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Subj: Earth-2 #19 - New Legends... The Resistance Begins.
Posted: Thu Jan 09, 2014 at 08:40:33 pm CST (Viewed 528 times)
In DC Comics' a preview of the latest instalment of EARTH-2, we are presented with a selection of pages showcasing what turns out to be a very surprising reveal. The significance of this reveal is something we shall just have to wait for to fully unfold, but if this new character does turn out to be a series regular then it sends the yet-to-be-named Justice Society into a very fresh and unprecedented direction... in that alone new writer Tom Tyler is to be commended, new characters are being introduced who are a twist on established ones, but can he add depth to them while the world is being constantly held on the brink of the apocalypse?
Last issue we had the rag-tag band of heroes in disarray and falling to the onslaught led by Evil-Superman, now an apparent convert of Darkseid's sent here to make the earth ready for a new order. No trace of the heroic Superman remains, instead we are treated to Evil-Superman doing what Evil-Supermen do, and generally chewing up the once beautiful scenery of this book. Elsewhere a new Batman has risen and in typical gruffness has set about taking charge of the resistance and being cryptic and mysterious. Between them these two pseudo icons have taken over this book and the characters we followed for the first seventeen issues are now relegated to a near bystander status. Earth-2 is moving... but in what direction is impossible to predict at the moment.
But enough of the baggage, let's focus on the issue itself.
It has been a rough time for Earth-2 these last four issues, the world has turned upside down and now finds itself once more under invasion by Apokolips forces, this time the odds are even more bleak than previously as the World Army technically no longer exists to fight them and in place of Steppenwolf the unstoppable might of an Evil-Superman is controlling the flow of events. As we open up the issue we see Evil-Superman retreating from Arkham bunker with the Flash, Mr Terrific and Tery Sloan in hand, there is a deep irony to the moment as unknown to him not only is Batman deep below him in the vaults but so too Is his (once) beloved Lois Lane and pal Jimmy Olsen, now inhabiting the android body of the Red Tornado. These two are gradually plotting a resistance against the Man of Steel, and providence is with them as already they have found new allies and potential weapons to be used in the oncoming fight. Over the skies come Parademons, their arriving from out of the direction of the Sun is an excellently rendered shot from series bedrock Nicola Scott. Scott's work this issue is typically brilliant, she has an almost filmic quality to her work and without a doubt Tom Tyler's debut would not have flowed as well as it does without her on board. Scott is the reassurance the book and the reader needs at the moment, because whatever vision Tyler is following it has had the unfortunate effect of tearing apart everything that James Robinson had carefully crafted over the course of 16+ issues. Whatever his destination ends up being for this storyline it will have to be something that not only replaces that world but strengthens it, and that is a mighty tall order at present.
As Batman prepares to retreat from the bunkers remains his newly liberated acquaintances are clearly in search of a leader figure, i.e. him, to help them decide on their next course of action. It is Jimmy Olsen though who makes the decision as he brings up a further mystery prisoner he knows of in the vaults around them, one of Terry Sloan's special cases. Even Arkham's guardsman Sato hasn't heard of this 'special' prisoner, though given the bunkers hidden use as a storage for unusual criminals it seems strange she would question this claim. The whole set-up for the bunkers hidden cache of criminals and super-humans is not only morally dubious but illogical given the context of the series' mythology - why would a secretive branch of the World Army go to all this trouble of rounding up a mix of hardcore villains, political dissidents, and nuisances like Jimmy Olsen? All kept is stasis no less. Was there not a war on to occupy them? What was the plan here...?
With the Red Tornado's input the gang now know the mystery prisoner is further below them, so here then is where the recently freed Queen Marella of Atlantis gets a moment to shine, in a spectacularly rendered double page shot Nicola Scott shows off the ex-Queen's power and authority s she smashes her way through the floor and proceeds to sweep aside the waiting guards - this is, without a doubt, one tough lady!
Hit head on with a mobile cannon of some description Marella is also clearly invulnerable, and yet as we learn she is the last Atlantean left alive thanks to the World Council she is still capable of mercy. Quite what her motives are in so easily siding with these strangers is unclear, taken as a political prisoner she is a stranger in a strange land here, perhaps she recognises fellow outcasts then.
Reaching the objective Batman and Co now have to consider what and who is on the other side, an alien or so Jimmy says, perhaps a martian someone suggests, which begs the question as to how well this earth is aware of other worlds out there. Certainly apart from Supergirl and Superman we have seen no indication of other aliens existing here, none were present during the Apokolips War, so is this earth and its universe sparse in populated planets perhaps? Either way Batman is preparing for anything. But one of the guards breaks silence to assure them there is nothing to fear, she will swipe the door open as they must's scare 'him'... And so the door opens to a view of what looks like a very comfortable lounge area, and startled but pleasantly surprised young man who steps forward to greet them!
