The DC Universe is the Shared Universe belonging to DC Comics, established in 1934 and now the oldest major comic book publishing company. This is mostly used as a vehicle for their extensive Super Hero mythos, although the nature of the universe allows for almost unlimited storytelling potential in many different genres.The DC Universe is primarily responsible for establishing the concept of the super-hero in popular culture, with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman as some of their oldest and most popular characters. Their introduction of the Justice Society of America during World War II was also the first real super-hero team book, using the cross-over to establish the first shared universe in comics history. Their massive early popularity was stunted by the invention of The Comics Code which nearly killed the industry, and many of the bowdlerised stories from this era are responsible for several negative stereotypes about the medium. There was a revival in the late fifties and early sixties with the creation of newer more imaginative updates of characters like Green Lantern and The Flash, leading to DC's biggest characters forming the Justice League. To explain the difference in continuity, they established a Multiverse with the different versions of the heroes occupying different worlds. The popularity of this team book also inspired Marvel Comics to publish their own team book Fantastic Four, leading into an era of more maturely written super-hero stories dealing with the development of characters and more serious problems.One of their most controversial moves was the epic storyline Crisis on Infinite Earths during the eighties, an effort to untangle their years of Continuity Snarl by destroying the Multiverse and establishing one linear continuity for all of the characters to co-exist in. This included revising much of the universe's history and updating the origins of many characters. The Multiverse was brought back during Infinite Crisis, although the mainstream continuity has only been changed in minor ways reflecting the story-telling needs of the writers. There was a second, much more widespread reboot of the DC Universe in September 2011 with all titles being restarted back to number 1, with these titles referred to as the "New 52".Their distinguished competition is the Marvel Universe, published by Marvel Comics. The two lines appear similar at first glance, but there are some very subtle differences between the two. While there are many exceptions, the main difference is that the super-hero community tends to have a stricter sense of black-and-white morality at DC. This is written as a mature philosophical stand-point, dealing with the heroic archetype and their place as trusted members of society; in the DCU the general public tend to have greater respect for their heroes and treat them with higher esteem. In turn, the heroes of the DCU must undergo the trials of having to keep their respect and morality, even when it goes under fire.Not to be confused withDC United.
The defining characteristics of The DCU:
Big Good: Superman is traditionally the chairman (and often acknowledged as the most powerful member) of the Justice League, and when not acting in his capacity as a Leaguer most other heroes tend to defer to his authority and judgment if only out of respect. Sometimes generalized to the "Big Three" where Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman collectively comprise the Big Good of the JLA. The JLA itself is in a sense the Big Good of DCU superteams and/or the metahuman community in general.
Explicitly shown in the Trinity maxi-series, to the point where the three become gods.
In a similar capacity, Captain Marvel is often treated like this, even in comparison to Superman, possibly due to Children Are Innocent. It's explicitly stated in the comics that Billy Batson would be Marvel full-time to help people, if not for the wizard Shazam insisting that Batson himself deserves some happiness in his life, too.
This is being averted in modern days, where it's been established that Gotham is in New Jersey and Metropolis is in Delaware.
Gateway City (where Wonder Woman used to hang out before she moved to Washington) is in California.
So is Coast City (Green Lantern Hal Jordan's town.)
Keystone City (home of Golden Age and modern-day The Flashes) is in Ohio, according to JSA #15.
However, it's since been retconned as being located in Kansas, like Smallville, but near the border with Missouri (where Central City, home of the Silver Age Flash, is located), as per Flash vol.2 #188 (published in 2002), in which Wally West builds a bridge between the two cities.
Speaking of California, they inverted the usual DC practice of fictional adventure towns based on real places, by taking a real place (San Diego) and sinking it into the ocean, transforming its inhabitants into merpeople in the process. Thus it became the fictional underwater city of "Sub Diego," which Aquaman protected, natch.
Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The DC Universe has a species of giant space critters called Sun Eaters, who do just that.
Easily Conquered World: Alien invasions Tuesday, underground monsters Thursday, and evil masterminds on Friday. If you're looking for an excuse to get off from work, you damn well better have lost your entire city, and even then, you're lucky.
Easy Road to Hell: In both the DC and Marvel 'verses there have been examples of people getting sent to Hell with magic, rather than through any fault of their own. Granted, in most such cases they were able to get out later.
Flanderization: In 1983, Batman quit the Justice League and created a new team called the Outsiders after Superman saying he would not lead the League in saving Lucius Fox from being a hostage in a far away country for diplomatic reasons, and this lead to a dynamic within the DC Multiverse wherein Batman would be portrayed as a maverick and Superman a boy scout. While they patched things up later that year, 1986's The Dark Knight Returns (which took place in a possible future) made Batman the ultimate outlaw anti-hero, and Superman a tool for the Ronald Reagan of every political cartoon of the '80s. In the revised DC Universe, DC ran with this dynamic of Superman and Batman being at odds for about a decade before it just kind-of ran out of steam, though the recent Batman/Superman title and other New 52 material revisited it.
