Levitz & Robinson Geek Out Over "Worlds' Finest," "Earth 2"

With the New 52 relaunch in 2011, DC Comics reintroduced the concept of the multiverse to comic book readers with the their "Earth 2" and "Worlds' Finest" ongoing series.

"Earth 2," written by James Robinson with art by Nicola Scott, takes place on the alternate Earth and reinvented the members of the Justice Society of America as more mystical, supernatural-influenced rookie heroes. Beyond the confines of "Earth 2," Robinson is a writer known for his love of the Golden Age JSA characters and has been responsible for many permutations of them in books such as "The Golden Age" and "JSA."

The second title, "Worlds' Finest" written by Paul Levitz with art initially by artists George Perez and Kevin Maguire, chronicled the adventures of Earth 2's Robin and Supergirl as they are flung into the main New 52 Earth and take up the mantles of Huntress and Power Girl, respectively. Levitz has his own long history with the multiverse as he wrote the JSA in "All Star Comics" back in the late '70s as well as created Earth 2's Helena Wayne/Huntress, the same character starring in the New 52 "Worlds' Finest" alongside Power Girl.

As the Earth 2 heroes and heroines continue their world-spanning fight against evil, Levitz and Robinson spoke jointly with CBR News about their comics, their love of the multiverse and they way they now view the New 52 DC Universe.

CBR News: James and Paul, you're both writers known for your takes on the JSA and multiverse/Earth 2 heroes. For both of you, what was appealing about writing about the multiverse in the New 52 -- the Earth 2 heroes on their world in "Earth 2" and the Earth 2 heroes in our New 52 world in "Worlds' Finest?"

James Robinson: The whole Earth 2 idea, which there were a great many different permutations before it arrived at the one that everybody felt happy enough to move forward on, the challenge was for me and for everybody because everybody was doing it, to reintroduce these characters. The decision was made to eliminate the multigenerational aspects of the Justice League and so my challenge was to make these characters stand apart from the main DC Universe. Also, personally, I'm tying to capture the essence of what they were when they were these young characters back in the 1940s. I think to a degree I've been pretty successful in doing that with Jay Garrick; he still has the sort of honest, open, slightly naive but heroic youth about him the original Jay Garrick [had] back in the day. Somebody like the Atom, Al Pratt, with him I tried to combine the original Pratt with the powers of some of the aspects of Atom Smasher and also his son Damage from the Damage comic. That was the challenge: preserving these DC characters while making them fresh for a new audience.

Paul Levitz: My piece is a different piece of the puzzle, obviously. I'm really playing within the multigenerational thing. The fun of it, besides revisiting kind of sideways versions of characters I knew and loved and got to write at the beginning of my career, is the echoes. You have that moment in it when you've got a little bit of Catwoman coming through her daughter, or a little bit of Batman coming through and how exactly does that work? It adds that texture -- and then the fun of having these two characters together, which makes it a book very different in emotional structure than anything else in the DC or Marvel lineups in the last couple of years.

Paul, your book flashes back to the past of Earth 2. How much do the two of you have to work together and discuss what's happening in your books to make sure the pieces connect in the past?

Robinson: Can I be honest with you? Not as much as we should! I mean, we're so busy setting up our own arcs and everything else but we also realized, if I can talk for you a second, Paul, that we're really sort of beginning to amp things up over the next 18 months. We do have to achieve that cohesion and make sure both books are moving towards one goal.

Levitz: Yeah, I remember back when we were doing the #0 issues, some of it is just going, "Can I add this little bit to the back story of Earth 2, does this fit in with what you have in mind and how the pieces fit?" Then both of us, I think, are on the shortlist of most passionate people about the complexities of multiverse history. You look at the body of writing we've each done in our lives, we're about as bad about geeking out on that as anybody! [Laughs] There's a time and place to do those conversations, and as James said we probably haven't done enough of it, but I think we've done enough that it feels like the pieces are still consistent with each other, which is the starting point goal. Then hopefully the music goes more and more in harmony as things go on, building to crescendos.

Talking about building up to a crescendo, one of the things connecting the two books is the looming threat of Apokolips; we've seen Steppenwolf in "Earth 2" and we're going to see Desaad show up in "Worlds' Finest." How does Apokolips impact your books? And will that threat bring your books closer together down the line, or will it cross over and impact both books in the near future?

Robinson: Well...

Levitz: Darkseid's never a very good neighbor!

