Saturday, 29 October 2016

Writer Dan Abnett Talks About the Future of Earth-2

Yesterday, writer Dan Abnett gave an interview with Newsarama discussing his current story arc for Earth-2: Society and the future of the series. From what I can gather, Earth-2: Society will not lead to the Justice Society's Rebirth, and I think it's safe to say that unless DC changes their mind at the last minute, the Earth-2 characters will remain a separate entity from the Prime Earth Justice Society.

Though Abnett doesn't get into the details of the story he's telling, he does promise fans that the more 'authentic Earth-2' we had at the start of James Robinson's run will be returning. In other words, we'll be reading about the characters on their original Earth once again, and they will no longer be human refugees on a barren alien planet. When discussing the details of how Abnett landed the gig of Earth-2: Society with issue #8, he had this to say:
I was asked to take on Earth 2: Society around, I believe, issue #8. And Earth 2 obviously has had some tremendously good stories over the years, but there had come a point where, even though the stories were good, they were becoming too apocalyptic. Everything was the end of the world. 
I think there was sort of a pattern of fatigue, because every Earth 2 story ended with something catastrophic happening, and there wasn't that sense of wonder and hope that we associate with Earth 2 and those characters. 
I was asked to come onto the book to almost kind of save the book - they had been put into such a state, essentially cast away on this imperfect world with very low resources and everything was terrible. 
And really, it's taken this number of issues - it's taken two story arcs - to turn that around, by doing stuff that addressed that head on.

Abnett is correct to assess that part of the problem Earth-2 has been suffering from following Robinson's departure is that there has been less world-building and more preoccupation with constant death and destruction, which culminated with the universally panned Earth-2: World's End storyline. Many Earth-2 and Justice Society fans to this day still blame Earth-2: World's End for killing what used to be a promising franchise. As such, restoring the original Earth is a step in the right direction.

The other problem Abnett is not acknowledging in his interview, however, is the state of the characters themselves. While restoring the original Earth will resolve half of the problem, the characters who are the heart of Earth-2 still need major revamps themselves to fully salvage the series. The characters not getting that revamp, plus DC still centring be bulk of their marketing and storylines on an usurper Batman no one asked for is still going to hurt this series. This will especially be true in the wake of the more classic Justice Society returning to Prime Earth for Rebirth. That right there is the key issue. While destroying the original Earth was a stupid direction to go in, the major stepping off point for many fans was the lack of a recognisable Justice Society cast, plus constant focus on a Batman placeholder that no one wants.

At best, Abnett's biggest strength with the characters on the current series has been their characterisation. They're at least readable and feel more or less like the more classic characters on the personality front. Their stories, however, are still not where they need to be and this is where the Rebirth Justice Society is going to put the Earth-2 characters at a major disadvantage. The more classic characters possess the history and character developments that fans associate with the Justice Society and the ones that fans actually love. That is literally the reason the core fans are waiting impatiently for the Justice Society Rebirth title instead of feeling any shred of excitement for the current Earth-2 title, despite Abnett doing amazing work with the characters.

If not for the fact that DC had already made the decision to bring the classic Justice Society to Prime Earth for Rebirth, Abnett's Earth-2 could have had a stronger chance to succeed. This would've especially been true with a complete reboot of the franchise ala Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman and as part of the Rebirth line of books. Though it would not have been perfect, without a Prime Earth Justice Society to overshadow these characters, Abnett could've been afforded a better opportunity to rebuild these characters entirely from scratch, and bring them back to a more recognisable place that could actually please both the core fanbase and newer fans. If given the same complete revamp that their Earth got at the end of the last story arc, Abnett could've even rebuilt their individual mythologies the way they should've been developed from the beginning. But if DC is already giving fans the Justice Society we want on Prime Earth, what incentive is there left for us to even bother checking this out? That right there presents a problem.

As much as the current Earth-2 acquired of fanbase of its own with the New 52, this new group of fans is still comparatively small to the Justice Society fanbase. I would argue the Earth-2 property benefitted more from being inclusive of the Justice Society fanbase than casting them out the way Earth-2: Society essentially did. In losing the Justice Society fanbase, Earth-2: Society lost a significant chunk of its readership and the book itself has been struggling to sustain decent sales in the direct market. In fact, it's selling below cancellation levels as of issue #16, which is not where any of the previous Earth-2 titles were selling by that same issue number.

