Monday, December 07, 2009

Earth Wha--?!

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:
The Beat
Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter
Newsarama commenters
Robot 6 readers


Retailers-who-are-also-bloggers have also begun weighing in:
Mike Sterling
Christopher Butcher
Brian Hibbs

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.


Unknown said...

alfred's goatee makes me cry.

Hyle Russell said...

There's something I don't understand about these "continuity free" universes that whittle the years of backlogged history down to core, iconic elements intended to appeal to newcomers: Why have they also been whittling down the main DCU line to the so-called core, iconic elements?

Both Marvel's Ultimate comics and now "Earth-One" seem to have that logic behind them, yet in the last few years Marvel's magically undone several years worth of Spider-Man's continuity that "aged" him, and DC has more or less restored the Bronze Age status quo. Why bother when they have these pristine, untouched continuities waiting in the wings? Can't we have at least one fictional universe with consequences, character growth, and evolution?

Darius Jones said...

Finally, I for one it's great to see DC pursue a pure "Ultimate" line of comics.

All-Star was more of a creator vanity (in the best sense of the term) line where the writers decided to distill the characters to their ideas, and Confidential feels more like stories outside and independent of continuity.

This promises to actually be an alternate, modern timeline. And that is a perspective and angle I'd LOVE to see DC characters, who are often relegated to this sort of Silver-Age and larger than life image, take on, that is a more modern feel. And plus, from what it seems to indicate, these stories will have ramifications in this self contained world, meaning we'll see the books affect each other unlike the All-Star books.

mordicai said...

It sucks to stack up against the amazing All-Star Supes, but "Supreme Power" at least showed JMS has some ideas about Superman.

Scott said...

Do they need an Ultimate Line when they've always had a ton of parallel Earths? Is Superman's Earth One the same Earth as Batman's Earth One?

They used to have Earth 2 stories without a fuss, so it isn't anything we haven't seen before, but it seems like there is always a Superman or Batman(or both) Definitive Origin being published.

And since the Superman: Secret Origin trade I really want to read doesn't come out until the middle of 2010, this new Superman origin TPB will be directly competing with another Superman origin TPB from the same company.

Stuff like this would make sense if Superman was already in the public domain.

esteban138 said...

I could not be more with you on this one, Caleb. I mean, we'd all love new original novels, but... this is just unnecessary. There is so much to play with the Multiverse concept and this is what they're going with? And they're getting Johns and JMS to write it? (And I still have to wait a year for Multiversity?)

"O" the Humanatee! said...

I have a few reactions to this:

1) I find this particularly strange given that DC will soon be giving us the First Wave series, with another alternate-continuity Batman.

2) I wonder if the "Earth One" titles are meant to evoke "Year One" for those readers to whom that means something.

3) I also wonder if these titles are being put out to test the waters for original GNs instead of monthlies, which are a dwindling format. In their interviews at Ain't It Cool News, both Straczynski and Johns seem to hedge the question.

4) I hope Frank doesn't draw Batman, adult Bruce, young Bruce, and Alfred with that same glaring expression throughout!

Hdefined said...

"objectively less popular creative teams"

"Johns is DC's most bankable star at the moment"

Nice contradiction there.

Hdefined said...

"[JMS] doesn't really have any sort of reputation as a guy who's going to do a great Superman comic."

So the only people who will most likely write good Superman comics are people who've already written Superman comics?

By that stupid logic, Chuck Austen is more likely to write a good Superman comic than JMS is.

"O" the Humanatee! said...

Hdefined: Please learn to read and/or think. First, Caleb wrote that the teams are less popular than the teams that worked on the All-Star books, and that Johns was DC's most bankable star at the moment. Even if Johns has audience drawing power, it doesn't follow that Johns plus Frank as a team are as popular as Miller plus Lee. Moreover, Johns is more bankable at the moment for DC than Miller for the simple reason that Miller's not doing any work for DC at the moment.

As for your second point, Straczynski's reputation as a Superman writer has nothing to do with whether he will or will not be a good Superman writer - in fact, Jacob allows for the possibility that he will be: "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." The relevance of reputation is whether or not he will draw an audience as a Superman writer. You can disagree with Jacob on that point, but his writing isn't inconsistent.

Finally, even if lack of experience writing Superman did imply a lack of quality, it would in fact be a violation of basic logic to infer that experience writing Superman implied quality. (A -> B is not logically equivalent to ~A -> ~B.) The "stupid logic" here is your own.

JohnF said...

I think that Batman outfit looks pretty great... except for the cowl which I hate. If that makes sense. I just like that he got rid of the underwear on the outside look, which I've wanted to see happen for a while. It's not like I want it to look like movie Batman, just no more bikini briefs.

JohnF said...

*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.

You're one of those, eh?

Randal said...

Yeah, Sterling has his acolytes.

LiamKav said...

"I just like that he got rid of the underwear on the outside look, which I've wanted to see happen for a while."

Er, didn't he have the "no-outside-underwear" look for about 7 years at the end of the 90s?

Jacob T. Levy said...

"Specifically, they look like Bryan Hitch redesigning Batman to join The Ultimates line-up in the year 2000. "

Pretty much exactly what I thought.

JohnF said...

Er, yes. But that costume didn't have any structure to it, it just looked like a colored bodystocking. This one has seams and wrinkles. I like it.

Dean H. said...

Unless I miss my guess, the "DC Universe" is not long for this world. Sales of their core characters are very creator-driven and creators would rather work outside continuity than with in it.

Everything is going to be "Elseworlds".

Hdefined said...

Who's Jacob?

"O" the Humanatee! said...

Hdefined: Assuming you're responding to me, "Jacob" was obviously a mistake I made in referring to Caleb (which I did correctly in my first paragraph). Of course you could have figured that out from the fact that the words I quoted were Caleb's, but I guess you still can't make the most rudimentary inferences from what you read.

Now do you have any response to my substantive points?

Hdefined said...

You made substantive points? Are they in another post?

Earlofthercs said...


now Im finally convinced you're a troll. You often come across as snide, petty, and kind of stupid but there's no way anyone but an outright troll (or a politician, I guess) wouldn't just man up and admit to being pwed (or at least `mistaken') by O's clear explanation as to why "objectively less popular creative teams" is not a contradiciton with "Johns is DC's most bankable star at the moment" etc.

I mean really mate, what the fuck is your problem?

LurkerWithout said...


"I mean really mate, what the fuck is your problem?"

Option #1: Boredom

Option #2: Hdefined is Caleb's jerk older brother. Like in G-Man.

Option #3: Hdefined is the mirrorverse evil Caleb. Do you have a goatee Hdefined?

Hdefined said...

I actually do have a goatee, I'm not bald, and my first name is Belac. Coincidence?

I don't go around assuming I'm "pwed," but since it's been pointed out that I really am pwed, you can pwe me an apology.

"O" the Humanatee! said...

Hdefined: You win. Your unusual command of logic; your attention to the fine details of writing, never getting lost in the overall message; your rhetorical agility - all are beyond my ability to counter.

Hdefined said...

What? I demand a recount.