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Subj: Earth-2 #18 - Darkening Night.
Posted: Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 05:35:38 pm EST (Viewed 530 times)
For DC Comics reviving the concept of their Parallel earths and the Multiverse was never going to be an easy task. DC introduced the concept of other earths and heroes back in the dawn of the Silver-age, when Barry Allen's career as The Flash was still young, and over the course of the next two decades and more Earth-2 became the firm fan favourite of their multiverse, a multiverse that would slowly evolve to include an Earth for the newly acquired Captain Marvel and his menagerie of supporting characters, subsequently another earth was introduced specially to designate the newly acquired Charlton Comics - Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom, and so on. All of this was a gradual development, a natural evolution of the concept that could both serve their main earth which housed the Justice League or as an entity in its own right, with Captain Marvel getting his own short lived book set on 'Earth-S', or the Freedom Fighters on the Nazi controlled world of Earth-X. Decades were spent developing this framework...
Which brings us to the latest issue of the relaunched Earth-2. There is an awful lot going on in new writer Tom Taylor's second only issue on Earth-2, but while the book looks busy does this sound and fury actually signify anything of worthwhile substance?
It's a question that echoed at the back of my mind throughout reading it, as while busy the book has undergone a change in the last three issues that feels like it heralds another of DCs now notorious editorial dictats to drive sales and garner attention. Hence - more action! More characters! More danger! More Carnage! More mystery! Just... More!! Of everything.
Opening up in the ruined Arkham bunker our first point of contact, reassuringly, is Michael Holt, Mister Terrific. Terrific has had a rough time of it since landing on this world back in the second issue, assaulted then brainwashed into becoming the personal slave of Terry Sloan, rescued and deprogrammed by the Sandmen and World Army, and now resurfacing as Commander Singh's operative. It's past time Terrific came under the spotlight and we find out what his feelings are on his new situation, and yet while he gets quite a bit of time in the light here none of that much needed introspection is forthcoming. Instead his role unfolds is as defacto leader and organiser. This pro-active approach is quite appropriate given his intellect and historical role, but with everything he has gone through there really did need to be some insight into how he is dealing with the events that have led him here, rather than just react to what is currently going on with Superman's assault on the bunker.
Assessing the situation in the collapsed rubble of the Bunker Terrific is answered by Terry Sloan and by a wounded and trapped Commander Singh, at first look it seems like Writer Tom Taylor is ready to cull Singh, fortunately though he is still alive by issues end. Singh is one of the titles successes, a carefully crafted bureaucrat with a conscience, playing political chess with the rottweilers of the World Council, and the duplicity of the cunning Terry Sloan. It's ironic that this collapsed bunker is left with these three characters, but Tom Taylor is either oblivious to their history and enmity or he simply doesn't care. A lot of James Robinson's carefully orchestrated character interactions and subplots are either ignored or outright contradicted by Tom Taylor, and while that is his prerogative to do so it is the loyal reader who will in the end pass judgement on this inattention to detail.
Outside the bunker The Flash and surviving troops gaze up at the hovering Superman, a twisted version of the hero they watched die back in the Apokolips war, Superman appears to be inspecting the bunker for something, we know that it is probably Lois Lane, but the Flash doesn't want him to find whatever it is he is so interested in, plus the Bunker needs to be evacuated, so attracting his attention the Flash draws Superman away by inviting a chase... It's a curious tactic, quite what the Flash thinks this will gain I'm unsure about as he knows he has nothing other than possibly superior speed when comparing to Superman and that any reprieve the bunkers survivors get will be brief indeed.
But Jay has always been presented as more brave and optimistic than a tactical sort. He wants to give the army a chance to evacuate, and despite the futility of that given this is a murderous Superman he will buy them some time. He hopes.
