KC COLUMN: THE BIG ZERO

KC Carlson by Keith Wilson

KC Carlson by Keith Wilson


by KC Carlson

Batman, Incorporated #0

Batman, Incorporated #0


Just last week, DC Comics announced their upcoming “0 Month”. In September, all their regular titles will be suspended for one month’s time. They are being replaced with special issues — all numbered #0 — that will reveal the so-far untold origins of the heroes of the New 52 (or other New 52 secrets, if the character’s origin has already been told).

This is a pretty good idea. A lot of DC fans (especially us older ones) have been scratching their heads wondering how all these new ideas and concepts somehow make up a cohesive and inventive fictional “universe”. I know I’ve been confused about a lot of things in the New 52 comics.

Zero Hour #0

Zero Hour #0


In fact, it’s such a good idea that DC has already done it once before — in 1994, in books on sale in August and September. That “Zero Month” was the follow up to that year’s big DC event, Zero Hour: Crisis in Time, where the DC Timeline shifted. (At the time, we thought, course-corrected.) The DC Universe Timeline still had a number of anomalies from the original Crisis on Infinite Earths from 1985-86, so our Zero Month was designed with three different objectives. First, it would offer a modern retelling of the title character (or team) secret origin, and second, either reestablish the surrounding details (settings, gadgets, supporting characters, etc.) of each series or introduce new ones. Third, and most importantly, it would provide a starting point for interested new readers.

A MONTH OF ZEROES

Flash #0

Flash #0


Note that we called it “Zero Month”. I believe we considered “0 Month” but ultimately rejected that version because it didn’t “read” properly. That’s something headline writers announcing the new version apparently agreed with, as I kept seeing it as “Zero Month” last week nearly everywhere but the DC Blog (The Source). (Hopefully they’ll come around soon…)

I say “we”, meaning myself, as an editor at DC in 1994, and Dan Jurgens, the primary creative force behind Zero Hour itself. Zero Hour had an unusual birth, as Dan and I actually proposed similar projects the same week. Mine was less about content, more about structure and marketing. Dan’s proposal made up for that, but that’s getting ahead of the story. I suggested the weekly, counting backwards (for increased dramatic tension) numbering concept for the book.

Legion of Super-Heroes #0

Legion of Super-Heroes #0


I also mentioned in my proposal that there were lingering continuity problems in the DCU, still unresolved by the Crisis, complicated by other, major, continuity-evolving projects since then. For instance, I recall there were lots of questions at the time about Hawkworld — a radical rethink of Hawkman and his backstory/history — and how it fit in (or didn’t). Also, unknown to fans at the time, I (as LSH editor) was facing a radical rethinking of the Legion of Super-Heroes continuity (ultimately called “The Reboot” by fans) because it had become particularly knotty in the preceding few years. Being editorially selfish, I wanted to include that title as part of whatever the next big DC “event” was going to be, because the Legion was mostly left out of (or had wildly contrived) tie-ins to previous DC “events”. So I also suggested that the next event have major time-travel elements.

AND because it was going to largely be dealing with time and continuity , I also suggested that after the event, DC should do a special origin issue of each character/title, so that each creative team could have a shot at retelling the new, definitive (until the next time…) origin of the character(s) they were working on. At the time, other publishers were making waves with special #0 issues of their new titles. I suggested that DC do an entire month of #0 issues and call it “Zero Month”. Later on, someone else (probably Dan) came up with Zero Hour for the title of the actual event, based around the Zero Month event, as well as the countdown to Zero Hour’s #0 issue.

Wonder Woman #0

Wonder Woman #0


Back then, I typed up the proposal, gave it to Executive Editor Mike Carlin, and hoped for the best. A couple of days later, he appeared at my door saying, “You’re not gonna believe this…” and handed me some papers. It was a proposal from Dan Jurgens for the next DC “event” project, and while I don’t remember all the details, the main emphasis was on smoothing out DC’s continuity problems and doing (because Dan’s also a big LSH fan) an event involving some major time-travelling elements. Obviously, there was much more to it than that, but that’s what immediately jumped out at me.

Being from the Midwest (as was Dan, and ZH inker Jerry Ordway), I think my reaction was “Wow! Holy Cow!” Carlin just smiled and said “I think you have a phone call to make.” I called Dan, whom I knew a little bit but hadn’t worked with yet, and we both agreed there had been some kind of cosmic alignment that had us both thinking about similar projects. The rest was comics history.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Hawkman #0

Hawkman #0


Once we (meaning DC) agreed to proceed, I was excited to see this all come together. As a reader, I had realized that many of the DC characters hadn’t had their origins retold for a while, and it would be great to see current creative teams take their shots at it. Unfortunately, not everything about that first Zero Month worked out as well as it could have.

