Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

“Batman? Are you named for that guy in the funny books?” The Earth-One Paradox

As we all know, when Barry Allen first popped over to Earth-Two in Flash #123, he discovered the 1940s Golden Age Flash he’d grown up reading about was a real person.

Thanks to Earth-One comics writer Gardner Fox psychically tuning in Earth-Two, the Jay Garrick that Fox wrote about in Earth-One’s Flash Comics really existed, looking much like the one in our own comics. Flash #137 established the same was true for the Justice Society, including Wonder Woman. Unlike the Silver Age Flash, she’s pretty much identical to her Earth-One counterpart. It would be logical to assume the same is true for Superman and Batman.

So what happened in the 1950s when Superboy, Batman and Wonder Woman appeared? Why didn’t everyone immediately point out they were just like those old comic book characters? Why did anyone ever doubt that Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince were all secret identities of these new heroes (and the same for Hawkman and Green Arrow)? Heck, didn’t anyone point out to Lois how odd it was that a Clark Kent and Lois Lane were working at a newspaper together, just like in the comics (or the kind of jokes Clark Kent in Secret Identity has to deal with)? Or that another Bruce Wayne had adopted a Dick Grayson?

My axiom in writing these posts about comics in comic-book universes is that those comics should look as much like our own as possible. Clearly, though, something’s going to have to give. The simplest explanation is that (as I said in a previous post) some Earth-One writers didn’t vibe on Earth-Two as well as Gardner Fox did. They didn’t get all the details, particularly the mundane secret-identity stuff. After all, the nature of having a secret identity is that it’s much less vivid than the deeds the heroes perform in costume.

If Earth-One’s Jerry Siegel didn’t pick up Superman’s secret identity, he could either write him as a character without an identity, or make one up (of course he thought he was making it all up). So perhaps after getting a vivid flash of Earth-Two’s Superman in action, it hit Jerry it would be better to give him a secret identity like the Shadow or the Phantom Detective. Yeah, that would be swell, but what’s his real name, then? Hmm … Arn Munro? John Smith? Kent Clark?

The Superman/Clark Kent dichotomy is such a big part of Big Blue’s appeal I think option B is more likely. Ditto Batman. Wonder Woman, though, might do fine if she wasn’t shown on her day job. Green Arrow definitely — prior to growing a beard and a radical attitude, few secret identities were as bland as Oliver Queen.

That still leaves the question of why nobody brought up the heroes’ resemblance to the comic book characters. I think that answer is simple: they did, it’s just that none of the stories in our own comics mentioned it. Barry Allen, after all, must have thought of Alan Scott when he first met Earth-One’s Green Lantern, but we’ve never heard him have that conversation:

Barry: “So, you’re a big fan of Green Lantern, huh?”

Hal: “Uh, no, I am Green Lantern. Do I seem like an egomaniac?”

Barry: “No, I meant the comic-book character! You know, Alan Scott, power battery, Doiby Dickles?”

Hal: “Oh, yeah, I remember him. But the only comic I was really into was Air Fighters, I’d have killed for a plane like Airboy’s Birdy — heck, I still would. But yeah, funny coincidence of our names, isn’t it?”

For another example, look at Earth-Marvel. The Golden Age Human Torch was both a real superhero and a comics character on that Earth yet we don’t see Johnny Storm fielding constant questions about whether he was inspired by his predecessor.

This doesn’t solve all the problems. If Earth-One comics didn’t have the Golden Age Luthor, Penguin, Joker, etc., then they’re not like ours at all. Were Bill Finger and Jerry Siegel that bad at vibing? But if they did, it must have been really bizarre to see the same villains pop up fighting the same heroes in real life.

But that’s the best I can do. I’ll cover the Earth-One comics industry in the next installment.

For obvious reasons it would have made more sense to tackle Earth-Marvel this week, but I just didn’t have the time to write it up.

#SFWApro Covers by Carmine Infantino (top), Stuart Immonen and Jack Kirby (bottom)


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