, when compared with the rest of my research. Given such broad difficulties, I have omitted most of the Robin run from this version of the chronology. In a future version, I hope to re-examine Robin #132-140 and make some suggestions as to which time references in the title should be considered incorrect.

(A late-added note: Robin #146 was published a week after Infinite Crisis #4, occurs after events in that issue, and thus is not really within the scope of this initial chronology. However, it is worth considering for a moment. Taking place just hours after issues #142-145, it seems to place the OMAC battle over Bludhaven roughly simultaneous with the battle of the Superboys in Infinite Crisis #4 - not weeks earlier, as I have placed it - and just hours before Bludhaven is destroyed. This placement is clearly impossible according to my established chronology. Furthermore, it requires that Robin was not a part of the Superboy vs. Superboy fight, though he appears in that scene in a non-speaking role on two panels. Robin #146 also inverts the order of Bludhaven's destruction and the Superboy fight from that shown in Infinite Crisis #4. An elegant solution to both this problem and the appearance of the Shadowpact in the title would be to simply shift the whole storyline, from issue #142 onward, into the Crisis itself. But this would only result in a different set of inconsistencies, both in relation to Connor's exile and the aims of the OMAC fleets during Infinite Crisis #1-3. The issue will be studied further in a future revision to this chronology project.)

Lesser difficulties: Speedy. Mia’s introduction as the new Speedy and her entrance to the Teen Titans poses no real difficulty, other than that the placement of the relevant issues required a few assumptions. Green Arrow #46 features her first visit to Titans Tower. Teen Titans #21-23, “Lights Out,” is her baptism by fire a week later, when Dr. Light captures Green Arrow and draws a mighty array of present and former Titans into battle in Philadelphia. The only difficulty is that Teen Titans #20 (published the same month as Green Arrow #46) includes an epilogue that shows Green Arrow’s capture. The epilogue seems to be immediately after the Titans’ action in that issue, but to make the timeline work, I have placed the epilogue two weekends later. Speedy’s introduction to the team is placed on the middle weekend of the two. This accomplishes a necessary goal of extending the amount of time between “War Games”/Identity Crisis and Countdown, since Teen Titans #20 is just a week after Jack Drake was killed.

Due to events in the Outsiders’ own title that crowd the week before “Lights Out,” I have located Green Arrow #47-50, “New Business,” after “Lights Out,” since the Outsiders team is involved in each of these. This poses a single, slight difficulty. In Green Arrow #47, Arsenal expresses shock that Ollie would be letting Mia serve as the new Speedy with the Teen Titans. Conceivably, this could be a conversation spurred by “Lights Out,” when it is possible Arsenal discovered Speedy in action for the first time. But when Mia first starts getting settled into Titans Tower at the outset of “Lights Out,” Cyborg tells her that Arsenal wanted her to have a collection of his old arrows – including the mysterious blue one. Making sense of these two conflicting Arsenal/Speedy references is probably just a matter of creative interpretation on the part of the reader.

Lesser difficulties: Outsiders (and Nightwing). The New York-based team had an eventful couple of weeks, between the kidnapping of Arsenal’s daughter in “Most Wanted” (Outsiders #17-19), pitching in against Dr. Light in “Lights Out,” fighting off a break-in at their headquarters in Outsiders #20, discovering Deathstroke had been pulling their strings in the guise of Batman (Outsiders #21-23), and suffering the loss of Indigo in “Insiders.” Were it not for a week’s gap I have forced in between Outsiders #20 and #21, most of these events would have unfolded in little more than three days.

The absolute necessity of this gap is seen in that “Lights Out” and “Insiders” are clearly a week apart on consecutive weekends, and the conclusion of “Lights Out” (Teen Titans #23) suggests a placement concurrent with the break-in in Outsiders #20. In fact, Outsiders #20 must have a gap of some hours forced into the middle of the issue to allow for the Friday night and pre-dawn Saturday activity of the entire “Lights Out” arc, and this can be read into the issue with little difficulty.

Forcing a full week’s gap in between Outsiders #20 and #21 is much more problematic, however, since Outsiders #20 concludes with the team discovering they are being funded – unwelcomed – by Bruce Wayne, and Outsiders #21 presents Nightwing confronting Batman on the subject. But forcing such a week-long gap is essential to allowing the Outsiders to participate in “New Business” in the Green Arrow title, and it also opens a gap for Nightwing to join Batman in Gotham City and meet Red Hood for the first time in Batman #635-638.

Of course, this raises questions surrounding Nighwing’s on-again, off-again leg injury, seen in the Batman arc, but not in Outsiders. And it is not entirely satisfactory in terms of Nightwing’s motivation since this chronological arrangement places Nightwing and Batman working side by side, even though Nightwing has just learned Batman was manipulating his team … but I’m getting ahead of myself. For a fuller discussion of the mind-numbingly difficult subject of Nightwing, see “A Fistful of Nightwings” in Part 3 of this column series.

Lesser difficulties: Huntress (and Villains United). Late in the chronology, after “Sacrifice,” there is a possible time cue in Birds of Prey that suggests an overly long, full month gap, similar to the “One month later” reference in Teen Titans #26 and the “Five weeks earlier” reference in Batman #635 (both of which have been determined to be impossible, as already explained). The Birds of Prey reference is not explicitly stated, but may be inferred from a couple of data points. It, too, must be disregarded. The reference is easily missed, and can be ignored without difficulty by assuming some off-page change in the status of Huntress within the Gotham mafia.

In Birds of Prey #81-85, “The Battle Within,” Huntress forces her way into the mafia her father built for the purpose of breaking it from the inside. As explained earlier, this sequence fits well within the assumed two-day gap near the end of OMAC Project #1. During this arc, Huntress receives a deadline of one week from the mob boss to improve the mob’s operations, at which point she will be made a capo.

Of course, within the next week, the bulk of The OMAC Project and “Sacrifice” unfolds, fully involving Black Canary in confronting the mind-controlled Superman and fighting armies of OMACs in Libya. After these events, the Birds of Prey narrative is free to resume, and Birds of Prey #86 presents the girls setting up a new headquarters in Metropolis. On or about the same day as the bulk of this issue (presumably, before the mob boss’ week-long deadline has expired), Huntress takes the mafia situation into her own hands, confronts the mob boss and extracts a new ultimatim. She is to be made capo within a month.

Birds of Prey #87 seems to be the expiration date of that month-long ultimatim. Whether it is now a month since the previous issue, or a month since the original week-long deadline was established in “The Battle Within,” nothing in issue #87 explicitly states how much time has passed – only that a deadline has arrived.

What is certain is that this issue begins an arc set – probably only a day or so – after Villains United #5-6, when Calculator informs the alternate-Luthor that his satellites have been hijacked by Oracle. Villains United has few solid time references other than issue #4’s crossover with Firestorm #17. In any event, a month-long gap between Birds of Prey #87 and Huntress’ prior dealings with the mob is not possible (if it was ever there to begin with).

Part 3 of this series explores some of the major events in the DCU that have not been definitively placed in this chronology, and tackles the tricky subject of Nightwing. It can be found here

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