I’ve been playing lately with the idea that, since I’m in a new city and state, I might try running a variant on one of my former campaigns: DC Realtime. The original assumption was that all DC superheroes began their careers in the years when they were first published, and aged year for year from then on. In this case I’d want to make an added assumption: that the timeline doesn’t include any of the characters DC took over from Charlton, Fawcett, MJL/Archie Adventure, Quality, or any other publishers. (By and large I don’t like those characters as much, and they make for an overcomplicated continuity.)
So, for example, Superman started his career in 1938, and by now he has some distinguished gray at the temples and has changed his focus from adventuring to research; Batman started his in 1939, and is long dead; Wonder Woman started hers in 1941 and hasn’t aged a day.
The first tricky part is that a lot of characters have gone on having published adventures far longer than realistic aging can allow. Consider Green Arrow and Speedy, who started out in 1941: when he joined the Justice League in 1961, Green Arrow must have been well into his forties and not far from retirement, and when Speedy joined the Teen Titans in 1969 he would have been around 40 (a similar problem arises for Robin, who would have been in his thirties at their first adventure in 1964). It makes better sense to say that Speedy had taken up the role of Green Arrow by 1961, when he still had a decade ahead of him. Kid Flash, Aqualad, and Wonder Girl could all actually be teenagers in 1964, but they would have been long past that in 1973, when the series was first cancelled.
Wonder Girl has a really wonky history, by the way: The original stories that had her teaming up with Wonder Woman were supposedly fictional adventurers created by splicing together home movies of Princess Diana at different ages, and treating her as a different person and a sidekick was the result of a writer’s confusion; making sense of it has caused endless continuity snarls. Probably the least awkward fix is to suppose that Wonder Woman finally married Steve Trevor in the early 1950s and had a daughter shortly after. This parallels something my co-GM and I did the first time around: treating Superboy (first published 1944) as Clark Kent’s illegitimate son by a girl who was sent away to have the baby, for the sake of avoiding scandal. I’m thinking of calling him Lancelot Strong this time. Then there are Supergirl and Power Girl; Supergirl was in her teens in 1959 and is probably best explained as Superman’s cousin, arrived on Earth late, but Power Girl is enough younger that she might be Clark and Lois Kent’s daughter (and “Superboy”'s half-sister). I’m entertaining the idea that Power Girl took up her career after her aunt Kara (actually her cousin once removed) departed to be with Brainiac 5 in the thirtieth century . . .
The other chronological problem I’ve identified so far is Infinity Inc., purportedly the children of the Justice Society—but the Justice Society was founded in 1941, presumably when its members were in their twenties, and Infinity Inc. started in 1983, purportedly when its members were in their teens; that has all of the Justice Society becoming parents remarkably late. I haven’t really figured out a workaround for that.
The other thing I’m looking at is staying closer to the original origins and power sets. So, for example, Superman has his powers because all Kryptonians had similar powers on Krypton; and those powers are at the level of lifting cars, outrunning an express train, and “nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin,” without later additions such as X-ray vision, heat vision (originally defined as an application of X-ray vision), super-breath, or flight. Aquaman originally was raised in the sunken ruins of Atlantis by a scientist father who had worked out methods for conditioning him to survive underwater; he doesn’t have to meet Atlanteans until he encounters Aqualad around 1960.
I haven’t really figured out what happens to the timeline after the early 1980s. DC has been reconfiguring the entire universe/multiverse over and over since then, and I want to avoid that. Three different Legions of Superheroes, for example, are two too many.
(This might be how Thomas Aquinas felt turning the scriptures into a logically coherent theology. . . .)