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Subj: Earth-2 #25 - Rise of the Supermen
Posted: Sat Jul 05, 2014 at 04:50:36 pm EDT (Viewed 554 times)
Once upon a time when a comic hit a certain landmark numbering it would automatically ensure a double-sized issue to mark the occasion, typically a special story would celebrate the books longevity or else mark a turning point in the story so far. Such books are not as common today as back then, and while not double-sized the arrival of issue #25 of Earth-2 does mark this semi-milestone by giving the title a few extra pages and a story which most definitely does follow the tradition of old in marking a significant turning point for the cast and the direction going forward - simply put Earth-2 is about the most traditional and entertaining team book on the market right now.
Evocative of the bygone days of the Shooter/Byrne Avengers, Claremont's Uncanny X-Men, and Wolfman & Perez' Teen Titans, writer Tom Taylor along with artists Nicola & Trevor Scott conspire with Earth-2 to produce a team book where the heroes of the piece are unflinchingly capable and selfless, and the challenges though overpowering are met head on with tactical ingenuity and heroic confidence. And on the crisis wracked Earth-2 the challenges are near overwhelming.
As with those classic runs the success of DC Comics' radical overhauling of this book lies in opting for a cast of characters who are both immensely likable and innately unselfish. You want to spend time with these people due to their honesty and selflessness for each other. The only other book on the market quite like this is Rick Remender's Uncanny Avengers, which is a part of a larger franchise true, but like Earth-2 Rick Remender's approach to writing is rooted in the particularly successful formula used by team books of the past, where carefully measured plot is married to a larger than life small cast of characters who are the sort of heroes so relatable and likable you wish they were real. Offering high stakes action with impossible odds to be overcome here are Two totally uncynical and thoroughly enjoyable books that are accessible to everyone.
And when compared to the crushing cynicism on display elsewhere in books like Justice League and The Avengers the differential between the old fashioned tightly focused formula for the classic team books of yesterday and the modern preference for open ended strung out arcs, endless internal conflict, and moral morbidity, is wholly indicative of everything that has gone wrong with comics since the end of Newsstand distribution. Earth-2 and Uncanny Avengers are two books that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the classic team books of the past, not so with Jonothan Hickman's glacial and pretentious Avengers or Geoff Johns' cynical and erratic Justice League.
In this spirit then assessing the events in Earth-2 #25 is therefore rather problematic, the flow of the story is highly eventful and thoroughly enjoyable, but within the presentation one can't judge or analyse it too much as it neither attempts nor pretends to be a literary masterpiece, rather it aims solely to be accessible and enjoyable to follow - It is a piece that is to be consumed and enjoyed for the pleasurable experience it gives, not critiqued for the readily apparent plot holes and lapses in logic in the plot.
Is there any reason Queen Marella should be so willing to help her mortal enemies in the World Army for example? What of the convenience of Val-Zod's uniform and then sudden U-turn in ethics? Is it plausible that Amazonia can be shielded from the outside world but still allow communications and optical input to be received? Where has Amir Khan found a new army overnight considering the Invasion of Dherain unequivocally annihilated it? Tom Taylor's Earth-2 is redolent in such questions, and yet the flow of the narrative is such that you can forgive these shortcomings. That Nicola Scott maintains such a reliable presence is no small consideration either - as without a doubt her hard work and crisp clean age layouts are a major part of the books success. This issue is a 28 page tour-de-force thanks to her, and the benefits of having a regular artist payoff in the attention to detail and their familiarity with the characters, never more in evidence than in this very issue..
With the dramatic Andy Kubert cover and pre-publicity surrounding the issue you would be forgiven for assuming then that this book is centering on the story of Val-Zod's ascension to the role of earth's new Superman, certainly the inner conflict Zod has been seen wrestling with can only ever end with one result, but in fact Val-Zod's decision and the impetus for it involve barely five pages. This instead is a story where events suddenly converge in such a sudden fashion by todays comicbook plotting standards the reader cannot fail but be left on the edge of their seats by the speed of events. Again, this is old fashioned classic team book mechanics at work. Opening up with spectacular wide shots we watch as the fleeing Hawkgirl carries the recovering Flash across the ocean, with The Green Lantern behind them blocking the hordes of Apokolips. The scale of the threat to our three heroes is gripping, we have seen how dangerous the Parademons are, with Hawkgirl only surviving a previous attack thanks to the protection of Val-Zod and intervention of Green Lantern, now with several thousand of them plus The Beguiler in close pursuit the odds look to be inevitably crushing. But things are not as they seem...
