This was intended to be a one or two paragraph introduction to a series I’m working on regarding Dead Universes of the 90s. It’s possible I got a little carried away.
If a time traveler leaps from January 1995 to January 2012 and walked into a comic book shop she’d likely at first think very little had changed. DC and Marvel are still the top dogs while the logos of Dark Horse and Image continue to command a decent amount of shelf space.
The first thing she might notice is all of the numbering on DC’s titles are very low; shouldn’t Action Comics be nearing 900 around now? DC is still publishing the Vertigo imprint, but Animal Man and Swamp Thing seem to be absorbed back into the the primary DC continuity. Missing from the racks: Sandman, Doom Patrol, the Invisibles, and Shade, the Changing Man. She’d note that Hellblazer is still running, but John Constantine (and Shade) now appear to be part of something called Justice League Dark.
Continuing her observation she’d likely start to notice some holes where universes used to be. Dark Horse’s attempt at a shared superhero universe, Comics’ Greatest World, doesn’t have any representation on the shelf (Ghost would grace the cover of Dark Horse Presents... five months later). Defiant, which held so much promise when she left 1994, nowhere to be seen. Marvel had just purchased the Ultraverse characters right before she hit the time stream, but they’re missing from the shelves and don’t appear to have been absorbed into the Marvel Universe. Her beloved Valiant, which was doing so well when she left and had many titles were on a two-issue per month schedule, completely absent (X-O Manowar would reintroduce a new Valiant Universe in May).
What about Wildstorm? That’s where she’d possibly start to panic. She’d notice some early-90s Wildstorm characters are in DC Universe titles, including Caitlin Fairchild in Superboy. Even odder was Stormwatch sporting a DC logo and Martian Manhunter being on the team. She’d pull out her time travel device and double check to make sure she didn’t accidentally create a Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky Bridge sliding her to a dimension where Jim Lee didn’t leave Marvel to help start Image, but instead brought his ideas to DC.
Noting that she did indeed set her device for time travel and not dimension hopping culture shock would start to set in. So distraught by the total collapse of so many universes she wouldn’t notice the new independent publishers that had arrived on the scene in the previous 17 years bringing fresh life to the industry. Instead she’d flee back to 1994 where power rings only come in green and yellow, Damian Wayne isn’t even a glimmer in the eyes of Bruce and Tahlia, The Maxx is still protecting the Jungle Queen in the Outback, Gen13 and Stormwatch feature the familiar WS logo, Ultraverse still has the best colored pages of all the publishers, a dispute over the similarity between Plasmer and Plasm hasn’t toppled Defiant’s tower, and Barb Wire isn’t tarnished by Pamela Anderson.
Reflecting on her journey it wouldn’t be the unfamiliar Big Two titles that most concern her. It’s 1995 after all, so she’s used to characters being shook up. It would be the Dead Universes. The time traveler would likely want to warn everyone about this future filled with Dead Universes, but knows that no one in the midst of the early-90s comic boom, except maybe Jim Shooter, would believe such a future could be possible.