Earth One... For the First Time All Over Again?

DC is going to be up to some crazy tricks next year.

DC announced their new "Earth One" project this morning.

So: Who wants to see a new comic about Batman becoming Batman? Again.
I'm not sure I do.

But: Who wants to see new stories about established superhero characters in the full-length graphic novel format?
That I'm pretty sure I do.

Apparently the first of these graphic novels (fittingly featuring the first superhero character) will be "Superman: Earth One" and will be written by the excellent J. Michael Straczynski and drawn by Shane Davis (whom I've never heard of but, if this Superman image is any real indication of his work, he'll be welcome in my brain) and will soon be followed by "Batman: Earth One" by drum rolllllll... Geoff Johns and Gary Frank!

(from DC: The Source blog, via the "Comics Books" program wall)

I have been saying for years now that the future of superhero comics could be in graphic novels.

Sci-Fi books and films gained huge readership and slowly got established as a part of the cultural canon where Sci-Fi television never did.
Superhero films have pretty insane box office clout these days where superhero comics are being ignored by comparison.
Graphic novels are becoming the darling of 'literary' types where comic-books are left by the way-side (most obscenely in the occasions where the story was serialized as a comic-book before it was a collected trade-paperback).

See, people are doing this silly thing called 'trade waiting'. We'll hear more about this later, but basically it's the comics equivalent of 'Who has time for television? I'll wait for the DVD season set.' (Which, by the way, I do. Television is much harder to follow for me than monthly comics.) They don't pick up the monthly individual issues of an ongoing comic-book, they instead wait six months or more for the paperback collection. People like the feeling that they've gotten their money's worth, that they can hold a meaty consumer item, something that looks nice on a shelf. I'm as guilty of that as anyone. Although I have rarely, rarely, rarely waited for the trade on an ongoing series, I certainly feel the pull. I did twice decide to wait for a trade of a mini-series and I have bought paperbacks of stories I already owned entirely in single issues. Some series are built for it and some aren't.

I do believe there is a certain weight, a certain power, to complete 'full-length' works of art.

I think the film "Citizen Kane", the novel "Invisible Man", and the graphic novel "Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth" attest to this.

Do I think they're actually categorically BETTER than short-form serial fiction? No. Do I think it's right to squish a random chunk of short-form serial fiction together and pretend it's a complete single work? HELL NO. I think that's a mess. I've written to that effect elsewhere on this site.

This is not the first effort to do graphic novels with established superhero characters. The excellent "Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth" stands as proof. What the "Earth One" graphic novel project might signify is a shift toward graphic novel series, i.e. long-form serial fiction. Something more like the James Bond films. Okay. Maybe that's a bad example?

When Straczynski was asked in this interview on Ain't It Cool News conducted by columnist "Ambush Bug" with both writers Straczynski and Johns what he thinks of this possibility, his answer is wonderful:

BUG: The graphic novel format has been a preferred reading experience for a growing number of fans. Trade-waiting is a pretty common term I hear thrown around these days. What do you think; does the release of such a high profile product in a graphic novel format signify the end of the monthly single issues?

JMS Not at all. It's like saying that the production of movies signifies the end of dramatic series TV. Each serves a different need, and fills a different niche. If there's anything that is signified by trade-waiting, it's that we need to write better stories. If a reader can wait until it's all done to buy it, then we're not doing our jobs right. We should be writing stories that the reader can't wait to buy as soon as the next installment hits the stands, and then at the end, wants to gather together for ease of re-reading. If a reader can wait it out, then we as creators need to re-evaluate our work. Seriously.

And here's the more optimistic side of the coin from Johns:

BUG: Apart from event books and maybe the occasional guest appearance or team book appearance, this is the first time I recall you doing a Bat book. What was it about this project that finally attracted you to Gotham?

GJ: Three words: “Gary Frank” and “freedom.” Obviously, I love long form storytelling. ... BATMAN: EARTH ONE allows Gary and I to break the restraints of any continuity and focus on two things: character and story. Add to that the idea of working on a line of graphic novels instead of being limited to twenty-two pages, it’s a challenge and I love a challenge.

Sounds good to me.

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