New To You Comics: The Nature Of Evil In ‘JLA: Earth 2’

by Tony Thornley

With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This time around, we get into some heady questions about the nature of evil and the multiverse disguised as a superhero comic.

When it premiered in 2000, JLA: Earth 2 was an interesting departure from the standard American superhero comic. It was a 90 page original graphic novel from a pair of creators at the top of the game, with the greatest heroes in the DC Comics roster. Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Kenny Lopez, and Laura DePuy created one of the more enduring Justice League stories in the franchise’s history, and one that still resonates today.

When Alexander Luthor arrives from an alternate Earth, he brings the Justice League a daring plan. In 48 hours, the League could transform his evil world into a shining beacon of hope. The only thing that would be standing in their way is their evil counterparts- the Crime Syndicate of Amerika!

Tony Thornley: So we haven’t talked a lot about DC books, and you and I both want to try to rectify that this year. Naturally, when I found out you had this book already and hadn’t read it yet, I knew we had to talk about it.

Brendan Allen: There are so many books on my shelf that I haven’t read yet. This was one of them. I’ve always meant to, though, so I’m glad you called me on it and popped this one into the queue.

TT: This story was sort of the capstone to Morrison’s years-long Justice League run. It had put them up against god-like aliens, the most brutal Injustice Gang yet, Darkseid, and ended with an elder god. So naturally this story being that capstone that it was- kind of a stand-alone final epic- they ended the run putting a mirror up to the league itself.

This story is Morrison in a nutshell. It gets into deep metaphysical questions, it has crazy sci-fi concepts, quirky humor, and captures the essence of the League. Best of all, it’s not at all what people would expect of a Justice League story. What did you think?

BA: It’s all the things you said. Quirky meta-physical sci-fi, sure, but there are also a lot of political science themes in play. Vacuum of power after military intervention by a foreign super-power. This is what happens when well-intentioned forces blaze into a situation to fix all the badness, without fully understanding the current situation or having a clear exit strategy. 

TT: Oh definitely, and Morrison is great with that. Their parents were anti-war activists, so capturing that theme had to be in their mind as they wrote the story. And this was pre-9/11 & the Iraq War that they wrote it.

One thing I have always liked about Morrison is that they get the core of the characters, even if they don’t spend a lot of time with them. You’ll see that when we eventually cover their Superman. I like that this story is purely about the characters and deconstructing them to create their Syndicate counterparts. 

Where Superman inspires hope, Ultraman inspires fear. Where Batman tears down corruption, Owlman builds it up. Where Wonder Woman is graceful and composed, Superwoman is crude and manipulative. It’s the closest Morrison came to a pure character study in their time on JLA.

BA: That’s a great point. It really works well because of the familiarity we have with all these characters. Ultraman instantly strikes a nerve, because he is so blatantly everything that Superman despises. 

I loved the part where Batman pops in to see Gordon. Trying to connect with something familiar in this backwards ass place. For a ‘lone wolf’ type character, that dude is awfully dependent on his friends, and that tracks with everything I know about Batman. Granted, I don’t know a whole lot about Batman, so there is that, but I think that speaks even more to the accessibility of this book. 

TT: And what he found was his father as Gotham’s commissioner, with Gordon as a corrupt crime boss. Then Owlman gets a parallel scene on the League’s Earth- he seeks out his father to torture him, and finds the Waynes’ grave (a moment executed perfectly by the script and the art). It’s that looking glass that Morrison does so many times in these 90ish pages, and it lands so well each time.

TT: Quitely is one of my absolute favorite pencillers. His work is not conventionally pretty, but he has this incredible level detail on each of his pages. For example, there’s a scene where Ultraman drops bags of cash over Metropolis, and you can see the individual bills (with Benedict Arnold in George Washington’s place) fluttering to the ground.

He’s not just good at details though. He captures this mythic feeling to the characters. He often frames them with an upward POV, especially when it’s Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman together. It creates a sense of awe of them.

BA: The Deluxe Edition that I have includes a bunch of backmatter, including some of the character designs. It’s really cool how some of the features are completely opposite their counterparts. Ultraman’s logo is the Superman shield upside down, that kind of stuff. But some of the differences are just style preferences, or variations on a theme. Bats. Owls. Close enough, but just far enough removed from mundane to make it weird. 

TT: Yeah, but think of Batman as all these dark smooth lines, blending into the night, while Owlman is these sharp, shiny feathers… Every design choice Quitely and DePuy made is SO smart, even if they’re subtle.

BA: Yeah, I guess, but you obviously don’t have an owl living in your backyard palm tree. I do. Those suckers are sleek. Blend right into the night sky. Until they’re right over your head, screaming at the night. Sneaky little bastards.

TT: Haha! True! I have to give props to both DePuy on colors and Lopez on letters. They are both working with masters at the top of their game in underappreciated roles, and they both bring it. The letters were as much a storytelling tool here as anything Quitely does, and DePuy’s colors are years ahead of their time.

So final verdict?

BA: I like it. You said this was the conclusion to a much bigger story, but it reads very well as a standalone, and without any of the context you mentioned in the intro, it is still very readable for casual readers and drop-ins. I used to read a lot of Batman way back when, but haven’t read anything current for maybe a decade. I was still able to find my way around and have a good time.

TT: Yeah, this is a 20ish year old book, and it holds up extremely well. It’s going to remain one of my favorite Justice League stories for years to come.

What do you have up for us next?

BA: Let’s jump back into the period horror with Image Comics’ Moonshine Vol. 1, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Rizzo. Hillbilly moonshiner werewolves. Good times. 

JLA: Earth 2 is available in several different editions, both digitally and in print.

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