Robinson: Right! One of the things I put forward a long time ago to DC which they agreed is a good idea is the idea that, it always sort of bothered me [that] if Superman can fly into space, and even if it takes him a while, arrive at New Genesis or arrive at Apokolips then the New Gods aren't new Gods, they're just super powered aliens. They're no better or worse than Superman himself or Martian Manhunter or any of those other characters. So what I suggested and I think everyone embraced the idea is that these worlds exist in another dimension. There may be two Earths or 52 Earths and there may be 52 Batmans or whatever, but there's only one Apokolips, there's only one Darkseid, there's only one Orion. So when there's one entity that's invading and attacking different Earths, that's a point where things can start coming together in the future. So yes, you will see Apokolips having more impact -- and as I hopefully made it clear in issue #8 of "Earth 2" at the moment there's no way for them to get to Earth 2, which is obviously one of the problems Power Girl and Huntress are facing. So it's more sort of the Apokolips war criminals and fugitives that are on the planet still, what I'm dealing with is something you'll absolutely see more taking shape and other aspects being a factor. There's more still there, especially when you see issue #11 and through issue #12 where you'll see this stuff beginning to take shape.

Levitz: The other thing that's implicit in that, both in "Earth 2" and "Worlds' Finest" is you have a lot of elements where there are people who can't get to where they might otherwise want to be. Things are different for different ones, but its going back to Michael Holt and how he bounced around, Kara and Helena -- there's something fun in that story material compared to a lot of comics where historically everybody could just be whisked to anyplace they want to go and solve their problems. It's a much more human dilemma, "I want to be there but I can't be there." That's something we all associate with and I think we're playing with a number of variations on that theme.

Robinson: Honestly, I try to keep my plot points close to my chest but one of the things you'll find out about Michael Holt [AKA Mister Terrific] as we go is that, it's a big arc after "Tower Of Fate" which we're apparently doing, that coming to Earth 2 has changed his body chemistry just enough that he'll die if he goes back to [New 52] Earth. So Earth 2 is now home. So as Paul was saying about people not being where they want to be, him having to accept this new world as his home where he isn't necessarily the world's third smartest man, he's the tenth smartest man, will be something that he has to deal with and rise to the occasion to face as the saga of "Earth 2" continues to unfold.

Levitz: He also loses the benefits of a lifetime of work in that. He was an incredible industro-magnate on Earth before he left, and you can't always take it with you. That adds to the complexity too. There's lots of levels of loss for these characters: their families, their accomplishments. That continues to build into the girls in "Worlds' Finest" as their lives go on. They're not finished losing some of the things that matter to them.

And Karen's lost her relationship with Michael, as they clearly aren't in the same world anymore.

Levitz: They had a pretty complicated relationship, I think!

Michael Holt, like Apokolips, is another thread connecting your two books. What made you decide Mister Terrific was the character you wanted crossing over back and forth between the two books now and down the road, and establishing a connection between your two books?

Robinson: Honestly, Karen Starr was in the first issue of "Mister Terrific." He already existed so obviously having to acknowledge that as the "Worlds' Finest" book came together, and then the other idea was just wanting to deal with Mister Terrific now that his book was cancelled. He was one of the characters floating around the periphery of things; the final thing he does in issue #8 of his own comic is enter the portal that takes him to Earth 2. That's a book that ends on a high and an optimistic note in terms of the new adventures that are in store for him. It makes it interesting, he's a stranger in a strange land. Also Mister Terrific has always been associated with the Justice Society, both as a Golden Age character, which I've reintroduced as Terry Sloan as [an] Ozymandias meets Lex Luthor-type figure. [Laughter] But also there's the Michael Holt character who was one of the key members of the Justice Society in the issues Geoff Johns wrote. So that all factors in to why we sent him to Earth 2. And it gives an element of a mystery to be solved by the "Worlds' Finest" team.

Levitz: It created opportunities in a bunch of the stories that are playing out now with the ramifications of Karen's relationship with Michael Holt and her "borrowing" theft of the technology he used to jump between worlds all becomes a piece of the story.

Looking at your individual books, one of the things affecting all the characters associated with Batman is the death of Damian Wayne. Is that something that will be tying into "Worlds' Finest?" How does that impact Helena both as the Damian of her world and someone who's actually met Damian?

Levitz: I think there's a really nice emotional moment in this last issue where you've got Helena shocked and saying goodbye at Damian's grave and a moment of her considering whether she ought to volunteer to be Robin. She knows how to do it really well; at least from her point of view she's more qualified than any of the other contenders. I think she gets over that very quickly but it's a very natural payoff moment to the peculiarity of that relationship where she's both attracted to not-her-father as a father figure, but also kind of freaked out by him. We play with all that fairly energetically in that issue. There's a beautiful cover with the two of them at the grave.

