Four months after DC Comics' Source blog announced the Earth One initiative that promised a new take on the DC characters, published in graphic novel format and with its own continuity, my excitement for the project has both heightened and tempered.
High hopes for Samaritan X
On one hand, we learned in March that J. Michael Straczynski, who'll be writing Superman: Earth One, will also be writing an original graphic novel set within the DC Universe, Samaritan X. Since the next best thing to the Earth One graphic novels with their own shared continuity would be graphic novels that share the main DC Universe continuity (I've longer clamored for a Manhunter OGN that ends at the feet of the crossover du jour), Samaritan X is a gigantic step in the right direction -- especially since it's written by Straczynski, who's also taking over Superman and Wonder Woman and, one hopes, might cameo the Samaritan X super-hospital in those titles. An original graphic novel, in mainstream continuity.
I'm tempted to think of this as an unprecedented step, that never before has DC Comics produced an original graphic novel that (presumably) fits right in with modern continuity, but it's clearly not the first. Just in brief, Green Lantern: Legacy -- The Last Will of Hal Jordan re-established aspects of the Lantern Corps referenced soon after in the Green Lantern title of the time; Catwoman: Selina's Big Score lead in to that series; Life Story of the Flash set that series' continuity for a while. And that's not to mention all the Prestige Format one-shots that came out over the years that also factored into continuity.
Samaritan X, however, is DC's first in-continuity, original graphic novel to arrive in today's comics landscape, where 99% of everything you read will end up as a long-form collection. Consider that one of the last big in-continuity graphic novels, JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice, came out in 2003 when the current collected edition craze was only just beginning; if Samaritan X were to be super-successful now, when a far greater percentage of the comics fanbase wait for the trade and read their comics in collections, this could indeed spark an era where readers don't have to wait for the trades, but rather some of the day's relevant comics emerge first-run in long form just like Samaritan X will.
Straczynski's dueling Supermen
On the other hand, aside from Samaritan X, other issues give me pause. First, I wonder about Straczynski as the writer of both Superman and Superman: Earth One. I state this without really an experience with Straczynski's writing, so this has no bearing on Straczynski himself, but I wonder about the mental gymnastics necessary to write both of these books together. In Earth One, Straczynski has stated, Jimmy Olsen is more of a daredevil, so where does that leave the Jimmy Olsen of the current DCU? If the Earth One Daily Planet will function more like an actual newsroom, what will the current Daily Planet be like? Essentially, if Straczynski gets to create his Earth One Superman mythos from the ground up, by his rules, can his DCU Superman help but pale in comparison? Maybe Straczynski can do it, but when I'm already concerned that it seems like DC's sweeping much of the past two year's New Krypton under the rug with two new writers on the Superman titles, Straczynski's dual roles give me pause.
Crisis of Infinite Delays on Earth One?
There's also the issue that, at least from fan perception, the Earth One initiative may not be rolling out as smoothly as planned. About the time we learned the relatively reasonable price and page count for the Earth One books, we also learned we wouldn't see Superman: Earth One, until the third quarter of this year -- hardly enough time, it seemed, to release a second volume before the end of 2010. I discussed at the time that DC announcing the book so early risked fans forgetting about the whole thing by the time it came around. And in addition, a September release for Superman: Earth One left very little time for Geoff Johns' Batman: Earth One to follow -- and indeed, Batman: Earth One isn't at all on DC's official list of 2010 collections. I'm so very eager for Earth One to succeed, but if it's not a series, then it's just two new one-shot takes on Superman and Batman; delays, as are suggested here, could kill it.
So checking back in with Earth One and DC's original graphic novels, we find a little bit of hope, a little bit of despair. It is worth noting that right behind Superman: Earth One at the end of the year is Marv Wolfman and George Perez's long-awaited Teen Titans: Games -- not in-continuity per se, but another graphic novel, and if Games and Samaritan X and Superman: Earth One all do well, who knows what might be right behind.
Can't wait for the original graphic novel wave? Not sure your paycheck can take it? Be sure to add your comment below!