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.