Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Editorial # 5 - “Playing Catch-Up”

Maybe it's the nostalgia of youth; maybe my memory has been colored by listening to one too many comics podcasts or reading too many blogs. I remember the Justice Society and the greater world of Earth 2 as being a place where the heroes always won, even if victory came at a cost. It was a place of light with characters you could look up to. Even after the Crisis, when they had big parts of their histories rewritten, the JSA survived. In fact, they more than survived. They thrived.
Crisis on Infinite Earth really hit Earth 2 hard. For all the good that Marv Wolfman and George Pérez did for the DCU with Crisis, it still created more than its share of problems. The Golden Age Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman no longer existed. That alone would have a pretty big impact since the characters had already had so many adventures over the previous 50 years, but the influence those three had on other characters was huge and also had to be dealt with. Catwoman of Earth 2 didn't exist either, so she obviously couldn't marry the non-existent Batman and give birth to the Helena Wayne, therefore Huntress is gone (for a while anyway). Superman and Lois Lane weren't there to raise Power Girl who did still exist but now had no family or past and her origin was rewritten badly to say the least. Wonder Woman's daughter, Fury, no longer had a mother but Fury was still an active member of Infinity, Inc. and involved with Silver Scarab, the son of the Golden Age Hawkman and Hawkgirl. The entire series of Young All-Stars was basically created to patch some of the holes that Crisis left in DC continuity.
Oh yeah! How is all this relevant to TKF? No Golden Age Batman meant no Golden Age Robin either. Dick Grayson of Earth 1 still existed as Nightwing with his character history left mostly untouched, so 10 year-old me was pretty okay with things at the time. But good ideas are good ideas, so DC slowly brought back Earth 2 and its characters over time through a variety of events culminating in the New52 Earth-2 series. I reread the series as well as its follow-ups, Earth-2: World's End and Convergence this last week. I'm shocked by how much they could do well when they got so, so much of it wrong.
Earth-2 was still defined by being a world at war, but this time World War II had nothing to do with the story. Right out of the gate the reader gets introduced to new look versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman in a five year flashback to a war with the armies of Apokolips and they were dead by the end of the first issue. This time Helena Wayne was back, but she was her dad's Robin, again ending up as Huntress. Once again, Dick Grayson was nowhere to be seen. Dick never even showed up in Earth-2 until issue # 29 after first being introduced during Earth-2: World's End # 1. Where do we first see Dick? He's a reporter in a hospital room, standing next to his pregnant wife, Officer Barbara Gordon of the Chicago Police Dept.
Fast forward a few years in the comics, a couple of weeks in real time,and the happy couple is fighting for survival in the second great Apokolips war with their son, Johnny, in tow. Their story is one of several subplots followed through World's End and, just like most of the stories from that series and its parent series, the Graysons' story is one of tragedy.
However, the Grayson family tragedy is mostly one of poor writing and editorial decisions. Barbara protects her mostly helpless husband long enough to lose their son, find him again, then die trying to keep the two of them alive. Dick manages to lose track of the boy again and learns to fight from TedGrant, who had only been seen previously as a name on a marquee. Somehow, an afternoon with Ted turns Dick into a competent enough fighter to allow Dick to recover his son, Tommy. (That isn't my mistake. For some reason, the writing team couldn't be bothered to keep the boy's name straight from one issue to the next; they flip-flopped between Johnny and Tommy at least four times.) When he found himself unable to secure a place for the two of them on an escape vehicle, Dick ended up entrusting his son to a woman dressed in robes. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Dick, the woman was Barda, the disgraced leader of Darkseid's Female Furies, with her traveling companion the Fury of War. Dick also went on to meet the second Batman of Earth-2, Thomas Wayne. Another series of events led to Dick learning of his alternate selves' connection to the legend of Batman. He adopted the symbol after Thomas' death. As of the current Earth-2:Society (E2S) series, he has fully adopted the mantle of Batman and is still looking for his son.
I have a lot of problems with the handling of the Earth-2 characters. Turning Terry Sloane from the original Mr. Terrific that inspired Michael Holt into a megalomaniacal super murderer is one of the problems. I have always been a fan of Mr. Miracle and Barda as a couple. That's out the window now as Barda is a total villain; not cool. I don't have any real attachment to Barbara Gordon, but her death was used as little more than a plot device. Neither Ted Grant nor Yolanda Montez gets to be Wildcat? Something is wrong there. Jay and Joan Garrick used to be the fun grandparents of the Flash family. Making them younger wasn't a big deal but having her coldly break up with him in their very first appearance was absolutely wrong. Connor Hawke's personality was written as pretty much the opposite of his previous incarnation. AlPratt and Alan Scott were jerks through most of the series. The majority of the whole cast were just meaner, and these were the heroes.
There are some bright spots. Except for the Atom, I really like most of the redesigned costumes. The artists have generally done a magnificent job illustrating the various books. Hawkgirl was and continues to be consistently awesome. Despite how badly his relationship was handled, Flash is generally still well-written as a hero. Huntress' solo mini-series was pretty good. Worlds' Finest wasn't bad with Huntress and Power Girl in the lead, although sales led DC to turn the series into another Batman and Superman showcase. However, the two ladies were heavily featured in World's End, Convergence, and currently in E2S, albeit in a somewhat diminished capacity. Dick Grayson is now the third Batman of Earth-2. I actually think he's suited for the role, but I hope some more of his training will be fleshed out as the series progresses because the guy I'm reading in E2S now is not the same one from a year ago.

Dan Abnett has recently taken over the writing chores on E2S. Much like his other project TitansHunt is doing for the classic Titans team, Abnett's E2S run has the enormous task of trying to fix the problems that his predecessors created. If he can inject some heart into the book, then a lot of the other problems might go away. The characters of Earth 2 were never meant to suffer the ringer that they have been put through since being introduced in the New52. Hopefully, we'll get an Earth-2: Rebirth once the current series ends. There is still a lot of potential and many new stories to be told with these characters that have endured for the last 70+ years.

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