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.