The sight of three of the original cast of this book is a welcome sight. Although the three spent comparatively little time together before the fall of Dherain and the arrival of Evil-Superman and his forces their is a natural and unspoken bond between the three. If Alan Scott, Jay Garrick and Kendra Saunders have one thing in common it is that they are all not only selfless but also in one sense or another isolated. Kendra is different from everyone due to her mutation and her bitter relationship with the World Army, Jay is an affable slacker drifting through life before being bequeathed the power of Mercury, and Alan while nominally a socialite is scarred by the murder of his beloved Partner, Sam. All three therefore share an unmentioned bond. And Kendra's determination to rescue the missing Jay from the heart of the Apokoliptian camp and refusal to even consider abandoning him to Beguiler is all one needs to know of her strength of character. From the moment she met Jay back in the third issue the common bond between the two is one of Big Sister/Little brother. This openness and emotional honesty in a character is the very thing that powered the success of Wolfman's Teen Titans and Claremont's Uncanny X-Men, a simple but truthful friendship of which any reader can wish for having themselves. Who wouldn't want friends like these three?
Val-Zod's character by contrast is slightly more challenging, but in the end no less decent. Having had the secret of his hidden costume revealed by the ceaseless nagging of young Jimmy Olsen Zod stands to us fully revealed. The light blue and White costume of Superman. Standing in the serene beauty of Amazonia the context is appropriate, Zod the pacifist contemplating his options on the island alternately known as Paradise. With a constantly questioning Olsen Zod's patience is suitably boundless, and we learn he hid the suit as he was afraid of the reaction of others thanks to the destruction and terror Kal-El has been visiting on the world. This is a reaction which fits with his nature as a pacifist, but as we go on to hear his relationship with the house of El is not what one might assume - taken in by the house of El after his own parents, scientists who challenged Krypton's high council, were 'punished' for their audacity. Their is an unspoken inference here that the Zod's were prophesising Krypton's Doom, but we can only speculate. Certainly while intriguing Zod's story raises as many questions as it answers, we go on the learn that he was one of three other rockets sent out into the universe by the El's, one being Power Girl of course, and the other...?
From the little so far revealed Val-Zod was found on arrival by Terry Sloan and kept in solitary confinement until found recently, so does he have any true emotional connection to earth? Was Lois Lane the first person here to really reach out and try to connect with him? Val doesn't appear to be at all cynical or superior, his character traits are actually in line with those of a genteel, albeit one ingrained not to show or participate in any physical or fundamental acts of aggression. One can only wonder just how representative of Kryptonian values he is, does the fate of his parents factor into his eventual decision at all or is he so forgiving? Either way one does have to wonder if young Olsen's pestering for the truth lifted a weight off him. Now stood revealed and the truth free he has no further fears from his newfound friends. But friendship demands mutual reward, is Val capable of recognising his obligations to both them and the world at large...?
Out above the ocean meanwhile The Green Lantern's willower flags before the strain of keeping the vast army of Parademons at bay and The Beguiler chooses this moment to strike. Hawkgirl and the Flash stand defenceless as the Lantern is overcome, and the undead Beguiler wants her 'toy' back from Hawkgirl.
The Beguiler is an oddity, one of the lieutents of Evil-Superman we learn that this macabre New God is in fact a woman, something not readily apparent before now I admit, from her appearance and love of torture one does have to wonder if there is a connection to Desaad, and as with Evil-Superman the question of how she and Bedlam came to be on earth-2 is a complete mystery. One of many questions in this book with no answer as yet and quite probobly will never be answered. In the short term though take it for what it is. As Hawkgirl prepares to defend the Flash with her all the pieces are finally in place for Kendra to be able to trigger the plan, and it is a brilliant feat of tactical misdirection. With the aid of Batman, Khan and their mediation with Queen Marella the trap is sprung on The Beguiler and her forces - Atlantis rises to the attack. With a massive tidal wave summoned by the Queen the Parademon army is consumed by the sea and finished beneath the waves by Atlantean troops... of course when we first met Marella said she was the last of her people, but as I said above this is not a book with any great consistency or attention to detail. Marella was the last of her kind now she is not. Just as the World Army was annihilated at Dherain but is now able to regroup and retaliate. Just shrug and move on from this...
Her Army obliterated in seconds, even the inhuman New God is stunned momentarily, until a returning Green Lantern forces her attention. It must be said DC have been very diligent in raising the stakes with their New Gods since Grant Morrison's Final Crisis, none of them are treated lightly since then, and even isolated the Beguiler proves a match for Green Lantern. But before events can progress to murder it is Jay Garrick's turn to redress with his former tormentor, and what an event! Jay isn't going to let this demon hurt his friends, no more he vows. And as he tells her he has always held back his seed before out of consideration to his passengers limitations this time, with her, there are no self imposed limits. Accelerating instantly to speeds he has never attempted he maximises his power and even this sadistic God is awestruck as she is subjected to something outside of anybody's comprehension. The speed and velocity propel them into an area of Whited-out reality that may or may not be linked to Bary Allen's speed-force, either way the Beguiler is reduced to nothing as the Flash turns away and returns to his awestruck friends in the sea.
