About two years ago, when I started posting comics-related entries to this blog, I made a point to write about the first series that ever had a true impact on me, which was Crisis on Infinite Earths. Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s 1985 epic was a story that I came late to, having read it for the first time in its entirety in 1991 after owning only issue 12 and then going back and collecting the rest. Before the summer of ’91–when Armageddon 2001 and War of the Gods were both published–there had been three company-wide crossovers that don’t hold the same weight as Crisis did and some of which haven’t aged very well. Legends, Millennium, and Invasion! were published in the late 1980s before DC decided to take a break from the company-wide crossover for a couple of years. With maybe one or two exceptions, the issues for each of these stories were pretty easy to find and were cheap to procure in the early 1990s (seriously, except for Batman books, nobody was buying DC back issues at the time) so I quickly became an obsessive crossover fan.
The annuals crossovers that began with Armageddon 2001 (awesome then awesomely disappointing), Eclipso: The Darkness Within (uneven in parts but still a solid crossover), and Bloodlines (let’s not go there) were nice to have, but since the one company-wide-within-the-actual-books crossover that DC had in the early 1990s was the poorly executed War of the Gods, there wasn’t much to satisfy my craving for something epic. Oh sure, there was the Superman books’ Panic in the Sky! and by the time 1994 rolled around I was knee-deep in both The Death and Return of Superman and Knightfall, but I still wanted more. I mean, if Marvel could have Infinity Wars and Crusades, couldn’t DC have something?
Then, in the fall of 1993 on the DC Universe promo page, there appeared a simple graphic of a ticking clock with the words “The Countdown Has Begun. Zero Hour. Be Prepared.”
I remember going almost practically apeshit over this. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know what it was going to be … but I wanted it. During the course of the next year or so, weird stuff would happen in the various books of the DC Universe that suggested that this Zero Hour event was going to be something very important, not just some random C-list villain making an effort to be someone important. The biggest one that I noticed was that Valor–otherwise known as Lar Gand of the 30th Century–dies in his 20th Century-set book, a thousand years before he is part of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Plus, there was this attempt to make some sense of Hawkman (I didn’t understand it either), and in Team Titans, the identity of The Leader was revealed to be none other than … Monarch.
This all led in to two issues of the anthology series Showcase ’94 where Waverider (he of Armageddon 2001 and Linear Men fame) and Rip Hunter observe Hank Hall as Monarch in some random hideout where he’s hooked up to a bunch of machines and … well, we’re supposed to accept the idea that Hall has been able to get his hands on a lot of different technology and also had the knowledge to use it. They attempt to develop his character a little bit, or at least try to “erase” the mistake of the end of Armageddon 2001 by having him explain something about how when Dove died, her essence as a personification of order went into him (Hawk, the personification of chaos) and he became more powerful and aware than he ever had. Then, Hall changes himself into Extant, a time-traveling villain who is supposed to serve a legitimate threat to the heroes of the DCU (instead of Monarch, who never really could seem to get his crap together).
It’s a halfway decent lead-in to Zero Hour, because we at least have a villain established and by the time Zero Hour #4 opens (the issues were numbered counting down to 0), it’s thought that Extant has somehow figured out how to screw with time itself to the point where pockets of entropy are opening up and swallowing time and space from both ends. The heroes of the DCU are called upon to fight it and even though Wally West (aka The Flash) seemingly dies (he winds up in the speed force, a concept that Mark Waid would introduce at this point in his spectacular run on The Flash) and the Justice Society is forced into retirement (in quite possibly the worst way possible), they seem to stop the entropy from eating up the universe. At least for a moment, when it’s revealed that the true villain of the story is Hal Jordan, aka Parallax, who has decided to try to recreate the universe so that everything that sucked never happened. The heroes fight him, use a kid named Damage to start a new version of the Big Bang, and then the universe restarts as it should.
Make any sense?
