Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections #28: Back To The Beginning With ‘Earth One’

by Scott Redmond

In life, they say only three things are certain: birth, death, and change. Within comic books, the three things that are certain are that there will be retcons, reboots, and resurrections. Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife. 

Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.

In respect to Marvel and DC Comics these days, reboots are often just ways to reshuffle characters or teams or continuity. Folks (myself included) love to rib DC about their love of the reboot button but most of their famous ones were more of a reshuffle of things rather than truly rebooting things to a point of origin. 

A few months ago though, we spoke about the time when they changed that and almost fully rebooted their entire line (with a few things like Batman and Green Lantern only semi rebooting) with the New 52 era. Marvel has never done such a reboot to their mainline, only really doing it for a couple of alternate universes such as the Ultimate Marvel universe, which we discussed very recently. 

Over the years though DC has tried their hand at similar side-set reboots, with things like the All-Star line which had some highs and some lows before it came to an unceremonious end. This is not the attempt we’re going to look at today. No, the one we’re looking at today went with a more straightforward modernized reboot attempt and technically is still somewhat going to this day. 

Today we’re taking a trip to DC’s Earth One

The Backstory:

Before we get any deeper, it must be noted that Earth One as an imprint and concept actually came two years before the unplanned sudden mainline reboot that was New 52. All the way back in 2009 DC Comics announced they would be launching an imprint of original graphic novels under the Earth One banner featuring many of their major characters. These graphic novels would follow modern rebooted versions of these characters, coming from creators that the publisher looked at as their “top” creators. 

Essentially these books are a way to ask the question “what if these iconic characters were actually created and debuted today” instead of their original origins. 

Conceptually all of these series are meant to be happening on the same Earth, the one known as Earth One in the multiverse that is full of 52 various Earths, but they all stand pretty much alone in their own bubbles within this world. Not crossing over the same way that the main books or similar alternate reboots like Ultimate Marvel regularly would do between titles. 

The Nitty Gritty:

As one would likely expect the initiative was kicked off with stories featuring Superman and Batman. At the time they announced Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis and Batman: Earth One from Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Both of these were announced as an ongoing series of graphic novels that would allow the creators to explore the origins of each character, hitting all the notes audiences are familiar with but with their own twists/addition. 

Reportedly at the time, it was stated that these books were meant to be released yearly, but as time passed it became clear that these books would take longer. Some of the delays came from the fact that some of the creators were also working on numerous monthly books or other comic book projects. 

Superman’s first volume arrived in 2010 but Batman didn’t get his first book till 2012. Eventually, the line expanded some with Teen Titans: Earth One Volume One from Jeff Lemire and Terry Dodson arriving in 2014, Wonder Woman: Earth One Volume One in 2016 from Grant Morrison and Yannick Paquette, and Green Lantern: Earth One Volume One from Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko in 2018. 

Superman gained a second and third volume (with new artist Ardian Syaf) in 2012 and 2015 respectively, Batman got a second and third volume in 2015 and 2021, Teen Titans got a second volume (with new artist Andrew T. MacDonald) in 2016, Wonder Woman’s second and third volumes arrived in 2018 and 2021, and Green Lantern received a second volume in 2021. In 2015 there was the announcement of an Aquaman: Earth One series from Francis Manapul and Flash: Earth One from Straczynski but neither book has actually been completed and the publisher hasn’t shared any news about them in many years. 

In 2020, during a pre-recorded segment for the publisher’s DC FanDome presence Publisher and Chief Creative Officer Jim Lee said more books from the line were on the way but that very well might have been referring to the already in the works third Batman and Wonder Woman books. 

Technically the line has not died or ended at this point since the most recent books came out in 2021, and the goal to release them yearly had not been met regularly in any shape or form. 

The Verdict:

There is a whole lot of baggage attached to this reboot that will definitely taint how it’s viewed at this point. At least three of the creators involved have in more recent times had issues or controversies or changes happen that have dimmed their once bright stars. Johns has been accused of grooming and racism, Davis joined the hate group Comicsgate and turned toxic, and his replacement Syaf got canned from an X-Men book at Marvel after slipping antisemitic references into his artwork. 

Outside of the issues from some of the creators, the books have been received in a very hit-and-miss fashion. 

For the most part, the majority of the books very much take mostly known concepts from these heroes and just add some grim or dark or “realistic” edge to them to fit the modern era. This is not to say that they are good or bad, just that they very much fit into some of the same boxes as their mainline DC counterparts. Green Lantern is the one case where the creators seemingly endeavored to take the basic concepts that were known and go in some really different routes with them and fully embrace the science fiction nature of the character. 

Overall this is a truly solid concept. Original graphic novels starring their top characters or other characters is a solid way to put out stories in a more compact easier to follow format. So much so that actually DC is already doing that far more regularly with their line of young adult books that reimagine characters or bring in diverse new concepts that are fun and delightful and meaningful. Using a variety of creators, both new and established, helps the line not only produce work regularly but allows for a wider array of ideas. 

Earth One can still be salvaged, but it’s going to need to be overhauled and needs DC to bring in some new voices and ideas so that the books start to diverge more and might come out more regularly. 

Next Week: The Secret Truth Surrounding A Sentinel Of Liberty

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