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Subj: Earth 2 #11 - When Fate Calls...
Posted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 05:22:53 pm EDT (Viewed 586 times)
It's the second part of this story reintroducing the legendary Doctor Fate, and the main theme in this latest issue of Earth-2 is finding the courage in ones self to become selfless, which as young Khalid is gradually discovering is what makes (Super)heroes different to normal people.
As we saw last issue Khalid Ben-Hassin is the young man destined (or cursed?) to become the modernday heir to the power of an immensely powerful ancient egyptian sorceror called Nabu. After Khalid unearths Nabu's final resting place one of Nabu's ancient enemies, Karel Wotan, is now also on the trail of Nabu's legacy of power too, and having found Khalid in the company of Jay Garrick and his mother has whisked them off into a limbo dimension, where stands a magnificent tower edifice within which a fearful Khalid had sent the helmet containing Nabu's power upon rejecting its lure some time ago. As Wotan holds Jays mom hostage the duo enter the tower to find the helmet, but are met by the guard dog protecting this place...
Issue #11 here is a remarkably slick book. Very satisfying on all levels. I have to say this early as over the past year I've ranged between lukewarm to pleased where this book is concerned. Not since the first couple of issues and the 'zero' issue have I been genuinely impressed however.
It is largely due to the plotting and slow pace of progress that has bothered me, it's not been a bad book, just all too often average is all. Too much of an emphasis on worldbuilding rather than focusing on the characters and seeing this world through their experiences. What this issue managed for me though is to achieve both, and boy does it work as a book.
Confounding expectations writer James Robinson makes the opening chapter set in ancient egypt and the final confrontation between what was then Wotan, and Nabu, as he was before he died. This scene is noteworthy on a number of grounds, foremost being that this is our first dip back into history in this book, previously there was no reason to believe superhumans existed before the modernday arrivals of Wonder Woman and Superman, though on the other hand the existence of the Olympian Gods does point to a precedent of sorts. Here we see the Earth 2 version of Nabu, and he is a younger man that any we have previously seen, what his exact role here is is unclear but given Hawkgirl was revealed as being linked to ancient egypt and Nabu's legacy there looks to be another world to explore here in Nabu's court. As Nabu confronts Wotan above the Pyramids at Giza it's the art of Nicola & Trevor Scott and the coloring of Alex Sinclair & Co that steals the whole show, it is absolutely stunning to look at visually, so too is Scott's design work on both Nabu and this female incarnation of Wotan. The contrasting styles of Wotan's wild nordic manner of dress with Nabu's cultured egyptian visage sets up what we can safely assume is a both clash of radically different cultures and a brazen power grab by Wotan, she wants Nabu's power, his craft, to which he contemptuously dismisses.
This tale is actually being narrated in the present by the modernday incarnation of Wotan, a fresh faced, green skinned male. As Khalid and The Flash are in the Tower searching for Nabu's helmet Wotan is passing time by talking with Jay's mom. Again, the art is wonderful, Wotan casts red mystical energy while Nabu casts blue, Wotan did earlier hint that Nabu was channeling chaos magic in the name of order, which ironically mirrors Mordru's technique back in the original JSA series!
So is there a significance to these color coded magics? Is Wotans symbolising chaos energy while Nabu's is more order orientated? Hmm, I think we may find out. Wotan hinted that he was working for an organisation collecting magic, there's a lot more going on here than appears, but I'll return to this later.
Wotan's story to mrs Garrick explains his origins as a sort of perpetual reincarnate, centuries ago somewhere in the area of scandinavia he was a female, a tribal witch with great status, in a bid to give herself immortality she cast a spell that went wrong and instead of longevity she was granted an ability to transfer her memory to another body elsewhere in the world. Not quite the same thing as reincarnation so Wotan says, but close enough. In her third incarnation she went after Nabu, which in hindsight he admits was a sizable error of judgement, defeating her Nabu sensed that she would not truly die at his hands so as a punishment and a warning to himself and others of her true nature he marked her - in future incarnations Wotan would now have the curse of having pale green skin. The eternal price of challenging Nabu.
