Saturday, 9 August 2014

JLA: Earth 2

 "What have I done..? Why do I always fail?" - Luthor

Let's talk about the DC comics multiverse.  Before 1985 there existed in DC's continuity a multitude of parallel Earths that had grown up to explain discrepencies between storylines as well as incorporate things that DC didn't want in their regular continuity.  These multiple Earths had numbers, the main DCverse being Earth 1 which had the current set of heroes and stories taking place.  Earth 2 which had the original Golden Age heroes living on it and who had been allowed to grow older and form relationships, for example Superman and Lois Lane were married on this Earth as were Batman and Catwoman.  Earth 3 had villainous versions of our heroes, instead of the Justice League there was the Crime Syndicate of America.  Other Earth's formed the home of characters DC had bought from other companies, so Earth 4, for example, was the home of the Charlton comics heroes. Earth-S, the home of the Fawcett Captain Marvel characters.  And so on.  By the early 80's it was felt this multiverse had become confusing both to readers and to the comic creators themselves.  A huge event series then took place called Crisis Of Infinite Earths that finished with only one Earth left with various heroes either gone completely or retconned into the single Earth's new history.

Grant Morrison - the writer of this graphic novel - was not a fan of this reductionism. As he wrote in his book Supergods:

"There were complaints that the parallel-worlds system was too hard to understand, when if fact it was systematic, logical, and incredibly easy to navigate, particularly for young minds that were made for this kind of categorisation of facts and figures"

 He first took potshots at Crisis On Infinite Earth's in his acclaimed run on Animal Man, the titular hero actually met many of the heroes who had been erased from existence (before meeting Morrison himself, it was very meta).  When Morrison was put in charge of the new Justice League of America reboot in the late 90's he decided he wanted to use the idea of the evil JLA again, but as Earth 3 no longer existed he was forced to get creative.  And so JLA: Earth 2 deals with an "anti-matter" opposite universe that coincidentally has all the characters from Earth 3 living on it, including the Crime Syndicate of Amerika (spelt deliberately with a "k") a gang of super-villains opposed only by the saintly Lex Luthor.
Superwoman, Ultraman, Owlman, Power Ring and Johnny Quick
Morrison had fought hard to get the classic line-up of the JLA back into the book, it consisted of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Martian Manhunter and Aquaman.  The Crime Syndicate had versions of all of them bar Martian Manhunter and Aquaman. Hopefully the JLA need no introduction but you might not be familiar with the Crime Syndicate so their here's a quick guide to them.

Ultraman is Superman's counterpart.  Instead of the benevolent alien who came to Earth as a child, Ultraman is a human astronaught - Clark Kent - who was given "Anti-Kryptonite" powers by aliens and depends upon it for his powers.  He is a tyrant and a murderer and watches over Earth from the CSA base in Earth orbit, frying dissenters with his heat vision.  Batman's counterpart is Owlman, Thomas Wayne Jr. who was Bruce Waynes older brother in several different continuities.  He enchanced his intellect with a drug and carries on an affair with Supwerwoman, who is Wonder Woman's counterpart, Lois Lane!  She is an Amazon who killed all the other Amazons then took the name Lois Lane, her lasso releases people inhibitions.  Green Lantern is represented by Power Ring, instead of being an human who was granted his ring by an alien police force, Power Ring gained his ring from a being called Volthoom, who still exists in the ring and makes inane observations all the time.  Finally there is the Flash's counterpart, Johnny Quick who instead of being natrually fast like the Flash, has to use a drug called "Speed Juice" to reach hyper-speeds.

Before I begin, I have to fangirl a little about the Frank Quitely's art. This year 2000 project is an early collaboration of him and Morrison, the pair going on to work on the likes of the critically acclaimed All-Star Superman, We3, The New X-men and Batman.  His fine detailed line-work and solid understanding of anatomy, layouts and action scenes, especially when coupled with a great colourist, make his art downright gorgeous to look at as it is here.  I definitely rank his as one of the greatest comicbook artists working in the industry right now.  Anyway, with that said, lets look at JLA Earth 2 proper.
The good Luthor
The story begins with Ultraman, Superwoman and Owlman discussing the escape of "him".  Back on the normal Earth, Luthor appears out of thin air to a shocked pair of people.

