…continued from Relaunched, Rebooted, and Bewildered


Scholar Douglas Wolk, following a 2017 presentation in Portland, Oregon entitled “The Complete and Unabridged History of the Marvel Universe,” commented that his method of chronology-building and “way of reading” superhero comics is “what Steve Lieber smartly called a ‘Bible-as-literature approach’—tending to treat everything as valid evidence to be assessed unless it’s specifically not. (You can’t declare an issue non-canonical because ‘Dr. Strange wouldn’t do that’; the only valid reason for excluding a story is ‘Dr. Strange didn’t do that!’)” Lieber’s Bible-as-literature approach, which Wolk has so perfectly applied to the Marvel Universe, is something that I’ve also applied to the DCU when making Batman timelines.

Aside from the Lieber method, my timeline-building ideation also factors in all the things we’ve previously discussed regarding publishing, fictional canon, and line-wide reboots. But, as stated earlier, reboots never really start over completely from scratch. Old stories get folded into “new continuity” in interesting ways. Because the “superhero story” generally exists in the form of serialized multiple-authored sequential art, we see types of storytelling in superhero comics that are unique only to superhero comics. Thus, there are a lot of tricks or “funny games” that creators play to tell superhero stories (or play while telling them). This specific kind of trick-storytelling exists in the winks, nods, references, Easter Eggs, Jonbar hinges, retcons, flashbacks, call-backs, Sliding-Time, canon-immigration, back-engineering, and re-imagining of hundreds of creators telling the über tale. This section is all about these funny games—the games that creators play and which fans (myself included) interpret. The collaborative perception of both authors and readers is what makes superhero comics superhero comics. It is through this exchange that a superhero universe gains cohesion and coherence.

Let’s now look at few examples to show how the collaborative perceptive nature of continuity-building works (for both author and reader). Be very aware that, with most examples that show my personal interpretive process as a reader, there can often be various alternate interpretations to open-texted material. Again, this is the idea that fandom dictates canon. Make sure to chant this shibboleth as you drudge your way through the labyrinth that is superhero continuity: There is no one true correct answer. Even if you come to regard the voice of this website as an all-empowered arbiter, don’t forget, the goal here is simply to achieve the best possible reading order, one that makes the most sense narratively and chronologically.


FLASHBACKS are pretty straightforward, but not always. This is a random example of a flashback from Batman Eternal #11 that evinces a seamless flashback—detailing Cluemaster’s provenance—through the form of his daughter Stephanie Brown doing research at the library. Sometimes specific time references are given; sometimes they are not. (It’s better not to give specific time references because dwelling in specificity only exposes an author to greater risk of error or contradiction.)


REFERENCES are anything mentioned in a comic that is to a past event that is unique (and hasn’t been shown before or is not in another issue prior). This happens a lot, especially in the Golden and Silver Age. Batman #69 Part 2, as our random sample, refers to an event that never happened. It must be inserted into history at a locus that makes sense.

reference to previous era

REFERENCES/FLASHBACKS FROM ONE ERA TO A PREVIOUS ERA (also known as writing with BROAD STROKES) occur quite often. Sometimes, this includes out-and-out RETCONS. Here’s a little thought exercise to help us better understand before looking at a specific random example: Let’s take all of the adventures from 1964 through 1985/1986 that Batman goes through… After reboot in 1985/1986, that stuff all gets totally erased, but casually referenced or flashed-back to by various authors that want to draw upon Batman’s rich history. However, those references and flashbacks cannot happen EXACTLY as they did since they fit into a new updated, modern continuity. Thus, they become retroactive reference material, a mere skeletal framework of what once was that resembles the past, but has now been altered to fit the present. Things sometimes get redefined to such an extent that they will bear no resemblance to their prior understandings. And, ironically, we (the reader) do most of this retconning in our own minds with the stimulus being the authorial nod within the current narrative. Another way of looking at this concept is that a new continuity is inspired by or based on prior continuity. The New 52 is inspired by the Modern, Silver, and Golden Ages whereas the Modern Age is inspired by the Silver and Golden Ages (and so on and so forth). My specific example above features Zook as shown in Superman/Batman #31 and a subsequent two-panel flashback to a Silver Age story (or approximation of a Silver Age story) within. This canonizes the 60s comedy character Zook, which previously hadn’t been canon in the grim’n’gritty Modern Age—of course, the JLA’s adventures with Zook aren’t folded in as they are, they have to be altered versions that better fit the era.

