Do you like Batman? Sure, everyone loves Batman, which is what makes this new series Earth 2: World's End so great. It's got Batman in it! Well, not Batman so much as Batman's dad. And not the "real" Batman's dad, but an alternate dimension's Batman's dad ... who has taken over for his son as Batman II. So, it stars a legacy version of an alternate version of Batman.
That's one aspect of World's End, which joins Batman Eternal and The New 52: Futures End on DC's slate of ongoing weeklies, that I found particularly striking.
Batman Eternal is set firmly in the "real" DC Universe, featuring the official versions of the characters in their modern-day iterations, having one big subplot-filled adventure with a cast of dozens that's relevant to their ongoing, fictional lives.
Meanwhile, the other two weeklies, which aren't as narrow in focus as a single franchise, feature alternate versions of the characters. In Futures End, the cast is mostly comprised of characters from canceled New 52 titles (plus Lois Lane, Tim Drake and a few new characters and new versions of old ones), but they're versions of the characters from an alternate-future timeline that will never be fully realized.
So, for example, Futures End has Batman in it too. But it has a Batman. Terry "Batman Beyond" McGinnis. But not the "real" Batman Beyond; for his adventures, you'll want to read Batman Beyond Universe. Instead it has an alternate-future version of that alternate-future Batman (plus, there are two alternate, future versions of Batman Bruce Wayne, too).
The cast of World's End, meanwhile, is comprised of the Earth 2 versions of the characters. So in addition to a Batman, there's a Superman, a Flash, a Green Lantern, a Jimmy Olsen and so on. Some are the apparently "real" New 52 versions of the characters — Power Girl, Huntress, Mr. Terrific, Mister Miracle, Big Barda — but, reading the first two issues, the stakes of the series seem, like those of Futures End, to be incredibly low, and of little interest to even the more hardcore DCU and/or New 52 fans.
Yes, big things involving big names are happening, but just off in an obscure corner somewhere. It won't affect any of the characters you're most interested in (I type, knowing full well every character is someone's favorite, even if that character is the New 52 version of Mister Miracle or Earth 2's Superman II Val-Zod).
In both cases, it strikes me as odd to try and sell such books to readers the publisher (and its main rival) has, over the course of recent years, trained to seek out and read only the books they are told are most important or most relevant. While heavily advertised and promoted by DC, neither of the End weeklies seems at all relevant to the DCU line; in fact, both have their irrelevance as built into their premises as possible. The only way they could emphasize it more would be to slap an Elseworlds symbol on the covers.
While I say all that, I'm almost certain that both series will end up proving to have some impact on the DCU and the rest of the New 52 line somewhere down the road (Futures End already kinda-sorta did ... or at least it took over the rest of DC's line in September, when almost all of the publisher's ongoings were temporarily suspended to make room on the schedule for special Futures End tie-in issues).
DC's been seeding little clues throughout its titles that something is up with the Multiverse, with multiple characters "discovering" it last month. One of those characters is the main villain of Futures End, and the other starred in a one-shot that ended with a tag saying the story would be continued in Futures End and World's End.
Additionally, the storyline in World's End is one that echoes the backstory in Futures End, and World's End's villains are the evil gods of Apokolips ... whose enemies the New Gods are causing trouble in the Green Lantern line of books, wherein the Multiverse is also being talked up.
So presumably everything will tie together at some point, and it will have an impact on the rest of DC's line — that is, the two books will ultimately prove to be important and relevant — but, if that's the case, why are the comics being so coy about that fact?
Futures End has published some 25 issues and more than 40 tie-in issues, without any hint that it will affect the "past" DCU. World's End is only two issues in, but thus far doesn't really seem to be anything other than a weekly version of the monthly series Earth 2, which hasn't exactly been burning up the sales charts.
Last week's first issue, a 38-page issue that was priced like a 20-page comic at $2.99, featured a very efficient and very readable summary of the events of Earth 2 from its first issue until its most recent, before picking up with new material, plotted by Daniel H. Wilson, written by Wilson, Marguerite Bennett and Mike Johnson, and illustrated by nine artists and three colorists.
Batman's dad, Val-Zod, and Lois "The Red Tornado" Lane meet up with The Huntress and Power Girl, a pair of characters who have hopped between Earth 2 and Earth-New 52. Meanwhile, one of the gods of Apokolips is forcing Mr. Terrific, Terry Sloane and Mister Miracle to help him transport the planet into Earth (2) orbit.
In this week's regularly-sized second issue — featuring the same writing team, but only eight artists and a single colorist — the superheroes of Earth 2 square off against War, a powerful emissary of Apokolips. Apokolips does indeed make its way toward Earth, Sloane and the Misters battle their Apokoliptian opponent, and Darkseid's court bickers.
It likely won't take as many as 25 issues before these events start to spill over into the events of Earth-New 52 — for one thing, Earth 2 is still in ruins from its last invasion from Apokolips, and there are only about a dozen or so superheroes for the bad guys to kill there.
But if it is going to end up "mattering," why not front-load the book with some hints that it will? Because otherwise, the book seems to be a weekly series expanding on a not-terribly-popular, mid-list monthly book, and if a majority of DC's audience isn't buying Earth 2 once a month, why would they suddenly start buying it five times a month?
It's not even as if the book could sell itself as a quality comic based on the work of its contributors. While easy to read and fairly professionally executed — the three writers write with a single voice, Scott McDaniel's layouts keep the battalion of artists at least all marching in the same direction — there are simply way too many people drawing the book to give it a distinctive look that makes it stand out from the rest of DC's line of super-comics, let alone the rest of the comic books its competing for readers' attention with. It looks like what it is: a comic drawn by committee, a committee consisting of many of the usual suspects of DC Comics art from the last few years.
Granted, I do not, nor have I ever, run a major comic book publisher, so there's a better than even chance the folks who greenlight, write and sell these books know what they're doing, but, as a guy who reads and writes a lot about the damn things, I find the launch of World's End, like that of Futures End, more curious than compelling, more questionable than exciting. I'd hate to think a reader has to get all the way to the end of the End weeklies before being given a good reason to start reading them.