Evil-Superman meantime has landed at the White House and dumps his three prisoners on the lawn while he sets about chewing on the scenery and doing 'Evil-Superman' stuff... like pontificating to the camera's present about how evil he is now and tearing up the Washington monument to pulverise the White House.
It is impossible to take this Superman as anything other than a cardboard cutout. There is no depth or emotion to him and Tom Tyler makes no attempt at presenting him as anything other than yet another banal take on an 'Evil-Superman', if this is indeed the previously seen Earth-2 Superman brainwashed and not some hollowed out cadaver animated by Darkseid then it doesn't reflect well on the Superman mythos, Superman is stronger than this, he doesn't fall into this sort of extreme behaviour unless he is effectively lobotomised. But then like much of Tom Tyler's run so far there is so little background to go off an informed opinion here is hard to make without actually knowing some of that background. The same goes for Batman to some extent. And 'Aquawoman'. And Jimmy Olsen. And... anyway, is Val being lined up to be the new Superman?
This is the reality of the book now; a cast of strangers. Potentially interesting characters in their own right but with such chaos around them hard to focus on just what it is we should be investing our interest in. For instance back in the Bunker Batman and the gang are warmly greeted by the youth we learn is 'Val'. Val isn't a prisoner here though, rather he is here for his protection, or so Terry Sloan has convinced him. But as he draws near to Batman he collapses in agony. Batman intuitively knows then who and what the boy is, as he fishes out a chunk of Kryptonite from his costume! Val is a Kryptonian.
Here then is one of the great strengths of the book, the ability to constantly spring a surprise. How Val came to be on earth, whether he is fully powered, and what he has been up to we can only wait to find out, Terry Sloan found him while he was still Commander of the World Army so presumably Val has not been here long given Sloan only accepted the station relatively recently. But is Val from this earth or could he be from somewhere else? We know Sloan is aware of other earths, he has seen them, but then why talk the boy into a willing stay in the Bunkers deepest recesses? From what is Val fleeing? Why didn't Sloan brainwash this asset in the same way he did Michael Holt? I don't imagine all these questions will be answered, that isn't the style of Tyler's run so far, Tyler's creation of a black Kryptonian is an inspired choice, not only is he a completely unexpected addition but Tyler plays a neat trick with Batman and friends, as well as the Reader, by priming us to expect the worst. This stranger inside the vault can't be trusted, that's why he's there. Except... actually he's a nice normal kid. No anger, no resentment, just glad to see someone come to see him.
Meantime floating directly outside the demolished White House Evil-Superman is still chewing the scenery. In a rambling speech he blusters on how humanity is blessed to be invaded and crushed by Darkseid, according to this mad prophet earth is of interest to the New God because Apokolips is dying, which is an odd thing to say given this planet of evil is already accepted as a dead lifeless world. Perhaps then it is a case of Apokolips' resources exhausting? Whatever, Nicola Scott's work is what sells it, the whole sequence with Evil-Superman could easily have descended into the worst kind of sensationalist froth in the hands of a lesser artist, but Scott's choice in the layouts, her use of half-page shots mixed with tight and small panels, all of these are what sells the scene and forces the reader to engage with the sense of reality she presents. As Evil-Superman froths his dogma at the watching crowds outside the ruined White house though a sense of incredulity takes ahold as having just watched this one-time symbol of hope destroy the nations presidential house and likely killing dozens or hundreds, the crowd not only are shown crowding him but recording him on their aloft cellphones!! Bizarre.
Behind him on the lawn are Sloan, Terrific and an unconscious Flash, along with another of Darkseid's servants Bedlam. Where Bedlam came from I have no idea, he's just there. Obviously having survived the obliteration of Dherain no less. As with all else we know nothing about Bedlam, he is a telepath of some sort and has taken an interest in the two men, Sloan questions the villain on whether Darkseid will appear but is dismissed. There is a pointed reference to him having travelled to other worlds though, Bedlam knows this and so do we, but in pointing this out here is Tom Tyler hinting at our mystery Kryptonians origins perhaps? It seems illogical for this boy to have been here on earth and not announce his presence or be noticed by Superman or others. Neither is it easy to think he would lay low through the horrors and desperation of the war with Apokolips. But Bedlam has plans for the two men as they have the knowledge to devise a means for Earth to be shunted into Apokolips' dimension, why we can only wonder, Mr Terrific though shows his integrity through and through by point-blank refusing any help, to which Bedlam responds he will not give him any choice given his telepathic powers... Sloan is his first target, and Bedlam gives him his due as he notes Sloan has several very effective plans that could destroy them! A belated nod to just how dangerous Terry Sloan is, I just hope Tyler doesn't throw him away after this as he is by far one of the most interesting characters set up by James Robinson. But perhaps too interesting and deep for this shift to a dumbed down Earth-2...