Deep under the bunker Major Sato confronts the Batman, who wants the prisoners stored in stasis there, in keeping with the mystery surrounding the character there is a cryptic exchange between the two about a 'past' between her and the previous Batman, whether this new Batman is lying or not we cannot say, but Sato dismisses his claim that the previous Batman knew her and spoke highly of her. Perhaps then it was Bruce Wayne she met rather than Batman. We may never know. For all the world this new man in the role could be Wayne, the manner is broadly the same, the tactics are identical, the gear they use is the same, and they both inhabit the Batman persona in such a natural and confident way that the effect on others around them is one and the same - fear and intimidation. The similarities between the two men are uncanny.
As he casually disarms a stunned Sato he is unprepared for the sudden arrival of the Red Tornado, Lois Lane! This is the second example this issue of artist Nicola scott using a double page spread to show Lois' arrival and her pinning Batman, I really don't see why it needed two pages devoured just to show her and Batman's confrontation, but this issue as a whole does have a very noticeable reliance on full page shots, and either the deadlines were too tight or this is a sign that DC are deliberately repositioning the book away from Robinson's literate fare and fashioning as an all action set-piece affair to draw in their preferred audience. She of course was familiar with Bruce Wayne as Batman and thinks this is him, but surprisingly comfortable in her new robotic body she is unprepared for what Batman's reply - incredibly he prises free her grip!
As moments go it is quite subtle, she is stunned but we can see that this is a good indicator as to this new Batman's true nature, either he too is not quite human or he is a meta-human. The mystery ever deepens.
Whether Earth-2 needs a Batman is debatable, more debatable still is whether it needs an evil Superman, still keener is whether we need Lois Lane... resurrected as a robotic Red Tornado. But if this is all a little dubious and strange the familiar faces don't end with these three...
Batman breaks free and selects a stasis tube, three prisoners he says he is here for, and this one is a woman, dressed in white and at first glance might be an ice queen, but as Batman abases himself before her majesty" we are treated to another full page shot by Nicola Scott. Clearly Batman's liberated prisoner is of some importance then.
Meantime the Flash races the world, with Superman in pursuit. Beginning to fear his pursuers unflagging pace Jay's prime concern is buying as much time as he can for the bunker personal to clear the building, but this notion is ended by Superman's use of his 'Omega Beams' to bring Flash to a stop. Surely Jay is dead? Nah. Superman decides his power can be useful for Darkseid's cause. Ho-hum.
Back in the bunker and the Mister Terrific, Sloan, Singh enmity is sure to erupt yes? Terrific not only has a major reason to dislike Sloan but has a debt to settle, so naturally none of that happens.
It is good to see Terrific take charge, leadership is his natural role and while Sloan may have shown himself to be technically smarter than he is being a genius is entirely separate from being charismatic and gifted. While Terrific is pro-active and tells Sandman to teleport Singh out the usually cold Sloan balks at the notion of having to face Superman. Even when Terrific give a moral lecture Sloan chooses cowardice and recants his duty as the co-leader of the World Army, which sits uncomfortably with what we have been given previously concerning his convictions. Sloan's intellect is his predominant trait, it overrides his emotion to such an extent he is incapable of empathising with anyone around him. No greater example of this cold dispassionate logic is seen in his calculated reasons for detonating the cities that formed the firepits in the Apokolips war, millions died, but to him this was a decision that came from pure logic. Not for a second did he feel anything from it. Such a man is a villain yes, a dangerous man, but a calculating one. Sloan proved his intellect, and also proved he could be a threat to Superman by exposing him to prepared Black Kryptonite. In all the right ways he is the Lex Luthor of Earth-2. He does not fear and run from such as Superman. But Tom Taylor decides he does...
Not that he gets the chance to run, Superman returns, with the Flash his catch. Clearly Superman is being intended as Darkseid's avatar, I talked about the impossibility of his being so a couple of reviews ago but as this issue unfolds that particular plot-hole is being joined by others, Tom Taylor makes the issue busy and eventful but it is at the expense of just about everything James Robinson had previously set up. An awful lot has been swept aside to accommodate this sudden turn in the titles direction, and I have the growing suspicion that much of it is unlikely to be picked up on again.
