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The DC Universe (DCU) is the shared universe where most of the comic stories published by DC Comics take place. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are well-known superheroes from this universe. Note that in context, "DC Universe" is usually used to refer to the main DC continuity. Occasionally, "DC Universe" will be used to indicate the entire "DC Multiverse"; the collection of all continuities within DC Comics publications.
The concept of a shared universe was originally pioneered by DC Comics (originally known as National Periodical Publications) and in particular by writer Gardner Fox. The fact that DC Comics Characters co-existed in the same world was first established in All-Star Comics #3 (1940) where several superheroes (who starred in separate stories in the series up to that point) met each other, and soon founded the superhero team, the Justice Society of America. However, the majority of National/DC's publications continued to be written with little regard of maintaining continuity with each other for the first few decades.
Over the course of its publishing history, DC has introduced different versions of its characters, sometimes presenting them as if the earlier version had never existed. For example, they introduced new versions of the Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman in the late 1950s, with similar powers but different names and personal histories. Similarly, they had characters such as Batman whose early adventures set in the 1940s could not easily be reconciled with stories featuring a still-youthful man in the 1970s. To explain this, they introduced the idea of the Multiverse in Flash #123 (1961) where the Silver Age Flash met his Golden Age counterpart. In addition to allowing the conflicting stories to "co-exist", it allowed the differing versions of characters to meet, and even team up to combat cross-universe threats. The writers gave designations such as "Earth-One", "Earth-Two", and so forth, to certain universes, designations which at times were also used by the characters themselves.
Over the years, as the number of titles published increased and the volume of past stories accumulated, it became increasingly difficult to maintain internal consistency. In order to continue publishing stories of its most popular characters, maintaining the status quo became necessary. Although retcons were used as a way to explain apparent inconsistencies in stories written, editors at DC came to consider the varied continuity of multiple Earths too difficult to keep track of, and feared that it was an obstacle to accessibility for new readers. To address this, they published the cross-universe miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, which merged universes and characters, reducing the Multiverse to a single DC Universe with a single history. However, this arrangement removed the mechanism DC had been using to deal with the passage of time in the real world without having the characters age in the comics. Crisis also had failed to establish a coherent future history for the DC Universe, with conflicting versions of the future. The Zero Hour limited series (1994) gave them an opportunity to revise timelines and rewrite the DC Universe history.
As a result, almost once per decade since the 1980s, the DC Universe experiences a major crisis that allows any number of changes from new versions of characters to appear to a whole reboot of the universe, restarting nominally all the characters into a new and modernized version of their lives.
Meanwhile, DC has published occasional stories called "Elseworlds", which often presented alternate versions of their characters. For example, one told the story of Bruce Wayne as a Green Lantern, another presented Kal-El as if he'd lived in the time of the American Civil War. In 1998, The Kingdom reintroduced a variant of the old Multiverse concept called Hypertime which essentially allows for alternate versions of characters and worlds again. The entire process was parodied in Alan Moore's meta-comic, "Supreme: Story of the Year".
The Infinite Crisis event (2005-2006) remade the DC Universe yet again, with the changes made currently being determined. As later revealed in the pages of 52, a new Multiverse was created, consisting of 52 parallel universes. Some of these worlds were quite similar to Elseworlds tales, some a direct parallel to Pre-Crisis worlds like Earth-Two and Earth-S.
In 2011, DC merged DCU, Vertigo, and Mindstorm in an event called Flashpoint. This formed the New 52 or DCnU.