Compared to Earth-2: Society's 16K pre-orders last month, Earth-2 sold at 38K copies by issue #16 and Worlds' Finest stayed above cancellation levels at 23K pre-orders by that same issue. On average, both books were selling at 54K and 33K copies respectively at issue #16, which is still a pretty strong sales turnout. Compared to Earth-2: Society's 22K average as of issue #16, that is pretty significant. Here's a chart that clearly illustrates this point. Neither Earth-2 nor Worlds' Finest hit cancellation levels until Earth-2: World's End happened, and Worlds' Finest in particular hit below the cancellation mark when it lost Huntress and Power Girl as the main protagonists to shift focus back to Batman and Superman--DC's two most overexposed characters.

When you especially look at Rebirth's sales trends over the last four months, DC has had a consistently stronger sales turnout averaging at 53K pre-orders as of September. Not even the New 52 achieved that kind of sales turn out. Compared to the sharp rise and fall of the initial New 52 relaunch five years ago, DC's Rebirth line saw an upwards sales trend for three months straight before seeing that sudden drop. That has never happened to DC before. Even with that sudden drop, Rebirth is still selling well above DC's previous central tendency, which is not insignificant.

Prior to the New 52, DC's central tendency tended to bounce back and forth between selling an average of anywhere from 20K-30K comics a year, and that's going as far back as 2005. After the New 52 relaunch, DC sold consistently at an average of 30K comics a year, which is still good, but not a significant change from their previous sales trend. It flatlined instead, indicating steady sales at best. With Rebirth, DC is now selling over 50K comics this year, and if they keep selling at this trend, or better yet, increase their sales trend, this will be an all new record for them. For the first time in their publication history, DC will actually be outselling Marvel. Here's another chart that illustrates this point.

If I was an executive at DC Comics looking at both Earth-2 and Rebirth's sales trends, and I had to make a decision about how to invest money on producing a new Justice Society comic, I would just move forward with a Rebirth relaunch entirely. I wouldn't even bother relaunching a new Earth-2 comic under these circumstances since I wouldn't realistically expect a higher sales turnout. Even less so if that new Earth-2 book has to compete with a more traditional Justice Society comic that has both a larger fanbase and a completely clean slate for creators to work with. Instead of further dividing the fanbase between classic Earth-2 and New 52 Justice Society fans, it would be far more constructive in my opinion to find a middle ground for both fanbases. Bringing all of these characters to Prime Earth for Rebirth would be that middle ground.

Since the majority of the New 52 Earth-2 cast already has a pre-Flashpoint counterpart, many of these characters can simply just make a comeback on the main DC Earth without any problem. They can especially come back stronger with their original histories intact. By bringing back the more classic founding members, this would reinstate many of the characters, marriages, and families that went missing with the New 52 Earth-2. Alan Scott in particular would get back both of his children, Jade and Obsidian, the latter of which is gay. Even the classic Alan Scott can still come out as gay in the Prime Earth continuity since closeted gay men in the 1940s who married women is not unheard of.

Even reinstating the classic versions of Huntress, Power Girl, and Fury could still work on the Prime Earth continuity as refugees of the pre-Crisis Earth-2, like what was originally done with Power Girl post-Crisis. In a DC continuity that reinstated the post-Crisis Superman family to the New 52 Earth, I don't think the three women being Earth-2 refugees with their original histories intact would cause any confusion. In fact, it could even lead to interesting storytelling, in my opinion.

What would happen if Karen Starr suddenly emerged as a successful business women who looks like a slightly older version of the Prime Earth Supergirl? How would the Prime Earth Supergirl react to her presence, and how would this story arc lead to Karen Starr revealing herself as the pre-Crisis Kara Zor-L from Earth-2? How would she make her comeback on this world as Power Girl?

Same thing with Helena Wayne. What would happen if a successful female lawyer named 'Helena Wayne' suddenly surfaced in Prime Earth's Gotham? How would her last name of 'Wayne' attract the attention of the Prime Earth Bruce Wayne? Would he try to look into her past and find out if she is of any relation to him? How would he react to her lack of a past, and how would this cause Helena to reveal herself as his Earth-2 daughter with Selina Kyle? How would she reclaim her identity of the Huntress in a world she now shares with Helena Bertinelli?

