Review: Zero Hour: Crisis in Time trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

There's a tendency among the DC Universe to look at things in threes. There's the Golden Age, Silver Age, and Modern Age of comics, for instance. Batman, Nightwing, and Robin approximate DC's three heroic generations. And twenty years after Crisis on Infinite Earths came its sequel, Infinite Crisis, and then Final Crisis rounded out the trilogy. What then to make of Zero Hour: Crisis in Time?

In this age of Barry Allen returning and Wonder Woman retaking her place as a founder of the Justice League, I sometimes forget that DC Comics didn't wait twenty years to reboot their continuity after Crisis on Infinite Earths; their next reboot, Zero Hour, came just nine years after the original Crisis. And Zero Hour, written by Dan Jurgens with art by Jurgens and Jerry Ordway, is still in print, so DC and its fans must see some value in Zero Hour (aside, perhaps, from the appearance of Parallax Hal Jordan) even despite it being something of the "forgotten Crisis."

As a trade paperback, Zero Hour suffers in some of the ways as many crossover collected editions do, but was ultimately more readable than I expected. I tried to imagine the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the main characters, and the Showcase '94 stories that start the book do a good job establishing Waverider as a loose cannon among time travelers, and also setting up Waverider's conflict with Extant. That alone, if you're interested in just the broad picture, will get a reader most of the way through the book.

In addition, Zero Hour has a strong theme of the older generation retiring and the new generation taking over. It's almost painful to watch the retirement or death of a number of JSA members in this story -- reflecting a difference between that time and now in terms of the viability of these older characters -- but a new reader will be able to connect Jay Garrick to Bart Allen and Alan Scott to Kyle Rayner and see the torch being passed; then-Darkstar Donna Troy and young heroes Damage and the Ray also have big roles here, spotlighting the burgeoning "third generation" of the time.

At the same time, many of the smaller details will be largely inscrutable to new readers, glossed over here and expanded upon in the tie-in issues, as with many crossovers. Between two issues, Guy Gardner and Steel leave the main group after a catastrophe never fully explained. The Legion of Super-Heroes would be entirely rebooted during and just after Zero Hour, though this is only vaguely referenced in a couple of panels; Aquaman simply appears in a panel without a hand, barely touching on the events of his series. And indeed Parallax gets very little build up in order to preserve his surprise appearance, but I'd worry the lack of explanation is bound to confuse a reader unfamiliar with the character.

The only real Crisis-type continuity change seen in the pages of Zero Hour is the merging of a variety of Hawkmen -- I felt this was satisfactorily explained in these pages (though that's not to claim it makes sense); other continuity changes would only come in the Zero Month event that followed Zero Hour. In terms of actual relation to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour is gigantically more subtle than the Infinite Crisis that would follow. Waverider reveals that the entropy that Parallax uses to destroy and remake the universe is energy left over from the original Crisis, and he mentions the death of the Multiverse, but it's all in hushed tones -- suggesting the still queasy relationship DC had with bringing the Crisis into continuity during that time, versus Infinite Crisis addressing the original series outright.

If Zero Hour doesn't succeed entirely as a follow-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths, it's in this point; Infinite Crisis takes up the actual story of Crisis on Infinite Earths, whereas Zero Hour simply acknowledges Crisis and shares some impetus to reboot in common. Zero Hour, that is, would only whet one's appetite for a sequel to the Crisis, not fill that hunger itself.

A few other notes, as a modern reader looking back on this story: Guy Gardner -- who in his own title was at this point slowly losing his buffoon image by the deft hand of writer Beau Smith -- starts the book still being lectured by Batman, but ends up with strong leadership moments in the end; I was surprised by how much of a Guy Gardner story Zero Hour turns out to be. On the other hand, poor Jurgens seems not to know what to do with Power Girl, drawn matronly and nearly unrecognizable in the midst of another writer's ill-advised pregnancy storyline; she's almost an entirely different character from the one who later appears in Infinite Crisis.

Jurgens and Ordway represent quintessential superhero art to me, and I have a soft spot for the Armageddon 2001 story that preceded Zero Hour and for the character Waverider; to that end, Zero Hour has a special place on my bookshelf. The story is strange -- a great Waverider story on one hand and a rather terrible JSA story, by current standards, on the other; a villain story like Underworld Unleashed on one hand, but a natural (time) disaster story like Final Night on the other -- but holds up, if nothing else, in that classic Jurgens/Ordway art. For a fan reading back over DC Comics history, Final Crisis I could take or leave, but Zero Hour, this "forgotten Crisis," brings a smile to my face.