In control of the bunker Superman contacts Bedlam, one of his fellow soldiers while under Steppenwolf's command, I was wondering what had happened to these and given the immense power Steppenwolf's death released they could have died along with Alan Scott, but no, Superman orders him to open the gates... Batman and company meantime are releasing his second target from stasis and this one as we learn is one of the World Army's shadiest secrets, a political prisoner who's crime is hacking and divulging government secrets to the public. In other words think 'Wikileaks'. The army made this chap disappear, imprisoned without a trial or fuss. And this kids name? James Olsen.
Jimmy Olsen. Really. I can only say I worry about the direction this book is taking.
We finally learn the woman in white is Aquawoman, presumably an atlantean equivalent to the Justice League's Aquaman. A political prisoner? This is an intriguing development, while I am ambivalent about the need for a lois lane and jimmy olsen Aquawoman at least has some originality about her. Like Hawkgirl she has no counterpart on Earth-1 and can stand by herself with her own inimical identity. So potentially a welcome addition to the cast I feel and a good decision as she is all-new and not a reworking of an old character. This is what Earth-2 should be aspiring for, not running to the overused and clichÃ© tropes of Batman and Superman.
Olsen it appears is a metahuman, with an ability to interface with IT technology, the ultimate geek! At Batman's prompting he uses a cellphone to connect to the internet and update himself on world events in an instant. Unimpressed with Superman's wicked return Olsen refers to him as "a douche", an unfortunate term for an horrific mass murderer and potential genocidal worldkiller... there's the strong implication to be had here that Olsen wasn't particularly close to Superman on this earth, how could he end up in a stasis tube if Superman was looking out for him? But his attitude is so self centered and unemotional it makes me suspect he might well have deserved to be put in that tube. The kid shows no responsibility or concern for anyone.
Being uplinked Jimmy sees the scale of the threat, as the firepits dotting earths surface begin spewing parademons, here at Superman's orders. Nicola Scott renders these scenes with perfect detail, aided by colorist Pete Pantazis the view of the firepits dominating the cities skylines are both ominous and unearthly, permanent reminders of an unholy war with gods. The pits are active with more than just flames now, hundreds of parademons pour from each one, the War has returned to Earth-2...
Earth-2 #18 was on the whole a decent read, as much as I dislike many elements of the new creative reign it is too early to pass a fair judgement on it all as the destination is as yet unclear. It is very easy to fear the worst, Tom Taylor appears to have swept aside James Robinson's work in favour of stamping down a very bleak direction that mimics his work on Injustice:Gods Among Us, and the easiest thing in modern comics is to let slip any editorial control and joyfully destroy everything, just for one great sales push. Destroying characters and books is one of the reasons DC had to reboot two years ago, so to see them repeating that corrosive formula here rather than build on James Robinson's successful conservative formula is disheartening. Destruction is effortless, worldbuilding is not.
Nicola and Trevor Scott are on art, and are as always exceptional talent, but the heavy use of splash pages does undercut the overall quality. It may be imagination but their work here while of a very high quality does seem to have lost some of the shine of their work under James Robinson, a part of this might be the shift in colour tones by colourist Pete Pantazis, Under Robinson's reign the colours were generally bright and fit the mood, under this new grimmer reign though the sharpness and brightness are significantly diminished. According to the text Steppenwolf's death resulted in a continent being destroyed, so if skies are instead a darkened brown or orange there is at least a reason.
As the parademons emerge from the pits one wonders vainly on the dangling Steel/Red Torpedo subplot in Rio, or whether the trail Hawkgirl was following links to these developments with Superman's return and the obviously pre-planned Apokolips invasion. As it stands though it looks like an impossible set of hurdles for Earth-2 to overcome this time... the World Army was destroyed by Steppenwolf three issues ago, Alan Scott is missing presumed dead, Doctor Fate is broken, The Flash injured and prisoner, all in all the odds are insurmountable. Somehow what is left of a handful of earth's heroes have to not only replicate the victory of five years ago but also find some way to defeat or turn a Superman who belongs to Darkseid.
Either way, it is difficult to see this shattered earth ever recovering.
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