Just as DC's film and TV projects seem to be entering a period where the multiverse is being emphasized so strongly that any version of any character could plausibly cross over with any other if the story called for it, it now appears as though DC's comic book line could be abandoning the idea of a single, shared continuity in favor of a multiverse/metaverse/omniverse model in which each individual comic will have its own story to tell, without much concern for what's going on in other titles across the publishing line. That's a huge shift for DC, who have spent the better part of the last 15 years trying to clean up and clarify their continuity and history.
The report comes from Bleeding Cool, so it's not official, but they have a pretty solid batting average with scoops like this. The idea here seems to be that individual books can play fast and loose with continuity and history, creating stories that stand alone and presumably could be more easily marketed to the bookstore market.
While hardcore comic book fans have long clung to the decades-long, ongoing narrative of Marvel and DC's shared universes, the idea that you need to know what happened in Superman in 1995 in order to understand Batman in 2020 doesn't always sit well with potential new readers. With DC's share of the direct market far behind Marvel's, and their share of the bookstore market growing all the time, this may seem like an obvious move to the new owners at AT&T.
The Bleeding Cool report suggests that the upcoming Future State event, which will run through January and February, will tee up a new status quo for March 2021 that will be more lax in terms of following a single, trackable continuity across books.
For years, DC's continuity was largely piecemeal, with a lot of one-off stories and a vast and oft-visited multiverse that sometimes made it hard to remember what supposedly happened on Earth-1 and what tales were "imaginary stories." Enter Marv Wolfman and George Perez's Crisis on Infinite Earths in the mid-'80s, which did away with the multiverse for 20 years and rebooted the DC Universe. That post-Crisis timeline was pretty easy to keep track of for a long time, but around 2000, it started to fray. Characters like Superman and Batman, in particular, had so many popular stories that took place in alternate timelines or pocket universes that it became hard to completely keep that material out of the main titles. In 2003, DC replaced The Man of Steel, John Byrne's Superman-rebooting miniseries from the mid-80s, with Superman: Birthright, which blended some elements of Man of Steel with elements of the pre-Crisis DC multiverse and a few new touches from creators Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu. Not long after that 12-issue series ended, Infinite Crisis brought the multiverse back in a limited capacity and, frankly, nobody was ever able to fully keep track of DC's continuity again.
In 2011, the publisher tried to reboot again, but was foiled...by the audience's love for continuity. With 20 years of wildly popular stories in the post-Crisis era and a core audience who were older and had been around longer than the people who were reading when Crisis happened, 2011's "New 52" reboot fought expectations every step of the way, as creators and editors struggled to communicate to fans how much of the post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint (the event that kicked off the New 52) continity was still intact.
After several evolutions and another soft reboot, DC had an infinite multiverse back (plus a Dark Multiverse), and an ethos that boiled down to "everything happened, everything matters," as former publisher Dan DiDio would say.
Now that DiDio is gone, it might be that everything happened...in SOME reality. And everything counts...if the writer du jour wants it to.
There are arguments for and against a strict continuity. As we said, direct market "Wednesday warrior" comic fans prefer a shared universe with concrete rules, but casual readers, the YA and bookstore markets don't especially seem to care for it. Doing away with it might take some of the appeal out of certain stories for a lot of fans, but would also eliminate the continuity errors that happen after years of reboots, and give any creator with a good idea the opportunity to tell that one story they've always had in mind for their favorite character.
Between moving away from Diamond Comics Distributors' model and moving their releases to Tuesday (rather than Wednesday, like the rest of the comics market), DC has already incurred the wrath of some fans, and left comic book specialty stores scratching their heads. Their YA lines, as well as Black Label, where they can tell stand-alone stories featuring DC's stable of characters, speak to the fact that you can tell a story that resonates in the direct market without needing an eleborate continuity -- but on the other hand, pulling the shared universe concept out from under the readers entirely may leave a lot of retailers unsure about how to order the post-Future State DC books.
Bleeding Cool suggests that DC may have an idea of how to help with that, by releasing a book in March or April that will set expectations for the coming stories in the new timeline(s), characterizing it as "[DC Universe: Rebirth] written by people other than Geoff Johns."
Given the recent revelation that Booster Gold will team up with the '30s Batman and some other unexpected faces in a Generations event written by a number of stalwart DC creators, it seems plausible elements of that will echo forward into whatever is next.