My interest in DC’s straight-to-DVD animated features – New Frontier, Green Lantern: First Flight and the like – has been piqued recently with the release, to a generally positive reception, of Justice League : Crisis on Two Earths. I’ll hopefully be getting hold of it to review here at some point soon (along with, possibly, some of the other films), but in the meantime, reading about it gave me the impetus to look back over one of the comics upon which it’s loosely based – and an early work from one of my favourite creative teams, to boot – namely, this Morrison and Quitely standalone OGN from 1999.
Only the second collaboration between the pair – following 1996′s Flex Mentallo – Earth 2 sees a slightly rawer Frank Quitely than we might be used to nowadays. The traditional and thicker inking calls to mind his work on the likes of New X-Men and Authority – as does the occasional bluntness in some of his facial work, a feature that’s undoubtedly improved over the course of his career. But there are nevertheless some cracking examples of the unconvential storytelling and point-of-view placement that would later define his work, and he’s helped also by an excellent colourist in the shape of Laura Depuy. And the group plane rescue sequence that introduces the JLA to the action is wonderfully choreographed, and the sort of thing you could imagine opening a Justice League movie.
The story itself, meanwhile, is something of a fun romp – perhaps a shade lightweight (if well-suited to the book’s length, which feels roughly equivalent to a three-part miniseries) but nevertheless constructed around a cracking hook. It’s not just that it’s a parallel universe where everything’s flipped, as there’s a long tradition of that in the DCU anyway (whatever you might say about DC in relation to other comics publishers, alternate realities are something they’ve always done best) – but rather, the individual, smaller high-concepts and twists that Morrison is able to tease out of that larger premise. It makes sense that even a “good” Luthor would have a certain level of arrogance about him, for example; while the realisation that an “opposite” world would mean a reversal of standard comic book rules about just who tends to win is an inspired moment, shown best by the subtle hints about how even the “good” Commissioner Wayne may be susceptible to unchecked power. Still, the inevitable stalemate brought about by that twist does leave the book suddenly grasping at a fresh antagonist – for both sides – to give its final act some dramatic impetus, and the threat doesn’t wholly convince. But it’s a minor quibble in what is otherwise a terrifically entertaining little story.
Though often overlooked in favour of later collaborations, Earth 2 nevertheless stands as a fine example of what the Morrison/Quitely partnership is capable of. It’s a strong continuation of the lively, well-characterised and idea-driven tone of Morrison’s earlier JLA run, and as a spiritual sequel to that series, stands up there with its finest stories. Whether the film can live up to it (or whether indeed it takes much inspiration beyond the superficial) is another question, but there’s no denying that it’s a cracking bit of source material to want to draw from.