Grumpy Old Fan | Can the New 52 count on the Next Six’s Earth-2?

Although they won’t be solicited for a few more weeks, DC has already been talking up the six new(ish) titles coming in May. G.I. Combat, Dial H, Ravagers, and Worlds’ Finest join the returning Batman Incorporated and the long-rumored Justice So-- I mean, Earth 2 -- as the replacements for most of the New-52's lowest-selling books.

As with the original New-52 group, every new title except one is familiar to longtime DC fans; and as with the original New-52, that book spins out of an existing feature. (Then it was Batman Incorporated begetting Batwing; here it’s the Teen Titans/Superboy nexus spawning Ravagers.) However, where the New-52 tried noticeably to make many of its books accessible -- or at least uprooted them from established DC lore -- most of the new titles seem to require some prerequisite reading.

For me, this is not a problem, because I’ve been reading Batman Incorporated (and the rest of Grant Morrison’s Bat-work) since the beginning; and I grew up on the annual JLA/JSA multiple-Earth team-ups. However, I am not exactly the target audience for the New-52, and it’s curious to me why DC would head back towards the deep end of the continuity pool with at least half of its new offerings. In fairness, it is possible to boil hairsplitting topics like parallel Earths into easily-digestible packets of information. It’s not so much that there’s an alternate Earth, it’s that there’s an Earth which doesn’t tie into forty-odd other monthly comic books. Likewise, the new/old Huntress and Power Girl need not be throwbacks to comics from the ‘70s and ‘80s, just plausible takes on their extremely-familiar superheroic heritage. After all, “Batman and Catwoman’s daughter” was good enough to get that “Birds Of Prey” TV show on the air (even if what the “BOP” show did with it was something else....)

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at the newcomers in detail.

The New-52 books have already “reclaimed” a number of Vertigo characters, but with Dial H the line between the two imprints gets blurrier as uber-editor Karen Berger helps relaunch one of the Silver Age’s quirkier concepts. Let me repeat that: Dial “H” For HERO was quirky for the Silver Age because it invited readers to design their own superheroes, who would then be worked into the stories. These days, that kind of thing practically dares a publisher to craft some social-media reader-participation component, but it sounds like writer China Miéville has enough of his own ideas about where to take the series. Specifically, its protagonist looks to have a hard time adjusting to the endless cycle of random powers and/or identities which once were governed only by the whims of DC’s readership. To tell you the truth, that makes it sound like Daffy’s descent into madness in the classic “Duck Amuck” -- where another capricious omnipotence kept changing the rules of Daffy’s reality -- but I’m sure that is just a facile comparison.

A better one may be to the New-52's Animal Man which, ‘way back when, made the transition from DCU to Vertigo and has come back working a good bit of that smart-and-cool Vertigo mojo. Dial H sounds like a good-enough-for-Vertigo superhero comic, and it certainly has the pedigree (the original Dial H even debuted in the old House Of Mystery, looong before that book was annexed by Neil Gaiman’s Sandman). Thus, my expectations are high, but with good reason.

G.I. Combat replaces Men Of War perhaps in name only, since on the face of it I’m not sure that much distinguishes the two military/paranormal mashups. MOW stars a new Sgt. Rock and had an anthological backup feature, while GIC will pair The War That Time Forgot with rotating backups like The Unknown Soldier and The Haunted Tank (the latter a staple of the original G.I. Combat). In fact, this version could easily have been called Weird War Tales (which eventually featured the original “War That Time Forgot”) for its more direct melding of the battlefield and the strange. Oh, heck; titles are irrelevant: the Unknown Soldier was the last regular feature of Star Spangled War Stories, “WTTF’s” original home.

All three of these features have been revived fairly recently -- WTTF as a 12-issue DCU miniseries, Haunted Tank as a 5-issue Vertigo miniseries, and Unknown Soldier as a Vertigo ongoing series. As you might expect, the Vertigo versions made some changes, placing the Tank in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the “Soldier” in 2002 Uganda. Regardless, these features arguably have some residual name recognition (besides being perennial favorites and entertaining concepts), which may have contributed to their inclusion in the new G.I. Combat. In the end, I’m glad DC is sticking with a military-oriented book set in its main comics line, because it makes the line more diverse.

Not helping diversity as much is The Ravagers, which spins out of Teen Titans and Superboy. From what I can tell, DC is doing “edgy Teen Titans” in Teen Titans itself, so if Ravagers is “even edgier,” I don’t know if there’s much of an audience for that. Actually, the premise sounds more like Gen13, it includes at least one Gen13 alum, and “on the run from shadowy organization” is a decent starting point. Still, I have a bad feeling it will try too hard to be edgy and/or extreme, in keeping with its ‘90s roots. Much of this goes back to artist Ian Churchill, whose work on 2008's Titans relaunch couldn’t quite overcome his tendencies to exaggerate and/or objectify. I do like Superboy’s Rose Wilson and Caitlin Fairchild -- well, I don’t dislike them, and artist R.B. Silva draws ‘em in a nice, non-exploitative manner -- so I will give this a chance. I’d like to think it will be better than Red Hood and the Outlaws, but that’s not exactly grounds for a commitment.

