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Zero Hour: Crisis in Time Paperback – August 23, 1994
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In the grand scheme of things, this comic is often bypassed or overlooked entirely in favor of Crisis on Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis, which I personally find to be somewhat strange. After all, it happened for the same exact reason that the first Crisis did, which was to streamline the continuity of the DC Univere for readers. Crisis on Infinite Earths was supposed to do this witht he destruction of the original multiverse. However this process, though effective, wasn't 100% complete, with many details being fuzzy as what was or wasn't still relevant was up in the air. This led to different writers contradicting each other, with more and more writers being added over time, and the works of earlier writers being cast aside. This inevitably led to the rise of new and alternate timelines. DC tried to deal with this in 2 ways: Hypertime and the Elseworlds imprint. The former basically said that all alternate universes were possible/canon to some extent, which helped the Elseworls imprint, in which writers would draft imaginary tales and stories that took place, but had no bearing on the canon DCU. However, inevitably the universes began to overlap again, as really the idea of alternate realities is too good for any writer to ignore for long, and the earlier lack of consistency only added to the confusion. Thus, a Crisis in Time was needed.
Zero Hour took place nearly a decade after Crisis on Infinite Earths and in my opinion is very good, though not as good as the original. Perhaps the weakest part of this specific collection is that not all of the crossover and tie-in issues are collected in it. Now, this is the norm for most major events that DC puts out. Everything that has to do with Infinite Crisis is collected in about 4-6 different volumes, and that's nothing compared to everything that has to do with Final Crisis (Which is the real mess of this whole "Crisis" business) However, Zero Hour was published back when DC wasn't collecting everything (Or nearly everything) in trade paperbacks. With the later two Crisis events, even if you don't like them, you can still track down every single issue that was a part of the event itself through the collected trades. This makes it simple and saves time. With Zero Hour that simply isn't possible, so if you want to know about every detail that had to do with Superboy, and Power Girl, and Batman, and a host of other characters before and during this event, you're going to have to hunt down individual issues, with some being easier to find than others. That is the worst part about this collection, and DC really needs to consider releasing an updated Omnibus, Absolute, or Special/Anniverssary Edition of this event for the fans.
All of that being said, this is still an excellent comic that you can follow easily enough. Maybe do a little bit of research on Google here and there to get background information on certain characters, but beyond that you shouldn't have any real problem following what's going on. Just as with the other Crisis events, there's a certain level of sadness and tragedy at the center of the story, perhaps even more than usual. After all, the main villain is a fallen hero in every sense of the term, one who has suffered a great loss (NOTE: The loss itself IS collected in Green Lantern Emerald Twilight, and the character's redemption is in turn collected in Final Night) And it is his friends who are forced to confront and fight him in the end. At the same time, we see numerous worlds and realities disappear forever. They may have been imaginary in terms of the official Canon, but they were still visible and real characters, and now they're gone. This erasure from existence is therefore sad to see. Beyond that, the artwork itself is also top notch and enjoyable, making everything that takes place that much more real.
While it is often forgotten by DC when they are doing their next big event, this event has aged fairly well over time and I absolutely recommend it. However, it only gets 4 out of 5 stars from me due to the fact that this volume again is not nearly as complete as it could be.
Here's a confession. I start my reviews well before I finish reading a book and my review for Zero Hour was shaping up to be pretty harsh. The first issue of Zero Hour is both the most poorly written and features the worst artwork. My experience with Zero Hour was similar to when I read "The Great Darkness Saga". At first I couldn't fathom why so many people considered it to be one of the all time great comic storylines and Paul Levitz writing was to put it politely, not good. By the end, however, I was a total convert. Zero Hour isn't as well regarded but it definitely improves as it progresses to an explosive and satisfying ending.
Warning, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers....
