Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Earth-Two’s comic book industry after World War II

Earth-Two’s Golden Age of comics probably looked a lot like ours, as I argued in the first part of this series. The Silver Age? Not so much. However I’ve less solid evidence to work with, so this post is more speculative than the first.

Presumably, just like our world, WW II GIs looking for a quick read gobbled up comics by the score. That made for great sales in the 1940s, whether it was DC’s true-life superheroes, other companies’ fictional heroes or war, crime and humor books. But just like our world, once the war was over and GIs returned home, sales began to slump. particularly superhero comics. It wouldn’t help that with superheroes on other Earths retiring or disappearing, writers who vibed on their adventures would suddenly face writer’s block. The Marvel Family became trapped in suspendium; Zatara fled Earth-One after Allura cursed him ; the heroes on Earth-X were still fighting Nazis (“Who’s going to want stories where the war didn’t end?”).

DC’s based-on-truth books might have done better, but then came Senator O’Fallon. His 1951 investigation into the JSA as possible communist agents drove them into sudden retirement. Back then, anyone even suspected of Red sympathies became a pariah; I doubt DC would brave the blacklist any more than TV or movies did. As soon as word broke out the JSA had disappeared from O’Fallon’s hearing, All Star Comics turned into All-Star Western. The JSA members lost their individual books except for the “Trinity,” who were too well-connected and trusted for O’Fallon’s charges to gain any traction (as detailed in America vs. The Justice Society)

DC still had lots of second-string heroes, as some Earth-Two heroes may have operated into the late 1950s (a lot depends on which stories are Earth-Two and which are Earth-One, as Mike’s Amazing World discusses in detail). None of them were headliners, so DC diversified. Romance comics. Science fiction. Sugar and Spike. And reflecting how well other publishers had done with fictional heroes, DC tried to follow suit. Like John Broome’s idea for a “phantom stranger” who shows up out of nowhere. Or his superhuman mutant, Captain Comet. Or Joe Samachson’s idea for a Martian detective to fill space in Detective Comics.

The Trinity were shifting into semi-retirement at this point, but writers began suddenly flashing on new ideas for new, apparently fictional stories about Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. If the heroes were willing, their books would have shifted to made-up adventures, and probably done well.

Then some writers started to get really weird ideas. Like new stories of the Flash, only with a different costume, operating out of a different city with all-new foes. A Green Lantern who was part of an interstellar police force instead of wielding a magic ring. An “Atom” who actually shrinks in size. It’s at this point that Earth-Two’s Silver Age departs wildly from ours. Between the JSA still being damaged goods and the possible legal issues, I can’t see DC introducing a new Flash, Green Lantern, etc.

Flash Grant Gustin John Wesley Shipp Barry Allen Jay Garrick

One possibility is that they didn’t do anything with these new ideas. The Silver Age limped along listlessly until the JSA began meeting regularly again in 1963. The blacklist was dying, DC revived the true-life books successfully and Marvel decided to hop on the made-up superheroes train. I don’t like it because it costs us seven Silver Age years, but it’s feasible.

The alternative is that Julius Schwartz’s crew just gave the characters a makeover. Instead of Flash, just call the new speedster Quicksilver after the Quality Comics character. Maybe instead of a ring, Hal Jordan draws his power from a tattoo or a brand — a Starbrand! Katar Hol could be, um, Starhawk. That would leave the Silver Age free to proceed much as it did on our world, despite the name change.

Of course one can only imagine what Broome, Fox and others made when the reboot characters they’d imagined actually started appearing. Did they guess the truth? Did they ask the JSA for explanations? Apparently the JSA never did say much as the congressional committee in America vs. the Justice Society knows nothing about the Justice Leaguers. Perhaps the Society figured it would be too complicated and unbelievable to explain.

Once the Silver Age was launched, the Bronze Age and the 1980s would follow. The JSA and its members could have had their own books again, especially after Power Girl, Star-Spangled Kid, adult Robin and later Huntress started giving readers some younger real-life heroes to read about. But in the end, the Crisis put an end to Earth-Two’s comic book industry along with the world.

I’d originally planned to write the third installment about Earth-One comics. However the question of how the whole “superhero writers are psychic” angle works deserves it’s own post, so that’s up next.

#SFWApro. Art by Everett E. Hibbard, Jerry Ordway and Carmine Infantino, top to bottom.


  1. Le Messor

    I’ve often speculated about the balance of made-up comics to real life comics within comic book realities.
    Would superheroes even be a major genre within such a universe? (Obvious call-out to Watchmen here.)

    1. I think it’s certainly possible superheroes would still find a home in comics. Not a slam dunk, but like the Johnny Thunder shot up top, most of the DC/Marvel glimpses show us a comic-book industry much like our own, so I assume that’s the case.

        1. Le Messor

          Yes, I do think you’re all correct that superhero comics would – and do – still exist.

          There’s still a question, though, of how many are real-life adventures vs made-up?
          I know Ben Grimm saw the Batman movie; do they read DC?
          I’ve seen many Marvel comics in Marvel comics… How many other kinds are there?
          I’ve read Marvels Comics (which are supposed to be what Marvel comics are like within the 616 Universe); is that what they’re really like? Again, are there DCs Comics?

          These are the questions that try men’s souls.

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