Over the last few years, DC has put its "skip weeks" - the occasional fifth week every few months that don't fit into the monthly publication schedules - to good use. The "skip weeks" have been turned into occasions for themed sets of special issues, like the DC/Marvel "Amalgam" titles, the "Tangent" books, "Girlfrenzy" or "New Year's Evil." But there's always been a minority of fans who have felt the events were wasted opportunities, that these events never have any real "importance" to the comics of the regular year.
They can't say that any more.
Yesterday saw the publication of "The Kingdom" #2, the concluding part of a special event featuring a return to the characters and setting of the fan favorite 1996 "Kingdom Come" miniseries.
But the book did much more than that. Thirteen years after the DC Universe's cosmology was radically streamlined, with an infinite number of universes winnowed down to just one, in the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" limited series, "The Kingdom" threw those closed doors back open again.
The decision to have a sequel to the series hasn't come without fan criticism of its own. But according to Mark Waid, the writer of both the miniseries and the new set of specials, DC Comics knew they wanted a follow-up to "Kingdom Come" from almost the beginning.
"Kingdom Come" artist "Alex [Ross] and I were invited to discuss it with [editor] Paul Levitz before the fourth book shipped, during 1996's San Diego convention," Waid told the Comic Wire Monday.
Initially, the talk was of an ongoing series, set in the modern day DC Universe.
"Alex and then-'Kingdom'-artist Gene Ha wanted the series to begin, as I recall, with an arc which had a lot to do with the 1998 super-heroes' relationships with their respective gods. I know that one of us -- and if it wasn't me, I'm sure Alex will set that straight -- suggested that Gog himself could be the last of the 'Old Gods' who preceded [Jack] Kirby's New Gods. Unfortunately, with that in place as a working concept and after I produced many, many, MANY pages of notes, plots and outlines in this direction, someone at DC told us we couldn't go there because [then-'New Gods' writer John] Byrne - or someone - was apparently planning/had already seeded 'the last of the Old Gods.' Bang, zoom, all those plans gone. Swell. In the meantime, Alex and Gene were still hot on the Olympian/Kryptonian/Shazam/etc. gods connection, and while it sounded great, while I knew that's where Gene's heart was, I just couldn't turn it into something I was comfortable writing given the circumstances, and with deep regret, we mutually decided to all go our own separate ways. At one point, I know Alex and Gene were lobbying to do their story as a separate work at DC, and I was all for it. Don't know what became of that."
Here, as has been documented by the Comic Wire and elsewhere, notably including this month's "Wizard" magazine, the two "Kingdom Come" creators' vision of "The Kingdom" became very different indeed.
"At that point, I elected to start from scratch and jettison any ideas that had been Alex's - not out of petulance, purely out of creative courtesy. I had become quite taken with Magog and began blocking out an origin for him which transformed him from a parody into a complex and unique character. Those plans are still viable and that's a story I'd like to tell someday; maybe I'll get there. But that wasn't working out either, not at that point. Sadly, none of the 50 pages of outlines and notes I have on the stillborn 'Kingdom' ongoing ever quite gelled, and though there are still a lot of workable ideas in there to be mined, most of them will never see the light of day. In fact, long before 'Gog' #1, I'd written an entire 38-page Magog-centered 'Kingdom' #1 which no one loved, including myself, and which no one will thus ever see."
While "The Kingdom" wasn't stillborn, its birth was a troubled one, and the project only began to get back on track about last year, in time for the "New Year's Evil" week of specials.
"Finally, about the time I offered to do 'Gog' #1 as a show of good faith that I hadn't altogether forgotten about my promise to do a KC follow-up, the pieces began to come together," Waid said. "Still, until Grant Morrison, Tom Peyer, Dan Raspler and I sat together last summer and created Hypertime, 'Kingdom' didn't crystallize. After that meeting, it was set, and the plot suddenly moved like clockwork."
That fortuitous moment, one that would ultimately reshape the modern DC Universe, came during last August's San Diego Comic-Con International. Beyond just an idea that felt right to the creators assembled, Waid felt that "The Kingdom" merited a grand gesture of some kind.
"DC's pitch to me was to do 'Kingdom' week as a bunch of one-shots. I didn't think that was what the readers had been waiting two years for and pushed to bracket those books within a greater story - but didn't know what that story WAS until all the bull sessions began to make it apparent that, with the encouragement of Dan Raspler, I could use this opportunity to affect not simply the KC Universe, but the entire DC Universe."
Who actually came up with Hypertime, though, is tough to say.
"Hell if I know," Waid said. "As far as I'm concerned, it came from all four of us working in tandem. As far as I remember more specifically, I think I had the basic notion that Gog was inadvertently killing Supermen from different timelines, at which point Grant was the one who realized how that meant that 'it's all true,' that all our stories existed in one big Kingdom. I came up with the name Hypertime, Tom was the one pressing hard to keep us from thinking of it as simply a return to pre-Crisis and instead to shape it into a more modern spin on the old 'multiple Earths' reality, and I'll never forget Grant actually showing me, early one morning weeks later, the cocktail napkin upon which, in typical Morrison-channeling-Einstein fashion, he'd actually DRAWN Hypertime. Who 'created' Hypertime? I prefer to believe that it was there all along and we just found it."