[Contains full covers (with logos, no less), timeline of the newly rebooted DC Universe, afterword by editor KC Carlson]

I'm curious, if you're someone who didn't read Zero Hour the first time around, but found the collection or the single issues later on, what did you think of it? (Of course, I'm happy to hear about your original Zero Hour memories, too!) Thanks; more reviews coming up.
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20 comments:

  1. I read this when it first came out and I remember being unimpressed. I tried reading it a few years ago and just couldn't get through it. It seems so anachronistic to the DC experience I usually enjoy. I think it suffers from the lack of a perspective character, such as the Trickster in Underworld Unleashed. I'm planning to revisit it soon as I revisit all the major stations of Hal Jordan's fall and rise.

    I do remember enjoying most of the tie-in issues much more than the central story.

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  2. That there's no perspective character here is a good point -- or maybe, Jurgens tries too many of them. Guy Gardner is one, and (if you include the tie-in issues) I think the strongest; Waverider's another (and maybe the intended "main character") and then there's Green Arrow and to a lesser extent, Power Girl even.

    Alternatively, I'll argue here shortly that maybe Blackest Night has too much of a perspective character. I think this is one thing that's improved about DC crossovers, however; Zero Hour is very much just a through-way to the tie-in issues to some extent, whereas Infinite Crisis for instance can be read very much on its own as its own story.

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  3. I think the Zero Month that followed was a great idea (if somewhat annoying to have the numbering changed for the month, similar to the 1 Million issues). It was basically "here's the new status quo (sometimes with an origin retelling) of each of our series." Great "jumping on" point for new readers.

    About 2 years ago I re-read Zero Hour as part of getting back up to speed with Hal Jordan and found it wasn't really any better or worse than I remembered it. But as a lead-in to this I re-read Armageddon 2001 (just the two bookend issues, none of the tie-ins) and that didn't hold up nearly as well. Also the Armageddon: The Alien Agenda mini-series that followed was pretty stupid.

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  4. Sandor Clegane8/05/2010 04:12:00 PM

    I got back into comics circa 1996 and read this then. I thought it was pretty horrible, actually. I'd never buy a trade of it.

    Reading interviews about how it was developed and changed to fit various issues and developments (Hawkman, Legion, Hal Jordan becoming a villain), I think its reputation as DC's suckiest crossover stands for good reason.

    A real low point in DC history all the way around, sorry to say. Though I don't think crossovers work very well in general; Morrison's One Million strikes me as the only really good crossover. Though Crisis was exciting and fresh for its time, but didn't have a strong character focus.

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  5. "DC's suckiest crossover?" Got to disagree with you on that one. For me, Genesis was definitely the doldrums, and that's only if you're not counting in-title crossovers like Millennium Giants -- now there's a rough crossover.

    Do you mean Crisis on Infinite Earths, or Infinite Crisis? Agreed COIE has a scattered focus, but I thought IC had a good through-way with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. And then, say what we will about Identity Crisis, but it's certainly a crossover (of sorts) with character focus.

    To be sure, comparing these older crossovers with new ones demonstrates how events have "matured" at DC in terms of good storytelling -- and with Civil War, at least, I think the same is true at Marvel.

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  6. Sandor Clegane8/05/2010 05:26:00 PM

    CE - I think COIE set the bar in many respects, and for sheer chutzpah no other crossover really compares. (Though on an individual basis, Grant Morrison scripting not just One Million but 65 crossover issues that month certainly qualifies as coming close...)

    I thought Infinite Crisis was a worthy setup, and as you point out it revisited Crisis with a stronger character focus. Though I thought it was a shame to see such a post-modern lense applied to the Golden Age / Earth 2 Superman & Lois. If anyone in the DCU deserves a happy ending, it was them - which is why the original Crisis gave them that. Undoing it strikes me as a bit mean.

    Still, I think the setup to Infinite Crisis was a high point in DC history, not unlike the original Crisis era of a sense of shared stories pushing to similar break points. It only starts to break down near the end. As with a lot of Johns material, the various villains tend to not have a clear motivation to be in the story, other than the fact Johns really loves writing them. Also, I think Johns primary weakness as a scripter is on display here - conflict resolution. Johns tends to write great 1st and 2nd acts, but the stories eventually resolve quickly and in underwhelming fashion. (Which I admit, may just be due to the inability to match his great setups.)

    To me, DC actually has very few good crossovers; I read Millenium back in the mid-90s, and was just awe-struck trying to figure out who would be motivated to read such a thing. Despite being a GL fan myself I found it esoteric, especially in its New Age-y veneer.