As I said in a previous review Wotan is actually a very old DC villain, going all the way back to the Golden-age in fact, but he was always such an odd character with his green skin and near inpenetrable origin as a reincarnate, to say nothing of a bizarre personality, it is a real wonder he was used as often as he was in the modern era. What James Robinson has done here is quite remarkable really as he hasn't changed much of anything of Wotans origin. And yet for the first time ever Wotan feels fresh, accessable, and has a certain charm in personality that makes his a major villain on the Mordru mold. Indeed this story is very reminiscent of the one that launched the JSA back in 1999 as well as reintroducing Doctor Fate, perhaps Robinson is guilty of recycling the plot but this is sufficiently fresh and engaging that it doesn't matter a bit.
For The Flash and Khalid though things are looking quite bleak inside the tower with it's otherworldly dimension and vastness, the guard dog of this retreat is a four legged giant mystical beast reminiscent of Garm, the guard dog of Norse Hel. Flash's speed saves them but the place's shifting architecture is baffling to navigate, only Khalid due to his link to Nabu's helm has any vague idea of where they should head. In a rather clunky poorly done scene Khalid is asking Jay what he's going to do and fawning at him when he admits he'll just do his best and face the beast while Khalid sets off to find the helmet - the purpose of this page of back&forth is to show the uncertain Khalid being inspired by Jay's bravery, "God man you are so brave." he says. It's a scene that had to be done to help set up what comes later with Nabu but it jars badly with Robinson's usually more subtle character set ups, Khalid is a reluctant hero, but what he doesnt realise is that Jay isn't that much different to him, it's just that he has accepted the power he has and decided to use it proactively.
As his mom it telling Wotan, Jay has low self esteem, but he has a heart of gold and is far more capable and brave than he will admit to himself. This is a truth we've seen played out since the first issue, Jay as a character is simple, uncomplicated. He might be best described as a drifter, unambitious, but this is what will make him work so well with Alan Scott when they meet - Scott is the exact opposite! And these type of opposites do tend to make for the strongest but unlikely of friendships.
So, The Flash and Khalid seperate. And Khalid is immediately contacted by Nabu's voice, even now Khalid is unconciously still deferring the problem at hand as he expects Nabu to help Jay, not himself. And to be fair his hesitance is as much sourced from the experience he had previously with the helm and the overpowering nature of Nabu's spirit within it. This is something most Doctor fate's since the Golden-age have endured themselves, most notably Kent Nelson, wearing the helmet has always tended to make the wearer schizophrenic and depressive, hence it being more like a curse than anything actually benign.
For Khalid the exact same Fate is in store, he's already suffering from it, but Jay's simple bravery and outlook are what are now driving him. And as Jay catches up with the beast he's looking likely to be needing any help he can get...
Cutting away we catch up with Steppenwolf and Fury in the country of Dherain, and Fury actually speaks this time out! In her last appearance she was puzzling due to her silence but here her relationship with Steppenwolf is laid out a little more clearly, there seems to be as much a child in Fury as warrior woman, her deference and need for approval point to someone who isn't quite as old as they look. Stepenwolf is sending her after the son of Highfather - in a moment no one could have predicted it turns out Mister Miracle and Big Barda are not only alive but have been hiding out in the ruined Gotham City!
It's great to see a quick glimpse of these two again, slightly redesigned but looking very energetic. Although coded Steppenwolfs exchange with Fury suggests that Miracle & Barda have been stuck here on eath 2 since the end of the war, not this is very odd, Steppenwolf had to hide when the link to Apokolips was severed as he was the mastermind behind the invasion, so what is the reason for Miracle & Barda's going to ground and staying put in the ruin that was once Gotham?
I'm sure things will be explained, but it is ironic as in a sense they are the Earth 2 versions of the Worlds Finest Duo of Huntress and Power Girl!
In the Tower meanwhile Khalid picks his way through a maze of tunnels while conversing with Nabu's voice. To Nabu this was all Fate, Khalid was fated to find his tomb and become his modernday successor, Khalid is more suspicious as he suspects Nabu is after a new body, not a successor, but Nabu is an adept discoverer of truth and he quickly gets Khalid to admit that he's after the power partly so that he can unlock the reasons behind the death of his guardian Kent Nelson. So Kent Nelson was Khalids legal guardian? And there's a mystery in there? Nice. As was fated Khalid finds the chamber with the helmet floating ready for him, Nabu is reassuring him that come what may he can at least find comfort from the side effects of wearing it as long as he is in the Tower, the tower will be his retreat from the stresses and demands of the role. And as with Alan Scott's conjuring the ring in a nice bit of rationalisation James Robinson gives a reasoning for the name Khalid will adopt - "Dr Fate. I am after all a doctor of archeology, and picking part of the name at least gives me the illusion I have a choice in all of this."