I have already committed to Batman Incorporated, so I’m glad it’s back on the schedule. There might not have been more to say, except for editor Mike Marts proclaiming that BatCorp Volume 2 is “the final, unbelievable act of a saga six years in the making.”  If you’ve been reading Morrison’s Batman for the past six years, that’s one thing. Otherwise, I’m sure DC would love to sell you a few collections (or at least the hefty Leviathan special) to bring you up to speed. That’s a lot of material, even digitized. It’s good stuff, don’t get me wrong; but again, there’s six years of it. In that context, the Earth-Two Huntress may be an easier sell, even having been out of circulation for most of the past twenty-five years; because that kind of break surely means that Worlds’ Finest will go out of its way to be accessible. Six years of Batman comics? You can get through that over a long weekend.

And that brings us back to the two parallel-world -- excuse me, next-generation superhero -- titles, Earth 2 from James Robinson and Nicola Scott and Worlds’ Finest from Paul Levitz, George Pérez, and Kevin Maguire. I will be getting both of these eagerly, mostly because of my stated affection for the old Multiverse. Again, though, I wonder how many of the New-52's newer readers will be interested in a pair of books which (re)introduce another Earth’s worth of continuity? The old Earth-Two was basically the home of Golden Age DC stories, which had apparently occurred in real time (or in whatever faithful-to-the-originals order Roy Thomas arranged them) so that, starting in the early 1960s, DC’s writers and editors could distinguish Then from Now.

Soon enough, though, Earth-Two became its own ongoing concern -- got its own Now, as it were -- and Power Girl and the Huntress were very much a part of its unique identity. Like Supergirl, Power Girl was Superman’s first cousin; but she landed on Earth almost forty years after he did and was more like Clark and Lois’ adopted daughter. The Huntress was Helena Wayne, Batman and Catwoman’s actual daughter, who became the new Darknight Detective after her mom’s death drove her dad into retirement. These are not difficult concepts to grasp. Regardless, Earth-Two was full of just-different-enough characters, even if (from the Golden Age fan’s perspective) the new folks were the different ones. Green Lantern wasn’t a space-cop. The Atom didn’t shrink. The Flash wore a helmet. Hawkman ... ugh, let’s not get started with Hawkman. Then there was Doctor Mid-Nite, Doctor Fate, Mister Terrific, Starman, and various others who hadn’t gotten Earth-One counterparts. When I first learned about the Justice Society and Earth-Two -- when I was six, so it’s been a while -- I wanted to know more. I recognize now that I could have also dropped that issue of Justice League like a hot rock and run for something less complicated.

With that in mind, I understand why DC didn’t advertise the current Huntress miniseries as a prelude to the Earth-2 series, since (SPOILER ALERT, maybe?) it features Helena Wayne posing as her not-related-to-Batman counterpart. That wouldn’t have been a bad hook for an old-school Huntress fan, but I wouldn’t have wanted to market a New-52 book to an old-school fan. Still, I didn’t pick up Huntress originally, because my interest couldn’t quite overcome budgetary concerns, and now I’m wishing I had. (Haven’t had time to download the issues yet, either.)

As discussed above, you’d think Earth 2 and Worlds’ Finest would make a special effort to be new-reader-friendly. I’m also interested in how old-reader-friendly they’ll be. If this is the Earth-2 glimpsed briefly during Geoff Johns’ run on JSA, it’s had a while (since the end of Crisis On Infinite Earths, in fact) to develop into something even more distinct. It shouldn’t be a replacement for the pre-Flashpoint DC-Earth, because it wouldn’t have had any Silver Age characters or their legacies -- so no Green Lantern Corps, no Barry Allen, Wally West, or Bart Allen, no Jason Todd, Tim Drake, or Damien Wayne, etc. I wonder if there’ll even be the full complement of Starmen. Of course, the hypothetical new New-52 reader might not know what s/he’s missing, but I suspect us oldsters will make even more assumptions about what Earth-2 “should” be, well in advance of May’s first issues. It’s kind of like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, creating a new setting with enough of the old to seem familiar, but not enough to be a duplicate.

At the very least the two books should look great. Nicola Scott is an asset to any team book -- she handled crowds pretty well when Birds Of Prey guest-starred the Secret Six -- and I can’t wait to see Pérez and Maguire trade off on Worlds’ Finest.

Not surprisingly, I hope these books find a decent audience beyond the core of JSA/Power Girl readers. It’s not that the New 52 needs the stylistic alternative of an Earth-2 as a safe harbor from all those high collars and ‘90s callbacks. For a long time, being a DC fan meant buying into the Multiverse and/or the legacies, so it’s nice that some of that is coming back. How much of it, and for how long, are questions for another day.

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