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This might help explain why I’m concentrating on DC before finishing the rest of the website.

The DC Universe is my favorite place in the world.

The DC Universe, or Multiverse, is the largest collaborative story-based creation in the history of mankind.

In addition, it is probably one of the biggest (or the biggest!) creative collaborations ever, in any medium.

By this, I mean that more artists, writers, creative geniuses and weirdo eccentrics have come together in this shared place to create more characters, settings, story-lines, relationships, concepts, even genres, than in any other sanctioned sandbox. Ever.

And that’s just the comics, not even counting the movies, tv shows, novels, t-shirts, etc – or even the fan art, cameos in other comics and media, inspired works, and so on.

So, even though it might be a bit silly and totally entertainment, it’s possible that the DCU is one of mankind’s greatest achievements.

But that’s my humble opinion. I didn’t go to school just to study this, though I’d love to (and will probably be pursuing my PHD in visual culture, a significant chunk of I plan to focus on this subsection of creative reality).

I did write quite a few hefty papers while in undergrad, concentrating mostly on the DCU as a force that brought the idea of multiple realities to the mainstream. So I’ve done some research, but I could be wrong.

Please let me know if I am. It would be good to know.

You could make a case that Bible lit, or Vampire Lit or something like that is all in the same “shared universe” but I don’t think it would be a strong case. You could say that Flickr is a creative force, but it’s really more of a collection of separate efforts than an ongoing and intentional collaboration. You could mention that thousands have worked together on great monuments, but those are usually still the creative vision of one architect or a small team of directors.

Sure, there is usually an editorial board, but they help tie everything together while still allowing an incredible flow of creativity through their doors. Millions of panels of art by thousands of artists, in many styles and media. Books upon books of text. Incredible and often groundbreakingly influential graphic design. Running strong for over 70 years with threads dating back even further.

Yeah, there are a lot of superheroes, but there is also every type of other character imaginable – from vikings to soldiers, detectives to regular joes just trying to get by. There are daily life stories, love stories, coming of age stories, horror stories,  mysteries, metaphysical journeys, comedic romps. They are sometimes wrapped in tights, sneaking up on us through a familiar and colorful mask. But other times they come in unexpected forms, new views on a now familiar medium.

The DCU is a sanctioned sandbox, like I said – it’s tied strongly together and builds and folds in on itself again and again. It’s grown to encompass and absorb other universes, like Charlton Comics, and to give birth to still more, like Wildstorm or Vertigo. To those of us who are well versed in its lore, it’s still a place of constant new discovery. I haven’t even cataloged every trade they’ve released yet, let alone been able to comprehend the amount of floppy issues available.

It gave us our first modern superhero. It gave us our first super-team. The first miniseries and so on and on and on. Marvel is wonderful, but I can’t believe it would exist if Action Comics #1 had never come out… at least not in the way we have it now. Marvel gets credit for a lot, and put a lot of emphases on a shared reality for its characters when it was first starting out, but DC had set the stage the first time Hawkman met with the Spectre around the Justice Society table.

The DCU travels to the depths of our deepest oceans, to the farthest reaches of space, into worlds of magic and incomprehensible technology, past barriers of time, through the old west, world wars, ancient past and far future, past logic, past the limits of good and bad taste, and even through the fourth wall into the lands of post-modernism and meta-storytelling.

Bigger than the biggest MMO, longer (if read in sequence) than any other image based work (and possibly longer than any other text based work). I have no idea how high it would stack if you could somehow get every released issue back to back. The trades alone take up more than three full length bookshelves and can be read from one end to the other as a cohesive epic, spanning space, time, and multiple realities.

It’s darn impressive.

It’s also got Batman. And Swamp Thing.

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17 Comments Post New »

  1. avatar Martin wrote on at May 8, 2010 7:49 pm:

    I totally love your nice little thought there. While I am more of a “Marvel” guy than a “DC” guy, I totally agree with you about the idea behind comics. I love your website, and have found it valuable (and far-surpassing) some of the work I am doing myself. So I guess, thank you for this project and keep up the good work

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on May 8th, 2010 at 7:53 pm:

    Thanks Martin! Feedback like yours (well, along with my obvious burning obsession) is what keeps me going.