I almost made a brain-dead mistake in the basic concept of suggesting an origin for every title — I neglected to account for the fact that both Superman and Batman had multiple books. So here’s my long-delayed public thank you to the creative teams on those titles for coming up with amazingly creative ways of making each of their various zero issues different without being repetitive.

Superman: The Man of Steel #37

Superman: The Man of Steel #37


I give special thanks to Jon Bogdanove for his cover of Superman: Man of Steel #37, where he drew Superman encountering multiple time-displaced Batmen — all drawn in the style of the original artist associated with each individual version. There’s a Bob Kane version, a Frank Miller version, a Dick Sprang version, and so forth. It’s my favorite cover of the whole Zero Hour event, because it so brilliantly spells out the whole concept of Zero Hour — celebrating the old while redefining the new. This was one of those wonderful pieces of artwork that gets passed around the offices all day when it arrives. All you hear in the halls that day are variations on “OOOOOHH!” and “WOW!”

Jon Bogdanove's companion piece to the Man of Steel cover.

Jon Bogdanove's companion piece to the Man of Steel cover.


Bog was almost instantaneously commissioned to produce the “mirror image” version of the cover — Batman surrounded by dozens of Supermen. A Joe Shuster Superman, a Curt Swan Superman, a Neal Adams Superman… you get the idea. While that one wasn’t used as a cover, it eventually surfaced as a two-sided promotional poster for Wizard magazine, backed with the multi-Batmen cover. Much coolness.

NUTS AND BOLTS

Starman #0

Starman #0


Five new concepts/titles spun-out of Zero Hour: Fate, Manhunter, Primal Force, R.E.B.E.L.S. ‘94 (replacing L.E.G.I.O.N. ‘94), and Starman. Those series’ first issues are actually #0 issues. Also launching during Zero Month was Xenobrood #0, with the Zero Month trade dress (a decision I fought because it had no tie-in to Zero Hour, but I lost that argument). Extreme Justice launched three months later with a #0 issue (but no Zero Hour trade dress). It’s sometimes included in lists of Zero Hour launches, but it really shouldn’t be.

One final Zero Month title was published 14 years (!) after the original event, courtesy of none other than Dan Jurgens. Booster Gold #0 (2008) evoked the old Zero Month cover elements with the same special semi-metallic ink logo that graced all the other covers. In that #0 issue, he retroactively inserts himself into the events of Zero Hour. That’s quite a trick, since he originally first appeared in the DCU two years (1986) after all that. Time travel am fun!

Batman #0

Batman #0


39 zero issues were published during that first Zero Month back in 1994, some of them for characters and concepts that few remember today. It’s now 18 years later, and DC’s going to be producing 52 brand new #0 issues — four of them introducing brand-new series — most of them with the intent of clearing up the origins and the mysteries of the DC Universe. Just like the original Zero Month.

Best of luck to them from a survivor of a previous DC continuity! (Shhh, don’t tell DC! I’ll be dead within seconds!)

These #0 issues will be listed in DC Comics’ next (September) solicitations.

______________________________

KC CARLSON: Born on Earth-1. Rocketed as a child to Earth-2, where he was fascinated by new/old characters, and gained the power of remembering arcane knowledge of no commercial use. Moved to Earth-X where he battled Hitler as a teenager. Stayed away from Earth-3 because that place was f-ed up, but really enjoyed his time on Earth-12. Eventually ended up on Earth-Prime with a broken Cosmic Treadmill in his closet, which got him a job as an editor at DC Comics. Later became trapped on Earth-247. Was apparently destroyed until he reappeared in a battle where hundreds of heroes died for no apparent reason and he got punched in the face by a crazy kid in Superman pajamas. Dejected, his current whereabouts are unknown.

Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.

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  1. Zero Month? It’s Been Done Before » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] latest Westfield column takes us back to the first Zero Month, that time in 1994 when all the DC titles ran zero issues. [...]

  2. josh Says:

    My brain is hurting trying to figure out how 1986 is 2 years after 1994 and not 8 years before it.

  3. Speed Reading: State of the DCU & Comics Industry « Speed Force Says:

    [...] The ORIGINAL Zero Month, remembered at Westfield Comics (via Comics Worth Reading) [...]

  4. Tony Laplume Says:

    I think he was referring to Crisis on Infinite Earths. Anyway, fun look back at the creation of Zero Month!