Thursday 26 October 2017

Helena Wayne 40th Anniversary: Looking Back on Earth-2: Society

Written by DAN ABNETT
Writer Dan Abnett (AQUAMAN, TITANS) and artists Bruno Redondo (INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US) and Vicente Cifuentes (BATGIRL) bring the story of the Wonders of Earth-2 to a stunning conclusion!

The heroes of Earth-2 have lost their planet twice—first to the forces of Apokolips, and now their newly rebuilt world has fallen thanks to one of their own. To prevent the all-powerful Pandora Casket from falling into the Ultra-Humanite’s hands, the Wonder known as Fury used it herself in an attempt to recreate their original world.

Unfortunately, Fury and a small band of other Wonders have awakened in a ghost of a world…one that appears to have entirely wiped out and replaced Earth-2 and all of its survivors.

But the Wonders are not alone in this ghost world. Something is stalking them…something familiar, and powerful, and with one all-encompassing mission: to kill the Wonders before they can solve the mystery of this strange new world!


Oh, Earth-2: Society. This was a comic that was doomed to fail on the outset due a number of factors that worked against this title. Starting with the premise, Earth-2: Society was a follow-up to both Convergence and Earth-2: World's End, both of which differed in terms of quality and reception.

While Convergence was relatively well received by both critics and fans alike, the story premise was not particularly interesting despite being better planned and executed. Earth-2: World's End by contrast was creatively bankrupt in terms of story, and it especially suffered from both poor planning and haphazard execution for a major event. It was therefore not surprising that it was not well liked by Justice Society fans and ignored by everyone else.

Nevertheless, both events set the premise for Earth-2: Society as a comic centred on two million human survivors colonising a new planet and literally starting their civilisations over from scratch. This was already a pretty grim and depressing way to start a new comic series. But more than anything, the new premise was a significant departure from the original concept of the New 52 Earth-2 being a modern take on DC's Golden Age mythology and iconic Justice Society team.

This radical change in concept and direction did not work in favour of this comic, especially since Earth-2 and the Justice Society already have a built-in fanbase that bring with them a very fixed set of expectations for these characters and their respective narratives. A radical change in concept was never going to meet the needs of this property's immediate fanbase, which on its own immediately doomed it to fail. The other thing that doomed Earth-2: Society to fail on every other front was DC Comics launching this title with the same writer and editor that were responsible for the colossal misfire that was Earth-2: World's End: Daniel H. Wilson and Michael Cotton respectively.

After experiencing a taste of Daniel H. Wilson's writing style on Earth-2: World's End as his first major project, it was immediately obvious that this was not a writer who had an affinity for comics as a medium or superhero narratives for that matter. Not only did he not understand the medium he was working with (or the serialised nature of superhero comics), he especially did not possess a basic knowledge of the DC Universe or even its iconic characters, let alone a lesser known property like the Justice Society. Without having at least both of those bases covered, he was bound to come up with wrong story ideas for these characters and his lack of craft was bound to show up in his execution. Needless to say that is exactly what happened with the first story arc of Earth-2: Society, which additionally did not inspire confidence in editor Michael Cotton's judgement for hiring someone like Wilson in the first place.

There is not much that can be said about Wilson's story arc for Earth-2: Society that didn't already validate many people's concerns about him as a writer. He wrote every single character completely out character, and he was especially bad at establishing believable character motivations that actually made sense. He additionally didn't seem to know what kind of story he was trying to tell. At best, we knew that his story arc was supposed to focus on rebuilding Earth-2, but his plotting was sloppy and his thought process as a storyteller was all over the map. When it came to exploring the individual character arcs in this new setting, none of the sub stories added to the overall story of rebuilding Earth-2 in a meaningful way and wasted valuable page space, even entire issues. When Wilson concluded his story arc on the wrong foot, it was at that moment DC realised Earth-2: Society needed a new writer (and possibly a new editor) if the series was going to continue. Enter writer Dan Abnett and editor Jim Chadwick to try and save the book from cancellation.

When Dan Abnett came onboard, many Justice Society fans breathed a sigh of relief. Abnett is not only an established writer of comics, but he especially knew the Justice Society characters and classic Earth-2 mythology as evidenced by his work on them during DC's Convergence event. Many fans were confident his story would be better thought out, better executed, and just as importantly, many felt he would write the characters correctly. Abnett did not fail to meet expectations on those fronts and made the book readable, even enjoyable again. Unfortunately, however, because Wilson botched his story arc for the first seven issues, Abnett's entire Earth-2: Society run was both a course-correction on Wilson's run and a reparation of the damage caused by Earth-2: World's End. As such, Abnett was never afforded the opportunity to tell a proper Justice Society story, complete with meaningful characterisations for the book's cast. The book was cancelled before Abnett had a chance to do anything with the new status quo he established.