What is the rule when it comes to addressing retcons while building timelines? Can narrative be canonized piecemeal from within a single comic? And how do we know a retcon when we see one? First, my timeline-building methodology doesn’t generally involve picking and choosing pieces of individual comics. Typically, a full issue is either canon or it isn’t. The only time pieces of a single comic get added are via reference (or the occasional dreaded out-and-out retcon). It’s up to the reader to make things fit into the greater puzzle—either by fanwank or caveat citing a retcon/irreconcilable difference. (A fanwank is a reader-applied teleological explanation for an ostensible continuity error.) It’s certainly not an exact science—and I’m sure I break my own rules every now and again. But I really try not to. Later issues can retcon pieces of prior issues i.e. The Man Who Laughs (2005) retconning the end of Miller’s “Year One” (1987). But prior issues trumping later issues doesn’t usually happen. An exception to this rule would apply to retcons from later published material that is quasi-canonical (or, of course, non-canonical). Here’s the big thing to remember: Not everything contradictory that is written later is meant to be a retcon. Some writers simply make mistakes! It’s up to the reader to determine what is a retcon versus what is a continuity error. In this way, we have a loophole to all of our aforementioned edicts. It’s a difficult process determining what is or isn’t a retcon, and, as said before, it certainly isn’t an exact science with hard rules. Thus, we get caveats that say what needs to be ignored. Honestly, the continuity game is a mug’s game. As stated above, the idea is simply to come up with the best (most sensible) reading order. In my practice, I’ve tried to do this while simultaneously providing detailed explanations into my thinking.

How do we know if something is definitively non-canon? Again, aside from Elseworlds tales, we cannot know with 100% certainty. While building my timelines, I’m simply searching for meaning and intent in order to provide sense. Therefore, I’m hesitant to remove items entirely or to flippantly label things non-canon, even when they have errors. Doing so would set a dangerous precedent that could conceivably lead to removing just about everything! If you counted-out things based upon continuity errors, there’d be very little left. I’d rather fight to keep things on the timeline, when possible. Writers generally have clear intention of where they want their comics to occur, even when they fuck up continuity. If something is truly unplaceable (going beyond having a small number of errors) and there’s really no clear narrative intent that can be discerned, then we can and should consider disavowal.

bruce selina marry

gay batman and robin

GOLDEN AGE RETCONS FROM THE 1970s/1980s cause a lot of alteration. In the 1970s Bruce and Selina are retconned to have been married with a baby, so a bunch of stories from the 50s and early 60s don’t fit! Batman #117 is an example of a story that no longer makes sense if Bruce is happily married to Selina. He probably would be sharing a bed with his wife, not Dick. Come to think of it, why IS Bruce sharing a bed with his young ward? Batman #117 is a very curious example for this very reason… which was unfortunately and unjustly used as execrable ammunition by Fredric Wertham during his witch hunt against comics back in the 50s.

time-sliding superman batman JFK

SLIDING-TIME (aka TIME-SLIDING, SLIDING-TIMESCALE, or FLOATING TIMELINE) occurs in both the Silver Age and Modern Age. Retcons in the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s, as gleaned from hints in the narrative of several titles, caused the start dates for DC characters, including Batman, to be “slid-up.” Likewise, DC did the same thing starting in 1994 with a story arc called Zero Hour, and slid things up annually until around 2002. Interestingly enough, Sliding-Time is one of the big reasons that one can build DC chronologies with strict(ish) dates and times whereas building Marvel chronologies the same way is nearly impossible. Since around 1968, with the introduction of the character Franklin Richards, Marvel has operated with a sliding-timescale that constantly moves—instantly retconning all stories into reference material and ignoring topical references—to keep its shared-multiversial start date perpetually around 14 or 15 years prior to current ongoing publications. As of 2019, this is still the case, and it doesn’t appear as if Marvel will alter that path anytime soon. In contrast, DC’s Floating Timelines always altered origin-points with exact specificity. While indeed “floating” like Marvel’s, they didn’t constantly float. Instead, they’d be editorially moved (sometimes officially but sometimes unofficially) every now and again, and really not that often.

no man's land lex luthor

time sliding new 52 dc

COMPRESSION / THE LENGTH OF EACH TIMELINE occurs quite often as well. Reboots and retcons are conducive to significant time-compression. Sliding-Time, for instance, causes massive compression. Say a story arc (like “No Man’s Land” or “Knightfall”) occurs over a specific nearly yearlong IN-STORY period. When things are made more contemporary, large chunks of story time cannot accommodate the shorter more-updated timeline. Thus, we have to imagine a condensed history. Instead of a full year, “No Man’s Land” only lasted a few months. Or Batman recovers much faster after Bane breaks his back in “Knightfall” etc…

Another significant aspect of compression can be seen in DC’s 2011’s Flashpoint reboot, in which the entire line was re-launched. Editors were fearful of the reaction that fans would have to a completely rebooted Batman with no past to speak of, so while Batman still had to fit on the six-year-long timeline, his entire history, including multiple Robins, still existed! This led to speculation on the internet as to how this could be possible. My site maps this out pretty damn well. But basically, as of right now, Batman’s entire history has been squeezed into a seven year timeline. Robins go from side-kicking for years to just having been “interns” for a year or less in order to make things work. The key events and stories are still there, but they are skeleton versions of what they once were. And some of them are merely perfunctory references, dropped in conversation between two B-list characters.

