For those who haven’t gotten enough of recent retellings of their favorite DC characters, the Earth One series builds on DC’s incessant need to rehash characters we have known for 75 years. This should not be seen as a denouncement necessarily since we usually will gladly attach ourselves with glee to anything that customizes and sharpens these mythic origin stories since they have become a foundation of American storytelling. Like many of what used to be called “Elseworlds,” or a separate imprint, these stories are graphic novels that exist on an earth that is separate from that of the mainstream DCU. These books have been hailed as modern retellings of origin stories, but it seems as though they haven’t stopped there. I am going to go briefly touch on the ones that have been released so far to talk about the place these hold in modern DC superherodome.
The first of these was Superman Earth One, which has already seen to complete sequels. The first book is as much of an origin retelling as you could expect, complete with Kansas looking as dusty as ever and Clark “coming to terms” with his Ubermench status. Broadly speaking, the art by Shane Davis is wonderful and J. Michael Straczynski does an amazing job tying together the classic themes that make Superman a classic messiah for a changing American state. The second volume moves into less traveled territory, as the same team takes Clark into his twenties, where he confronts things like a suspicious Lois Lane and a fear of sexual control. Here he enters directly into what could be a more common Superman story by confronting Parasite, but what makes it stand out is its focus on quality and a lack of ties to current continuity. The third volume comes out in the U.S. on February 5th, but previews so far make it look as though it is really just the logical conclusion of the previous two volumes.
Batman Earth One may be the strongest writing of the three series started so far as Geoff Johns returns to a known character and simply sees Bruce, Gordon, and Alfred in a slightly harsher and more realistic light. The implicit superiority about it could really just be that Batman is easier to write into a modern context and maintain a good balance of seriousness, while Superman is often better left to a golden age perspective because of its invincibility and religious metaphor. Gary Frank’s art is solid; though not necessarily stand out for a Batman book. People have talked a great deal about this in the line of the Batman graphic novels, and it will always hold a special place, but there were not an incredible number of surprises. Many have cited the kidnapping of Barbara Gordon as a sign of the harsh tone, but there seems to be a strong precedent in the Batman world of this kind of treatment of Barbara (DC may need a bit of intervention for its reliance on female violence for story points and a “gritty feel,” but that’s a different article). This book would have stood very well on its own and without being told I would have assumed the “series” stopped here.
The newest released is Teen Titans Earth One, written by the prolific Jeff Lemire and with art by a talented team of pencils by Terry Dodson, inks by Rachel Dodson with Cam Smith, and colors by Brad Anderson and Terry Dodson. All the people and positions mentioned are important since its stylized and colorful art is a high point, and Lemire’s writing can always be depended on for its use of characterization and tight plotting. This may be the most surprising of the books since it really does build an interesting new narrative. This is my first exposure to the Teen Titans and it was a fun one, and I will be interested in continuing the story.
There are some questions as to what exactly is accomplished by this series. If people will notice the first edition of Superman Earth One Volume One it actually doesn’t say “Volume One.” The same is true of Batman Earth One, but it does say this on the front of Teen Titans. This may be a coincidence, but it suggests that these were not originally a series, but instead just stand alone graphic novels. This makes more sense, since they are simply updated origin stories, and there is a reason to make them built on that. But with just an alternative series, why is this being done? There are now a series of Superman books that just tell a random Superman chronology without justification, and the quality and perspective is not so different from standard Superman stories as to justify its existence. The same will be true of Batman and Teen Titans, especially with titles like Batman literally just retelling the origin story at matters of months before and having the exact same time period in the standard title as will be covered by Earth One.
Another issue that could be raised here is the price versus size. The newest released, Teen Titans: Earth One, costs $22.99, and I read it relatively slowly. It took me 31 minutes. This seems a bit excessive, and they are prioritizing hardcovers being released first like the regular book standard.
The goal here seems to sell regular Superman, Batman, and Teen Titans books to bookstore readers, but it seems as though they could just market their regular titles to them. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s current rendition of the regular Batman title is still better and more critically acclaimed than Batman: Earth One, so it seems odd that we have both. In reality, I’m not complaining too much, because you still can’t get too much of a good thing. I am planning on continuing with each of these books, so maybe they know something I don’t.
The next to be released is Wonder Woman: Earth One, which is written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Yanick Paquette. This one is going to be a huge release, not only because of Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette’s well-deserved celebrity status, but also because it comes on the heels of the incredibly 35 issue run from Brian Azzarello. Perhaps this could continue the dark, almost Vertigo-light, tone, but it is more likely that Morrison will celebrate the more traditional heroic tropes.
If they continue to release these they will continue to sell, and that is always what the priority will be on the business side. I would just hope that they try to take each book further away from the standard renditions of these characters and make it a worthwhile digression. Take me somewhere I could never have gotten from the regular series.