Tuesday, April 15, 2008

George Rears - 1981

sg George Rears - I always loved Earth-Prime stories. Earth-Prime was supposed to be where we lived. You and me. Really. No super-heroes. Theoretically, these comic book characters did exist, just in a different dimension, vibrating at a different speed than us.

All you had to do was change the rate your molecules were vibrating at, and boom--you could be on Earth-1, the home of DC's silver and bronze age characters. It's true. I read it in The Flash #228--the first comic I ever bought.

So I was a sucker for these crazy Earth-Prime stories. The Justice League had two Earth-Prime writers visit for a team-up with the Justice Society in 1975, and later, the League visited our Earth when they discovered our Superman: Ultraa...of course that incident was kept hush-hush. You can only read about it in the comics (JLA #153). Neither of these stories, nor the Flash yarn I mentioned earlier, are considered classics today--although I love them all.

It was the next Earth-Prime story, though that raised the bar forever. "To Kill A Legend", the lead-off story from Detective Comics #500 (March 1981) blew me away. Upon first seeing this story, I was confused...here we had probably the biggest anniversary issue in comic history (Issue 500! Detective Comics!) and DC let an unknown writer, Alan Brennert, have the lead story! Needless to say, as a fourteen year old I wasn't familiar with Mr. Brennert's multitude of other work in science-fiction and TV. I guess I needed a life outside of comics. I probably still do.

So after I got past the writer confusion I sat down and read what was to become my favorite Batman story. Dick Giordano provided stunning artwork as Batman and Robin are interrupted in the middle of the case by the Phantom Stranger (definitely the coolest member of the Justice League, though not necessarily my favorite). It seems the Phantom Stranger wanted to offer Batman the chance to stop the cycle that occurs every 20 years that creates a new Batman.

Off goes the Batman, with Robin following behind him to a world without super heroes (I forget whether it is named as Earth-Prime, but it definitely could have been). So here you have the World's Greatest Detective trying to solve a murder before it happens--researching the would-be killer, investigating the would-be victims, trying to make it all fit. Meanwhile Robin sees something that Batman appears to miss: young Bruce Wayne is a spoiled brat.

The story briskly follows Batman and Robin as they solve the case using knowledge from Batman's own life and clues from this new world. Interesting twists lead them down false paths, and finally they make it to the crime scene, where Robin confronts Batman about the natural order of things and how Bruce Wayne of this world appears to be destined to be a spoiled brat. Batman makes a case for how he has lives to save, and then he does just that...and then they return home.

What really makes the story, though, is the epilogue: Apparently young Bruce Wayne is inspired from that event to get his act together. He now wants to be just like the man that saved his parents. There will be a Batman on this world after all!

I can't do the story justice in one paragraph; after all, I'm no Alan Brennert. I'd recommend reading it. DC has reprinted this story in just about every "Greatest Hits" or "Best of Batman" package they have produced, and deservedly so.

I just remember reading this story, then stopping and putting the book down to take it all in. I was trying to process the many different themes: One man can make a difference vs. The natural order of things, not to mention the nature vs. nurture conflict. I'm sure I eventually read the rest of the book, heck it was $1.50, but I couldn't tell you one thing about the other stories today, many years later.

I have since become a huge fan of Mr. Brennert's comic work. After this story I would always have the highest expectations when I saw his name attached to a book, and he never did let me down. A lot of his work focused on both Earth-2 and Batman, including Brave and the Bold #s 182 and 197. Each of which I could write about in length, also.

When the DC multiverse went away in 1985 due to the Crisis on Infinite Earths, we lost Earth-Prime. Gone was the idea that these characters really do exist, just at a different vibratory rate. Now, they were just imaginary characters, all living in their imaginary world. I guess we don't live on Earth-Prime anymore.

10 comments:

Wich2 said...

Dear George-

Couldn't agree more:

"Interlude on Earth-Two"
(Where Earth 1's & Earth 2's Batman & Robin try to work together w/o projecting each's "original" partner's patterns on each other...)

"The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne"
(With the marriage, & later life, of Batman)

"Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot"
(The ghost of Kara-El makes a Christmas visit to cheer Deadman)

Some of the best modern-era stories written, from the pen of Mr. Brennert. Genuinely touching - the rarest of things in funnybooks.

Best,
-Craig W.

Marc Tyler Nobleman, Author of "Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman" said...

For me, this issue is of note because of a certain statement in the essay on the inside back cover...any guesses?

rob! said...

i don't have this book anymore, so you got me!

CaptainJersey said...

I actually wrote the story from the top of my head, so I didn't "fact check"... I'll check out the essay in the back of the book this weekend. I'm normally a big text page reader, but in my mind the big highlight of the book will always be the Alan Brennert story...

George Rears

CaptainJersey said...

Craig,

I couldn't agree with you more! I think Mr. Brennert really understood how to use the multiple Earth concept. The other Earths are where one can effect real change, and so the maturity of characters that you can't on Earth-1. In addition, although action is important to a story, once you start using multiple dimensions in a story, the story becomes more intellectual, and needs more than a shoot 'em up plotline to be successful. The stories that made us think were therefore the most successful!

George Rears

Marc Tyler Nobleman, Author of "Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman" said...

I didn't mean this to sound didactic. Just a fun little hide and seek, if you choose to play. :)

rob! said...

btw, fellas, i emailed Alan Brennert and told him about George's post. here's what he said:

"Very nice post about 'Tec 500, but I'm afraid "To Kill a Legend" wasn't set on Earth-Prime, certainly not by intention.

It differed sharply from "our"
Earth -- or even Ultraa's -- in that there was no heroic mythology to inspire superheroes (this was a suggestion of my editor, Paul Levitz, and it's one I'm come to think in retrospect might've been a wee bit of an overkill).

In fact, in the "Crisis Index" in the THE ABSOLUTE CRISIS ON
INFINITE EARTHS, the world shown in "To Kill a Legend" was designated
Earth-5 (which I guess now is home to the original Shazam family). I
remember being fairly pleased at learning that I'd created an Earth that actually had its own number!

Other than this small caveat, George's piece was well written and
flattering; please pass on my thanks. Nice to know the "old" Earth-5 is remembered as fondly as I remember Earths 1 and 2!

Best,

Alan"

CaptainJersey said...

Cool!

I seem to recall the lack of heroic mythology piece the more I think about it- that would definitely remove our Earth as a possible Earth for this story. I must re-read this tonight. As a 14 year old I thought of it as Earth Prime- but who would know better than the actual writer!


George Rears

Earth 2 Chris said...

There's a reason this story is in "The Greatest Batman Stories Every Told".

Mr. Brennert ventures far too rarely in to comics, but each time he does it's a classic!

Chris

Wes Wescovich said...

I remember this one fondly as well. My Mother had a ladies' club meeting one Sunday and we stopped at a local drug store for me to pick up a comic to read while I waited she attended. I loved the lead story, but was less than enthused by the Infantino art in the Batman/Deadman tale in the back of the book. My favorite, however is the Aparo drawn Slam Bradley story sandwiched in-between. It was a mystery set on a cruise ship and featured just about every detective that had ever appeared in the back-ups of the book. Slam, Roy Raymond, Jason Bard, Pow-Wow Smith, and the Human Target stand out in my memory.