Luthor: "I've just reversed across the matter/antimatter membrane and this is my reception?   I am Luthor.  Now.. where can I find the super-people around here?"

The action cuts to the JLA dealing qwith a crashing, fragmented aeroplane. When they bring the pieces back down to Earth they make an eerie discovery.  Benedict Arnold is on their money, not George Washington (I think the joke here is that Arnold is considered one of the very worst US presidents in the normal world), their hearts are on the right side of their chests and the markings on the plane are not anything that they recognise.
The JLA drop by for a chat.
At Lex Corp building, the new Lex Luthor has locked up this worlds one and decides to divert cash from the armaments devision to Greenpeace and gives all employees a 20% raise.  Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter appear at the office window.  Martian Manhunter notes his unsual DNA and locked off thoughts.  Luthor reveals that he comes from a anti-matter universe and accepts their invitation to come to JLA headquarters.

On the anti-matter Earth, Ultraman has dropped tonnes of fake money onto the city to ruin the economy.  His slave Braniac says they have only had partial success in tracing Luthor's exhaust fumes.  Down below, a man loses his rag:

Man: "..Not real! It's crap! It's just more crap from the sky! From Ultraman!  I can't take anymore of this!  I can't take anymore of them looking down at us as though we're --"

And Ultraman fries him into a steaming puddle with his heat vision.
Don't piss off Ultraman
Braniac tells Ultraman he has verified the existence of a matter universe, the matter cannon that Lex used allowed for matter and anti-matter to be able to coexist.  Ultraman calles a meeting of the Crime Syndicate.

On the JLA moonbase, Luthor fills them in on the background of the CSA, he wants their help defeating them and bringing and end to their tyranny.

Batman: "I say no. I'm sorry but this world has it's own troubles. We're not some kind of inter-dimensional police force."

Luthor pleads that they give him 48 hours to change everything.  The JLA dicuss it and decide to help, with Martian Manhunter and Aquaman staying behind to look after their Earth.  In Luthor's spaceship he says he settled on the name "Earth 2" for the JLA's world then they cross the dimensional barrier to the anti-matter universe.
Owlman and Superwoman play a dangerous game
On the anti-matter Earth, a policeman is trying to apprehend Owlman, saying he doesn't work with him or "Boss Gordon".  Owlman blasts his way out and is picked up by Superwoman.  They share a kiss on top of a building then go on to the CSA headquarters.

At the meeting of the CSA they discuss the implications of Luthor's disappearence and the existence of a matter universe.  Ultraman sees it as another world to conquer and they raise their glasses to it.  After the meeting, Ultraman (qwho sees Superwoman as his) warns Owlman:

"One of these days you'll go too far, Owlman.  And you wont come back"

"Sure. Until then, I have the negatives remember?"

Ultraman: "One day."
A meeting of the CSA
Back with the JLA, they are incognito in the city, dismayed at it's grimmness and the viciousness of the people.  Batman goes to the police station and talks with the man who qwas trying to arrest Owlman earlier.  He turns out to be Thomas Wayne senior, in this reality his wife and Bruce died, placing him and Thomas Wayne Junior - Owlman- at odds.  Batman tells him to be ready for the cessation of the rule of the CSA.  Back wqith Wonder WQoman, Batman confides some fears he has:

Batman: "If this world and the Crime Syndicate's are opposites in every way... How will what we do here be reflected back home?"

