Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I started reading comics before Crisis On Infinite Earths, and I remembers guys complaining afterward that there was nothing so confusing about the multiverse that it needed to be streamlined into oblivion. Those guys were full of crap. I hated the multiple Earths concept as a kid, and decided that the X-Men soap opera was more penetrable than DC playing with which characters on what Earth.
Earth-One was where most heroes were, but the Justice Society of America and the doppelgangers of many mainstream heroes like Superman were on Earth-Two, where World War II had only ended twenty or so years earlier. However, some characters like Black Canary were from Earth-Two and had no Earth-One counterpart but decided to live on Earth-One later on (and get retroactively replaced by their adult daughter because that wasn't complicated enough.) Then there was the Marvel Family on Earth-S who sometimes got involved in World War II stuff but usually were in the present and sometimes on Earth-One. The Freedom Fighters were from Earth-X, where the Nazis won World War II, so the bums moved to 1970s Earth-One. They were all Quality Comics characters like Plastic Man, except Plas was on Earth-One and Earth-Two, but not Earth-X (I don't think.) There were dozens of others, including Earths for various alternate futures. There was even Earth-Prime, which was supposed to be our real world, except it still had a few super-heroes and people spoke like Eliot S! Maggin dialogue.
About the only Earth I halfway liked was Earth-Three, which was like that Star Trek episode where the crew of the Enterprise were all evil. Earth-Three couldn't even get that right though, because instead of giving Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman pointy goatees, their analogues were inexact with different names, powers and costumes. About the only multiverse comic I enjoyed was Ambush Bug, since it spent a lot of time pointing out how insanely moronic all that stuff was.
Like a lot of people, I jumped on the Post-Crisis, one-Earth bandwagon wholeheartedly. It was a once in a lifetime chance to read a Superman comic from the very beginning of his journey. However, the new creators were so busy throwing out all those hoary old trappings, I felt they didn't leave enough to make the characters special. I couldn't get excited about Superman breaking a sweat while having street-level brawls with Bloodsport, Rampage, the Host, Sleeze or Skyhook. Rogue could fly around punching c-listers, too.
The Flash is one of my favorite examples of this. Barry Allen was a forensic scientist with the police force who had a colorful array of personal rogues. Loads of places you can go with that. Wally West was an unemployed dude who picked up cash with his powers and after making friends with the old Flash's foes fought villains like That Really Fat Guy and Whatsisname With The %-Symbol. You can play with that for a while, but outside straight comedy, there's only so much steam there. Aside from true innovators like Giffen & DeMatteis in Justice League International, a lot of the new DC barely sizzled passed the initial appeal of the stakes.
I came back a few years later, and what sucked me in this time was the sense of history and continuity in the universe. The Crimson Avenger was a Shadow knock-off, and the first masked DC hero. From there the JSA members started springing up, and the ranks of superherodom ballooned during World War II. McCarthy ran off the heroes going into the '50s in a parallel to the Wertham crusade, so when J'Onn J'Onzz arrived on Earth in 1955, he had to operate in secret. Eventually, Superman sparked a new super-heroic age, and was joined by the children of the JSA in Infinity Inc. There were heroes before the 20th Century, and there would be more in the 30th, all weaving a grand tapestry. I loved that DC Universe, and if anything, I wanted to see more history laid down to fill the gaps. The newly acquired T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents could have been the super-team of the '60s, and by integrating Wildstorm, operations like Team One and Stormwatch could have guarded the '70s & '80s. Instead of having an excess of corny heroes involved in present day adventures, dated concepts like the Hawk and the Dove could be fixed in time, making them the heroes of an era.
Due to my interest in finding a place for all DC history, I've always struggled to find a way to reconcile the shiny utopian Mars of the Silver Age with the primitives in pyramids revealed Post-Crisis. DC's answer had been that all those early stories were a fantasy in J'Onn J'Onzz's mind, but I found it both disrespectful and wasteful to ignore over thirty years of published adventures. When the multiverse returned following 2005's Infinite Crisis, it occurred to me that one possibility was that all those Silver Age Martian Manhunter adventures could have simply occurred on "Mars-Two." I mean, if there was a second Earth in a parallel universe, why not a divergent copy of Earth's neighbor world? Maybe reveal the Mars-Two Martian Manhunter had been killed off in the Crisis. That way, on Mars-One, every Martian is dead besides J'Onn J'Onzz, while on Mars-Two, they're all alive except J'onn J'onzz. When Coneheadhunter was killed off in Final Crisis, it would have been neat to see him replaced by a Darwyn Cooke-style Alien Atlas from another Earth, right? Now that would have been cosmically delicious!
Given the distasteful treatment of the multiverse concept by travesties like Countdown, I was surprised DC retained it going into the DCnÜ. Some characters, like the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, never really recovered from massively reworked origins for the gestalt Post-Crisis Earth. Giving that back to Huntress on a restored Earth-Two would elevate the character, but I'm not sure that's where DC is going. I doubt they're in a hurry to saddle their sexy new continuity with that kind of history, and wouldn't be surprised if Alan Scott and Jay Garrick were fit young men born well after the days of disco, much less the Great Depression. It seems likely that they'll just be more variations on Green Lantern and the Flash in universes crowded with them. To me, that means the DCnÜ is something like the worst of both worlds-- the confusing Pre-Crisis Multiverse, and a bland Image style line-up marked by an illusory history dating back to only a few years worth of untold tales. Every one of their characters are available to creators in the now, but with hardly any of them having any cultural relevancy, in our day or times past.
The Martian Manhunter benefited massively from the Post-Crisis Earth. He went from an off-brand Superman to the first major hero of the 1950s, and a keeper of the flame active between the eras of the Justice Society and the Justice League. Perhaps he will still have that personal longevity and significance in the DCnÜ, but so much is in flux that it is difficult to see that far ahead or behind. I think it's essential to the character's resonance, but DC might feel he needs to have shown up 4½ years ago (so as not to step on Wonder Woman's debut, which somehow now follows Green Lantern and Flash's. Ugh.)
Recent issues of Stormwatch insinuate that J'Onn J'Onzz's being the sole survivor of Mars is a lie, reversing the narrative of his Post-1988 continuity. One of my pet theories for years has been that all those Bronze Age Martians are still on Mars II somewhere, hidden away, perhaps from J'Onn J'Onzz himself. Another possibility would be that the Mars of Earth-1.2 is a dead world, but J'Onn J'Onzz came there from a living Mars-Two. This could reestablish J'Onzz's bridging of two eras of heroes and two worlds. Unlikely, but imagine the possibilities of playing with all that lore without hewing to the enforced "reality" of the DCnÜ Justice League. In my fantasy, Bel Juz is plotting, the Marshal is scowling, B'rett is stealing, and R'es Eda is just waiting for his moment of betrayal in the computer colored current continuity I'd like to see re-embrace its heritage, while forging something new...