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Shaping a Universe: Mark Waid Returns to DC

Shaping a Universe: Mark Waid Returns to DC

By Alex Jaffe Tuesday, March 15th, 2022

Two years ago, a colleague introduced me at a promotional event for the Harley Quinn animated series to writer and frequent unofficial “ambassador of comics” Jimmy Palmiotti. To break the ice, she described me to him as the DC website and community’s resident trivia expert and knowledge-keeper.

“Aha,” Jimmy said, nodding with recognition. “So, you’re the new Mark Waid.”

It was easily the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me. But I had no choice but to deny it immediately. Because there is nobody alive in this world who knows or loves DC Comics as much as Mark Waid. He’s the man who has literally written the book on DC’s greatest heroes several times over. He’s the man who turned Wally West into the Fastest Man alive. The man who gave the Justice League and Superman definitive origins, and both their stories a definitive end. The man who rekindled the multiverse, and never, ever gave up on the rallying cry of “Long live the Legion.” And just as I knew all that, I knew that one day, Mark Waid couldn’t help but come back to the universe he gave so much of himself to shape.

Well, folks, he’s back. After a decade’s absence, the only person who could ever claim to have read every Superman and Batman story ever published and make you believe it is tackling them both in Batman/Superman: World’s Finesta series which promises to capture both characters at their best, as he’s delivered to us so many times before. If you’re a recent reader and haven’t gotten to do much archive-spelunking, then this may be your first experience with Waid’s touch. If so, maybe we can help you understand here why this is such a big deal.

Mark Waid began his professional career of defining DC just as the universe was coming apart. In 1985, the ongoing fifty-year sagas of the DC Universe were all preparing to close shop for a grand reshuffling of the cosmic deck, with Crisis on Infinite Earths. But that just meant that Waid was in the perfect place to do quite a bit of that reorganization himself. In his early career as an editor, Waid oversaw the Who’s Who in the DC Universe entries which would provide the most essential guides in the nascent stages of the Post-Crisis universe, defining each of DC’s major players as they set out into uncharted storytelling possibility. Having grown up on the nuances of Pre-Crisis continuity, the job often fell to Waid to make sure the complexities of stories past would never completely be forgotten. Under his stewardship, such off-beat concepts as Infinity Inc, the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Doom Patrol would continue to survive and grow, even while Superman and Wonder Woman were starting from scratch in their own rights.

As editor, Waid also did his part to save the most ambitious concept and biggest casualty of Pre-Crisis DC comics, and one which is only now finding mainstream acceptance in superhero storytelling: the Multiverse. As editor of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, Mark Waid stood at ground zero as the “Elseworlds” line came to be. Under the Elseworlds label, DC’s icons could tell any kind of story against any kind of setting, without the baggage of how continuity as a whole would be impacted. As a writer, Waid himself would go on to contribute some of the most significant Elseworlds stories ever told…and even introduce a radical concept which would allow all DC stories to exist among each other in an infinitely rich tapestry.

One of the biggest changes after Crisis on Infinite Earths was that the long-running Flash series had a new speedster under the crimson cowl: the former Kid Flash, Wally West. Starting in 1992 on issue #62 of Wally’s Flash series, Waid was not the first to tackle the idea of this graduated sidekick living up to the legacy of his lost mentor. But for eight solid years, Waid produced hit after hit story with Wally charting his own retold origin, through a staged reunion orchestrated by his predecessor’s greatest enemy and the construction of a new Flash Family. Waid even gave Wally a next generation speedster of his own to look after—the much beloved Bart Allen, grandson of Barry and best known as Impulse. If you’ve ever met someone who calls Wally West their favorite Flash—the book’s current Wally-centric creative team included—odds are probably 100% that the name Mark Waid is sacred in their house.

In 1994, Mark Waid teamed up with Alex Ross to create the most ambitious Elseworlds project to date, a Ragnarok for the superhero mythology, in a final projected event to end all events. Rife with religious imagery and industry commentary, Kingdom Come was designed to be the last superhero story ever told…and the start, perhaps, of something new. It told the story of a disillusioned Justice League of America, disconnected by tragedy and heartbreak from the world they had once sworn to protect, and how they were inspired by just one normal person to fight for tomorrow one last time. This wildly imaginative story introduced ideas and concepts which would inspire comic book storytelling for years to come—perhaps none so imaginative as “Hypertime,” Waid’s network of interconnected timelines which in effect allowed all possible permutations of events in the DC Universe to coexist, restoring the infinite multiverse of years past once more in all but name.

In 1997, Mark Waid wrote JLA: Year One, a tricky origin story written for an era when neither Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman figured into the team’s founding—centering instead on the likes of Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Black Canary, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter. A subsequent stint on the main JLA series would give the book one of its most iconic storylines: “Tower of Babel,” which for the first time presented Batman as the keeper of contingency plans for dealing with potential threats from each of his teammates. In 2003, Waid wrote Superman: Birthright, a twelve-part origin for Earth’s greatest hero giving him a 21st century update for the first time.

But throughout his work for DC, Mark Waid’s greatest cause was his relentless effort to keep the rich 30th century world of the Legion of Super-Heroes alive. Let’s face it, when the premise of a story is that it’s set a thousand years in the future, that future is going to keep looking outdated as the decades roll on. But with the Legion’s many worlds, heroes and stories representing the ultimate future of the DC Universe itself, the Legion is worth preserving and worth reinventing. Which is why Mark Waid did it all three times. First as editor, by overseeing a “Five Years Later” time jump which would lend the Legion the maturity it needed in a changing comic book landscape by aging all of its players forward. Then in 1994, Waid was heavily involved in a complete Legion reboot around DC’s “Zero Hour” event. Ten years later, Waid did much of the writing around another Legion revival, sometimes called the “Threeboot,” attempting to synthesize the best ideas from the Zero Hour era and the classic, original Legion. It was a concept which Waid refused to give up on even when its future seemed bleakest—something that all of us with a sometimes-neglected favorite character can relate to.

With Brian Michael Bendis’s Justice League vs. The Legion of Super-Heroes, the Legion’s legacy lives on, in the team’s only incarnation to date which bears no direct influence from Waid…at least, not yet. With his return to DC in World’s Finest, Waid is revisiting the spirit of the last series he helmed before his sabbatical from our universe: the 2007 incarnation of The Brave and the Bold, which through the synergy of the superhero team-up brought the obscure edges of the DC Universe into the center with our biggest stars. So, it couldn’t be more in Waid’s character to learn that his first DC work in fifteen years will involve Batman and Superman teaming up with the often-neglected Doom Patrol.

With a fandom defined by Pre-Crisis comics, the Post-Crisis era of DC storytelling from 1985 to 2011 had Mark’s fingerprints all over it. And through the many reboots and restructurings he’s been a part of, whether in the 30th and 31st centuries or here in the ever-changing present, Waid’s greatest gift has always been this: to take in every version of every great story and synthesize them all into something that works to represent the best of all of them. Now that he’s taking that aim on Batman and Superman, well…you better get ready for something pretty special.

Take it from me. I may not be Mark Waid, but I know him when I see him.

Batman/Superman: World's Finest #1 by Mark Waid, Dan Mora and Tamra Bonvillain is now available in print and as a digital comic book.

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.