Earth One, where comic books are just like ours, only different

Roy Thomas transformed Earth-One’s comic books without even trying. Or probably even thinking about it.

Up until Thomas wrote All-Star Squadron, it was canon that Earth-One in the 1940s had a number of superheroes. Based on their appearances in the Silver and Bronze Ages, they included Vigilante (the Greg Sanders version), Zatara, Manhunter (Paul Kirk version), the Guardian, Plastic Man, TNT, the Blackhawks, Air Wave and Robotman. Thomas, however, used all these characters on Earth-Two and decided not to give them doppelgangers on Earth-One and Earth-X. Instead, the heroes associated with those worlds migrated from Earth-Two, the Xers during WW II and the One-ers afterwards.

I’ve always thought this more cumbersome than duplicate heroes would have been, and it doesn’t work for all the characters. Earth-Two’s Vigilante, for instance, was lost in time from the late 1940s until Justice League of America #100. He can’t be the same guy who helped the JLA against the Doomsters in JLA #78 (cover by Gil Kane)

The relevance to my ongoing look at comics in comic-book universes is that if I were writing this article in 1980, I’d have assumed the Earth-One comics looked a lot like Earth-Two’s: comics about real-world superheroes mixed in with fictitious ones. Post-All-Star Squadron, I have to assume Earth-One was more like ours, where superheroes were entirely fictional, with maybe one or two real adventurers such as Vigilante, the Shadow and Wildcat (various team-ups indicate there was an Earth-One Wildcat). As on Earth-Prime, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster conceived of Superman without knowing they were tuning in the adventures of a real, parallel-world hero. He was as big a hit on Earth-One as on Earth-Prime, and the comics industry exploded the same way after Action #1.

Even so, DC’s output on Earth-One wouldn’t have been identical to ours. As I noted in my last entry (sorry it took so long to follow up — life has been getting in the way big time), if Golden Age comics had revealed the identities of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc., it would have been impossible for Earth-One’s Bruce, Clark and Diana not to be pegged as superheroes. So the comics either gave them different identities or dispensed with the secret identity angle.

There were little differences too. We see Barry Allen reading Flash Comics #13 in his origin story (Infantino art, Kubert inks), but that’s not the Sheldon Moldoff cover we saw in our world. It’s unlikely that’s the only divergence. Plus Earth-One had characters who didn’t exist in our world, such as the Pink Eyebrow.

Then, in the late 1940s, Earth-One finally kicked off its own heroic age. Just as the Golden Age was fading, Superboy made his official debut (rumors of a Superbaby must have been circulating years earlier), prompting DC to launch a Superboy series (“What’s he going to do, sue us? We got the copyright!”) Any Earth-Two heroes who fought crime would have been seen, like Superboy, as modeling themselves on the “fictional” characters, perhaps giving the comics fresh life (okay, maybe not Air Wave).

Then in 1951, Earth-One got a completely original hero, Captain Comet. A few years later, Barry Allen became the Flash just about the time Superboy became Superman (the Martian Manhunter was already around, but wouldn’t go public until 1959). True-life superhero comics had arrived.

Carmine Infantino’s cover for Batman #199 shows DC-One’s Silver Age comics looked exactly like ours, but I’d write that off as artistic license. The stories inside were very different: writer-artist Rembrandt Dickens describes them as true-crime adventures based on police files and courtroom testimony (this may not have been the norm for all comics). Some Silver Age heroes wouldn’t have had comics at all; nobody knew Adam Strange was traveling to Rann.

DC undoubtedly sold better than on our world, and “their” characters did way better breaking into other media. Batman’s TV show (cover by Infantino again) was a serious look at his greatest cases rather than a campfest. Gregory Reed made Superman movies long before Christopher Reeve and the Green Lantern Corps got its own TV show.

As we know Spider-Man comics exist on Earth-One, Marvel presumably hopped on the superhero bandwagon as it did in our world. With the ability to showcase the personal lives and struggles of superheroes, it undoubtedly did well by offering a radically different take.

DC’s sliding time scale eventually pushed the start of the Silver Age much later than 1956, but I no longer think that’s an issue. Due to the Crisis, Earth-One only has to exist until 1986; with a little fudging (like the life-extension the JSA underwent in All-Star Squadron Annual #3) it’s not crazy to imagine them staying in action, with some slight changes (the Wolfman/Perez Titans would not have used “teen” as a name) until the world ended.

Next up, the comics of post-Crisis Earth, when comics history gets really nuts.

#SFWApro.

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