9:42am PT by Graeme McMillan
All This and 'Earth-2': Explaining DC's Doppelganger Superheroes
This week sees the launch of Earth 2: Society, a new comic book series in which Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and other DC Entertainment heroes have to literally rebuild their world after an apocalyptic event. There is, of course, a catch — these are not the Superman, Batman or Green Lantern that you're familiar with.
"Earth 2" as a concept (called "Earth-Two" at the time) first appeared in 1961's The Flash No. 123, written by Gardner Fox with art by Carmine Infantino, although the the place had existed around for decades before that point: The plot of "Flash of Two Worlds," the story inside The Flash No. 123, saw Barry Allen, who had debuted in 1956, accidentally travel to a parallel world where he met the version of the character created for Flash Comics in 1940. In time, it would be revealed that "Earth-Two" was populated by the characters that had filled DC's comic books during the "Golden Age" of comics, from the late 1930s through early 1950s — so, while Superman was still Clark Kent and Batman still Bruce Wayne, Green Lantern was a radio broadcaster called Alan Scott instead of a test pilot called Hal Jordan, and Hawkman a museum curator called Carter Hall and not an alien cop called Katar Hol, and so on.
That issue of The Flash had the effect of creating what became known as the "DC Multiverse," a cosmology of parallel Earths and alternate versions of characters that only grew over subsequent decades. Every year, the Justice League would spend the summer visiting another new Earth with a twist — the familiar heroes were actually villains (Earth-Three), or the Nazis won World War II (Earth-X), to name just a couple — while fans and creators lost track of who lived on what world at any one time, a problem only exacerbated by the fact that characters crossed between worlds with increasing ease. Two members of the mainstream Justice League on Earth-One, for example, started life on Earth-Two before getting promoted.
By 1985, DC editorial had decided that enough was enough, and in the series Crisis on Infinite Earths did away with the Multiverse altogether. By the time that 12-part series was over, there was only one Earth, and history had been rewritten so that that had always been the case. Simple, right? Except ... it didn't take.
Long before DC officially restored the Multiverse concept in 2005's Infinite Crisis series (note the mirroring title), alternate Earths began popping up in DC's comic books with a variety of explanations: they were from anti-matter dimensions; they were the result of a reality that followed the logic of Schroedinger's Cat to its logical conclusion; or the multiverse had simply not gone away as everyone had thought, but evolved. By the time the Multiverse was officially revived as a concept, it seemed less like a surprising revival of a long-lost idea than an idea that had already happened organically without the powers that be having really noticed.
Since writing out the concept entirely, DC's about-face has been so extreme that the Multiverse as a concept has been at the center of two high-profile series in the last year alone: the recently-completed Convergence, which featured characters from different Earths trapped on the same planet together, and The Multiversity, a series of comic books set upon different Earths all telling one story about a stealth invasion by nefarious forces.
All of this, ultimately, brings us to the current Earth-2. Following DC's linewide reboot of 2011, a new Earth-2 series was launched in 2012, reviving Jay Garrick, Alan Scott and the original heroes with a noticeable difference. Or, rather, noticeable differences; for one thing, the characters were all considerably younger, with the notion that they had been active during WWII entirely abandoned. Secondly, the world they inhabited was one in which an alien invasion had not only left the world scarred emotionally and physically as a result, but also resulted in the deaths of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, allowing for the creation of a very different environment than that which had previously existed. The heroes, too, ended up being very different.
Ultimately, whether by accident or design, Earth-2 proved to be a more diverse series than the regular Justice League has managed. The new version of Alan Scott's Green Lantern was revealed to be gay, a decision that led to headlines across the Internet, while Val-Zod, Clark Kent's replacement as Superman, was black. The Hawkman of the original Earth-Two was replaced by Hawkgirl, a Latina heroine married to a new Dr. Fate, who went from a white American archaeologist in the 1940s to an Egyptian — more suited to the mythology of a hero powered by a wizard from Ancient Egypt. Aquaman is not present in the new world, but Aquawoman — a name she hates, preferring the more proper title of Queen of Atlantis — is, and so on.
(There are other changes to be found; Lois Lane, revealed in early issues as murdered, returns in the body of a robot to become a superhero herself called Red Tornado. Jimmy Olsen is transformed into a one-man superhero analog of activist hacker group Anonymous called "Acountable." Batman is replaced first by his father, who survived the attack that inspired Bruce Wayne to fight crime, and then Dick Grayson, who on this world never became Robin the Boy Wonder.)
With the launch of Earth-2: Society, the focus of the series changes from straight-up superheroics to something broader; yes, there are superheroes here, but bigger questions are being asked, too: How does humanity survive after a genuinely apocalyptic event? How does society rebuild itself following something like that? And, of course, the most important question of all: with only a handful of cities existing around the globe, how can there be any supervillains left to punch?
Earth-2: Society is available in comic book stores and digitally now.