Saturday, September 3, 2011

On the untapped potential of a world with seventy years of superheroes

Last time I talked about the past of Earth-Two. This time I'm going to talk about its future.

I've discussed it before - the "Sliding years" theory.  The idea that all the years of comic book adventures you've ever read of any character all took place in a far more compressed time period, and took place in the past few years, as opposed to the fixed point in the past when it was originally published.  Case in point - the Fantastic Four were first published forty years ago, but in the internal fictional timeline of the Marvel Universe, they haven't been active for that long.  Back in the 80's John Byrne opined the period was seven years; now, another couple decades later, it could be as much as twelve to fifteen years, as Grant Morrison has estimated for Batman's career.

For TV fans, look at this way - All the episodes of M*A*S*H, ten years of them, had to have all taken place during the three-year period of the Korean War.  So you have to (you should pardon the expression) mash events together - several of the Christmas episodes were all the SAME Christmas, for example, just different looks at different events.

In the new post Flashpoint world of the DCU, the period has been shrunk back to about five years.  So not only did a lot of the stories we've read not had time to happen, the world as a whole has barely had time to get used to the idea of superheroes, and be changed by them.

Depending on how old you are, think back to big things that happened to the world in the past, and how amazing they were, and how long it took the world to get used to them.  Stuff like the fall of the Berlin Wall, people on the moon, even the Internet; think about how the world changed to adapt, to add these events into its paradigm.  Five years isn't that long. There's still going to be people who are suspicious of superheroes, some who still think they're all a hoax.

Now envision a world that has had superheroes for seventy years.

Earth-2 is back, and with it, the Justice Society of America, who fought crime, and the Axis, in World War II.  In the old days, the all or nothing days, the Pre-Crisis Days, "Earth-Two" was that world - the JSA fought as far back as WWII, and never stopped.  Some people took up the job inspired by them, some heroes had kids who joined the family business, and generally, it was a very different world from the main Earth of the DCU.

That alone is a great reason to bring it back.  It's the opportunity to generate a parallel brand, in the way that Marvel has the Ultimate line, and the WWE have Raw and Smackdown.  Make them different enough, and you'll have fans of each one separately. One of the problem with the DCU is they've got so many great characters, there's no place to find a spot in the limelight.  It's EXACTLY why the WWE broke up their two shows.  Two champions, two rosters, twice the chance to rise to the top.  The Marvel Ultimate Universe is basically the same characters twice, with different histories and different stories being told about them.  Earth 1 and 2 can be ENTIRELY different worlds, with wholly different heroes. 

Assuming they don't get their own Superman again (and I hope they don't), who would be the most powerful hero of Earth-2?  My guess is, we haven't met him yet. And that's AMAZINGLY cool.  On the whole, save for Dr. Fate and The Spectre, the general power level of the Earth-2 heroes was quite a bit lower.  There were a lot more costumed humans than there were super-humans.  That was mainly because in the early days of comics, they simply hadn't stretched their imaginative wings far enough yet.  But if you take one of Dan Didio's comments to its extreme, if a less powerful Superman, one who could be injured, is more dramatic and exciting, than a normal human who chose to train a bit and put on tights can be even MORE dramatic, no?  We could see a lot more of that in a new Earth-2.

You know who would be PERFECT on Earth-2. Ted Fucking Kord.  On Earth-1, characters like Blue Beetle were utterly overshadowed by the top echelon on power. But on a more "Down-to-Earth" Earth?  He could be near the top.  So too characters like Gangbuster.

Let's think about the social effect  that the existence of seventy years of actual Superheroes would have on a world.  Consider - right now, in this world, becoming a superhero is officially the act of a crazy person.  And we have dozens of them.  On our Earth, you tell your parents you want to be a superhero when you grow up, they either pat you on the head, or take you to the psychiatrist.  On DCnU-Earth, they'd say, "One of those crazy people?  You'll break your neck!"  Say it on Earth-2, and they'll say, Well, you better drink your milk and finish your homework, they don't let lazy-bones in the Justice Society".  "Superhero" is a valid and viable career option

In the more educated to the concept audience that modern readers have, a really bold writer could take the alternate history to amazing lengths.  Roy Thomas was ever forced to come up with reasons why the JSA didn't all just to fly over to Germany and kick Hitler's ass. He created the magical barrier, created by the Spear of Destiny, which prevented the Amerikanisher Schweiner from entering the theater of war. 

Now, imagine a world where they could.  The war never got as far as it did, the A-bomb was never dropped. Aliens have been attacking earth for decades, and we collect up the technology, reverse-engineer it and advance humankind at quantum speed.  The present of Earth-2 might not be a Utopia, but it could be a very interesting place to be.

If DC brings back Earth-2 exactly as it was, how many readers is that going to attract?  Well, what was the print run of the last issue of JSA that came out last week?  THAT'S how many.  It's not going to pull any old-time fans back - the ones that want the JSA back that badly are still reading comics.

But a world that has had superheroes for almost a century, and has been growing and changing as a result of it for all that time?  A world lifted and changed, literally on the shoulders of heroes?  They can SELL that.


  1. Interestingly enough...I think only 12-13 years have gone by in the Marvel Universe...and 7-10 of those years took place during the 60s!

  2. The rule of thumb was always keep the timeframe somewhat compressed, and if little details of the origin needs updating do so. The FF were originally test a "missile" to be The Reds into space. In the more recent iteration, they were testing an experimental star drive Reed was working on. Doesn't change the basic drama of the origin, just updates it a bit. Tony Stark's origin takes place in Afghanistan now instead of Vietnam, but it's virtually unchanged otherwise.

    The JSA CAN'T be updated, unless you claim World War Two happened in 1967. So let them retire, let their roles be filled by new people, and let the family grow.

  3. Send Robinson a link to this post...

  4. Already done. I actually have high hopes for James on JSA again. I'seem to be in a diminishing group, but I've greatly enjoyed his recent DC stuff.