The basic concept of the DC Universe is that it is supposed to be just like the real world, but with super-heroes (and super-villains) existing on it. However, there are other differences. Many fictional countries, such as Qurac, Vlatava, and Zandia, exist in it. The DC Universe typically has its comic books set in fictional cities, such as the cities of Gotham City (based upon New York City) and Metropolis (based in part upon Toronto, though like Gotham, it also serves as a New York City analog in the comics). These cities are effectively fictional archetypes of cities, with Gotham City embodying the negative aspects of life in a large city, and Metropolis reflecting more of the positive aspects. The presence of superhumans affected the cities, but the general history of the fictional United States was similar to the real one. Recently, many events that changed the whole political stage of the World have taken place, from Lex Luthor being elected as President of the United States, to entire cities (and even some countries) being destroyed, as well as a Third World War. There are other significant changes, such as the Earth is slightly larger than ours. The planet Saturn has 18 moons rather than 19 because Superman destroyed one, and other such differences.
The majority of the superhumans on Earth owe their powers to the "metagene": A genetic feature of unknown origin, which causes some people to develop superpowers when exposed to dangerous substances and forces. Others owe their powers to magic, genetic manipulation or bionics (see below). A large power gap resides between Superheroes and civilians, making superheroes almost god-like. Still others owe their powers to not being human at all (see races, below). There are also many heroes and villains who possess no powers at all but use advanced technology or training in special skills, such as martial arts.
The tradition of using costumed identities to fight crimes (or commit them) started mainly during the 1930's, with heroes like The Crimson Avenger and The Sandman. By 1940, the first Superhero team, The Justice Society of America (JSA), was formed. During World War II, all of America's heroes were banded together as the All-Star Squadron to protect the United States from the Axis powers. However, due to a magical spell cast by Adolf Hitler (using the Spear of Destiny and the Holy Grail) the most powerful heroes where unable to enter Axis-held territories, leaving the war to be fought mainly by normal humans such as Sgt. Rock and The Unknown Soldier.
After the war, under pressure from the paranoid Committee on Un-American Activities the JSA disbanded. While many types of heroes were active afterwards (mainly non-costumed, such as the Challengers of the Unknown or Detective Chimp), it wasn't until Superman's public debut that a new generation of costumed heroes became active. Soon after, The Justice League of America was formed, and they've remained Earth's main superhero team; most DC heroes (such as the Teen Titans) have either belonged to the League at some point, or have connections to it.
Power is greatly exaggerated in some denizens of the DC Universe, like the Major heroes and certain cosmic entities. Living as a superhero has its inconsistencies, like Superman's vulnerability to magic and kryptonite, Green Lantern's initial ineffectiveness to the color yellow (which can be overcome through training) or Batman's lack of powers (which he makes up for with his keen intelligence, constant training, and assorted gadgets).
Superheroes are generally accepted by the general public, with some (such as Superman and The Flash) actually having museums dedicated to them. The governments of the world have long realized that they must deal with the "metahumans" in some way. Years ago an organization called "The Dome" was formed to help superheroes who needed to fight crime across international borders; the superhero group called the Global Guardians were their main agents. However the Dome eventually lost its United Nations backing to the Justice League.
The American government has had a more untrusting approach, however. Back during World War II they started "Project M" to create experimental soldiers to fight in the war, such as the Creature Commandos. Most of these experiments remain a secret to the public. Currently, the government deals with metahumans and similar beings through its Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO). Covertly, they use an organization of costumed (but non-superhuman) agents known as "Checkmate". The government also formed Task Force X (known as the "Suicide Squad") for "black ops" mostly using imprisoned (and thus expendable) supervillains enticed with offered clemency into helping them.
Outcast personalities are usually evident in super-villiany as well. Villains with meek powers contrive schemes of extraordinary complexity, yet because of their simple talents, when caught, any prison sufficient enough to contain these villains are suitable. They are masters in heists, kidnappings and robberies.
More powerful villains strive to contest for greater goals like world domination, or universal acclaim. Usually more powerful enemies are imprisoned in maximum level facilities and even dimensions (Phantom Zone) or space because they can not simply be killed by a stray bullet or a fatal blow.
Super-villains sometimes also form their own groups, but these tend to be short-lived due to the fact that most villains simply do not trust each other. Most such teams are formed by a charismatic (or fearsome) criminal mastermind for specific purposes; an example is the Secret Society of Super Villains of which there have been several versions. Most villain teams are usually small (formed of individuals who know each other personally, such as the Central City Rogues) or have some other reason to stay together (mercenary groups like the H.I.V.E., fanatical cults such as Kobra, etc.)