While your individual books are connected by characters and events there's a sharp genre distinction where James is writing more mystical, supernatural stuff and Paul's' comic is more rooted in sci-fi. Was that something that came out of what you like to write or did you decide to deliberately go in opposite directions tonally?

Levitz: I think most of it comes out of the characters and what's rich about them and their nature. A certain amount was coordinated editorially, but one of the things actually that I think is making it easier to coordinate going forward is we now have the same editor on both books for the first time, which is a real plus in terms of the communication side of things.

Robinson: Absolutely.

Levitz: When you have a world with Doctor Fate in it that's cool for magic stuff. When you've got a Kryptonian, science fiction comes in; when you have a Batman descendant you have a natural crime environment and a natural street-level violence, so it's all of that as well as bits of what our personal story preferences are.

Robinson: And it was definitely a decision, and something I talked about with [DC Comics Co-Publisher] Dan DiDio, that to make "Earth 2" different in the initial wave of characters A) all their powers come with some kind of a past and B) there would be this metaphysical element to their powers, how they got their powers. This all started from trying to redo the Earth 2 origin of Flash. Of all the Earth 2 origins it was the loosey-goosiest that Heavy Water, breathing those vapors somehow turned him into the Flash. It was just odd and not particularly well thought out, and later on they tried to add another level to it with the Speed Force but it just became too complicated. So it's the idea of riffing on how Hal Jordan got his powers from a dying Green Lantern, having the last of the Roman Pantheon handing over his powers to Jay Garrick; you can tell anyone on the street how Jay Garrick got his powers now instead of having to explain formulas and gases and whatnot. You just say the Roman god Mercury gave him the power of speed. Obviously the mysticism is in Doctor Fate and Green Lantern and, to a degree, Hawkgirl. I'm just trying to have that one thing that ties them together and ties the Earth together in ways that can be used as plot points as later you see the two Earths together -- as we ultimately will some point in the future. Even the Atom, who seems to have an origin at the moment straight out of the Incredible Hulk/many heroes who are injured in a scientific explosive thing, you'll find later down the line he has metaphysical aspects to his powers that he wasn't aware of. So the origin of the Flash helped make interesting stories now and in the future as the characters all decide to meet, the characters of the two Earths meet in the stories to come in the future.

As Paul said, you are both multiverse geeks, and have a history with these heroes. Has reinventing these characters for the New 52 changed the way you look at them or how you view the multiverse concept and franchise?

Levitz: I think this is a different moment, both because it's happening in the middle of the New 52 which had a very dynamic change in how the readers are perceiving the DC Universe, and, in a certain sense, restoring a sense of wonder, because in the literal sense of "I wonder what is out there" we're able to reveal things. Even when I was writing Earth 2 in the '70s it was already 13 or 14 years into the first Earth 2. This is the beginning of telling tales in this whole corner of the universe, and that's a very different and very exciting moment to play with.

Robinson: I would agree with that. In terms of the multiverse, obviously with "Crisis On Infinite Earths" they took away the multiverse with Earth 2 and Earth X and all the various Earths there used to be. With something like "Countdown," I guess it was a multiverse but it felt like just a lot of Elseworlds to me with like Nazi Superman and Batman or female Superman and Batman and everything else. [Laughter] It's exciting in a way, but I feel we're getting back to the type of multiverse there used to be before the original "Crisis On Infinite Earths." Obviously that presents a new set of challenges, but it's exciting and fun. Of course I always loved the original characters; I wrote "The Golden Age," I was the one that really convinced DC when they thought there was nothing to be gained from reintroducing the Justice Society after "Zero Hour" I was the one who convinced them to do it. David Goyer and Geoff Johns took it and played around with it, but I always had affection and love for these characters. They'll always be in my heart but this is a new version of them and I'm trying to make characters that'll be in the hearts of new readers enjoying the New 52.

Levitz: I hope that the reader has the opportunity to feel the way I felt when I was reading the JLA/JSA stories in the '60s as a young kid. Every character who was introduced to the mythology, or reintroduced was, "Are we ever going to see Mister Terrific? What is he like?" You didn't have access to the Golden Age books those days, so each thing was an exciting reveal. Hopefully the worlds we're building, and James is creating a vastly wider array of characters in this process than I am, but I hope that all feels like that to the young reader today who comes in today and says, "What's next?" It's a great feeling.

"Worlds' Finest" #10 and "Earth 2" #10 both go on sale April 3.

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