As frustrating as Earth-2: Society was, the sad part is knowing that it could've been a great comic had certain things been done differently. If Dan Abnett and Jim Chadwick had been put on this book since issue #1, for example, the original Earth-2 could've been restored within the first story arc and the rest of the series could've focused on developing the characters. If Abnett had especially been afforded the flexibility to use Convergence to restore Earth-2 to its more classic form, that could've especially made a huge difference in sales turnout. The question is how would this have translated in execution? I've had some ideas...


Without question, this was the first thing that needed to happen. With both the classic and New 52 versions of Earth-2's characters residing on the Telos planet for Convergence, the event's finale could've very easily setup the first story arc of Earth-2: Society when it restored the classic Earth-2. Since both sets of characters were established as being the same characters taken out of two different timelines, the first story arc of Earth-2: Society could've easily focused on merging the two timelines similar to Rebirth's Superman Reborn. This could've in turn resulted in an Earth-2 that restored much of the original pre-Crisis history, even some of the post-Crisis history, but brought these characters to the present as James Robinson originally envisioned.

As part of the characters' "rebirth" journey, you could revisit DC's Golden Age history, like Superman originally appearing in 1938, Batman in 1939, the Justice Society in 1940, and Wonder Woman in 1941. You could once again revisit the Justice Society's original disbanding in 1951 following the McCarthy hearings. You could also revisit their subsequent reunion in the 1960s shortly after discovering the existence of the Justice League on Earth-1. You could similarly revisit their annual team-ups with the Justice League, and especially the events of America vs the Justice Society in 1984. All significant events in the Justice Society's timeline prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985. At least in revisiting these important events in the Justice Society's timeline, this would help get new readers up to speed on Earth-2's core mythology and history.

Following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Justice Society was originally written out of existence (originally lost in Ragnarok) before resurfacing years later with their best runs occurring in the 2000s under both James Robinson and Geoff Johns. With Flashpoint rebooting the DC Universe again in 2011, this led to a new Earth-2, complete with new versions of the Justice Society characters. With Earth-2: World's End destroying this new incarnation and Convergence restoring the original pre-Crisis Earth-2, the first story arc of Earth-2: Society could've answered the most important question to set things back on track: what is the core of Earth-2 and the Justice Society characters? Do they go back to living the lives they had pre-Crisis? Do they choose to return to Earth-1 where they were residing post-Crisis? Or do they choose to reboot the New 52 Earth-2 and start over?

In the end, I think the both the classic and New 52 versions of the Justice Society characters would choose to return to their pre-Crisis lives because that was when they were at their happiest before reboots like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Flashpoint destroyed their lives and happiness as they knew it. This could then result in a successful merging of the two versions of the Justice Society characters with the pre-Crisis personalities and histories dominating their newer bodies, and their characters sent back to the pre-Crisis Earth-2. However, when they get there, they don't actually return to 1985 when they last saw their world. They instead land in the year 2015, resulting in a 30-year time skip, which in itself creates plenty of story potential.

How did Earth-2 progress in the 30 years that the Justice Society characters were displaced outside of spacetime for the events of Convergence? Did Earth-2 move on from their need of the Justice Society heroes? Or did new heroes rise in their place to form a new Justice Society team? The latter would be a great way to integrate post-Crisis characters like Grant Emerson, Jakeem Thunder, and even Jack Knight (even if he's only mentioned), as well as Michael Holt and Kendra Munoz-Saunders who also appeared in the New 52. It would also be a great way to integrate characters that debuted with the New 52 like Khalid Ben-Hassin, Queen Marella, and Val-Zod who could easily be established as heroes that appeared after 1985.

So where does this leave the classic Justice Society? Do they try to move on from their superhero lives with the existence of these new heroes, or do they decide to make their official appearance for the first time in 30 years? How does the modern world and the new Justice Society heroes react to their resurfacing? Are they accepted back into mainstream society or are they feared, especially since they look the same as they did in 1985? When the world finally realises they are the original Justice Society that disappeared in 1985, how does this affect their lives? Do they get to reclaim their old careers and lifestyles? Do they choose to mentor the new heroes? How does their sudden reappearance affect their relationships with the people they knew prior to 1985? Do they reunite with their old friends and partners who are now older than they are? Are they deceased?

Like I said, plenty of story potential.


One of the things that worked in favour of the Justice Society franchise during the New 52 was splitting the narrative into two separate books. The original Earth-2 title allowed for the Justice Society characters to have the spotlight because the Batman and Superman legacies of Earth-2 were the focus of another title, Worlds' Finest.

Similarly, Convergence had the right idea in splitting the pre-Crisis Earth-2 narrative into five different books. Action Comics focused on the Earth-2 Superman family, Detective Comics tackled the Earth-2 Batman family, Justice Society focused on four of the team's core members, Infinity Inc focused on the Justice Society's legacy heroes, and World's Finest centred on DC's other Golden Age heroes.