    My comment about Zero Hour wasn't primarily my summation of its status, just more of its general reputation as the worst of the Crises. If we're just counting crossovers, I'd single out JLA-Ape, Kingdom and Millenium before Zero Hour, myself.

    I thought Identity Crisis was flawed but brilliant. It ranks as one of the best Green Arrow story ever told.

    As for Genesis, I've never read it; I try to avoid anything written by John Byrne after 1986 or so.

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  7. Zero Hour had good intentions. Still not a good writer/artist behind it. Jurgens was not up to the job. Still he tried hard.

    A curious thing is that Zero Hour actually starts with the death of Superman. Has not he been dead Coast City wouldn´t have perished in Superman#80 and Hal Jordan would have not gone nutty, etc.

    I kinda liked the timeline at the end of ZH#0.
    Good intentions indeed.

    Oh, and Starman by James Robinson started thanks to Zero Hour. Let´s be nicer to this saga, lol

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  8. I kind of like Zero Hour, too. It kicked off one of my favorite DC eras, and the final battle against Parallax at the beginning of time is very exciting stuff, ending with a literal big bang. Yep, the current DC universe owes its existence to Damage, of all people.

    However, Jurgens tried way too hard to tug at our heartstrings with that alternate Batgirl's tragic end.

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  9. Zero Hour is nice, but a bit hokey in the plot. I enjoyed the Jurgens and Ordway art though - to some extent, they define mid-90s DC main universe for me.

    The zero hour stories were great jumping on points, as noted by others above.

    As for other crossovers, we've noted them before, but DC One Million is probably one of my favorites. Genesis, not quite so much.

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  10. Am I the only one who didn't enjoy DC One Million? I read all of the tie-in issues with it (not just what was collected) and found a lot of it to be repetitive and boring. The Green Arrow in particular was pretty crappy. I don't like being one of those "negative fans" who complain about everything, but yeah, I really didn't enjoy it very much!

    I haven't read Millennium or Genesis; also no one has mentioned Invasion or Legends. I read Legends recently, and it seemed pretty watered-down when compared to COIE (which had been only a year or two prior). Darkseid brainwashes the public to hate superheroes and they are "banned", but there's no big battle with Darkseid at the end. It just kind of sets up the JLI formation and the return of Wonder Woman (oh, and the Suicide Squad).

    Also, very little mention of Final Crisis here. I still haven't read it (it just came out in softcover), so can someone offer up a spoiler-free perspective on how it rates against Zero Hour, COIC, Infinite Crisis, etc.?

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  11. Hey, event stories are tricky. Some are good, some are important, rarely are they both.

    Final Crisis is important and aspects of it are great, but it has little flow or rhythm. Scenes just clunk on top of each other. That's the vibe it left me with.

    Invasion was my first crossover and as such I have a huge bias towards it. So many of my favorite series were involved in it or came out of it- Animal Man, L.E.G.I.O.N. 89, Doom Patrol. Plus the DCU got the metagene!

    DC One Million is a book that's better if you read the core stories. DC did a great job on the collection getting the central essentials. That said the tie-in issues I chose to keep are all from books I adore - Resurrection Man, Chase, Chronos, Hitman, Young Heroes In Love, Starman, JLA. The Chronos issue was by JH Williams III! Plus Hitman has Gunfire One Million turning his ass into a handgrenade.

    Legends is worth it for Suicide Squad alone. Have I mentioned I like Suicide Squad before?

    Zero Hour is pretty low on my list. It is definitely important though.

    Genesis is the pits though. John Byrne trying to shove his godwave continuity on the DCU. A precursor to his assault on Doom Patrol continuity.

    I never bothered with Our World's at War. Is it good? Is it important? Anyone?

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  12. I think Zero Hour is merely alright. It gets a bad rap in general, but it's hardly the worst crossover I've ever read.

    If it has a main problem, it's that it feels disjointed; plots that set up stuff for the tie-ins start and stop all the time in this crossover and it strikes me as not really understanding how to do a crossover. Obviously one might leave little bits for other writers to pick up on for a tie-in, but Jurgans had entire scenes setting up things a tie-in would tackle that had no real resolution in Zero Hour proper, leaving the story itself to feel like - if you're not reading the tie-ins - Jurgans left the gun on the shelf and never did anything with it. It's overlookable in small doses, but in Zero Hour there was a feeling of "things happen and now lets move over to Green Arrow never to follow up on it".

