So, of course, we completely failed to review it until now. Consistently missing the boat on all the biggest pop-cultural happenings – that’s the Alex-Spencer.co.uk guarantee.
Also, Bret’s comic shop failed, as comic shops so often do, to actually sell him the issue. But while they get the tiny gnome people that live behind the counter to piece it together pixel by pixel, here’s me doing my best Alan Moore and getting all grumpy about the industry.
It’s time we talked about Elseworlds. Those little alternative-universe pockets that let comics writers act out the desires they’d never dare indulge In Continuity, to ask: What if Clark Kent was a Commie? What if mutants weren’t a minority, but the majority? What if Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were all killed?
That last one is the question posed by the first issue of Earth Two.
The cover and the first few pages present you with this familiar trio of lunchbox-iconic heroes. Here are the DCU’s three biggest names, saving the world again, tweaked just enough to be clear they’re not our Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
And then, halfway through the issue, they all go KABLOOM, and it becomes clear the book isn’t about them at all.
It’s a neat trick, which the book works hard to sell. The three characters are sketched out, simply but clearly, and we’re given the last third of an action film – the heroes are down, but they’ve got their plan to save the world.
(And speaking of, the issue is oddly comparable to the Avengers film. A tight bunch of the world’s mightiest, hugely outnnumber, fighting off an invasion from a force of alien-demon-things which fall from the sky, as a city crumbles around them, while one hero battles to the McGuffin that will bring them all down. It doesn’t mean anything, but it’s startlingly similar, right down to the unexpected death by large unexpected spike. Is this just what blockbuster superhero action looks like these days?)
Getting rid of your three biggest characters is a daring move, but that’s not what happens, really. Because these aren’t characters, they’re franchises, which could never be meddled with. So they still exist happily over in the ‘proper’ DCU.
And that is balanced awkwardly against the fact that it expects the deaths to carry weight, just because of the reputations these characters have earned in their seventy-plus years of history. Actually, that’s not quite fair. The moment Batman tells Robin – who, by the way, is actually his daughter – he has to give his life for the world is a little touching. Not because it relies on the reputation of Batman (even though I really, really love Batman) but because it plays on the eternal fear of losing a parent.
But as Wonder Woman and Superman are swept aside, with nothing linking them to the world or the story beyond their overwrought narrative captions, we’re presumably meant to be taken aback. But the comic makes no effort to earn those moments. This is, as I said, the last noisy third of an action film, without the first two thirds, that boring but important bit which sets up the characters and makes us care.
And that’s a sad remind of all that’s unhealthy and problematic about the state of modern American super-comics. The conservative cowardice where greedy business meets nostalgic artist. That constant need to recombine the same few elements, just enough to make them slightly different, but staying familiar enough to still be comforting.
Earth Two does take risks with its characters – even down to the less obvious stuff, like casting Robin as the daughter of Bruce Wayne. It shakes up the status quo a bit and setting the scene for something new. Exactly the kind of risks DC didn’t take, in short, with the New 52.
These things don’t make Earth Two a bad comic. They’re just personal prejudices. But still, on its own merits, it’s not a great comic.
…Aaaaaand cut, to the new world order. I’m sorry, this hasn’t really been a review of the comic Earth Two at all, but the culture that surrounds it. But that seems fair enough, given that the issue relies on shock value which has nothing to do with the story. It’s a meta-shock, almost, based on what we know. It’s shocking because Superman and Batman, at least, are money-making machines; because DC and Marvel never take risks.
So now I’m going to try and review Earth Two, the DC comic book series, a little.
See, as the first chunk of a greater story, this could make for an interesting device. As the first tenth of a longer collection, it could essentially play the role of the pre-credits sequence, setting up a situation and then pulling the rug from under you. That’s something I admire in a lot of art.
It also sets up an interesting problem for the second issue, which is that almost all of its pages focused on characters we’re not going to be seeing again. Each of the characters who will make up the cast get a couple of pages introducing them. It was only after reading the issue for the first time, and hearing others talk about it, that I realise I was meant to be watching these characters at all, and I can’t decide if that’s cheap or artful.
I can’t help but wish they’d gone with entirely new characters, rather than once again leaning on old standbys – and ones I’m completely unfamiliar with – but I’m intrigued to see where everything’s going, and I will be reading the second issue, even if only out of grim fascination. And that’s a success, surely?
Frankly, so far Al Pratt, Alan Scott and Jay Garrick don’t seem especially charming. But we’ll see.