While Hypertime is briefly explained in "The Kingdom" #2, Waid offered this explanation by way of clarification:
"Hypertime is our name for the vast collective of parallel universes out there, in which you can somewhere find every DC story ever published - but it's also more than that. The standard model of parallel timelines is the branches of a river, right? The main timeline is the main stream while tributaries symbolize the alternate timelines? Well, imagine that sometimes those tributaries feed back IN to the main stream, sometimes for a while, sometimes forever. Other times, they cross OVER for only a MOMENT before going in an altogether NEW direction - and for the most part, no one notices these discrepancies but the fans. In short, the reality of the main DC Universe is a lot more malleable than we've ever given it credit for and allows for more wonder and more possibilities than we'd ever imagined."
Rumor has long had it that an already-published comic set in the DC Universe featured something that could only be explained by Hypertime. What was it? Try Waid's last big name limited series.
"Best simple example: the use of the Blackhawks in 'JLA: Year One.' According to some DC stories, Chuck and Andre were killed during the 1950s and couldn't have been present in 'JLA: Year One,' not if there were only one inviolate timeline. So what this suggests is that, sometime in the past, the Blackhawks split off into a Hypertime tributary in which all seven lived - and that tributary fed back into the main DC timeline later down the line so that all seven could live on to become the ghastly super-hero Blackhawks for a minute or two. Did they continue living in this timeline? Depends on where the next writer wants to take it, which Blackhawks they want to write about.
"Confusing? A little, at this early stage - but so was Earth-Two until Julie Schwartz and Gardner Fox were able to play with it for a little while and define the rules. We're still massaging the fine points, we're still tweaking the machine with help from Karl Kesel, the first to do a big Hypertime story (in "Superboy"), but that's the basic notion. As Rip Hunter told the DC heroes in 'The Kingdom' #2, don't be scared by Hypertime, don't feel your sense of order threatened by these occasional Hypertime fluxes, these carryovers from one 'kingdom' to another. Instead, let them be a reminder that the lives of the heroes you love are simply part of a greater legend, a world of wonder where anything can, has, and will happen. Every story you ever loved, every character you ever cared about - they're still out there, they still exist. Take comfort in that."
In other words, to echo the mantra the Hypertime creators gleefully repeated at panels that week in San Diego (sometimes in unison): It's all true.
"The possibilities are endless. Hypertime is an unashamed reaction to nearly 15 years of comics being made 'more realistic,' less 'larger than life.' As far as we're concerned, DC Comics shouldn't be about rules and regulations and 'can't happen's and 'shouldn't be's; they should be about anything and everything that tells a good story and gets fans excited."
Considering that previous policy was one handed down from on high, it might surprise some fans as to the reaction of DC's current editorial head honcho. Certainly Waid and his fellow brainstormers were surprised.
"Mike Carlin was all for it, which stunned us - but he let us run with the ball. Thanks, Mike."
Although he will now forever be linked with overturning the DC Universe's big continuity revision of the modern era, Waid wasn't going gunning for "Crisis" out of malice.
"I thought it was a necessary evil at the time," Waid said. "It certainly created a new, much-needed DC fandom. The problem was that DC was unable to sustain that new cohesive reality not just because of the Superman revamp but because (in, to me, a worse offense) a later editor who need not be named was too obstinate to put the three simple words "Ten years ago..." on the first page of the 'Hawkworld' mini which relaunched Hawkman, the poster child for Baffling Continuity. Man ... think about how easy that would have made everything.
"Unfortunately, because Byrne got to revamp Superman [in the 'Man of Steel' miniseries], every editor at DC suddenly got it in their heads that ANY character was fair game for a similar continuity-discarding revamp, and the results, if the objective was to create a cohesive universe, were so disastrous that no one will EVER be able to repair them. Given that, we decided, why not go the other way? Instead of continuing the sisyphian task of building a continuity on shifting sand (to mix a metaphor), why not instead invent a mechanism through which inevitable continuity fluxes can be explained? Voila. Hypertime."
All this serious pontificating doesn't mean there weren't fun moments in the creation of "Kingdom" #1 and #2. In particular, Waid enjoyed inserting "the images of Hypertime, all culled from my own comics collection. (And thanks to assistant editor Tony Bedard for orchestrating the production work. Bravo!)"
Now, at the conclusion of the project, Waid's not sure whether he feels the weight of comic history upon his shoulders, or simply that of a high-profile project.
"Somewhere in between. Historical occasions are determined strictly through the benefit of hindsight. Does 'Kingdom' mark a milestone in DC history? Only time will tell," he said. "I'm as proud of the five solo books as I am of anything I've been a part of, and I can thank the great artists for that, as well as my Secret Advisory Squad of Brian Augustyn, Christopher Priest, Devin Grayson and Tom Peyer, all of whom spent many long phone hours with me helping me massage their stories (YOU try writing five books in two weeks!). As far as the bookends go, I'm too close to them. All I can hope is that they fulfill their promise."