This is a weird series, because it exists to accomplish a change in continuity, not as a story per se. The concepts are so abstract — chronal energy, entropy, destroying the universe to rebuild it — that they can’t be fully represented in narrative pictures. You can’t blame writer Dan Jurgens for resorting to so much expository dialog. Aside from Hawkman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, it’s hard to see the changes made here that couldn’t have been accomplished in a standard super-hero story. Even the Hawkman stuff, however, highlights the super-hero genre’s need to make its publishing and creative history part of its narrative. You can’t just say, “Hawkworld isn’t part of this character’s official history. It was a different approach that we tried, but it didn’t work out in the long run.” Instead, it’s manifested in the shared universe as an alternate timeline that happened because of space-time anomalies left over from the Crisis. It’s wild, from a group psychology standpoint, that super-hero comics contain that extreme degree of “let’s all play along with the make-believe”, while at the same time insisting that these fantasies should be plausibly realistic.
Cross-overs are known for character deaths, and Zero Hour has its share. Most famously, the Justice Society of America gets decimated by the villain Extant. While it’s not pleasant to see so many of these first-generation heroes offed in such a perfunctory way, it is part of the commitment to driving the DCU forward. The ones who survive go on to feature in other comics’ supporting casts as mentors to the younger generation. That was a good role for them, that served the larger fictional universe better than them being active super-heroes. But the JSAers aren’t the only casualties. Lots of characters die as entropy eats time from both ends. Even Batman gets wiped out of existence. Those deaths, however, are not permanent.
Extant appears, at first, to be the big bad of this story, but it’s actually Parallax, the mad-god persona of Hal Jordan. This may be the part that has the most resonance to the current DC, since the Parallax idea was reworked and deeply incorporated into the Green Lantern mythos. (I know that was done before the New 52 reboot, but it seems to have also happened in the new DCU.) Parallax is exactly the type of villain that today’s super-hero comics are obsessed with: a very powerful, crazy-yet-competent antagonist who believes his cause is good, or, at the least, justified. Some of the heroes from alternate time-lines have a real conflict of interest here. Parallax promises to re-create a universe where they all have a place, where they can all go back to the lives and worlds that they remember.
It’s always cool to see lots of super-heroes teaming up. I can’t explain it, but when two or four characters who normally don’t go on adventures together are going on an adventure, it’s cool. You get plenty of that in Zero Hour. Appropriately, it spans DC’s history, from the JSA to the Legion of Super-Heroes. Some folks from alternate time-lines join in, too. Something I respect is how many younger and newer heroes get a push. In the final battle, characters like the Ray (II), Damage, and Darkstar Donna Troy play a big part. This era saw a lot of revamps of old ideas, and use of legacy. It felt like the DCU was changing and moving forward in a fairly natural way. It would’ve been nice if that approach had continued.
All these characters look great in Zero Hour. Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway drew it. Jurgens apparently did layouts or thumbnails, and Ordway finished it. It looks far more like Ordway than Jurgens. As a big fan of Ordway, that’s fine by me.
Arguably the biggest fall-out from Zero Hour was the re-boot of the Legion. This was, I believe, the first true re-boot of that concept. Although Superman’s new history after Crisis on Infinite Earths removed his adventures as Superboy, the Legion series did not stop and start over. Various “patches” were used to cover over those discontinuities. But after Zero Hour, their history started over from day one. The re-jiggering of Hawkman didn’t work out as well as hoped. New series were launched, and established series set new courses. James Robinson’s justly proclaimed Starman series began here. Other new series didn’t fare as well, like the radically different version of Dr. Fate (called simply, Fate), or the new team book, Primal Force (which I enjoyed). Oliver Queen is particularly devastated by the events here, and his son Connor Hawke took over as Green Arrow. I loved that run of GA, but it was ignored for a long time afterwards, and isn’t part of the New 52 history. All of the DCU series had zero issues at this time. For new series, it was an introduction. For others, it was a chance to re-tell an origin, or establish a new direction. The “zero month” thing was done again with all of the New 52 series.
The last issue has a fold-out back cover with a time-line of the DCU’s new history. It starts with creation and goes right up to the present. It’s interesting to compare to DC’s current approach, in which Superman first appeared about five years ago.
Would I recommend Zero Hour? Only to people who appreciate that “gigantic team-up” thing for its own sake, or to fans who like knowing all the history. If you look it up, keep in mind that the numbering goes in reverse (because it’s counting down to zero). Number four is first, number zero is last.