Zero Hour was shaping up to be yet ANOTHER story of the DC heroes teaming up to save the universe from being consumed. Nowadays it seems like the DC heroes are saving the universe about as often as I go in for a physical. One wonders why they're so affected at this point or feel such desperation since they do it all the time. The story felt like a watered down version of Crisis on Infinite Earths until the big reveal of the power behind Extant. I'd had knowledge of the events of Zero Hour but I'd forgotten that Hal Jordon, now self renamed as Parallax, was attempting to recreate the universe in order to "fix" it and restore Coast City. Long before Jordon stepped forward it dawned on me who the man in the shadows was but it still was a powerful moment. Sadly, DC comics wimped out and years later decided that Parallax was a separate entity controlling Hal Jordon. It's crystal clear that Dan Jurgen intended for Hal Jordon to be acting under his own motivation having snapped from the tragic events of the previous years and the story works much better as Jurgen intended it.
What sets Zero Hour apart from Crisis on Infinite Earths is that there is a certain level of ambiguity about whether the villain is actually a villain. You never question whether the Anti-Monitor is villainous but in this story you're talking about Hal Jordon trying to restore his hometown even if his methods are horrific. In this sense it's more like Watchmen with readers able to debate whether Ozymandias's actions could actually be regarded as benevolent in the end. Even some of the heroes side with Jordon seeing wisdom in his cause. After reading Zero Hour I have to say that Infinite Crisis, a series I really enjoyed, feels like it rips off this mini-series heavily with Alexander Luthor replacing Parallax and Superboy Prime standing in for Extant. On the other hand, the conclusion of Zero Hour steals from Crisis on Infinite Earths where Dr. Light was used as a conduit for the energy attacks of various heroes to blast the Anti-Monitor. In Zero Hour the character Damage becomes the conduit. There is a ton of pseudoscientific gobbledygook and I learned that just about any problem can be solved by, "pouring energy into it". Need to widen a Boom Tube? Pour energy into it. Tear in the fabric of space and time? Throw a Mobius Chair at it and pour energy into it. Another way to close a time rift is to, "race away from the rift fast enough to create your own vortex-- then double back through it at ultimate speed-- right into the heart of the rift which may cause a powerful shockwave that will collapse it" And the cool thing is, it always works. I have to wonder if the JLA fixes a clogged toilet by focusing all their energy attacks on it in one concentrated blast.
I don't regret buying Zero Hour one bit and say what you will it really is a major event in the history of DC comics. Crisis on Infinite Earths was better and in my opinion so was Infinite Crisis but Zero Hour carves its own nitch. Jordon becoming Parallax was pretty darn cool until DC undid it. I also have to say that Extant's costume is one for the ages and I loved the way his identity kept changing. If you're a fan of DC comics this is one you should probably own.
So that's my review but let me close with a brief rant on the state of the comic industry. I didn't buy comics in the 90's because they were just too Kewl for my simple tastes. Actually, I was busy finishing college and finding a job and the cost just didn't factor into my life at the time. Zero Hour is a good analogy for the 90's. In Zero Hour a rift was consuming time while in the comic industry the publishers were burning the candle at both ends. The comic industry has always had a carnival barker type atmosphere with covers promising the most shocking, amazing stories ever but in the 90's they ramped it up to the nth degree with publishers more than subtly implying that the comics were serious collectables. Great writing was downplayed as publishers focused on pushing first appearances, issue number 1's (and 0's), character deaths, variant covers and *Good God* sealed comics never even meant to be read. Sure, you might have an issue of Spiderman but do you have the 3D, holofoil, glow in the dark, die cut, signed and numbered, limited edition variant cover? And these gimmicks worked like a charm... for awhile. And when collectors discovered that these are lousy collectables they naturally felt burned. There was a lot of bad writing and art shipped on high quality paper but wrapping an old fish in velvet instead of newspaper doesn't make it smell any better. The aftermath of Zero Hour was a major gimmick that saw all the DC titles restart with issue #0. Some of the monster hits of the 90's could sell in excess of 1 million copies and today it's rare for any comic to break the 100k mark in any month. Even today I've skipped Brightest Day and Flashpoint because the buzz just wasn't all that good. If comics are to regain their numbers it will have to be with better writing and a reboot of the DC universe with the same mediocre stories just isn't going to do it. Zero Hour didn't create these problems but it was definitely at the eye of the storm.