Thoughts from EARTH ONE
Announced on Newsarama: “How to cast aside the continuity-heavy past of their major characters and offer an easily accessible version of Batman, Superman, and others to new readers has been a question that plagues not just DC but other companies with established universes as well. DC's solution comes in the form of Earth One, a series of ongoing graphic novels. “
“These are all-new stories presented as book-size tales, rather than single-issue magazine length stories. They feature a continuity that will be shared amongst the line, and is all-new to DC's comic books as a whole. The first two announced books are the natural starting points, Superman: Earth One and Batman: Earth One. Both books will focus on a revised origin and "early years" story featuring the titular characters, with updates being made for today's time period and audience. Superman: Earth One will be written by J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by artist Shane Davis. Batman: Earth One comes from scribe Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank, the team whom are currently in the midst of re-establishing Superman's origin in the core DC Universe, the one that acknowledges the past 70 years of story to varying degrees.”
I’m of several minds about this. First, the positives. There’s some good talent behind these books. Talent that is capable of telling good stories. And anything that may capture a wider comics-reading audience is a good thing indeed. And I have no doubts that everyone is well-intentioned in bringing forth some excellent Superman and Batman adventures.
This is obviously the next extension of DC’s All-Star line, which was launched with similar intentions (stand-alone “iconic” stories by DC’s top talent, unencumbered by DC’s current comic book continuity). That line produced ALL-STAR SUPERMAN and ALL-STAR BATMAN (which still hasn’t been completed and has been criminally late). ALL-STAR WONDER WOMAN and ALL-STAR BATGIRL were both announced months and months ago, only for ALL-STAR BATGIRL to be canceled, while ALL-STAR WONDER WOMAN is “being worked on by Adam Hughes” (forgive me if I don’t hold my breath).
The All-Star line seemed like DC’s answer to Marvel’s once-red-hot Ultimate line of comics. That line established modern takes on Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers (among others) with varying degrees of commercial and creative success. Once a flourishing ancillary universe, sales waned over the years. And 10 years later, I think Marvel is wondering what to do with the line, which now has its own accumulated continuity. So, what was the point of this line again? To bring in new readers with fresh jumping-on points? With 10 years of continuity, the books stand with the same accessibility as your average Marvel Comic (which, by the way, have recap pages every issue).
Geoff Johns explains at AICN: “BATMAN: EARTH ONE is more in line with the European idea of releasing chapters of an ongoing series in graphic novel form. We’re planning on doing two novels a year and set in this new universe, we’re getting unlimited creative freedom that we couldn’t have in current continuity.”
So now, DC’s latest venture is another restart. Another new “version.” The difference is that they will be a series of graphic novels. I suppose the logic is to tap into the HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT audiences, who have followed the serial adventures of its characters through several novels. It’s not a new idea, but something that has caught the world’s attention through the popularity of movies and media. I’d wager that’s DC’s intention here- to create a series of novels that have the same sort of appeal.
DO WE NEED ANOTHER UNIVERSE?
I’m still not sold on why we NEED yet another umpteenth retelling of the origins of Batman and Superman. And not just retellings, but revamped “new continuity” retellings. Everyone knows these heroes and their origins. I’m not sure we need a more “kick-ass” Alfred to make him cool. Alfred already is cool. I’d even wager to guess that such jarring variations would only confuse a new audience, who are familiar with the Alfred of the Batman movies or animated television series, all of which have been fairly consistent. And it seems that other characters will vary quite a bit, going by Geoff Johns’ comment on AICN: “Some of it the characters will more closely resemble the classic interpretations while others will be wildly different. We’re introducing a lot of new characters and elements to this Batman.”
This is where I get a little confused. Why do we need these completely new universes?
Just tell good stories. That’s it. You don't have to reference Knightfall or Death of Superman or what happened in Superman #214 to do that. The “classic” graphic novels were built on this idea. “The Death of Captain Marvel” stood as its own powerful tale of heroism and loss. “The Killing Joke” is a stand-alone tale that gives insight into the Joker’s twisted mind. Even the “New Mutants” and “She-Hulk” and “X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills” graphic novels were stand-alone adventures. They just told good stories that were unencumbered by continuity. I honestly think today’s comic book companies make more out of continuity than is needed. Like all it does is weigh down every story.
Consider, in the 70s and 80s, each comic had little origin blurbs on the splash page that recounted the character origin. And BAM, you’re off and running. You don’t need anything more than that, and you surely don’t need an entirely new continuity/universe.
Geoff Johns mentions that this venture offers “unlimited creative freedom that we couldn’t have in current continuity.” This is another idea I don’t quite understand. It seems like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Julie Schwartz, John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman, George Perez and Grant Morrison (among countless, countless others) produced many creative stories within the confines of a shared universe. Heck, Geoff Johns and JMS both have as well. I think it’s a shame that DC feels its own continuity has become such a burden, such an albatross... that it actually limits creative freedom. That it somehow prevents stories from being better.". And it forever will be as long as editorial sees it that way.
DO WE NEED ANOTHER ORIGIN?