Superman says he has never seen such misery and hatred that lives here.  Now Green Lantern creates a huge pair of hands and clasps them round the CSA's moonbase.  Trapping all bar Superwoman, who is currently in a store room in the Daily Planet, tormenting Jimmy Olsen.  She flies to the flying fortress and is confronted by Luthor and the JLA.  Wonder Woman knocks her out and they use the teleporter to send her to the main CSA base and have her trapped as well.  Wonder Woman then makes a global broadcast:

Green Lantern traps the CSA
Wonder Woman: "We've learned that yours is a world crushed by tyranny, paralysed by crime.  Crippled by corruption to the highest level. We've heard the call and the Super Syndicate is no more. Look up again.  The skies are safe and we're here to set you free."

The JLA set about improving things, including feeding the starving populace of a war ravaged Britain who have never recovered from being beaten in 1776 when they tried to gain independence from the USA.

Batman helps Thomas Wayne Snr. clear out the corrupt cops and they arrest Boss Gordon who they had cornered in City Hall.
The villianess Boss Gordon is arrested by Thomas Wayne Snr.
Thomas Wayne: "I'm putting a wall round this city; making it  self sufficient, strong and clean. And anyone who doesn't like it gets a bullet in the face."

Back on the CSA base, Owlman tells them there is no need to try and escape, the scales will balance.  And as he says that, they all shift dimensions to the JLA's matter Earth.  Luthor confirms it, and the JLA tell him they'll have to leave and go deal with them as the CSA starts to run riot on their world.

Ultraman: "There is justice after all.  A whole new world stretched out and screaming.  Start with terror.  Always soften them up with fear."
Martain Manhunter beats down Ultraman
Aquaman and Martian Manhunter arrive on the scene.  Aquaman takes down Power Ring while Martian Manhunter defeats Ultraman.  He's is weakened because the anti-kryptonite that is the source of his power is in another dimension.  Superwoman flirts with Martian Manhunter, but he smacks her down.  Owlman is kneeling by the grave of Thomas and Martha Wayne.  He tells Johnny Quick to deliver a message to the others:

Owlman: "Tell them we've been duped.  We've been sent to the one place we can't succeed either.  Tell them nothing means anything.  He's dead.  There's no one left to hurt."

Back in the anti-matter Earth, Flash is using his speed energy to power up the reversal engine so they can get back.  He and Luthor realise the aeroplane switch might have been someone testing the technology in secret.  Not Ultraman as he doesn't understand how the cyclotron works.  Luthor suddenly realise that only leaves Brainiac, as Brainiac informs him this is the case.

Brainiac wanted the CSA neutralised to end his slavery.  He transmits himself into every circuit in the Flying Fortress.  He has softened the membrane betqween the two worlds and aims to collide the pair of them.  On the surface of the anti-matter world Batman says they must stop trying to change things, that they have been played.

Wonder Woman: "We failed them. We failed Luthor."

Batman: "Only because our methods can't succeed on this world.  It's a law of nature.  Everything we do is ordained to fail.  Even good deeds go bad here."
The twqo Earth's on a collisions course
On the Flying Fortress Luthor asks Brainiac why he is doing this.  Brainiac want's to create a massive amount of energy converting everyone on both worlds into it when he crashes the two Earths into each other.  Superman goes to attack Brainiac, but realises he can't kill him when he discovers Brainiac is part organic.

Brainiac: "I am monitoring all your efforts to prevent my upgrade.  The equation is simple.  Here 'evil' wins."

Superman agrees, but says Brainiacs plan didn't account for the JLA doing something deliberately "bad", like walking away in a time of crisis.  They can't defeat Brainiac but they know someone who can, and with a final burst of speed energy from the Flash, the JLA and CSA swap places, and Ultraman has no compunctions about disabling Brainiac.
Ultraman takes out Brainiac
The JLA watch as the anti-matter Earth phases back into it's own universe.  They start repairing the damage done to Washington and ponder Luthor's fate.  One man, always doomed to fail.  Batman wonders if contact with their other selves has changed the CSA at all.

It seems not.  The CSA are back taking bribes from the President, they've obliterated London and Gotham is now a police state.   Superwoman and Owlman ponder their other selves.