ayatollah vs superman

TOPICAL/SEASONAL REFERENCES sometimes wind up having to be ignored as well. Many books in the mid to late 80s were prominently about the Cold War and featured Reagan, Gorbachev, the Ayatollah, and Soviet army stuff galore. Of course, two decades after that, DC is telling its readers that Batman hasn’t been around since the 80s, but instead only debuted in the 90s, which means how the hell could those Soviet stories make sense? Christmas stories are rough too. It’ll often seem as though there are multiple Christmases in a single year when writers and editors don’t communicate with one another.


EASTER EGGS are a fun type of example. The Batcave trophy room is filled with them. Basically, the Batcave trophies have long existed as a means for artists to have fun and draw in whatever they please. But when this happens, let’s say for instance someone draws a gigantic mushroom in there, this means that Batman went on some unspecified mission and netted a giant mushroom as a prize. This becomes a part of his history that we can only imagine in our own minds!

character stephanie brown robin

CHARACTER CHANGES happen—sometimes personalities, races, or ages change (or don’t change when they should in the case of the latter). Wally West going from White to Black is a big recent change. Likewise, in current continuity, Stephanie Brown no longer was a Robin (even though she was the fourth official and first female Robin once upon a time). Robin’s age in different eras is screwy too. In the Modern Age, the third Robin (Tim Drake) was seemingly in high school for WAY TOO LONG. Likewise, Dick Grayson was the same way in the Golden Age. Stuff like this—i.e. the idea of keeping characters perpetually fresh—can lead to some pretty shoddy continuity.


THE KILLING JOKE is fun to talk about because it’s such a seminal title—so crucial and yet so polarizing. It has always been hailed as a classic, and only in recent years has it come under scrutiny as being possibly misogynistic and poorly constructed. Even Alan Moore himself has disavowed it (although he’s disavowed all of his work from that era, so take that with a grain of salt). Purportedly, Moore was told this story would be out-of-continuity, which likely affected his plot. In 2015, artist Jesse Hamm did his take on an alternate version (pictured above to the right) of the infamously gratuitous scene where Barbara Gordon is thrown into a fridge and paralyzed by the Joker. Hamm added the comment “There, I fixed it.”

killing joke bolland

You also have the great Brian Bolland redoing the Bat-symbol for the 2008 Absolute Edition of The Killing Joke just because he liked the way it looked better without the yellow oval. But that messes with continuity! Batman’s different costumes are loosely connected to different periods of his crime-fighting career. The original (from 1988) is shown above as compared to the altered (from 2008).

lego batman

EVERYTHING TECHNICALLY EXISTS IN SOME (ALTERNATE) CONTINUITY, which calls into question the the difference between non-canon and out-of-continuity. There are multiple Earths—(the Big Two used to call stories happening in these alternate universes “Elseworlds,” “What Ifs,” “Hypertime stories,” or “imaginary tales”)—which means the idea that everything that gets published/produced can take place on its own timeline is NOT that far-fetched. This means everything that DC publishes or produces is canon… somewhere. For example, a colleague of mine advocates timeline placement for all sorts of Batman ephemera from the 60s, 70s, and 80s—whether on a mashed-up collection of timelines or with each type having its own unique alternate universe. There has long been an argument among fans and editors as to how all of the published/produced material should be categorized (and if all of it should be categorized in the first place). Obviously, every item that gets published or produced cannot coexist on one unified timeline. Such a timeline would merely be a list, lacking order and sense. Comic book scholar Brian Hibbs puts it best: “If everything [is canon], then arranging it all in a way that makes sense isn’t just difficult, it’s pointless.” So, as  you can plainly see, not everything can be canon on a singular chronology. You have to have Earths A through Z until infinity.


Overall, continuity is a thing that is getting much more attention from the mainstream eye, ironically not so much in comics, but more so in Hollywood (thanks to the ever inflating bubble of superhero film franchises—namely the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Cinematic Universe, and their respective TV universes— and the lasting effect of series like Terminator, Harry Potter, Transformers, Star Wars, and more). Sites like Wookiepedia, and various other wiki-style sties now exist to collect and categorize heaps of story/character data in encyclopedic, easily-searchable fashion. See Jagm’s Adventure Time chronology, which is the crème de la crème of chronologies.