How old is Jimmy Olsen? As Batman and Co head to the surface with the barely concious Val sounds outside alert them to war, Marella tells the clueless Olsen he is too young to have heard these sounds and bizarrely Batman asks for the boy to be blindfolded as his photographic memory would retain everything he sees on the other side of the doors. So consider this a moment - The Apokolips War ended five years ago. And Olsen with is too young to remember this? He has a photographic memory... so given the undoubted recordings of the War, of which we saw Alan Scott mark in the first issue, Olsen has never seen any of this? And he shouldn't be exposed to what's happening outside the doors? What about later? The world is being invaded by Apokolips once more and Batman is worried about Olsen seeing it?! Bizarre. Illogical. But again typical of Tom Tyler's woolly plotting.
As Tornado makes off with Jimmy we see that Batman has arranged Air transport from Hawkgirl, who has presumably drawn a blank on her investigations in the orient concerning the death of Alan's partner Sam and the mystery of the Apokolips pipeline he was involved in. Just one more loose end Tyler ignores completely from Robinson's reign.
But in a neat coda to the issue we switch back to what is left of Dherain, a dead country, but with something stirring. Something Green...
The new imperative of Earth-2 is for it to be a book with an awful lot happening and no time for idle chat, this is a world at war, so Action Action, Action.
On the surface level this works well, Earth-2 is a very eventful and fast paced read, the opposite to James Robinson's more laconic and measured pace. What it pays for this with is any sense of this being a book with a longterm plan, if the war ended tomorrow and Evil-Superman was sent packing earth would still be a smoking scarred ruin even at this early stage of the war, two such wars inside a decade is more than it can endure, so it does beg the underlying question as to what the books future will be. In all likelihood all of this is leading to the anticipated big meeting with the Justice League next year, an event that is rumoured to involve Darkseid and will presumably settle Earth-2's fate going forward, but as yet Tom Tyler has yet to really prove himself, anyone can tear apart a book like this, but it's world building that is the true measure of talent.
Tom Tyler may be banking on this being the book that will cement his name, despite it being radically overhauled overnight into being a reflection of his reviled Injustice:Gods Among us, and in one sense he is successful, Batman's presence adds a strong leader figure that creates and galvanises what is quickly becoming a very effective fighting unit. There are some all new characters who are genuinely intriguing additions to the cast, and they are being given some time to shine within the context of events - It is no coincidence that The Flash is left unconscious throughout the issue, and even Hawkgirl's brief appearance is mostly in shadow. This is the new wave of heroes in the making. Despite it being at the expense of the regulars I can see the value of this move, Earth-2 has been a book that has progresses slowly under James Robinson's watch, and it is easy to see why some nervous editors might have been concerned by this despite the very robust sales, but while the new cast is largely welcome by me the means by which it has been implemented are not. I have said from the start of Tom Tyler's run that this is a storyline that doesn't stand up to any close Scrutiny, lots of things are happening, it's all very exciting to watch, but not a lot of thought is going into it. It is riddled with holes and a lack of logic to proceedings. This a book that is in the process of dumbing down and going for the common denominator in the audience, quite how the once stable and healthy readership of the book will react to it will be told in the shape of the resulting sales figures. And perhaps of some small concern for DC is the fact that James Robinson's All-New Invaders launches imminently. A direct and deeply ironic answer from Marvel Comics to Earth-2 that could conceivably rival and exceed it in sales. Even draw some Robinson fans away from EARTH-2 in favour of superior plotting.
Take this issue for what it is, don't think about it hard, and it is a very entertaining and exciting adventure, I must stress that. It is Nicola Scott who must get the praise this issue as her work is absolutely magnificent, along with finisher Trevor Scott and colourist Pete Pantazis she had defined the books identity these last eighteen issues, this issue has so many fine panels and reaction shots it's hard to select a particular favourite, the fate of Red Arrow is a particularly well crafted moment, as is the subtle awkwardness of Lois Lane/Red Tornado's body language. But it is the realisation of Queen Marella that is of particular note - a strong and beautiful woman with the touch of the exotic about her. It is very apparent that Scott enjoys drawing her as virtually every panel she is in is a cut above most of the rest. In terms of impact Batman too is shaping up as a solid presence, the similarities to Bruce Wayne's Batman are so striking that I am unsure as to how they can operate so identically in both methods and manner. The red trimming his costume is inspired, whether it actually signifies something we shall just have to wait and see, but with the Green Lantern once more stirring to life I do hope Robinson's stated intention of him becoming the leader comes to pass. Batman has a place in this book, but it really should not be at the cost of swamping out the actual stars of the book...
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