The problem with the DCU pre-New 52 was the same problem with the DCU immediately pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths: DC was worried new readers would be turned off by years of twisted continuity (in theory – worrying about the bottom line played an integral role too). But now that the DCnU is currently riding its Fourth Wave in 18 months, I can’t say DC is in a better position that it was pre-Flashpoint. Not only do old readers have to get used to new histories for old characters, but new readers have to reconcile new characters with 70+ years of back issues that don’t match up to what they’re currently reading. And all the winks and nudges toward the past aren’t exactly helping matters.
Case in point – and I’ll say right now that I enjoy this book – is Earth 2. Earth 2 is the new Justice Society of America, similar to how the new Worlds’ Finest (note the apostrophe) is actually the new Superman/Batman which in turn was the new World’s Finest. The reasoning behind the apostrophe change, from what I can gather, is that new readers will immediately understand that these stories don’t take place on Earth-1. Makes sense, but the multiverse is a concept that’s difficult even for DC vets to wrap their head around (see my second Bette Kane entry for an example of how the Earth-1/Earth-2 division can fall apart under the most assured of hands).
To show how different things are on this earth, Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman are all killed off in the first issue:
They leave behind a non-Linda Danvers Supergirl named Karen Starr (later known as Power Girl) and a non-male Robin named Helena Wayne, who’s also Batman’s daughter and will eventually grow up to become the non-Helena Bertinelli Huntress. It’s worth noting that shortly before the New 52 happened, Earth-1 Helena Bertinelli was revealed to have actually been Earth-2 Helena Wayne all along (an idea carried forward to the first issue of Worlds’ Finest), yet another plot point that indicates the New 52 went from concept to execution in a lightning-fast period of time.
Supergirl and Robin are magically blasted onto Earth-1 and five years pass before we meet a bickering couple named Joan and Jay:
It’s puzzling that so much of Earth 2‘s potential enjoyment comes from what you do or do not know about these characters pre-New 52. It’s both amusing and distracting to see Jay Garrick arguing with a woman who will (presumably) eventually become his wife, but is this a tip of the hat to veteran readers, or lazy writing?
We follow Garrick as he gets his powers from the dying god Mercury in a clever send-up of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. The Garrick Flash looks sort of like a cross between the Jace Allen Flash and Well-Spoken Sonic Lightning Flash, and maybe it’s because I’m partial to speedsters, but Garrick’s story is pretty fun, particularly in the early stages where he’s learning how to use his powers and be a hero:
Elsewhere, Earth-1′s Mister Terrific lands on Earth-2 to find his arrival not completely unexpected, and we’re introduced to a wealthy businessman named Alan Scott:
It should be noted that Alan Scott will eventually (in the following issue) become Green Lantern, his heroism motivated by the death of his boyfriend, Sam. His gay boyfriend. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the last eight months or so, you may have missed the news media/blogosphere proclaiming “GREEN LANTERN IS GAY” everywhere and anywhere prior to Earth 2‘s release.
While I applaud DC for adding diversity to its stable of characters and putting a spin on the traditional love interest role, the Green-Lantern-is-gay announcement was a bit of a cheat, since “Green Lantern” in this case was presented/interpreted as “Hal Jordan” rather than “alternate universe Green Lantern who’s not even a Green Lantern as most people know the term.” Making Hal Jordan gay would’ve been truly groundbreaking; having his lesser-known multiverse counterpart be gay, while laudable, feels like a bait-and-switch.
No matter: it’s effective and makes sense in Earth 2 continuity. The elation caused by Scott’s proposal to Sam is cut brutally short when their train explodes and Sam is killed. This goes over about as well as you’d expect:
While Scott is busy letting a green fireball talk him into becoming Earth’s new defender, Flash is running into another semi-familiar face – Hawkgirl, who’s as sassy and tough as ever. She’s also Latino now and, again, I applaud DC for being diverse, I just wish diversity wasn’t introduced with the subtlety of a jackhammer:
Scott, meanwhile, gets a fancy new costume, a ring, and an observer makes a joke that should tickle the ears (eyeballs?) of Earth-1 Green Lantern fans:
Scott is now champion of “the green” and at the end of the issue, Solomon Grundy (who’s basically a Black Lantern now) shows up talking about “the grey.”
Issue #5 is when things start getting good, by which I mean the Atom shows up and suddenly the team (not yet called the Justice Society) forms. They look pretty good together, and the dynamic between them (Garrick’s optimism versus Al Pratt’s pessimism, for example) works right outta the gate.
And though the issue is heavy on action, an intriguing moral quandary is presented to Scott at the end: fight “the grey” or give up and be reunited with (what clearly isn’t) his dead lover:
I’d never been terribly invested in the old Justice Society prior to Earth 2, and I wasn’t even that invested in Earth 2 until issue #5, but now I feel like Earth 2 has accomplished something the New 52 tried really hard to achieve with relatively limited success: it made these characters and this concept seem fresh.
Scott, of course, doesn’t fall for the bait and figures out a way to get Grundy gone for good: by throwing him onto the moon:
Green Lantern rejects Flash’s suggestion that they form a team, and Hawkgirl eventually tracks Scott down at his apartment, which he’s destroyed in a mournful rage.
There’s something elegant about the ending of the Hawkgirl/Alan Scott meeting. It’s not the dialogue-free way in which Hawkgirl provokes Scott into following her, but rather the single feather left behind in that last panel. It doesn’t need to be there (we know where he’s going – into the sky) but it adds a little something, and it makes me think of that page in the last issue of Final Crisis that showed the two feathers meant to symbolize Hawkman and Hawkgirl’s deaths (which was almost immediately rewritten as a close call so Elongated Man could spear them to death in Blackest Night):
Some familiar faces show up: military “Sandmen,” the displaced Mister Terrific, and Red Tornado, who’s slighly more Red Torpedo-ish than the Red Tornado we’re used to. Oh, and a “Captain Steel” gets mentioned, though it’s not clear to which Heywood they’re referring:
Issue #7 brings back the Trinity-killing Steppenwolf, who’s sadly lacking in magic carpets. Despite killing the Big Three, he seems kinda lame, but luckily what seems like a powerful new opponent emerges to combat him:
As the nametag indicates, that’s Fury. Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths she was daughter of Earth-2′s Wonder Woman. That origin has been restored here, though she resembles Diana Prince more than the platinum blonde daughter of Steve Trevor:
In an interesting twist, she’s working for the man who killed her mother, rather than against him. I predict a heartwarming changing of sides in the future, but who knows.
I was never a big fan of James Robinson prior to Earth 2 (I found the Robinson/Mark Bagley Justice League pretty dire) but he seems to be improving, or maybe he’s just found his groove. Whatever the case, this is definitely a New 52 title that isn’t a complete waste of your money, and I’m excited to see where this story goes.