Keith had been planning this event for a long time and he always had the unusual format of the issue in mind — an entire issue of full-page panels with one third of the page left for a text description of what happened. I don’t remember how it was decided that the narration would take the form of a news account from Devlin O’Ryan, but the idea made sense and gave us a chance to really build on Devlin’s background as a journalist. The more I think about it, the more I think that exact approach to the text was also Keith’s idea.
What a daunting challenge, though. We wanted to depict Devlin as a very talented writer, but obviously he couldn’t write any better than we could, and it was going to be hard in any case to live up to challenge of writing the story of the destruction of an entire planet. And in this era of re-boots and continuity do-overs, it probably doesn’t seem like that big a deal, but at the time, we regarded this as literally the end of the “real” Earth of the DC universe.
It’s a fairly simple story -- the destruction of the Dominators’ underground chambers several issues earlier had set off a chain reaction in the tons and tons of radioactive “proton jelly” earlier Earth generations had buried deep within the planet to rid themselves of an ecologically disastrous by-product of their energy-generating activities.
It eventually becomes obvious that the Earth is not going to survive and the authorities evacuate as many people as they can, though it’s impossible to save everyone. A network of domed cities created in the 28th century has the capacity to launch into space, and about 100 of those cities are still operational enough to make the attempt. By the time they all take off, then link in space and then plunge into the buffer region between our dimension and the Bgtzl dimension, several cities are lost and a total of 94 survive. They’ll ride out the actual destruction of Earth from that buffer region.
Ultimately, the evacuations have to be halted as the end approaches and about 2 billion people are left behind. The Sandman character Death makes a cameo when the destruction comes, as the planet is lost in a blinding flash. Jason Pearson does powerful work in this issue and the two-page spread that shows the actual destruction really has a lot of impact.
Devlin’s story dwells quite a bit on the tragedy of a population destroying its own planet through ecological neglect, and it’s a message that certainly resonates in this decade of foolish global-warming denial.
The emotions our text elicits relates a lot to what we were going through personally back then. In the months before we wrote this issue, my brother Carl died and we lost one of our pet birds through a silly mistake on our part. The sorrow and regret those events generated in us were certainly channeled very directly into this script.
This was a tough story to do because I didn’t enjoy hitting the readers with this jolt after they’d slogged through the grim, bloody Terra Mosaic. But that’s the way life is – it doesn’t let up on you because you’ve had a few bad days. Tragedy comes when it comes, whether it feels properly paced or not. And this was a daring, innovative story that was challenging and rewarding to be a part of.
I also felt it set up a good dynamic. The “New Earth” collection of domed cities was an interesting, useful setting for the “Legionnaires” series and I think it would have been very rewarding to stick to this continuity and see a gradual restoration of Earth through the coming years, probably with the technological support of R.J. Brande’s star-birthing business.
I’m glad we let this story happen off panel and present the events retrospectively, because it would have been all the more grim and wrenching to experience the destruction “live.” And I would not have wanted to live with this storyline over multiple issues, as would have been the temptation had we told it in conventional issues.
As I recall, our issue came out almost simultaneously with the Death of Superman issue, which made it a very memorable time in DC history. Our event did get the comic a mention in USA Today, which is probably one of the very few times up to that point the Legion comic had gotten any notice in a national general-interest publication like that.