    The core story, however, isn't bad. More overwritten. It feels like Dan Jurgans tries way too hard to give weight to some scenes and it ends up backfiring. With random plotlines fading in and out, it really doesn't give a lot of reason to invest between the two. The strongest part, to me, was the climax of the whole thing; after time mostly starts to fall apart, the plot seems to finally focus, with all those random scenes setting up tie-ins gone.

    Also, on a final note, one thing that always bugged me about Zero Hour is that it set up one of my least favorite bits to Batman lore. The utterly useless "Batman is an urban legend to everyone" crap the Bat offices tried to force through in the nineties, but never worked. I really hated that, because it always seemed to do little more than insult my intelligence.

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  13. @dl316bh you´re right about the Batman urban legend thing.

    But Zero Hour erased Joe Chill and crappy Batman Year Two. That was way cool!!! Batman never finding his parents killer was something I loved.

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  14. @Lucho: Fair enough. It certainly isn't a bad thing for Year Two to have been tossed. I tend to consider "The Long Halloween" the real year two; say what you want about Jeph Loeb, but at least he didn't have as many logic defying moments in that one as Year Two had.

    I'm not adverse to Joe Chill though. I like having the character have a name and it's even better that he was caught on the same night he murdered the Waynes. To me, it makes Batman more altruistic in his actions; the guy who killed his parents has been caught, named and brought to justice, but Bruce Wayne still goes through everything and becomes Batman to keep people from going through what he had to. That feels far more "noble" to me than having never caught his parents killer, which tinges everything with a "revenge" slant ever so slightly. With his parents avenged, the cause of everything is avenged, so when he continues to be Batman it's of his own choice, because it's who he wants to be and because of the people he saves.

    Get what I mean?

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  15. According to me,ZERO HOUR was the best DCU crossover series-ever!

    Well,it was just 5 issues,more or less self contained storyline,and was at least more emotionally involving than the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS which was too long.I certainly don't think anybody felt that while reading this.It does have some of that 80s magic & excellent art,but for someone who was already writing TEEN TITANS,MARV WOLFMAN's dialogue sounded pretty crappy to me.

    The selling point was in fact turning GREEN LANTERN into an anti hero.I loved that....it felt right with Hal's rule about fixing things.Dan Jurgens did the most readable Hal Jordan,after Marz had ruined him in the EMERALD TWILIGHT stuff.I felt the Parallax entity that had taken root in Hal,ala GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH was a COP OUT! It felt like, "Okay,Hal Jordan in the end was a hero who tried to do bad things for good reasons,like creating the universe once again,or good things like reigniting the sun,but the evil bug made him do that." DiDio & Johns will argue,"That was the true Hal fighting underneath." But yeah,that & the subsequent sweeping under the rug of Hal's time as PARALLAX/SPECTRE,made only more significant by not collecting DAY OF JUDGMENT,THE SPECTRE V3 & putting THE FINAL NIGHT & EMERALD TWILIGHT out of print emphasizes the DiDio view.

    LEGENDS was a little watered down version to me.I'm good with the fact that there was no DARKSEID battle in the end.Darkseid is too great a villain to be given away so early in a new grim n gritty universe.

    MILLENNIUM the premise was excellent but the outcome hardly did any justice to the story.In retrospection,DC did a SECRET INVASION story SO LONG ago.though it was written as a bunch of cliches,I don't think a lot of people who are all "BENDIS IS GOD. SEE WHAT HE DID WITH THE SKRULLS IN SECRET INVASION." will be willing to acknowledge that.

    COSMIC ODYSSEY was a nice overlooked gem of a crossover story.I haven't read INVASION! yet.
    INFINITE CRISIS was great,so was FINAL CRISIS but none of it had the sadistic tones of a hero turned anti hero.

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  16. I still remember those little ads DC ran with the clock counting down to zero. Those were pretty epic.

    The series itself? I liked it a lot, but you can tell it was made in the '90s. That panel where WIldcat is disintegrated still haunts me to this day.

    The time travel aspect of it wssn't as annoying as I figured it would be, which is always a good thing.

    One thing I do remember about the timeline is that they actually slipped the dates of Morpheus' disappearance and reappearance in. That was cool to see.

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  17. I liked the clock counting down advertisements, too. And if closing out the original Legion of Super-Heroes was ill-advised, I did like how it ended with the original three (and their counterparts) floating all alone; and, prior to that, the resolution of the whole Phantom Girl/L.E.G.I.O.N. story, which I always found interesting.