Every day, one can stumble upon a plethora of other complicated things involved with canon that I haven’t mentioned. Since 2000, Lucasfilm (and now Disney) has had a single authority in charge of continuity for Star Wars canon. There are now different level-designations of canon within the Star Wars universe—G-canon, T-canon, C-canon, S-canon, N-canon and D-canon. Hell, Star Wars has a canonical theme park for crying out loud! Star Trek itself has multiple canons, which have now become intertwined with reboot films. The Dragon Ball franchise, Conan the Barbarian franchise, and Transformers franchise are very similar examples—each with varying levels of “official” canon. Even HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, which dates back to 1917, has several layers of “official” canon.

Even more mind-boggling terms seem to make the concept of fictional canon even more complex—words like headcanon, fanon, canon immigration, deuterocanon, canon fodder, canon welding, recursive canon, call-backs, and many more are always popping-up on websites and forums these days.

As you can see, there’s always more to say when it comes to matters of canonicity and continuity. It’s a topic I enjoy discussing and it’s one that will hopefully be talked about even more in the near future. I’m always glad to be at the vanguard of that discussion and am eternally grateful to have had such a positive response from fans/readers both on the internet and at my live speaking engagements. For a summary of the history of the DC Multiverse and explanation of my timeline-building process with more visuals, please check out The Uniqueness of Serialized Multi-Authored Comic Book Storytelling and Making Sense of It All.




A genuine Marvel Comics No-Prize.

Now that we’ve detailed the history of DC Comics in regard to its reboots, we can tackle the big question: “What is the correct chronological order for reading Batman comics?” Quid est veritas? Since continuity truly is in the eye of the beholder, readers can often explain why ostensible continuity errors aren’t really errors at all, putting their own spin on things in order to come up with exegeses. In the 60s and 70s, Stan Lee used to mail out “No-Prize” awards to inventive and creative fans that were able to do exactly that. One of my goals is to be the most creative fan there is, the fan that wins the most No-Prizes.


A literal Batman puzzle.

Each section of this website details a very specific order and contains notes as to how things are placed—all based upon my process as detailed above. Despite having addressed the ostensible futility of building comic book timelines, the Real Batman Chronology Project is definitely not a complete waste of time. This project is a labor of love and if you examine each panel of as many Batman stories as you can get your hands on, you will see that things do fit into a timeline in the most pleasantly unexpected ways. Of course, the frustratingly opposite happens almost just as often. But that is simply a part of the process. Theoretically, if the perfect suggested order is compiled, then we have the closest thing to answering our dreaded chronological question. Finding continuity is a game. It’s piecing together an impossibly intricate jigsaw puzzle. There’s no greater satisfaction than stepping back and seeing the final picture as a whole.

Regarding their occupation, the zoologist/psychologist couple David Barash and Judith Lipton say, “Although we seek ultimately to unravel genuine external truths about the natural world, not simply to validate our own preconceptions, one of those truths is that we are readily seduced by our own ideas and just as reluctant to give up on them—even in the face of contrary evidence—as anyone else.” I may not be trying to solve anthropological or biological mysteries by building superhero timelines, but this quote readily applies to my process. This site is meant to be entirely non-opinionated and nonobjective, and not some random fanboy list of my own personal favorite Batman stories. I’ll be the first to admit that I geek out a bit harder (and usually write a bit more positively) about my faves, and likewise, write a bit more negatively about things I don’t like as much. That being said, this does not mean that I’m trying to alienate any fans or tell any of my readers what’s good and what’s bad. I’ll leave that to the reviewers and the critics. This website is not a comic book review or critique site. This website is home to an intensive scholarly research project, through-in and throughout. There are a ton of stories I’ve included on my timelines that I despise and many more that I absolutely adore, which are absent since they are non-canon. I can’t stress this enough: The Real Batman Chronology Project is meant to be uninfluenced, unbiased, and, most substantively, a scientific research-based endeavor that examines the continuity of Batman via a narratological reading based solely upon the facts (admittedly as I see them) in the comic books themselves. Every tale—and I mean every tale—that is slotted into my chronology is done so only after a thorough examination of both narrative content and continuous in-story information. “Proof” comes from what’s literally found in the published materials combined with the application of Occam’s razor theory—the simplest explanation is likely the best. In the final calculus, however, there is no definitive right or definitive wrong when it comes to creating comic-book-world timelines. As the curmudgeonly genius Robert Anton Wilson quips, “I don’t think most issues in the sensory-sensual spacetime world (the world of experience) actually reduce to two-valued logic.” The same view can and should also be applied to Batman comics that exist in the sensory-sensual spacetime world of the DC multiverse and the greater omniverse (aka multi-multiverse) in which it dwells.

Please click on the following link to continue reading the next part of this section: Who I am, How I Came to be.


Collin Colsher is a writer, filmmaker, teacher, and comic book scholar that currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. He is the creator of The Real Batman Chronology Project and disCONTINUITY. Collin also serves on the jury for the annual Lynd Ward Graphic Novel Prize, which is sponsored by the US Library of Congress.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *