If you're looking for the Justice Society of America within the pages of the new Earth 2 #1, you should know that no such beastie lurks therein. What you do get, though, is the beginning of DC's New 52 take on the classic alternate Earth story delineated with excellent art, but written with little style, substance or enticement for new or old school fans.
The lack of style is a puzzling one, considering that at the book's helm is none other than that old JSA seadog James Robinson. Oh, the writing is competent enough and serviceable, but say what you will about latter-day Robinson scripts, Earth 2 shows no real signs of the man who wrote us the love letter called Starman and is currently evoking his former singular self in the pages of The Shade. One expects a certain grace woven with words from Robinson, a bit of quirk and a dash of wit, but Earth 2 #1 is not terribly inspired nor is it awfully interesting.
The cover says just about everything you need to know about this first issue: Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. This is their story, or at least alternate versions of the famous threesome, and, unfortunately, versions that we've seen a hundred times before. They comport themselves in expected fashion, though playing important roles in a worldwide, so-called "Apokolips War," and fail to do much more than — SPOILER ALERT — die. Once they're gone, you don't really mourn them so much as be thankful that they might have cleared the way for something more… out-of-the-ordinary in the book.
But they don't.
In the final few pages of the issue, we're introduced to Alan Scott and Jay Garrick. Yes, the names may seem familiar, but hold on! These are not the legendary JSAers we've followed for decades; these are simply two men who bring a fairly quiet wrap-up to what purports to be "A Different World! A Different Destiny!" on the cover.
But it's not really.
After Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman hog the bulk of the book, there's not much space left to really intro Alan and Jay, but what we do get from them is that they're not exactly the two classic heroes we know and love. In fact, they're pretty ordinary, as far as modern comic books go. And that's pretty sad. Alan at least shows some soul; Jay is a wastrel, a recent college grad who's more concerned with "break-up sex" with his ex-girlfriend Joan than with having anything resembling character or dignity. Ho-hum — seen it, done it, ad nauseum.
Here's a thought: wouldn't it be interesting to have super heroes that are upright and sterling and that stand out from all the other tarnished crumb-bums that stand in for fictional heroes these days? You know, like the original Justice Society?
I guess that might be too much to ask for.
Here's another thought: can a new JSA exist without their ties to World War II? Looks like Earth 2 intends to find out. It appears as if the new Society members arrive on the heels of the Apokolips War that near-decimates their Earth, but — and this is important — are not forged by it. I fail to understand this choice by DC and Robinson; why bother devoting so many pages to all the shinola about Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in this inaugural issue? Their Golden Age counterparts were never truly the focal point of the original Earth 2 or the JSA — why give them so much ink here? If DC is dead-set on introducing a new Justice Society — and they have every right to — why not have those new heroes cut their costumed eye-teeth in the Apokolips brouhaha? I mean, granted, it would be a pretty piss-poor substitute for World War II, but at least it would be an acknowledgement to the original oeuvre and then theme of "war and strife creates heroes." But no, this War is over by the end of this issue and Alan and Jay seem to be very minimally impacted by it — if at all. And that's sad. I think an opportunity to evoke the feeling of a new JSA born from a new war was definitely missed here.
DC seems to be hedging their bets by splashing the Big Three on the cover of this book, perhaps worried that it wouldn't sell without them. It's a bit of a bait-and-switch, considering the three heroes' demises within its pages. Here's yet another thought: maybe they should have just kept them around and have them found the Society themselves. Otherwise, what was the point?
Many of you may be screaming about now that "this is only the first issue — you have to wait and see what's going to happen!"
Well, that's not what a good #1 is all about in my book. A good #1 should have enough meat on the bone to satisfy me AND to make me want more. With this kick-off, you have to buy World's Finest #1 to get the other half of its story.
So, looking back, is Earth 2 #1 a good start? Does it work as a first issue? Yes and no.
If it entices a reader to continue to buy the book, it may be out of frustration more than awe and wonder. Comparing it to the first issues of JSA series of the past, well, frankly, it pales. As its own thing, as I said before, it's serviceable. Neither here nor there, but with damn fine Nicola Scott art. Overall, I think this book will serve to draw a line between a lot of fans. Personally, I went into it with an open mind, hoping that it would stand on its own as an engaging new look at the alternate Earths concept, but it just seems like comic-by-committee, a safe entry into a sea of similar product.
Maybe the criteria for a #1 has changed. Maybe all it needs to be is a set-up. Maybe it doesn't have to have fresh, new ideas to draw you in. Maybe it just needs to be what you might blandly expect from a modern super hero book.
Maybe a new Justice Society of America doesn't really need to be anything special.
A native Toledoan, Jim Beard was introduced to comic books at an early age by his father, who passed on to him a love for the medium and the pulp characters who preceded it. After decades of reading, collecting and dissecting comics, Jim became a published writer when he sold a story to DC Comics in 2002. Since that time he’s written Star Wars and Ghostbusters comic stories and contributed articles and essays to several volumes of comic book history. Recently, he edited a book of essays on the 1966 Batman TV series, Gotham City 14 Miles.
Currently, Jim provides regular content for Marvel.com, the official Marvel Comics website, and is a regular columnist for Toledo Free Press. His pulp projects include his Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker character, a Houdini adventure, a graphic novel adaptation of Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John for Sequential Pulp Comics/Dark Horse and a Richard Nixon pulp-style tale. He’s also working on a Universal Monsters chronology for Hasslein Books and a history of 1970s comics for TwoMorrows.