    As a kid, I read way way way more Marvel. I got back into comics through Swamp Thing, though.. and as an adult I’ve found that DC was more important to me as a historian.

    I still love a lot Marvel does, but I had to make a choice about which I would do first (and which I would try to create a physical library of).

    I think I made the right one. Though hopefully in the future I’ll be able to do Marvel proper justice as well.

    [Reply]

  2. avatar skyknyt wrote on at May 8, 2010 9:12 pm:

    I think I’d argue that the Greek/Roman myths probably had more folks over a longer time period (which is still ongoing), but you make an interesting case here.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on May 8th, 2010 at 9:13 pm:

    probably influenced more, but had a lot less direct participation (and recorded participation.) Which is what I’m focusing on here.

    Retelling is a little different than creating different myths. Like, I could tell my daughter a superman story, but there are thousands of people who have actually published superman stories under this shared banner.

    So I’m sure a lot of storytellers shaped myths, but each probably had some specific starting point, an author or event that set it in motion.

    And all of greek mythology (recorded, and translated, not counting influenced works, since I’m not counting that for DC either) doesn’t fill nearly the space that the DCU does.

    It’s also kind of close to history, which I’m not including. Sometimes it’s hard to separate what happened and is just shaped through a mystical lense and what is an entirely created story.

    Myths in general are hard (almost impossible) to attribute.

    But comics have a functional modern mythology that we can actually track in terms of its development. I find that extremely interesting, personally.

    [Reply]

  3. avatar BrockNicholson wrote on at May 8, 2010 10:14 pm:

    You could make the case that the DCU has absorbed the worlds of Greek and Roman myth. Many people only know the stories of Hercules and others because of their retelling in the DCU.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on May 8th, 2010 at 10:17 pm:

    That’s almost a frightening thought, but probably true.

    As awesome as the DCU is, I hope that a lot of people know a little bit more about the greek myths, haha.

    But yeah, I always did enjoy myth influenced arcs. Especially Perez’s run on Wonder Woman.

    [Reply]

  4. avatar Tom wrote on at May 9, 2010 12:36 am:

    “Biggest collaborative creative venture in the history of mankind.” “Mankind’s greatest achievement?” Are you kidding me?

    Forget that you are a big comic book fan for a second and think of how ridiculous that statement is. DC comics is a company… one that has been around for a long time and has therefore had thousands of employees, but that doesn’t make it the biggest collaborative creative venture in the history of mankind. Its still just one company that has been around for a matter of decades telling lots of unrelated stories in separate efforts that only get tied together into a “universe” after the fact in order to extract more money from fanboys, because it is after all a money making company.

    Real collaborative creative ventures? Mankind’s greatest achievement”

    Recently, I’d argue the internet… even just YouTube is bigger than DC comics (All I’d have to do is create a video combining themes and elements from all the other videos and we’d have the “YouTube Universe.” This has been done before, by the way in countless parodies, including a classic Southpark Episode with Butters singing “What what in the butt.” And the internet as a whole is a universe that is doing more than just entertain lonely pre-teen boys. It is changing lives and the way we live and operate as a species.

    But the internet is a poor example compared to the generations of artistic creatives that have created the “Universe” that is New York City; the centuries worth of architects, artists, engineers, etc. that have built “Universes” like Paris, Barcelona, or Istanbul. All of those are unique “Universes” with their own look and feel, interconnected stories, histories and characters.

    And of course, those are all small collaborative efforts when compared to the combined efforts of entire Civilizations. The fictional DC Universe? What about Mayan Culture and Artwork. That was a far grander creative venture than what some illustrators have done for one company in the past century.

    Step outside of your fandom for a bit and you may realize that the real Universe is far more impressive than the fictional universe that a number of art directors and suits have conjured up to help line their pockets.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on May 9th, 2010 at 12:49 am:

    Thanks for commenting, Tom.

    First of all, I’ll bow to any accusation of fanboyism. I’m definitely a fan, that should be obvious to anyone.

