As Flashpoint winds to a close this week, the somewhat underwhelming event leading us into DC's New 52 reboot (or revamp or reinvention or whatever you want to term it) makes us ponder some previous continuity stunts that the leaders of the industry have pulled in the past and why they worked. Here's a quick look at the two big ones that are still having lasting effects today (even if one of them may not after this Wednesday).
CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS
WHAT IT WAS: The first of its kind, Marv Wolfman's Crisis on Infinite Earths was an attempt by DC to clean up its 50 year continuity of insanity by eliminating their multiple worlds and consolidating everything into one shiny new DCU. In a 12-part maxi-series, an all-powerful villain known as The Anti-Monitor tried to destroy the entire Multiverse, succeeding only in merging a lot of it together, which allowed DC to slowly reintroduce new characters to establish their new status quos in subsequent books.
WHY IT WORKED: "Holy crap, I've never seen anything this epic before! 1985 will forever be the year that redefined comics! Nothing could possibly come out in 1986 from Frank Miller or Alan Moore to change that fact, no siree, bob!"
HOW LONG IT LASTED: Not long enough, it seems, but enough that DC continuity was firmly divided into Pre-Crisis and Post-Crisis categories. Then, DC just could not leave well enough alone, eventually deciding that having a bunch of Crises would be the solution to their recurring problems.
SEQUEL THAT BOMBED: Zero Hour in 1994, which tried to put patches on lingering continuity issues and only wound up creating more of them. There was enough sales success in 2004 with the highly polarizing and horribly rape-tastic Identity Crisis (sadly, still to be in continuity in the DCnU) that DC deicded to undo everything COIE did and brought back the Multiverse in what felt like an Infinite series of Crisis books after that.
WHAT IT WAS: DC wasn't the only one with messy continuity. Marvel had plenty as well, and they were also having bankruptcy issues and just a lot of messes in general. But they didn't mess with their established continuity (not for lack of trying – see below). Instead, in the year 2000, they launched Ultimate Spider-Man, which was the doorway into a whole new, separate universe where they could restart continuity from ground zero, change a lot of things to make them new reader friendly and more movie-ready. This is the reason Samuel L. Jackson is now Nick Fury instead of a guy like Tommy Lee Jones.
WHY IT WORKED: No reason to anger the nerds about continuity issues – this is completely separate, and guys like Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar, who drive continuity fans absolutely nuts with their 616 stuff, could run hog wild and we could see the best of their ideas without the frustration of bastardization. Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man was really great slow-burn storytelling, and Millar's hardass version of Captain America really won a lot of fans over.
HOW LONG IT LASTED: Until Jeph Loeb's Ultimates 3 #1 came out in 2007, outright making fact what had only been hinted at before – that Magneto's twin children were fucking each other. And Tony Stark has a sex tape with the Black Widow. And the Black Panther was a mute moron. There was a huge downward swing after that, including the poorly-received Ultimatum series that tried to wipe some of the slate clean by killing off truckloads of characters. The whole line has languished a bit while the driving forces behind it have been putting their stamp on the 616 Marvel Universe, but now there's a renewed focus with the murder of Peter Parker and the introduction of Miles Morales as the new Ultimate Spider-Man. It remains to be seen whether this can bring it back to prominence.
PREQUEL THAT BOMBED: Spider-Man: Chapter One. John Byrne's year-long 1999 series was tasked with rebooting the origin of Spider-Man, something no one really demanded, and Marvel insisted that the new take – which joined the beginnings of Spidey with those of Dr. Octopus and other unnecessary revamps of the wall-crawler's rogues gallery as well – was going to replace the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko stories as canon. But nobody liked it. So they didn't.
That handles the Big Two's big picture. Check back to Crave later when we get into more individual character revamps that were very notable. There are a lot more of those to check out.