We needed a similar setup with Earth-2 post-Convergence because putting all of these characters together in one comic led to a larger cast than the book could handle in 20 pages, which meant less opportunities for character-driven stories. Since fans like character-centric stories, complete with meaningful characterisation and growth, it honestly made more sense to split the large cast into smaller groups and give them their own books.

In this case, Earth-2 should've been split into an actual Justice Society book to focus on the classic team, a new Infinity Inc book to focus on the newer generation of heroes (since the classic team joined the Justice Society at the end of Convergence), a new World's Finest book to once again focus on the legacies of Batman and Superman, and a revival of All-Star Comics to tell solo stories with the individual characters that can be easily contained in one issue, kind of like one-shots.

As for how the characters would be split up, that's fairly easy. Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Mr. Terrific, Fury, Jade, Obsidian, Silver Scarab, Star-Spangled Kid and Nuklon could easily have the Justice Society book. Dick Grayson, Helena Wayne, and Kara Zor-L, Clark Kent, and Lois Lane could easily have the World's Finest book. Grant Emerson, Jakeem Thunder, Val-Zod, Queen Marella, Kendra Munoz-Saunders, and Khalid Ben-Hassin could easily be the new Infinity Inc. The new Infinity Inc could also see the return of other Infinitors like Beth Chapel and and Yolanda Montez.


While writers like Paul Levitz, James Robinson, Geoff Johns, and Dan Abnett have been successful at revitalising the Justice Society characters for new generations of readers, they also bring a very limited perspective to characters who don't exactly share their life experiences.

For example, James Robinson's idea of rebooting Alan Scott as a gay man entailed fulfilling the "bury your gays" trope when he killed Alan Scott's boyfriend in his first appearance in order to give him a tragic origin story. Paul Levitz' idea of a female friendship entailed dumbing down Kara Zor-L into the "dumb blonde" stereotype in order to elevate his own character, Helena Wayne, as the "brainy brunette."

Geoff Johns' idea of giving a character like Power Girl depth entailed killing off her entire family in an event and never allowing her to truly reunite with her best friend, the Huntress. While Dan Abnett is more thoughtful about the way he represents diverse characters in his stories, he was also not beyond marginalising Helena Wayne in attempt to make an usurper Batman less problematic, and he didn't really give a character like Queen Marella much of a speaking role.

So how do you go about telling modern Justice Society stories in a way that stays true to their core concept, but also allows the Justice Society's more diverse members to have meaningful representation? Well, aside from having people like Geoff Johns, Paul Levitz, and Dan Abnett at the table to bring their JSA knowledge to the conversation, you also invite diverse creators and editors to the table to flesh out these characters in a way that feels authentic and not stereotyped.

Off the top of my head, Renae De Liz would rock at writing a Justice Society comic based on her work on Legend of Wonder Woman. Marguerite Bennett could easily write a fun Batman and Superman family book with World's Finest based on her work on these characters in the New 52 Earth-2 title despite those stories tying in with the dreadful Earth-2: World's End event. Brandon Thomas could easily tackle a character like Michael Holt based on his work on Noble for Lion Forge. Jamal Igle could easily flesh out a character like Val-Zod, especially since he has experience working on Superman family books.

Christopher Priest would be a great fit for an Infinity Inc book given his work on Deathstroke for Rebirth, or even the main Justice Society book itself if he's now set to take over Justice League. Sheena Howard and David F. Walker are two other writers who could easily write a book like Infinity Inc based on their work on Superb for Lion Forge. A writer like Marjorie Liu could also be a great fit for the main Justice Society book, especially for exploring their World War II days as she is very skilled at handling war themes in a way that's actually informed, sensitive, and respectful. G. Willow Wilson could easily write characters like Khalid Ben-Hassin and Kendra Munoz-Saunders based on her work on Ms. Marvel and even her own creator-owned work Cairo. Writers like Mariko Tamaki, Amy Chu, and Marc Andreyko could easily write stories with POC and LGBTQA characters that are fun, yet authentic.

What's more is that each of these writers don't just have to stick to writing characters who look like them or share their life experiences. Their perspectives can also enrich the narratives of the classic Justice Society characters in a way that actually feels new and modern.

1 comment:

  1. Nowhere was it more clear that Abnett and Chadwick should've been the ones to helm the book from the beginning than in the last issue. Did Helena NEED to be Batman in the end? No, but it made sense in the direction they were going for. DC very clearly felt that there needed to be a Batman, and frankly, she was the best choice. The legacy was in the right hands. Furthermore, the characters and their stories were back on the right track, there was a real sense of optimism for their futures, and everything seemed to be headed where it should've been, and it was the most excited I'd been for this book and these versions of the characters since the outset...and it was the end. And it shouldn't have been the end. It should have been the beginning.