Yeah, looking at that last paragraph, I’m not even sure what I wrote. I just know that Zero Hour was a massive disappointment to me when it came out during the summer of 1994. I think that I knew it wasn’t going to be good when I heard that the series was going to be a weekly series. Millennium had been a weekly series and it was pretty bad, so when I read that the five issues of Zero Hour were going to be coming out on a weekly basis, I had a feeling that this was going to be a rush job and a dissapoinment.
Now, I can’t speak to any “rush” jobs with regard to the art on the part of Dan Jurgens or Jerry Ordway (who did the inks) becuase the artwork is as solid as the work that Jurgens had been doing on Superman at this time. But the story really leaves something to be desired. The fact that half of the series seems to consist of the heroes fighting some sort of white noise by using “comic book science” doesn’t make for anything truly engaging (whereas COIE had them fighting the white noise out of panic because they had no idea what was going on), and the fights with the villains aren’t long enough to really have any effect.
Take, for instance, the involvement of the Team Titans (which is why I’ve listed this entry under the “My Life as a Teen Titan” banner). At the very end of issue #20 of Team Titans, we learned that the leader of the group, the person whose identity had been kept secret for the better part of a couple of years, was Monarch. This led to the revelation that since the future was essentially a bunch of fractured possibilities, he had created alternate timelines where these “heroes” existed (or at least used them to his advantage) and taken them in order ot create an army of “sleeper agents” among the heroes he was going to be fighting.
This is a solid concept. It’s not what the writers of Team Titans wanted, as it was an editorial mandate that resulted from the cancellation of their series, but since Extant is looking to make a serious power play in this series, having a group of soldiers that he is essentially controlling so that he can take out the army of heroes that will obviously assemble to oppose him makes complete sense. But the fight between the heroes and the controlled Team Titans takes up all of four pages of the entire series and then we’re back to fighting white noise.
In fact, most of the Teamers simply disappear completely. Mirage and Terra–who will stick around to be part of the post-Zero Hour Titans–are restrained while most of the Titans attack the heroes, fight a little bit, and then when it appears that something that the heroes did caused the alternate timelines to go away, they all simply disappear (except for Mirage and Terra, who are from this timeline, apparently). And that’s it. We don’t see them at all and they’re rarely, if ever mentioned again.
It’s a shame, too, because that could have been the set up for a huge issue-long fight like the villain war in Crisis #9-10, which is the most genuinely fun part of that entire series. I think had DC not decided to do Zero Hour as a weekly but had stretched it out over a few months in 1994, there may have been opportunity to slow things down just a little. I’m not saying that they would have to do it on a Bendis level of slow, but I never really could just simply accept that Hank Hall gained all of these powers and that Hal Jordan’s absorbing all of Oa’s battery power suddenly made him able to restart the universe. I mean, I understood the Anti-Monitor and I’m not saying that he had to go in that direction, but at least have a better explanation than “I’m evil now, my name’s Parallax. No, it’s not Hal, it’s not Green Lantern. It’s Parallax.” (seriously, he kind of says that in issue #0).
But for what it’s worth, there are some great Zero Hour crossover issues where writers and artists get to have some fun with the wonkiness of time. For instance, in the Superman: The Man of Steel crossover, Superman keeps seeing different versions of Batman and Jon Bogdanove imitates the style of the artists who created those versions pretty well (the cover alone is worth the price of admission) and for a little while there is a Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl (a character whose death seems to have the most impact at the end of Zero Hour, although if you look closely at the last panel, she’s clearly now the new version of Destiny in the DCU).
Mostly, though, Zero Hour was a disappointment and as I later found out kind of the beginning of the end for the title I had been following for the better part of four or five years. The Titans would technically survive this particular crisis but not in a way that’s remembered well.
In a sense, the comic did serve its purpose, which was to put a “Band-Aid” of sorts on the continuity gaffes that had existed since COIE and hopefully jump-start a few flagging titles (we’ll see how the changes in Deathstroke and the Titans pan out in the next couple of months), and looking at what came out in the late 1990s from DC, Zero Hour ushered in some very fine and fun stories, so I can’t be too disappointed.
Next Up: A quick break from continuity to check out the 1994 Elseworlds-themed annuals.