Devices more advanced than those we currently have are available - but they're usually very expensive, and usually only rich or powerful individuals and organizations (or the scientific geniuses who create them) have access to them. S.T.A.R. Labs is an independent research outfit that often develops these devices, while Lexcorp is the main company selling them. It must also be noted that the government also runs the secret Project Cadmus (located in the mountains near Metropolis) to develop clones and genetic manipulation without the public's knowledge. Technology can also come from outer space or different timelines. Apokolips weaponry is often sold in Metropolis to the criminal organization known as Intergang.
Robots and similar creations, including cyborgs, have superior intelligence because they are created as sentient beings. The Manhunters, Red Tornado, Robotman, Hourman and Metallo are a few among the many sentient androids, or cyborgs, created by Individuals who possess vast intellect like the scientist Professor Ivo, who has the ability to create super-human androids such as Amazo using a form of Nano-technology developed by Lexcorp. Brainiac also emulates this technology as well as technology from other worlds. Similarly, some characters use technology to enhance their armor or modify cybernetic functions, for example Steel, Cyborg and the Cyborg Superman.
There are a few intelligent races living on Earth that the public at large did not know about until recent times. Among these are the last survivors of Atlantis, who changed themselves into water-breathing forms, including the human-like Poseidonians and the mermaid-like Tritonians. Other species, such as Project Cadmus's subhumans, test subjects who fled the constraints of being laboratory test subjects to the sewers below Metropolis, had also existed.
There are many intelligent extraterrestrial races as well. Curiously, a large number of them are humanoid, even human-like, in form; some can even interbreed with Earth humans. Some of these races have natural superpowers, but they're usually the same for all individuals of the same race, unlike Earth's metahumans. This unusual situation has never been explained well. However, there are also plenty of nonhuman races as well.
Order is kept around the galaxy by the Guardians of the Universe and their agents, the Green Lantern Corps. Rival peacekeeping organizations include the Darkstars (created by the Guardians' rivals, the Controllers) and the interplanetary mercenary organization L.E.G.I.O.N. Criminal organizations include the Manhunters, the Spider Guild and the Dark Circle.
One oddity is the Vegan Star system. Due to an arrangement with the Psions, the Guardians did not intervene in that system, allowing a cruel empire called "The Citadel" to govern there, until it was overthrown by the Omega Men.
Magic and the supernatural are often depected as being real in the DC Universe, though some skeptics such as Mister Terrific maintain that there are scientific explanations to all such events. The narration of the mystic and harsh dark reality is more common in DC's Vertigo comics because its stories lurk outside of superhero fantasy; the Vertigo series have beings that relate better to civilian life although both universe's are subject to fantastical realms, and unworldly dimensions.
There are several types of supernatural creatures and realms, such as:
- Gods: The first beings calling themselves 'gods' first appeared billions of years ago on another planet, but they destroyed themselves in a terrible war. This unleashed the “Godwave”, a wave of cosmic energy from The Source. This gave birth to other gods across the universe, including Earth's. From the planet's remains were formed the worlds of Apokolips and New Genesis, inhabited by beings that call themselves "New Gods". It must be noted that this universe was created by an omnipotent being known as "The Presence", which is believed to be the creator-being described by many religions, including Christianity. Also, beings calling themselves 'angels', such as Zauriel (see below), have appeared, thought they seem little different from the mythological gods. Depending on the characters, other diverse religious deities from ancient cultures are common. Heroes such as Aztek and Black Condor, or villains like Black Adam, have found knowledge of their native roots in origin.
