Well, this is weird.
Today DC announced a new line of ongoing original graphic novels featuring continuity re-booted versions of Superman and Batman by two so-so creative teams of mixed popularity. J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis will be working on the Superman series, while Geoff Johns and Gary Frank will be working on the Batman series.
As a reader, the part of the announcement I found most exclamation point-inducing were the titles—Superman: Earth One and Batman: Earth One (and the indication that while the books are divorced from the regular DC Universe continuity, they will be set "on a new earth with an all-new continuity").
"Earth One" is, of course, the old Gardner Fox designation for the DCU, originally conceived as a way to differentiate it from "Earth Two," a parallel dimension where the Golden Age DCU existed. If you're reading this blog, then you know that other "Earths" sprouted up every time there was a Justice League story where they traveled to or interacted with a parallel dimension—and/or the company acquired the characters from a different publisher—and the company finally found their cosmology so complicated they pared it down to just one Earth at the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths. And, a couple decades later, the publisher started adding new Earths between Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis, making it more complicated than ever (For example, now there are pre-(first) Crisis Earth Two and post-(first) Crisis Earth Two and post-Final Crisis Earth Two, which AAAAUUUUUGGGGHHH!!!).
Anyway, that's the name DC's using for these books, which seem to be All-Star Batman and All-Star Superman, but with generally worse and objectively less popular creative teams, and a different publishing strategy (straight to trades, rather than comic-books-and-then-trades).
If you're of a certain age, the name means the established-in-the-Silver Age, original DC Universe. If you're of another certain age—my age—it probably just gives you a headache to think about ("Earth One" was the Earth that the DCU was built out of, right? That bits of the other Earths were folded into to form the DCU as it existed from COIE to IC/52? But this isn't that Earth, so I guess it's a new Earth One? Or, to use DC's own terminology, New Earth One?). If you're not a long-time DC reader—i.e. the type of a reader a series of original graphic novels is going to appeal to—than "Earth One" is completely meaningless, just some goofy name that hopefully you'll never seek out the origins of, and thus be spared trying to make sense of DC's cosmology.
So yeah, I don't get it. I mean, All-Star and Ultimate were kinda goofy, meaningless names too, but they were goofy, meaningless names without any baggage.
It is, of course, probably too early to start judging the quality of these books, but hell, I've never let that stop me from criticizing something before.
Neither one sounds very interesting to me at this point as a reader (I think they're very interesting as a publishing strategy, though).
The Geoff Johns/Gary Frank team strikes me as the stronger of the two, and while Johns is DC's most bankable star at the moment, the Secret Origin project that creative team is currently working isn't setting the Direct Market sales charts on fire. That probably won't matter in the GN market, however, as anything with Batman in it will do okay, and the less bound to a particular time and space it is, the more okay it will do. The designs look pretty terrible though. Specifically, they look like Bryan Hitch redesigning Batman to join The Ultimates line-up in the year 2000. (Stacked up against All-Star Batman, this book seems like a loser—while the results have been controversial*, there's no denying that Frank Miller is the most popular Batman writer ever, and that Jim Lee's one of the more popular Batman artists still working today...and one of the industry's more popular artists period).
The JMS/Shane Davis book looks to be the worse of the two. Given the way JMS has written the few DC superheroes I've seen him write so far, a new-continuity venture may be best for him, but he doesn't really have any sort of reputation as a guy who's going to do a great Superman comic. Davis' work I've seen mainly in fill-ins and on Superman/Batman, and while there are certainly worse artists collecting paychecks from DC, I don't think he's a very good one, and certainly more of a work-on-a-monthly artist than work-on-a-prestigious-original graphic novel, marketed-outside-the-DM kinda project. I suppose it is worth noting that the Superman image they're showing looks very, very different than the Davis art DC's previously published, so maybe he's working a new style or with new collaborators that will transform it similarly, however.
(Stacked up against All-Star Superman, this one doesn't seem as bad. Grant Morrison was more popular than JMS, but not necessarily known as a Superman writer the way Miller was known as a Batman one. And Frank Quitely is talented as all hell, but his popularity isn't that of Jim Lee's. But damn, that was a great comic book, I'd say one of the best superhero titles ever written, and one that did the best job of taking the best element of every version of Superman from every form of media he's conquered and synthesized it into a lower-case u ultimate iteration. If I were JMS, I'd be afraid to get out of bed knowing that All-Star Superman is the project everyone was going to be judging my work against for a while).
I guess we'll see. At this point, I'm most interested in seeing the price point, so we can see who exactly DC is targeting the books towards, and what (if any discernable) impact they'll have on sales of periodicals, since it stands to reason that if you just saw the latest Batman movie or cartoon or video game and wanna check out the comics, Earth One will be a more obvious entry point than any Batman comic books.
In the mean time, here are some links to bloggers talking about it, and, in a few cases, commenters a-commenting:
Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter
Robot 6 readers
Retailers-who-are-also-bloggers have also begun weighing in:
It's probably gauche to link to link which links to me, but Dirk Deppey's couple paragraphs are worth a read for his reaction.
And hey look, the fine folks at Living Between Wednesdays, another comics blog with the word "Wednesday" in the title, came up with the exact same headline joke that I did. Great minds and all that...
*Because too few people will admit to themselves that All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder is the best comic book in the whole world ever.