One last moment as Nabu asks what has changed his mind about accepting the maantle, to which Khalid points out Jay Garrick's simple and casual bravery. Perhaps this was all meant to be, and it was Jay's destiny to inspire him to become Doctor Fate.
That's a nice tribute to Jays selflessness, but also rounds off the general themes of the story, of doing one's best and thinking of others and the greater good. One of the themes that has become evident in this book is that choosing heroism and doing the right thing requires a fair degree of sacrifice. We've seen Hawkgirl is unable to lead a normal life anymore, the Green Lantern lost his partner and similar to Khalid is now a slave/servant to a mystical force of uncertain aspect, and even the Flash can be said to have had to sacrifice a normal life to satisfy both Mercury and his own conscience.
But, as Khalid realises, this world could benefit enourmously from him choosing Nabu's gift. And so, in the end, he has no choice after all. He's off to rescue Jay and face Wotan... and he has finally realised that such was always his fate. Continued Next Month...!
In Earth-2 the focus on mystical characters and magic is hard to ignore. So far we have The Green Lantern, The Flash and we have just learned Hawkgirl gained her wings mystically as well. Wonder Woman and her daughter Fury are of mystical descent of a sory and James Robinson has alluded that the Atom's power has an unearthly aspect to it as well. Now add Grundy, Doctor Fate, Wotan, and Nabu to the scorecard and there is the unmistakable picture building that Earth 2 is built largely on the power of magic.
Wotan is apparently working for a cabal with an interest in gathering magic and mystical lore, and given we know Kendra and Khalid were sent to find Nabu's tomb by the World council we have found Wotan's possible partners. That the council would want to find out about magic can be justified by the still fresh scars from the Apokolips invasion, one of the very reasons they brought in Terry Sloan was in order to better prepare for a possible 2nd invasion and build better counter measures. Sloan of course is a war criminal and not to be trusted, so is the Council corrupted or is it just doing what it feels is necessary for the greater good? Hmm, given we only see them in shadow I'm inclined to think there isn't much in the way of a benevolent motive behind their actions. So too does Commander Singh apparently.
Could Sloan be in control? He controlled Michael Holt after all, he could similarly co-opt the council yes? Well maybe. The interesting point about the Council's sending Kendra and Khalid after Nabu's legacy is that at that time (before the first issue) there were no active mystical characters, so why an overwhelming interest in collecting anything magic? This is but one line of questioning this months issue raises, questions and sub-plots are always the sign of a healthy book and the way Robinson is going he could end up drowing in them!
Once again I have to commend Nicola Scott and the coloring of Alex Sinclair & Co, they really so bring this world to life and make this a great book with Robinson's ever imaginitive ideas. I don't think Scott is responsible for the updating of Doctor Fate and Mister Miracle, that's likely to be Brett Booth, but both designs are well considered. Like Orions more sleek look Mister Miracle's hasn't sold out the actual original design, just streamlined it. Doctor Fate benefits most from the uses of color but, frankly, has too much gold in his uniform. The armoured look makes somme sense given his helmet, and he crackles with energy and light, but it is a very busy look and a bit hard on the eye. Hopefully it settles down before long.
Next time it's Fate versus Wotan, these two have a history going all the way back to the 1940s but this is definitly the most interesting depiction of Wotan there's ever been, he's very reminiscent of Marvels Loki in that he is capable of great charm and has an air of slight effeminacy to him... an unearthliness.
Plenty to look forward to next issue then! I can see this book is a slow boiler, James Robinson builds up his characters slowly, seeds plotline after plotline, and lets it all simmer for longtem usage. Nearly every character in this book has more than one subplot attached to them as well as several questions looming in their background. Looking forward to learning what Mister Miracle and Barda have been up to hiding in a shellhole for five years...
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