    But you’re probably not aware of my background as an arts writer and student of visual culture. I’ve been most active in that area for the past few years and only started this project after getting interested in this exact aspect.

    I had to check here, but I did say “one” of mankind’s greatest achievements, which I think is a very different statement. Ok, though, lets run with it.

    In fact, when I say mankind’s greatest achievement, I mean specifically in media. I should probably clarify that. Mankind surviving long enough to enjoy media and not having blown up the planet is probably its biggest achievement haha

    You’re also right that the internet is a much bigger thing and surely collaborative. However, it’s an actual thing – it’s not fictional. The internet is an actual universe, if you wish to call it so. So it’s the same as the rest of existence and the rest of history – not a fictional creation. Obviously great, but no one is “writing it”, at least not the entire thing. I’ve been involved in quite a few fictional uses of the internet, mainly for art world purposes – people love their meta narratives.

    New York.. well, I was born in new york. There’s a lot to be said about it. I’m certainly interested in the idea of the city planning and architecture as a collaborative venture. I’ve never thought of it that way and I’m sure it’d be a cool thing to research and write about.

    Still, not quite what I’m looking for. I’m sure you can see why – it’s reality, and I’m only interested in non-reality for the purposes of this discussion. Ok ok, things get blurry (I did include animal man in the post) but I don’t want to get too tied up in semantics.

    Sure, fair enough that there is corporate motivation. But hollywood could have tied together all their films. Book publishers have done it with books (star wars universe, etc) but none so successfully or broadly.

    Anyway… of course the real world is more impressive than fiction. I thought that much was obvious, haha.

    I’ve spent many a day gazing at leaves and wondering about all of everything… I was raised in massachusetts. And was super into physics once, back in the day.

    That’s another story though. (which I’d be happy to get into with you.)

    I’m talking about fiction here. I know it’s a little silly (actually, it’s a lot silly… have you SEEN the DC Universe? Those guys wear their underwear on the outside!) but I’m still impressed by it. And I like to think the people involved in it had a little more passion for the venture than making a buck… at least some of the time.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on May 9th, 2010 at 12:55 am:

    I don’t know if that was too long winded, but just to be absolutely clear, I’m talking about the DC Universe as ONE piece of artwork, because it all links together. I see it as the biggest artwork. Now, technically, I’m sure it can be beaten by some recent new media works, but most of them have been designed to shunt participants into the process, by inviting web participation in a giant canvas or something like that. I feel like that’s kinda cheating and still not really what I’m talking about. Youtube is a null example, but wikipedia might compete, except it’s non fiction and I feel like it’s more of a database than a story.

    Darn awesome database, though. But that would be like calling this site an artistic piece that includes all the books in it as part of it. It’s not, it’s just a database, a way I can access that information… not the information itself.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on May 9th, 2010 at 2:32 am:

    Hey sorry – I know I typed a book before, but I can’t really let this go, since I kinda mentioned it in the original post. DC Comics really didn’t tie it into a universe after the fact – it’s been a shared canvas since the 1940s.

    Maybe it was done to appeal to fans (I rather think so) but it was still a pretty inventive move for a publishing company of the period.

    [Reply]

  5. avatar Alex wrote on at May 9, 2010 2:33 am:

    Bravo, sir. Although usually when people ask me if I’m a Marvel or a DC guy, I just say, “The one with Batman in it.”

    I do admit that there are some kick-ass concepts in Marvel DC has never quite pulled off- Galactus, Deadpool, and MODOK come to mind.

    [Reply]

    avatar Ian replied on May 9th, 2010 at 2:37 am:

    Oh definitely. Marvel also was at the forefront of relationship driven story arcs, which is a pretty important thing if you think about it.

    And as much as I love Darkseid, I have to admit that Kirby left a huge chunk of his creative genius in the Marvel park. So many things he created have had a huge life span.

    I’ve never read the Just Imagine Stan Lee Creating The DC Universe books (reminds me I have to add them to the elseworlds list) but I’ve got to at some point.

    [Reply]

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