Superwoman: "I keep thing about them.  Why do they do it?  What do they get? I don't understand what..."

Owlman: "I keep thinking about you.  He can't always be watching."

They kiss, and a bolt of Ultraman's heat visions lances down, killing a cat that was in the tree above. "Missed" grins Owlman.  The book ends with Ultraman aboard the Flying Fortress, watching over the world always.
Ultraman is watching you
JLA Earth 2 is a hugely enjoyable book.  It's always great seeing the classic League line-up in action and having the CSA come from an anti-matter world rather than a parallel world was a very creative way of getting around the lack of a multiverse in DC at the time.  It also plays up the "everything is opposite" angle better than if it was just another parallel world.  Winning by doing nothing feels like an element of Grant Morrison's spirituality creeping into the narrative, but it works well, so no complaints there (It's also reminiscent of the solution to the plot of the 1980 Doctor Who serial Warrior's Gate, Grant being a huge nerd about these things and a "out" Doctor Who fan, might have been influenced by it without realising). The dark mirror that our heroes have to deal with is compelling and it's interesting to note that Owlman, like his good counterpart is the one that points out the futility of their actions and seems to be the most clued into what's going on. 

Interestingly, the CSA here, who all pretty much hate each other, strongly remind me of the spoof JLA of Garth Ennis's misantrhopic super-hero series, The Boys.  I'd be curious to knoqw if this comic qwas an influence or if it's just a coincidence they both give off the same vibe. I can't praise Frank Quitely's art highly enough, drawing definite versions of all the charaters. DC comics has actually gone back to a limited version of the multiverse that came about with it's 2011 "New 52" relaunch.  The Crime Syndicate of America are back as the Earth 3 counterparts of The Justice League, with all five members shown here, plus a few new faces.  I think for many people though, the depiction of them in JLA Earth 2 will remain the definitive one for a long time to come.


  1. frank quitely is dah shit!

  2. I never noticed how good his art was at the time. I just took it for granted. But it really is the bee's knees. Notice the silhouetted skyscraper when Owlman and Superwoman are snogging? The 'dark tower' works as shorthand for evil, and it's also a phallic symbol. And I liked the scene where the Flash makes things explode and you never even see him do it because he's faster than the speed of light.

    Great story, too. The Martian Manhunter gets one of his all-time BEST moments in this one. Plus it's cool that Batman is mostly good but a bit evil, so Owlman is mostly evil but a bit good, and does stuff to hurt his dad rather than avenge him. I just love the symmetry, you know? And the sex is really sleazy and disgusting. And the CSA have the most ridiculously kitsch baroque bathroom ever. And Johnny Quick is an addict! Damn, someone had a lot of fun writing this.

    The line that stuck in my head for years was, "You pathetic ultrastellar abortion!" Blimey, that was harsh. And that shot of the four of them standing in the air outside the window... It's the stillness that makes it so powerful. Man, I flipping love Grant Morrison's JLA. Hits the spots that other JLAs cannot reach, you know? They could take on Darkseid and win.

    Morrison's Wonder Woman and Batman had a thing for each other too, although it was never consummated. They just fought each other in the training room a lot (paging Dr Freud!).

  3. This is the first I have read of Morrisons JLA, and it's put the collected editions right to the top of my Must Buy list. Always had a soft spot for the League and I know he had to fight hard to get the classic line-up. I'm looking forward to checking them out. I like how in showing all that is opposite, he actually defines what makes "our" league, good and moral and decent without actually needing to spell it out.

    Poor anti-matter Lex Luthor, doomed to fail in his war on evil. I did feel for him at the end. He tries so hard.

  4. Lucky there's an afterlife with a benevolent god in Morrison's JLA multiverse, huh? A post-mortem reward is better than nowt.

  5. Yeah, at least good Luthor will get a final happy ending which is cool. Morrison is quite a sentimental writer I've noticed, which is fine by me, because I am a pretty sentimental person!