Superman #411, September 1985, “The Last Earth-Prime Story”
. . . or is it?
As a nearly confirmed waiter-for-the-trade (Morrison’s Batman and Dini’s Detective being the only titles I can’t wait for) Jim Roeg makes me almost wish I was experiencing 52 in the weekly installments of its titular premise. His description of issue #24 makes my mouth water at the prospect that DC has promised not to collect the series until all 52 issues have shipped:
Holy collapsing boundaries, Batman. The texture of allusion and metafictional reference in the best series of 2006 reaches a new level in this issue. There seem to be at least three categories of allusion at play here:
(1) allusions to contemporary popular culture (Taylor Hicks, Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow); (2) allusions to Marvel-related comics events and characters (“Just Imagine” [Stan Lee Creating the DC Universe], “Justice is served,” J’onn says, recalling Scourge’s tag-line, a fourth-wall busting Ambush-Bug whose sound effects and costume changes recall those of the Impossible Man—the metafictional Marvel greenie); and (3) allusions to significant DC writers (Elliott S! Maggin, Julius Schwartz).
What does it all add up to? No idea, but it’s fun to guess, and I love Ambush Bug’s “This shirt’s a clue” clue. If, indeed, we are to take this metafictional “clue” at face value, then perhaps all the boundary breaks between our world and the DCU in this issue are indicators that the nature of the new DCU is precisely metafictionality.
Could it be that Morrison’s teased “sentient universe” idea will involve a kind of bringing of the very process of making comics into DC continuity itself, albeit in a somewhat displaced or veiled form? This wouldn’t be a new idea (Marvel was notably playful about this in the 1970s), but certainly integrating it into the very fabric of the continuity as a kind of causal agency would be a daring move (this seems to be the implication of integrating the title of a weekly comic that refers to its publication schedule into some mystery that involves the “Guardians of the Universe”).
More generally, the increased merging of our universe with the DCU in the pages of 52 (a merging that is inherent in the very weekly “real time” concept) helps to account for some of the allusions to Marvel as well, a company that has always emphasized the parallels between its universe and our own. Interesting too that Julius Schwartz was the inventor of the parallel universes concept—is the notion of “parallel universes” being redefined here so that the Universes in question are not Earth 1 and Earth 2, but literally our earth and the new DCU’s?
After finally reading Infinite Crisis this weekend I was struck by the fact that Earth-Prime has not existed since 1985, yet was originally supposed to respresent “our” earth, that is, the universe we the readers (and writers, artists, and publishers of comics) inhabit. Since Earth-Prime was invented as the place where DC editor Julie Schwartz lived (Flash #179, May 1968), how could it have been allowed to be destroyed in the original Crisis on Infinite Earths?
My recent reading of Infinite Crisis also confirmed my initial speculation (originally expressed as a comment on Double Articulation in fact) that Superboy Prime and Alex Luthor represent the readers and editors, respectively (if one had to distinguish between them), of DC Comics. Rather than repeat myself I’ll just quote myself from May 16th:
The way Prime sees things in Alex’s heaven is as disjointed scenes replayed simultaneously and endlessly, just like you and I can re-read the same comic books over and over, and also experience different points in the DCU timeline simultaneously. So appropriately it is Superboy, like us generally and the editors in particular, who changes continuity with his punches of frustration.
Furthermore, even though Kal-L has not been active in the DCU for 20 years, it is Superboy Prime who, like us, has continued to live with the Golden Age Superman in his/our consciousness (if not conscience). Finally, I think the most interesting feature on this reading is that Superboy is [i.e., we are] the ultimate, acknowledged villain of the piece. Perhaps a Morrisonian influence?
Still, my theory isn’t airtight yet; for example, who would Alex be? His Machiavellian control over the events in Villains United, OMAC, Day of V., and Rann-Thanagar to create the conditions necessary for his scheme (revealed in IC #4?) naturally resembles the macro-editorial process in the DC offices to set up the event of IC itself, through those very miniseries. Their deus ex machina activities are unavoidably correlative. Alex is also the true editor (in the practical not executive sense, like a copy editor or film editor) who picks and chooses the bits he likes and pastes them together.
. . . Actually, I think it would be more accurate to say that Superboy is only us readers, while Alex is the DC editors who are on our side, trying to fix what we ask them to, but who just screw everything up in the end.
What’s more, Alex Luthor’s machinations turned out to extend beyond the initial publication of Infinite Crisis and also influence its collection in a single volume, which revised its own immediate history by inserting new pages and replacing others.
In any case, my interpretation seems to have some pre-Infinite Crisis textual support as well, as noted by Kelson Vibber a couple months ago:
Flash #228 (1974), “How I Saved the Flash,” featured writer Cary Bates traveling to Earth-1 and meeting the Flash. Up until this point, the conceit had been that on Earth-Prime, comic writers would dream about super-heroes’ adventures on Earth-1, just as Earth-1’s writers would dream about heroes on Earth-2. In this story, the connection went the other way, too: Earth-Prime’s Cary Bates was able to influence events on Earth-1 by sheer force of will, which he called “plotting power.”
Now, Infinite Crisis Secret Files (2006) revealed that many of the seemingly random changes in DC continuity over the last 10–20 years were caused by Superboy-Prime trying to escape from limbo. Every time he punched the barrier separating them from the DCU, something would change. The Doom Patrol would appear out of nowhere, Donna Troy would get another origin, Jason Todd would come back to life, Lex Luthor would have grown up in Smallville, etc.
Notice, though: Superboy-Prime and Cary Bates-Prime are from the same universe, and both were able to alter reality in the mainstream DC universe.
To answer Jim’s last question — “is the notion of “parallel universes” being redefined here so that the Universes in question are not Earth 1 and Earth 2, but literally our earth and the new DCU’s?” — might our earth, a new E-Prime, be the mysterious place the Earth-Two Superman, Lois Lane, and Wonder Woman are apparently whisked off to in Infinite Crisis, as reinforced by the dialogue revisions in the Hardcover Edition?
It would keep them truly “dead” while simultaneously granting them an afterlife of the sort described by Grant Morrison when his characters discover their fictional status in Animal Man: “We can never die. We outlive our creators. We outlive our gods! . . . Every time someone reads our stories, we live again!”
Animal Man #24, June 1990, page 18