Zero Hour: Crisis in Time (1994)
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway
Monarch is no more! He has been transformed into a new villain, Extant, with seemingly infinite power to erase all of reality. Fragments of other timelines begin bleeding into the main DC Universe. These come in the form of Barbara Gordon still operating as Batgirl, and a variation on Superman called Alpha Centurion. Waverider investigates and finds that the people of the DC Universe have forgotten events from their past, specifically the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Heroes like the Justice Society of America end up unfortunate casualties in the battle while the Team Titans are revealed as sleeper agents of Extant (somehow?!). But the real villain is hiding in the shadows, letting Extant play until he reveals himself.
I approached Zero Hour with a nostalgic wistfulness but came away from it astonished at how sloppy and poorly constructed the mini-series reads. This is most definitely a case of the core event series setting up stories in other ongoing titles so that if you just read Zero Hour, you’ll be baffled as to who is who and what the hell is going on. The reveal of Parallax in the third act feels entirely out of nowhere, no foreshadowing other than a few cheap panels of a leg or hand and a voice. The transformation of Monarch into Extant feels superfluous and has no real effect on the events of the story. The biggest problem is that we don’t have a central character to two to ground the audience and allow us to follow them through the events. Waverider appears to be used in that capacity as he was in Armageddon 2001 but then fades into the background mid-way through.
Zero Hour also caused me to focus on in Guy Gardner. Gardner was a replacement Green Lantern introduced in the 1970s who took off post-Crisis when Keith Giffen featured him in his Justice League series. Gardner was presented as a total asshole that didn’t play well as a team member, a very stark contrast to the bland Super Friends of yesteryear. As changes were made to the Green Lantern title, Gardner was reconfigured. First, he was given the yellow ring of Sinestro in his ongoing series, but then around the time of Zero Hour truly had his backstory screwed with. There was the revelation that he was part alien, Vuldarian to be exact, and so he ended up as this ugly bio-organic thing. Thankfully that has been completely retconned. During Zero Hour they tease us with Gardner contemplating using this time reset to go back and “fix” the events of Emerald Twilight, where Hal Jordan turned evil and killed the Green Lantern Corps.
One thing to note is the gap of 1993. Following Armageddon 2001, the 1992 annuals featured a crossover called Eclipso: The Darkness Within and in 1993 they told the god awful story of Bloodlines. What was going on in late 1992 through all of 1993 and into 1994 was an upheaval in the main titles. The Death of Superman could be said to kick things off, but I would argue Giffen & DeMatteis’ Breakdowns storyline in Justice League was the real first domino to fall. From Superman’s death we had World Without a Superman, Reign of the Supermen, and finally the Return of Superman. These stories directly led to Emerald Twilight which caused upheaval in Green Lantern. Over in the Batman books we had Knightfall, Knightsquest, and Knightsend. These were all intended to shake up the core character of the DC Universe meaning your standard shared universe crossover just wasn’t possible during this period.
If you compare the cast of characters seen in Armageddon 2001 to Zero Hour we see some vast differences. The faces glimpsed in the former event feels pretty similar to who was popping up since Legends in 1987. Zero Hour has a ton of new faces (Superboy, Steel, The Ray to name a few). It was clear what characters DC editorial was pushing on the readers. At this point, the Justice League’s roster was much less defined than it is now. This was the period between Giffen’s classic run and Grant Morrison’s return to the classic lineup. It leaves us with team members like Metamorpho, Jade, Nuklon, and Obsidian with Wonder Woman being the only real “star.”
The legacy of Zero Hour is pretty powerful, but not without its forgettable aspects. Arguably the most significant thing to spin out of ZH was James Robinson’s Starman. Ted Knight, the Golden Age Starman, passes the baton onto his eldest son setting up the opening arc of the new Starman ongoing. That, of course, is another tease that the core event doesn’t deliver on and requires the reader to seek out another book. In fact, you can skip Zero Hour and read that series on its own. The Legion of Super-Heroes was given a full reboot after ZH which was helmed by Tom Peyer and Mark Waid. This reimagining of the series would go on to be the best version of the characters in my opinion. In Green Arrow, Oliver Queen’s estranged son Connor Hawke would be introduced and go on to inherit his father’s mantle.
There were a large number of failures that spun out of Zero Month, the “fresh start” that followed the main event. LEGION became REBELS and didn’t last for long. Chris Claremont came to DC with his series Sovereign 7 which no one remembers. Dr. Fate and Manhunter both got new titles where they were presented in horrible new iterations. The worst of all was Hawkman. It was decided that all versions of Hawkman running around the DC Universe be merged into a single new being which only led to more confusion. Even today, after Geoff Johns work, to clear up Hawkman’s continuity, the character feels so confusing and so ruined that he is a lost cause.
I did not re-read Zero Hour with rose-colored glasses, and thus I came away very disappointed with the event. It feels much more like an editorial clearing off the table, rather than a full story with character arcs and themes. Up next, DC goes to Hell in Underworld Unleashed.