Being one month and eleven trades into “the shelf”, I was feeling pretty comfortable with the overall story progression. I had read about many of the main DC characters by this point, and was at least passingly familiar with each character’s general storyline. I had already read about the Golden Age version of many of these characters, seen their popularity decline in the 50’s, only to have new versions of the characters reappear in the early 60’s. Although it seemed strange that the early versions of the characters would just disappear, I was drawn to the newer stories and was looking forward to expanding on that knowledge.
Aaaand then DC had to throw a curve ball in the mix.
We learn that there is actually more than one Earth in existence. On Earth One live the Silver Age characters, Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, etc, while on Earth Two reside the Golden Age superheroes, such as Jay Garrick and Allen Scott, as well as characters who are unknown on Earth One, such as Hour-Man and Dr. Fate.
Two distinct universes, each with it’s own collection of superheroes, each group forming it’s own crime-fighting club (Justice Society on Earth Two, Justice League on Earth One). On top of all this, the superheroes discover a means of traveling between universes, so that they may interact with one another.
Confused yet? Me too.
With two universes (I’m blatantly ignoring Mistah J’s confirmation that there are actually infinite universes with even more characters. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it) we are met with numerous crossover possibilities. Characters from comics-past could now interact with their modern-day counterparts, with a host of possible results.
My biggest question when I first learned about these multiple earths was why would they choose to do this? The current versions of these characters were already exceedingly popular. What made the writers want to bring back these former adaptations?
In a word: nostalgia. As the comic universe was set at the time, all of the Golden Age heroes had basically been wiped out. Names and powers were altered, and the original characters faded away. Given that the modern versions of the characters wouldn’t exist without these predecessors, it seemed a shame to leave them by the wayside. A creative solution solved that problem: create a separate universe in which the Golden Age characters can exist at the same time as the Silver Age heroes while still inhabiting their own separate world.
My summation fails spectacularly. Luckily the comics present it in a much more accessible form. We see the return of many Golden Age characters who hadn’t appeared in comics for a dozen years or more, characters who find themselves suddenly drawn into much more complex, exciting storylines than we’ve ever seen them in before.
The first instance of characters crossing between universes is in The Flash # 123, in which Barry Allen unwittingly travels to Earth Two and comes across Jay Garrick, a name he is already familiar with:
As this exchange shows, on Earth One, Jay Garrick was The Flash in a popular comic in the 40’s and 50’s (sound familiar?). Instead of simply creating two separate universes, the comics tie the two worlds together in a unique way. Not only this, but the writers had enough sense to include this reference, since in the very first Barry Allen-era Flash scene, Barry is seen reading one of these older Jay Garrick Flash comics. I was surprised that these details were so well thought out; it truly enriches the story and makes the revelation of Earth Two seem natural, not forced.
As well as nostalgia, I can only imagine that one of the driving forces behind this decision was the desire to see old and new characters team up and, more excitingly, even battle one another. There must have been readers at the time who questioned who would win in a fight: Seasoned veteran Green Lantern Alan Scott win, or would Hal Jordan be victorious as a “new and improved” Green Lantern? For the first time, it was possible to put these questions to the test, and the writers did so with alarming frequency. Practically every issue featured in this trade contained a fight between two superheroes, often due to their being mind-controlled or under some outside influence. Sadly, the age-old question of “Who would win in a fight?” is often left unanswered, as many of the entanglements end in a stalemate or are broken up before their conclusion.
Reading this trade even left me with a slightly nostalgic feeling (ridiculous given that I was first introduced to many of these characters a mere month ago), happy to see characters that I thought would never appear again. I can only imagine how well these stories were received at the time of release. Parents and children could bond over characters they both grew up with while still experiencing new, exciting stories together. This was a guaranteed success, and they way in which the stories are presented makes it impossible not to keep reading.
On a less central point, I have to bring up the character of Black Canary. I hadn’t come across her in my Golden Age reading, but was quite excited to see another female superhero appear. I was even more excited when I saw that, much like Wonder Woman, she was portrayed as a pretty badass fighter.
I’m always excited to read about women kicking butt, and the fact that it seems there were not one, but at least two female crime-stoppers in the Golden Age makes me very happy. I don’t know much about Black Canary, but it seems she doesn’t have any “super” abilities. She’s tough all on her own. This makes me love her character even more, and makes me want to go read her earlier adventures (Mistah J, take note. We’re expanding your collection).
This trade presents the dawn of a new age within the comic universe – now a multiverse. The stories presented here supply the foundation for what I can only imagine is going to be a pretty epic storyline, and one I’m anxious to read. I enjoyed all of these characters’ individual stories; I have a feeling I’m going to love them as a combined force.
PS: Special shout-out to Hour-Man for being the first superhero (that I’ve read) to reveal his secret identity to his girlfriend!
Actually, it’s not so unknown: I’m just a sucker for happy endings.