Same thing with the original Lyta Trevor as Fury. Since Prime Earth already has the real Donna Troy back in Titans (also written by Dan Abnett), I doubt anyone is going to miss the daughter of Steppenwolf on Earth-2. So how would Lyta Trevor make her comeback on Prime Earth? Would she still be with Hector Hall? How would she make her presence known to the Prime Earth versions of her parents--Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor--now that they are back together in Greg Rucka's series? Again, strong story potential.

Even the characters that debuted with the New 52 Earth-2 can still surface as Prime Earth characters. In fact, some of them like Sonia Sato and Kendra Muñoz-Saunders were already Prime Earth natives prior to Flashpoint. Sonia Sato could easily resurface as the Judomaster once again, and Kendra can still resurface as the POC Hawkgirl on Prime Earth. Assuming that Paul Levitz' Doctor Fate series isn't set in another alternate DC Earth, even Prime Earth already has two Doctor Fates: the Golden Age original, Kent Nelson, and Khalid Nassour who has a similar origin to Earth-2's Khalid Ben-Hassin.

By reintroducing Val-Zod as a Prime Earth character, this would highly benefit the character on multiple levels. For one, it would divorce him from the baggage that came with introducing him as a new Superman legacy character in a way that fundamentally robbed Power Girl of her own visibility and story on Earth-2. In allowing him to interact with the post-Crisis Superman in particular, this could allow him to decide for himself who wants to be, especially as a POC Kryptonian refugee on Earth.

Does Val-Zod want to become another Superman in a world that's already full of Supermen and women? Does he want standout as his own hero like Power Girl originally did on the pre-Crisis Earth-2? Would he even meet or become inspired by the original Earth-2 Kara? How would his father, General Zod, contribute to his character and story? At least in answering those fundamental questions, it could lead to a far better narrative for Val-Zod, and perhaps even allow him inherit the Action Comics series to further develop his character and story. (Clark Kent literally doesn't need two books himself, folks). Same thing with Queen Marella. She can easily surface as a Prime Earth character in the Aquaman book (also written by Dan Abnett) and see her character and history better fleshed out.

Since many of these characters are already starting to make their comeback in various DC titles (Kent Nelson in Blue Beetle and Jay Garrick in The Flash), doing the same for the rest of DC's classic Justice Society characters and New 52 additions could pump everyone's excitement to see them again. Reintroducing the characters individually in their family books will also lead to the natural reunion of the Justice Society team, effectively launching their Rebirth title. Alan Scott and his two children could easily resurface in the Green Lantern family of books for a story arc. As could Power Girl in the Supergirl comic, and Val-Zod in Action Comics. Detective Comics would be a natural reintroduction for Helena Wayne, as would Wonder Woman be for reintroducing Lyta Trevor.

Between a revamped Earth-2 book that still comes with a lot of baggage from the previous run, and a reintroduction of the characters to Prime Earth for a proper reunion of the Justice Society, which premise sounds more exciting to you right now? I can safely say the latter is true for me, because like everyone else, I want a completely clean start. A new shot at Earth-2 at this point sounds like a great a idea for a miniseries further down the line.

2 comments:

  1. I see what your saying. No hard disrespect but I prefer the original JSA Back on the Original Earth-Two. Wasn't a big fan of the new 52 Earth 2 series. They changed Alan Scott into being gay. No problem with gay people but what does that have To Do with being a superhero and the story Make everything be back to the way things use to be before the destruction of the original Multiverse. Back to status.

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    1. In a better world where DC made better decisions, Convergence would've accomplished exactly that since it actively retconned Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was the perfect opportunity to reinstate the Classic Earth-2 and the more recognisable Justice Society, and simply reintroduce the New 52 additions like Kendra and Val-Zod to that continuity in a much more thoughtful way.

      I think much of the post-Crisis continuity and characters could've easily still existed on a newly reinstated Earth-1 since the post-Crisis Earth was a continuation of that Earth's continuity anyway. Unfortunately, that's not what DC went with for Rebirth, and are pretty much going back to the Clutter Earth concept as evident with the reinstatement of the post-Crisis Superman to the New 52 Earth. Whether or not this was the best choice for DC to go with, we'll find out in another five years.

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