    Coming to the party a little late here, I'd say Zero Hour and Final Crisis sit on the very opposite sides of the crossover spectrum, construction-wise. Zero Hour is all through-way; basically it's a collection of scenes that tease the tie-in issues, with a bit of content at the end. That's a tried-and-true crossover format; not terrible, but dated for today's audiences.

    Final Crisis, on the other hand, had no immediate tie-ins other than the Final Crisis specials, and essentially all you need to read it is in the main collection. There was about a year-long lead in series, but you don't need that, either; as far as crossovers go, it's probably the most self-contained out there, short of Identity Crisis. It's a Fourth World story, I don't think that spoils anything, and it's very blatantly meta-textual, more like Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers than his JLA or Batman.

    As for Our Worlds at War, that's a Superman "crossover" from the Jeph Loeb era (more an in-title crossover with some specials like Sinestro Corps War than an actual event crossover like Blackest Night). If you read Superman during that time and liked what that team did (which I did), this brought to fruition a lot of big moments regarding plotlines like the Lex Luthor presidency and the future-izing of Metropolis; also, the story came out around the 9-11 terror attacks in America, and so there's some aspects of the follow-up of Our Worlds at War that look at national tragedy and mourning as a metaphor for what was going on.

    Lucho reminds us of the good point that Zero Hour brought us Starman; I've always liked that the somewhat forgettable Bloodbath brought us Hitman. Of course, Zero Hour took away what promised to be a perhaps more socially conscious, back-to-basics approach to Titans when Team Titans got cancelled, so ...

    I've been surprised going through Blackest Night how much less self-contained it is than I expected. Spectre just shows up in one issue of Blackest Night and starts bellowing, then he's never mentioned again unless you're reading the Green Lantern volume. Infinite Crisis was more self-contained than that, except for what went from the miniseries to the Infinite Crisis specials.

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  18. You have a point there.Zero Hour was as self contained as any crossover of those times,but it MADE you want to read the crossovers,like
    BATMAN-the aberrant BATGIRL,the return of the Golden Age Alfred
    SUPERMAN-his parent s return from Krypton,his facing multiple Batmen,each modelled on a Batman of an era,ALPHA CENTURION
    ROBIN, SUPERBOY-The old vs the new
    JL-TRIUMPH

    Still,FINAL CRISIS,though being self contained,I now feel that the reading would have been better had I started with Morrison's JLA,SEVEN SOLDIERS,Starlin's DEATH OF THE NEW GODS.Maybe his ANIMAL MAN too.The lead in was hogwash.

    Another selling point now I remember it,when I have taken out the books for a re read(the singles....my trade is in transit---the trade contains the extra from SHOWCASE featuring EXTANT) I notice another thing...it had me SCARED.....I really felt like the world was going to end....I felt the same way reading INFINITE CRISIS AND-of all things-JLA: TERROR INCOGNITA....FINAL CRISIS was too fantastic...ala Morrison to feel true,but I liked it anyway.

    One more point-
    Both the stories(ZH & IC) didn't have a real villain....Hal had proven himself to be the hero umpteen million times,and Superman & Lois of Earth 2,with Luthor of Earth 3 & Superboy Prime had saved the day way back in COIE....truth to say,I'd rather Hal had won during ZERO HOUR.

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  19. Shocker: DC is still publishing this. Amazon says:
    In stock on June 23, 2011.

    I thought they were intent on forgetting that the Parallax part (at least the Hal Jordan takeover) ever happened. Besides my irk on this is due to the fact that of the original Parallax saga, this is the only part still in print. I consider the Parallax saga as:
    1) EMERALD TWILIGHT / NEW DAWN
    2) ZERO HOUR: CRISIS IN TIME
    3) Miscellaneous appearances from GREEN LANTERN V3 & GREEN LANTERN/SILVER SURFER: UNHOLY ALLIANCES
    4) THE FINAL NIGHT
    5) DAY OF JUDGMENT

    hell the 3rd & 5th haven't even been collected...the only part of Vol 3 still in print is a Judd Winick ditty called GREEN LANTERN: PASSING THE TORCH. It's like people are trying to recreate the 90s with the current FLSHPOINT & DCnU while they are intent on forgetting classic 90s character runs: AQUAMAN, SUPERGIRL (PETER DAVID), NIGHTWING, CATWOMAN, ROBIN (CHICK DIXON)

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  20. I wonder which printing this is. Doesn't shock me so much it's still available -- Dan Jurgens is still creating for DC, it was referenced as recently as the first issues of the new Booster Gold series, Extant appears in JSA, etc.

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