What a title right? Confused yet? Good, I’m so glad. What it refers to in this case is the comic book being published as part of the “second wave” of DC’s New 52 continuity. This will no doubt come as a disappointment to those of you whom I am sure were hoping I would discuss the quirky but underrated mid-90’s sci-fi series of the same name. Can’t win ’em all I suppose.
What am I talking about though? Earth-who? Maybe I should digress for a moment. DC Comics began publishing in 1934 as what was then called National Comics (they later renamed themselves “Detective Comics” or “DC” and then still later tacked another redundant “Comics” onto their company title, because reasons…) In 1938 National created an unexpected hit with the character of Superman, a distinct animal from the pulp heroes and mystery men that predated him and which spawned an entire sub-genre of “superhero” books that would ultimately dominate the industry to this day. There was a massive rush to put out new caped characters in an attempt to replicate the breakout success of Superman. Some of these, like Batman the next year and Wonder Woman in ’41, formed dedicated fanbases of their own and generated significant sales. Others, like Green Lantern, the Flash, Sandman and Dr. Fate, were well-received but failed to move books as readily as their counterparts. The solution? Collect those characters into a single book and consolidate their fans behind a title that ‘would’ sell. Enter the Justice Society of America, comics’ first proper team book and two decade antecedent of the better known Justice League.
This still doesn’t explain what all this Earth Two business is about though. Well, in addition to simply having a great personal love for the Justice Society it’s important to have them in mind as pretty much all iterations of the “Earth Two” concept would end up revolving around this group of characters. Now, after the end of the Second World War comic book sales, in particular the sales of superhero titles, began to decline. Most of their original readership had outgrown them and new buyers weren’t lining up like they had hoped. This coupled with growing scrutiny from conservative censors and led to the cancellation of most cape books, with the notable exceptions of Superman and Batman who endured this nadir relatively unscathed, albeit not without a degree of adaptation (this was the era in which Batman initially shed many of his darker trappings and became the campier portrayal familiar to viewers of the 60’s television series). However, as the baby-boom grew into demographic age and the aforementioned censorship in the form of the Comics Code Authority cut into otherwise lucrative horror and thriller lines, DC was convinced to try the superhero experiment once again. Rather than simply relaunch many of their older characters though DC opted to reinvent them in new forms, starting with the Flash and Green Lantern. This created a slight snarl for attentive readers though, namely how both versions of these characters could coexist and have both teamed up with established characters like Superman and Batman. Well, in short (too late) those characters from the 1940’s that didn’t quite make the leap to the revival of the 60’s had still existed, just on a parallel world that came to be known as Earth Two (ohhhhhh!)
Now, the complete history of both the Justice Society and Earth Two is even lengthier and more convoluted than what I have already expounded. Point is, skip ahead a few decades, crossovers, and retcons to 2012 and we are basically back in the same square. The New 52 has ostensibly rebooted DC’s continuity once again and Earth 2 is looking to reintroduce us to the characters who are perennially left behind. Not all is business as usual, however. Until now a central conceit of the Earth Two concept and the Justice Society has always been a rooting in the 1940’s. The characters represented therein have always either been aged versions of the original “Golden Age” heroes or younger successors appropriating their iconography as a sort of “legacy hero.” It seems as though with this most recent iteration that this is being more or less scrapped. Instead, the more traditional heroes such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have been active for perhaps a pair of decades prior to the present day and the characters native to Earth Two such as The Atom and Hourman are modern reinterpretations. Hmmmmm…
The cover of Earth 2 is perhaps rather misleading. On the surface it would appear to prominently feature DC’s “big three,” but reading the issue itself will reveal this to be a bit of a misnomer. I might dance around this fact for spoilers sake, but in the grand scheme it’s hard to talk about otherwise: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are all dead by the issue’s end, paving the way for the emergence of the re-imagined denizens of Earth Two. How do I feel about all of this? Well… it’s complicated.
As you may have intuited from my previous review of The Shadow, the grounding in the 1940’s has always been a big part of what has sold me on the enterprise with regards to Earth Two and the Justice Society. The doing away with it seems a little arbitrary and I’m not one-hundred percent sure how my feelings on it will ultimately pan out. That said, I have developed an appreciation for the characters themselves independent of their Golden Age heritage, and as such am at least willing to see what the series has got to show me before passing a definitive judgement. Moreover, the book does have some points in its favor right out of the gate. Nicola Scott’s artwork really pops, and especially in the splash pages the care and detail of her craft is apparent. As far as writing is concerned, it’s hard to go wrong in this area with James Robinson, who’s 1993 The Golden Age (in addition to being a favorite of mine) has informed the portrayal of the Justice Society in one way or another for most of the last twenty years. As for the content of the issue itself? Well, like with The Shadow its suffers from being the first entry in an ongoing series in that not a whole heck of a lot happens. Well, that isn’t strictly true. Plenty happens. Shit blows up, people die. The overall story is not significantly advanced though, it’s pretty much all setup. My investment in the property and the pedigree of the players involved has enough of my interest to keep me on the book until it can hit its stride though.
Until next time, true believers!