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|
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|
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.|
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|
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|
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:
Ultraman: "One of these days you'll go too far, Owlman. And you wont come back"
Owlman: "Sure. Until then, I have the negatives remember?"
Ultraman: "One day."
|A meeting of the CSA|
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|
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.|
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|
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|
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|
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|
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.