DC Comics created several characters during the Golden Age, but by the end of WWII the interest in superheroes died down, and most titles (except Superman and Batman) were closed or moved to other genres. The Silver Age began with the relaunch of Flash... besides the name and the speed, Barry Allen had nothing in common with Jay Garrick. The same thing was done with Green Lantern, Hawkman, and others. But the prize goes to The Atom, who went from a rough-and-tumble boxer who was kinda short to a physicist who could shrink to subatomic size.
Though in this case, things were retconned twice. The first time, it had been revealed that the Golden Age characters lived on Earth-2, while the Silver Age characters lived on Earth-1.
The second time it was retconned to fit into the new continuity created by Crisis on Infinite Earths. Alan Scott, for instance, was revealed to have received his power from the Starheart, an artifact created by the Guardians of the Universe (i.e., the same guys who made the Green Lantern rings), and Jay Garrick and Barry Allen were later revealed to both have received their power from the "speed force".
Since DC's business theory (such as it is) is about hanging onto trademarks as long as possible, they have a long history of reusing names in some odd fashion or another. Such as the 1940's superhero Johnny Thunder, the 1950's cowboy Johnny Thunder, and the 1980's noir detective Jonni Thunder. Or all those unrelated characters named Starman.
Irony: Superboy Prime was initially DC Comics' way of making fun of fanboys (a Straw Fan). Recently the explanation for any inconsistencies in the DC Universe is that Superboy-Prime punched reality so hard that it changed history (seriously). So the one character they made to make fun of the stupidity of fanboys is now the answer to those same fanboys' questions about continuity problems. It's like giving the keys of a circus to a monkey.
Which seems to sum up Running the Asylum right there, whether or not that counts as irony.
Kobra, a longtime Big Bad in The DCU, seems to have been Killed Off For Real (having your heart ripped clean out of your chest by Black Adam will do that). However, since his minions recently resurrected his brother (who was killed off waaaaaaay back in 1978) to become the new head of their Religion of Evil, all bets are off.
Pre-Crisis, Earth-1 represented contemporary/Silver Age continuity whereas the alternate Earth-2 represented the Golden Age (with some minor retcons to introduce more differences).
The main DCU is known as New Earth or Earth-0, due to the changes made to the timeline during Infinite Crisis.
The Wildstorm universe has nominally been part of the DC Multiverse since the company was bought by DC, though crossovers are rare. With Flashpoint, however, many Wildstorm characters have shown up as part of the main DCU.
Remember the New Guy: DC Comics had several heroes that were created in the 70's and 80's, but were established as having been active during the 40's. Among them were Amazing-Man (chronologically, one of the earliest black superheroes) and Commander Steel, both of whom were established as having fought alongside the members of the JSA.
Rhymes on a Dime: Mr. Bones, originally; it's been quietly disposed of since then.
The Phantom Zone is essentially an other-dimensional prison that holds numerous Kryptonian criminals. As such, there many stories where the prisoners escape and the heroes have to fight to throw them back into the Zone.
The Source Wall is a huge cosmic barrier between the Source (the source of power behind existence itself) and the rest of creation. The Wall is decorated with the bodies and visages of all of the would be conquerors who have sought to claim the power of the Source for themselves, imprisoning them for all eternity. The Wall is one of the more effective Cans in fiction and only three people have ever escaped it. One of them, Yuga Khan (the father of Darkseid), managed to summon just enough power to free himself from the Wall...only to get himself imprisoned in it again in another bid to obtain the Source, this time for good. The second one was Darkseid himself, and he needed the help of the one who imprisoned him in the first place (Superman) to do it. The third was Superman, who was trapped by Darkseid and required the help of every variation of Supergirl from the last twenty years to break free.
Shazam! (Not actually the hero's name. His name is Captain Marvel. The wizard who gave Billy Batson his powers is named Shazam. However, no series using the character can use the "Captain Marvel" name because Marvel Comics has its own character with that name and regularly publishes comic book series with that name. He was featured in a 1974 live-action series, 1981 cartoon (both produced by Filmation), and a planned 2008 cartoon.))
And she was a statue for a while. Then she came back. Go fig.
Other team shows:
Teen Titans (The last season is full of the same mix, albeit focusing on the TT and Doom Patrol characters. This may or may not also be in continuity with the DCAU below, despite its very different look and style, and fan debates over this continue as the Word of God has been lacking, instead giving what amounts to the continuity version of a Ship Tease.)
In 2007, DC and Warner Bros. began a new series of direct-to-video animated movies called DC Universe Animated Original Movies. Mostly they focus on individual characters, including some, like Wonder Woman, who have never had their own animated series. All movies with the exception of the Superman/Batman titles (which are loosely related to each other) are standalone stories.