Comic Book Questions Answered – where I answer whatever questions you folks might have about comic books (feel free to they're e-mail questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
A reader just using the name "Someone" asked, "why did DC do their first who's who series before and during crisis? Crisis changed so many things after so why did they start when so much changed?"
As Someone noted, it was a bit unusual for DC Comics to launch a series examining the history of the DC Universe and all the various pieces of continuity for each character in January 1985...
And then, the very next month, when they were just getting from A to B...
Saw the release of Crisis on Infinite Earths, which resulted in the total re-writing of DC's continuity, thus making what was being written in the Who's Who outdated AS it was being released. Like, you know, having an Earth-2 Batman when Crisis was eliminating the existence of Earth 2 period!!
So why the timing of the event? I asked the great Robert Greenberger, who was an assistant editor on the project, about the timing issues (sadly, I would normally just ask Len Wein himself stuff like this, but Len was pretty sick at the time so I decided not to bother him and he tragically died soon after), and he explained the timing issues...
The amount of evolution behind CRISIS and WHO’S WHO stretches across years, starting with Marv Wolfman and Len Wein convincing Jenette Kahn that the projects were worth doing. CRISIS was seen as coming out earlier until planning bogged down and then someone realized it would be perfect for the 50th and therefore delayed. For both, Peter Sanderson was hired to literally read every comic in the DC library and handwrite notes on each issue in two massive three-ring binders, which I inherited when I joined staff in January 1984. Peter had finished, if I recall, in late 1983 and spent some two years on this. So clearly, all the planning began as early as 1981.
When I was hired, it was clear both projects would require enormous editorial time and effort so I was initially dedicated to just those two projects. The original WHO’S WHO master list was created by Peter, I think, based on his reading and then we kept adding to it as new projects and characters came online. Then artists requested to draw characters who weren’t on the list so they got added until we were forced to go from 24 to 26 issues.
So there ya go, the reason why the timing seemed so odd is that Who's Who was locked in well before it became clear what Crisis on Infinite Earths was going to do.
Thanks to Someone for the question and thanks so much to Robert Greenberger for the incredibly informative answer!
If anyone else has a question they'd like to see me address, just drop me a line at email@example.com!