December 7, 2009

Thoughts on Earth One

Category: Opinion — By @ 11:11 am

This morning, DC announced the first two volumes in Earth One, a new series of original graphic novels set in a new continuity. The first two books will be Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, and Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.

It’s being discussed all over the place, so I’ll just state my initial thoughts.

The Positives

First, I love the idea of a series of OGNs. There’s a huge potential audience out there in bookstores, and while collected editions help meet that audience, there are drawbacks — particularly pacing (when read serially) and the fact that waiting for the trade means missing out on the fan conversation. It works for prose novels, it works for Scott Pilgrim, it works for manga (even if it was originally serialized in Japan, it may as well be OGNs as far as the American audience is concerned), and it’s good to see DC taking the concept seriously.

Second, an Ultimate-style reboot of the DC Universe is a good idea. 80 years of continuity, multiple “soft” reboots, heroes who have been replaced, then come back, major events based on short stories from 25 years ago…the modern DC Universe is a complicated place. A project that reaches out to a new audience is a good opportunity to streamline things without messing with the monthly continuity.

Third, I like the Batman redesign.

The Negatives

It makes sense to start with Superman and Batman, because these are two characters that everyone is familiar with, even those who don’t read comics. But they’re starting with the origin stories. Who doesn’t know Superman’s origin? Or Batman’s? With any other character, I’d say it would be worth starting with an origin, but with these two, it might be better to jump in at the deep end and fill in the backstory as they go along.

If they keep the series going, it won’t be a problem, but I can see it being a problem for the first volumes. It reminds me of the choice for the movie of The Golden Compass to rip out the ending and move it to the start of the second movie. It definitely hurt the first movie, and probably contributed to the fact that there won’t be a second movie.

It also makes me worry that, like so many rebooted series, they’ll eventually turn to retelling older stories instead of telling new ones.

The Earth One branding seems…a little obtuse. It means nothing to the new audience, and judging by comments I’ve seen, it’s already confusing the existing DC audience. [Edit: expanded a bit more in that link.]

Uncertainty

I can’t reach the AICN interview, but CBR’s article quotes Geoff Johns as saying that the plan is for two novels a year. Two total? Or two per character? If these take off, two per character would be a much better approach, especially if they expand it to Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and beyond.

9 responses to “Thoughts on Earth One”

  1. Indeed it is like the Ultimate line for the new new millennium. You saw that I’m not crazy about the origins aspect of this, either, but if it really catches on, ten, twelve volumes down the road, this’ll be a fantastic set with the origins at the beginning and then whatever else may come.

    Plus, when you finally get to the AICN interview, Straczynski’s enthusiasm for Superman is fantastic.
    .-= collectededitions’s latest blog post: DC Announces Earth One Superman and Batman Graphic Novels =-.

  2. Elasticlad says:

    Isn’t this just rebranding the All-Star line? New takes on classic characters?

  3. ElfGrove says:

    I agree with you for the most part. I think this makes DCU accessible to the book store crowd, and I love the Batman redesign. I also agree that two books per year ought to be a per character. Otherwise the delay will be too long to keep an audience. Most US Japanese manga releases are at least every 3~4 months if they sell well, and twice a year if they’re less popular titles. While the time to print is shorter for these, that is the market-style they’ll likely be competing with.

    I think everyone is going to be thrown off by the Earth One branding. I wish they’d chosen some other moniker.

    In fact I think the only point I disagree on with you is the origin story angles. If we want to pull in a new audience, I think it will help. (Although I’m also concerned about old story rehashing.)
    I was watching a movie with a friend a while back and during the previews she accused a movie of being a Heroes rip-off for having normal people that developed physic abilities due to genetic mutation and had to deal with the fallout of a fearful government that also wanted to exploit them. It was a very X-Men concept. I pointed out to her that it was simpler to say they were both copying X-Men. She had no idea X-Men was about mutants. She thought it was just costumed superheroes with varying origin stories. I would have thought the X-Men being genetic evolution/mutation was basic pop-culture knowledge. It isn’t like she dislikes those sorts of stories, but she has no comics background and wouldn’t know Superman’s and Batman’s origin stories any more than she didn’t know that X-Men was about genetic mutations. It will help reach a larger audience than you might think to start at the beginning.
    .-= ElfGrove’s latest blog post: HALP. IT IMPRINTED ON ME AGAINST MY WILL. =-.

  4. Flash Fact says:

    Generally, I’m excited for these, but the Batman redesign is just god-awful.

  5. Jeff says:

    If you want to catch on the vast blue ocean of non-comic-buyers, adding additional continuities strikes me as a myopic solution.

    I found out about Ultimates years after the fact, and I felt like it was too late to jump on. Considering its purpose, is that ironic?

    I’m busy enough with DC and 616- worrying about Black Nick Fury and how Ultimate Spidey gets through the cloooooooooooooooooone saaaaaaaaaaaaaagaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa is more effort than I’m willing to spend.

    I’m willing to bet it won’t be long before Earth-1 joins Ultimate Marvel, 616, and DCU in the mires of impenetrable continuity fog that regular people don’t have time for. Then it becomes just another group of monthly titles going through just enough of the paces to keep the fans on board.

  6. Andrew says:

    I agree with pretty much each pro and con you’ve listed Kelson. I especially agree with the point that by focusing on the graphic novel format (as opposed to monthly ongoings) they can appeal more to the bookstore crowd. I have been hoping for more OGN’s for a long time as someone who loves the convenience and affordability of them.

    I’m not too worried about these new books getting bogged down in their own continuity real fast since they’re only putting out two OGN’s a year. Hopefully the next two after this will feature other characters (maybe a Flash one eventually) and help to introduce them to new audiences. I can however see them all too easily rehashing old story ideas eventually though.

  7. kwaku says:

    I think it will be two GNs per character per year. If each GN is roughly the same size as a trade, each artist can do two a year with time to spare. Even someone like Gary Frank who is able to to two big story arcs(5-6 issues) per year.

    I hope there more characters getting this treatment.

  8. Lee H says:

    Every comic could be somebody’s first, so it’s important to re-tell the origins quite frequently. The great thing about Superman, Batman, Flash and the like though is that their origins can be summed up in less than one page. Then plenty of time to tell a NEW STORY.

    I don’t see why it’s necessary to create yet another “universe” to tell the stories in though. Why not just tell a regular Superman or Batman story that simply doesn’t reference any of the confusing stuff? Is the status quo of the DC Universe really such a mess that they can’t tell a Batman vs Riddler story any more?

    I mean, it kind of is, but only because they write it that way. DC just needs to learn to Keep It Simple.

    (On a less relevant note, wow, I really don’t like those designs for Batman and Alfred Pennyworth.)

  9. Darren says:

    I’m quite excited by the idea – but I agree, two books a year needs to be clarified. If it’s only two books ayear for the entire line, it’s going to take forever to get off the ground. I do see these being used to tie into the movie franchises though (sort of getting their ducks in a row). Wouldn’t be surprised to see a Green Lantern one ready towards the end of next year.
    .-= Darren’s latest blog post: Daredevil by Frank Miller Omnibus Companion =-.

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