Creators often talk about how cool the characters are, and how they cant wait to write their adventures. But the newest trend is to ignore previous stories, and build these ground-up versions of the characters, picking and choosing which continuity bits to use/toss. Whereas Marvel plays fast-and-loose with continuity, DC actually goes through cosmic convolusions to reset, reboot, revamp their characters with time paradoxes and brand-new whole-cloth histories that even editorial can’t keep straight. Some would say that supports the need for these “brand new” continuity stories in graphic novel form... But I don’t agree with that assessment....
Consider, for over 60 years, DC was able to tell stories with its characters without each creator rebooting their entire histories or back-stories. Even in the Post-Crisis world, creators dealt with the cards they were given, and pushed characters in new directions through story. Now, everything is just tossed out (See recent Doom Patrol, Legion of Super-Heroes, Post-Infinite Crisis histories) and restarted. Superman’s revised history was just retold in SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT, only to be negated and now told again in the still-running SUPERMAN: SECRET ORIGIN mini-series by Geoff Johns. Only to be retold again, in a completely new continuity by J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) in the upcoming SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE. At what point do we stop picking at scabs? And trying to each make distinctive marks on the same stories? The origins of Batman and Superman have endured for so long because they are wonderful origin stories. We don’t need to keep telling them ad-nauseum.
DO WE NEED GRAPHIC NOVELS TO MAKE THINGS “MODERN”?
A lot is made of also making these Earth One novels more “modern”... JMS says on AICN, “So to the point of your question, what I'm trying to do is to dig in to the character and look at him through modern eyes. If you were to create the Superman story today, for the first time, but keep intact all that works, what would it look like? As a fledgling writer I used to love going to see productions of Shakespeare because what would often be done would be to take that original play and move it forward in time.”
I support what JMS says about portraying the Daily Planet reporters and photographers. That’s cool. But again, just tell a modern Superman tale. Why all the continuity re-doing? You don't need new continuity to have modern sensibilities. Heck, you don't need a new series of graphic novels to have modern sensibilities.
I mean.... haven’t comic books been doing that all along? The X-Men metaphor of racism and alienation has spoken to the black movement, the gay movement and social evolution in general. The X-Men is currently a story point that includes “Prop X” (and obvious riff on Prop 8), which is trying to ban mutants from pro-creating. And Marvel’s recent “Super-Hero Registration Act” is a thinly veiled take on “The Patriot Act,” is it not? An ongoing plot in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN acknowledges the increasing irrelevance of the Daily Bugle newspaper. Punisher was once a disillusioned Vietnam vet (something that was relevant in the 80s, but has been conveniently forgotten as not to age Frank Castle too much). There are countless other examples....
The other “danger zone” about the “modern take” in graphic novels is how far you push that. Will Gordon put away the Bat Signal and poke Batman on facebook instead? Is Clark Kent going to work for the Daily Tweet instead of the Daily Planet? The problem with things like this (especially if you are courting a young audience) is that they become horribly dated within a year.
One last thought: modern takes on Superman and Batman... Shouldn’t that always be the goal? In their own, y’know, comic books?
WHY “EARTH ONE”?
This is one I have a hard time understanding. Why would DC name this project “Earth One”? At least “All Star” was a trade-dress that spoke to the fact that DC put its top talents on the books. “Earth One” has special meaning to DC fans – it was the original super-hero world before the events of the cosmic-time-shattering Crisis on Infinite Earths. Now composed of 52 earths, it seems that DC is announcing to fans that this is ‘Earth One.” So that means the Pre-Crisis Earth One is gone forever, only to be revisited in our long box archives?
JMS says, “At this juncture, the book operates outside DC continuity. At some point way, way down the road, some of that may be folded in, but again that's a long ways away.” So, why call these “Earth One”? It’s a confusing way to launch a brand new line that is screaming about accessibility.
And to the casual/new fans it hopes to attract: “Earth One” not only has zero meaning, it raises strange questions. Is this a different earth? Are there other earths? They may even wonder if it’s a storyline, as it sits next to other collected trade paperbacks like “Civil War” and “Blackest Night.”
I think it’s a huge mistake calling this line “Earth One.” I can’t imagine why DC would do that. It’s an amusing irony that DC’s purported easy-access new venture is saddled with a title that carries continuity baggage! Only DC could manage that one!
WILL IT ATTRACT NEW READERS?
I’m a little unclear on what the overall goal of this project is. Newsarama’s blurb says, the Earth One graphic novels will “cast aside the continuity-heavy past of their major characters and offer an easily accessible version of Batman, Superman, and others to new readers has been a question that plagues not just DC but other companies with established universes as well. “
So, how will this be communicated and marketed to these theoretical new readers? These Earth One graphic novels will be sitting beside the latest trade paperback collections of comic books, correct? What makes them different in the eyes of John Q Public? And once a few novels are underway, it will have its own accumulated continuity, will it not?
For old mainstay readers, it’s an Elseworlds series in graphic novel form. Or, it’s an alternate-earth story in the old DC tradition, but with modern trappings. Or, it’s DC doing an Ultimate line in graphic novel form. In other words, it's nothing new, really.
So I’m not sure if any of these things will re-energize the industry or bring in any new readers.
Because all you have to do for that to happen... is to tell good, accessible stories. Bruce Timm has been doing it for over 15 years now. Take a page from his playbook. And please, DC, stop demonizing continuity and just tell good stories with your wonderful characters that have endured for over 60 years. You shouldn’t have to reinvent the entire universe of your core characters to accomplish that.