- Heaven and Hell: Heaven and Hell do exist in the DC Universe but may not exist in the same continuum. In the DC/Vertigo universe the Triumvirate rule hell which are Lord Lucifer, and biblical incarnations of Beelzebub, and Belial. Generic depictions of Satan, angels, demons and God also appear frequently. Versions vary from the Vertigo and DC Universe series because the Vertigo/DC Universe use them in relation to religion and mythology while the writers in the DCU have a tendency to narrate fantasy.
- The Lords of Order and Chaos: These two groups of magical beings have been fighting against each other since the beginning of time, and they often empower others (with "Order Magic" or "Chaos Magic") in exchange for their acting as their agents. Many magical heroes and villains have been manipulated by them.
- Elementals: The Earth itself has a living spirit called "Maya" who, for millennia, has been creating champions, one for each of the mystical elements, to protect itself, using human beings as their hosts. Swamp Thing, Firestorm, Naiad and Red Tornado were some of them.
- Homo Magi: a subspecies of humanity with the natural ability to use magic, this race almost disappeared after too much crossbreeding with normal humans (it's from them that people in the DC universe inherited the ability to use magic.) The last pureblooded ones decided to retire to a magical invisible city centuries ago, and are now known as "The Hidden Ones". Zatanna had a Homo Magi mother, and knows many of the race's secrets.
- The Endless: Physical manifestations of eternal and universal phenomena that effect the human condition such as Death, Desire, Dream, Despair, Delirium, etc, principally recounted in the Modern Age Sandman series.
- Wizards and Sorcerers: Various sorcerers lurk in the DCU. Dr. Fate, Circe, the wizard Shazam, Mordru and Felix Faust are written as characters who use sorcery to create and destroy. Dimensions, rituals and spiritual realms are sources for magic power as seen in Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pit and the transformations of Captain Marvel.
- Demonic entities vary from the Demon Etrigan, to Blaze and Satanus, and Neron. Demonic entities are abundant and come from Hell although some like Eclipso, the vengeance demon (also referred to as the Prince of Darkness), reside on the Moon. Demonic Entities from Wonder Woman comics are directly linked to Greek Mythology such as Hades, and Ares. In the Vertigo worlds, characters like John Constantine oppose Demons of Christian Mythology such as Satan and Gabriel, the Fallen Angel. Most Demons are not however directly linked to Demonology.
It is possible to travel in time in this universe by several means, including moving faster than the speed of light. The Legion of Super-Heroes from 1,000 years into the future in particular have access to time-travel technology while Rip Hunter is the present day authority of the technology. Originally, it was impossible to change the past, or to exist in two places at the same time (a time traveler appearing in a period on which he or she already existed would become an ineffectual, invisible phantom while there). However that was all changed after the Anti-Monitor tried to change history at the beginning of time during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Also, a number of alternate realities- known as Hypertime- now exist. A group calling itself the Linear Men formed to prevent anyone from changing history. In addition, an enormously powerful being called the Time Trapper, an enemy of the Legion, has been known to mess with the time stream, even creating "pocket universes".
The DC Universe is composed of a number of different dimensional planes, most notably parallel earths (see Multiverse), but the latter were eliminated when reality was altered by the Anti-Monitor (although stories featuring parallel earths have continued to crop up with various rationalizations in the following years). Other types of dimensions still exist, however, including the Antimatter Universe, the Pax dimension, and the Fifth Dimension, and the new 52 Multiverse.
- Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups graphic novel -- ISBN 1-40120-470-8
- Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 1 graphic novel -- ISBN 1-56389-895-0
- Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 2 graphic novel -- ISBN 1-40120-003-6
- Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 3 graphic novel -- ISBN 1-40120-231-4
- Crisis on Multiple Earths, Volume 4 graphic novel -- ISBN 1-40120-957-2
- Crisis on Infinite Earths graphic novel -- ISBN 1-56389-750-4
- Kingdom Come graphic novel -- ISBN 1-56389-330-4
- Zero Hour: Crisis In Time graphic novel -- ISBN 1-56389-992-2
- Infinite Crisis graphic novel -- ISBN 1-40120-959-9
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