DC’s Earth 2 just wrapped its first six issue storyline, finally giving readers a glimpse of the new status quo of everyone’s favorite parallel universe. No longer a world in which the first superheroic age dates back to the days of World War II, Earth 2 brings us contemporary, but still recognizable, updates of the Golden Age Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkgirl and The Atom. Set on a world where we didn’t fare quite as well against the invading forces of Apokolips as the Earth shown in the New 52 Justice League title, the setting itself offers some fascinating story possibilities. And it should. After all, DC made a decision to call this book Earth 2 and not Justice Society or some variation on that theme.
Writer James Robinson is no stranger to these characters, thanks to his work on Starman, JSA, and the classic Elseworlds mini-series, The Golden Age (now collected as JSA: The Golden Age), all of which explored some of the dustier corners of the Justice Society’s legacy. While Robinson is a little too fond of expository dialogue in Earth 2, we’re spared most of the long-winded awkwardness that marred much of his run on Superman a few years back. The real highlight of the book is Nicola Scott’s crisp art, which is quickly becoming familiar to DC fans, thanks to some terrific runs on Birds of Prey, Secret Six and Teen Titans. When you add Trevor Scott’s deft inking, Alex Sinclair’s vibrant colors, and some really cool character designs (Superman and Flash are personal favorites), Earth 2 distinguishes itself as a book that’s really easy on the eyes.
Justice Society fans are a special breed. There’s a certain pride we take in loving characters who are more grandfatherly than hip and whose decades-spanning, logic-defying history makes them almost impenetrable to the casual fan. The JSA have always been comforting and parental, proof that old heroes don’t have to burn out or fade away, but can inspire, teach and fight alongside the next generation of heroes. Consequently, such wholesale changes to these classic characters were a little disorienting at first and it wasn’t just because of the age of the characters or the contemporary setting.
Earth 2 made waves when Green Lantern’s homosexuality was revealed and Robinson has promised race and gender swaps for other characters down the road, making this a more diverse cast than fans of the old team are used to seeing. However, any reader turned off by the little matter of Green Lantern’s sexual orientation is missing out on a much more significant updating of the character’s power levels, making him the most powerful man on the planet and the central figure of this story. Tying his powers to the elemental force known as The Green, a concept familiar to readers of Swamp Thing, proves that even this alternate DC Universe plays by many of the same metaphysical rules as the “main” one. Even Solomon Grundy, long portrayed as a shambling, feeble-minded, second rate villain, is given a terrifying new power set. Here, Grundy is presented as Green Lantern’s antithesis, the representative of The Grey, an elemental force of draining, rotting, decay. It’s a stark and powerful dynamic, and it’s likely we’ll see them tangle again.
While many will focus on the differences between these newly re-imagined characters and their Golden Age roots, there are also some notable similarities which should make any sharp eyed fan smile. The catastrophic circumstances surrounding Green Lantern’s origin are nearly identical to what was first presented in All-American Comics #16 back in 1940! Along the same lines, when we first meet this world’s Jay Garrick (The Flash), he’s being rebuked (rather cruelly, I might add) by the love of his life, Joan. If you look back at Jay’s first appearance in Flash Comics #1 (1940), you’ll also see a similarly romantically frustrated, directionless young man, who stumbles haplessly into his powers (although here, the similarities in their origins ends). Even the setting evokes, however subtly, wartime. This Earth has been ravaged by a true World War, a war which humanity fought against an invading alien army and it seems that this wartime mentality will be a major component of the book going forward. The Justice Society’s emergence in the shadow of war has always been an integral component of the team’s make-up and mythology and it’s certainly present here. Only this time, it’s a very different kind of war.
Unfortunately, as is usually the case with a newly-launched team book, this arc ends up being a fast-paced, but ultimately formulaic, “getting the team together” story, complete with the obligatory “heroes fight each other first” sequences. Having to get the origins of Green Lantern and Flash out of the way and still find a way to get them to meet up with other heroes in time to do battle with a planet level threat, make things feel a little rushed. Much of what we learn about this world and its history comes on the fly through awkwardly placed expositional sequences. We learn virtually nothing about Hawkgirl or The Atom, and it their backstories will have to wait for future issues. I found myself more interested by the seasoned team of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Robin, and Supergirl (not to mention the devious Terry Sloane) that we see in issues 1 and 0, than I was in watching these new heroes get their feet wet. It’s easy to chalk that up to “origin story fatigue” thanks to all of the relaunches we’ve seen in recent years, but Earth 2 still ends up suffering a little because of it.
Despite some shortcomings, Earth 2 offers up enough cool surprises and leaves enough questions unanswered that I’ll be back for more. With subtle nods to Dr. Fate, Hourman, Wildcat, Red Tornado and Commander Steel, not to mention a brief appearance by Wesley Dodds and his Sandmen, it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing more reinventions of Golden Age favorites in the near future. Now that the formalities are out of the way, I expect this book will really start to pick up steam. As one of those notoriously difficult to please fans of the Justice Society, I’m happy to hang around and see what’s coming next!
Earth 2 #1-6 will be collected in March 2013 as Earth 2 Volume 1: The Gathering, but why wait? If you hustle down to your local comic shop, you can probably still grab most of these (plus the zero issue) at around cover price.