There’s a piece of example art, a small cartoon about a man leaving work then entering into his daily commute home (but the plot twist comes as, that commute is via rocket-pack), that Will Eisner uses to make a point in his book on comics pedagogics, Graphic Storytelling. It’s a piece from Eisner’s own illustrious body of work, but I can’t get to the name right now. I could get at the name if I wanted, and writing as little as one generation ago, I probably would have needed to. And the ref is real easy to come by. The piece is more than likely referenced in Graphic Storytelling itself, and not even in the notes at the back of the book, but right there where the cartoon is excerpted. And it’s not like Eisner’s book isn’t on the shelf right beside where I write. But after Google, after Napster, after Facebook and Twitter, after everything these last few years, that’s not the way the world works anymore. Not when anyone can reach out discover the title for themselves. Not when we’re all at an equal distance to every kind of information conceivable, even if that distance is as close as “only a click away.” In this world, after everything we’ve been thru digitally, culturally, it just doesn’t work like that anymore. After everything we’ve been thru, it’s better for me to just kick back and turn up H.I.M.‘s Uneasy Listening.
There is a point to bringing together popcultural moments as cognitively dissonant as Will Eisner referencing his own work in Graphic Storytelling and the sorta, kinda, oughta be opus of His Infernal Majesty. It’s a thematic that deals in the magic of secret identities, parallel lives and the extension of those into parallel worlds and alternate realities.
Eisner himself makes the point, in fact movingly so, in Graphic Storytelling exactly where he references the rocket-packer comic. And the point he makes is this, that the power of the denouement in that rocket-pack commuter lies in the ordinariness of the framing. Eye-level, medium-shot panels tell the entire story of an ordinary man in an ordinary hat-and-coat leaving a nondescript office. Then bang, the rocket-pack ignition and takeoff. Eisner himself makes the point that had the creative choice been made to tell the lead-in using nothing but worms-eyes and birds-eyes, the story would have been too surreal from the get-go and the power of the denouement would have been diluted.
Uneasy Listening scans as exactly this kind of surrealistic mega-mix that Eisner cautions against—where excessive individuated creative moments dilute the greater impact of the work as a whole. It’s not the showcase for a genre the way Metallica’s Black Album is, Uneasy Listening I mean, nor a thematically compacted (near-miss?) opus like …And Justice for All, nor an evangelistic conductance of metal sensibilities into a folk rock genre like Re:Load. Nor even for that matter, Linkin Park’s debut and follow-up albums, Hybrid Theory and Reanimation, the latter more a reexamination than remix of the former. It’s not that the individual tracks on Uneasy Listening aren’t any good, it’s that, well, what’s the Big Idea? What’s the grand creative statement? And there must be one, must. What else can be expected from a title that simultaneously evokes and critiques an entire subgenre of music, “easy listening”? “Kenny Loggins we’re coming for you,” Uneasy Listening seems to promise, and then they don’t.
So that’s where we are. With Uneasy Listening, we’re left stranded in a kind of parallel world where the usual laws no longer make any sense. What Tom Waits meant when he said “Everything’s broken and no one speaks English,” or what Deleuze wrote of Hume, “Thus Hume has a particular place in the history of philosophy. His empiricism is, so to speak, a kind of universe of science fiction: as in science fiction, the world seems fictional, strange, foreign, experienced by other creatures; but we get the feeling that this world is our own, and we are the creatures.”
Writing at the height of popularity of his JLA, Grant Morrison takes an entirely different tact to H.I.M. Who would have thought that without second-tier Justice Leaguers Barry Allen and Hal Jordan (the Flash and the Green Lantern respectively, who were the heart and soul of the original League, and who had by that time long since been replaced with successors Wally West and Kyle Rayner), the League could once again have the impact it once had in the DCU? Well Morrison pulled it off.
So read JLA: Earth Two because great science fiction in the Deleuzean sense, because it is a familiar world and it’s mirror image locked together in a single conceptual ecosystem. Read Earth Two because it works as Eisner says it should, with a powerful, unexpected denouement that capitalizes on simplified, articulate story structure. Or read Earth Two because it succeeds in a way that shows us all how much the DCU of the New 52 has itself become an alternate mirror image of the DCU of days gone by, without having compromised quality of storytelling. Read it because it’s not so much a roadmap, but a reminiscence of the characters that now haunt the pages of Forever Evil.
Please enjoy our exclusive preview of JLA: Earth Two, the deluxe edition.