With the extraordinary composition of Nicola Scott Jay Garrick's moment to impress is every bit the showstopper, indeed almost everybody this issue shines, but the ever affable Jay Garrick is typically so laid back one tends to take him at face value. Against the power of supposed God though it isn't the near omnipotent Green Lantern who stands his ground, it is The Flash. Ironic in a way as Jay's power was that of Mercury himself, one God Versus another.
With his lieutenant taken off the face of the earth Batman and Khan know that retaliation from Evil-Superman will be imminent, and as we move to Smallville and the Kent farm the story moves from gallant heroism to something that is dark parody. Evil-Superman has brought Lois Lane-Red Tornado to meet his parents and 'celebrate'. As an apprehensive Martha Kent prepares a dinner for four the scene is almost atypical Superman. Tom Taylor's construction of this chapter is deceptively clever in its dark use of subverting traditional expectations and showing us that 'Superman' may talk like Clark Kent, he may have the memories, but in terms of actual character there is nothing whatsoever of Clark Kent left in him. Spiritually and physically he is a hollowed out shell, a puppet of Darkseid, he has the memories of Clark Kent, but his perceptions of morality are the complete antithesis of Clark Kent's. Showing a faux respect to the Kents on the one hand and on the other blithely informing his 'Pa' that they should 'enjoy' this dinner while they are together, as when Darkseid comes his parents will be "..Far too old to be of use when Darkseid comes."
On the one hand the scene of the family at lunch looks perfectly normal and civil, it is the terrifying silence between Parents and 'son' however that makes it a genuinely unnerving sight to gaze upon. Quite how long the Kents have been living like this with the knowledge of their returned Son's transformation is left unsaid, we will never know what their precise reaction was, but then neither have we any knowledge on their experiences upon his death five years ago. In a literal and practical sense all the Kents and Superman are are props, Earth-2's story is not that of Kal-el and Bruce Wayne anymore, it is the time of Thomas Wayne and Val-Zod. This world, this book, has firmly moved on from those legends.
"Please Lois, don't make trouble. He can hear us."
Finally, as the sun has set on Kansas, the tension is too much for Jonothan Kent, and it does seem like the arrival of the Android-Lois Lane may have been the tipping point as he explodes at his 'Son'. To be fair Jonathan does have a point. His beloved dead Son is now a returned as a sick parody, an undead monster serving Darkseid and twisting the name of Superman and the Kents into histories blackest villains, now to comlete the insult their long dead daughter-in-law shows up on their doorstep as a bizarre naked red android.... his 'Son' is now joined by his equally undead wife.
Of course the difference between the two ends there. Superman is an inhuman monster, incapable of compassion or unselfishness, Red Tornado on the other hand is the repository of Lois Lane's memories and personality, grafted to the cerebrum of an android. She is at her core still the same Lois they knew and loved. The contrast is as striking as it is disturbing, as while both died over five years ago the nature and reasons behind their return couldn't be further apart. Lois was loved in life and still loves on after death, her once husband loved in life but returned without a soul and without a shred of humanity or empathy.
But this reunion dinner is anything but normal for the Kents, and Jonothan has finally had enough of living in silent fear of his allpowerful 'Son'. Which unfortunately for him means instant execution at the hands of said 'Son'....
The death of Jonathan Kent was not unexpected given we had no reason to think he was still even alive before last issue, but the moment is suitably momentous and distressing in its context. Nicola Scott chooses not to show whether he was disintegrated by the Evil-Superman's Omega Beams or instead lies a burnt husk on the floor, rather it is the reactions of Martha, Lois and Kal-El who move the scene and lend it even more of a sense of the surreal and macabre - Lois understandably denounces him utterly, Martha's reaction is stunned silence and a look which would surely cut to the soul id Kal-el still had one, but Kal-el's own reaction is disturbing in both its simplicity and twisted priorities. He sheds not a tear or remorseful glance for his now dead father and devastated Mother, but Lois' rejection is enough to bring him both to tears and a distraught "I LOVE YOU!".
As a calculated method of destroying a legend Tom Taylor's execution of these scenes is efficient and effective. Quite what it is that happened to Kal-el and whether he is really still capable of genuine emotion is a complete mystery to us, because he is a one-dimensional stock prop not meant for such deep study. And yet the lingering question remains as to whether this Superman's fate is exclusively his own or whether the same could happen to the Earth-1 Superman. We may never have a firm answer to that question.
In Switzerland Bedlam summons Kal-el to base as Terry Sloan, Michael Holt and Mister Miracle have completed work on the Stargate which will transport earth to Apokolips' space, as a feat of engineering this is extremely impressive given the limited knowledge and resources Sloan and Holt theoretically possess on this science. Over in Worlds Finest for example even Desaad has failed to recreate a Boom-tube back to the Fourth World so quite how it is that two earth men with limited experience on the subject can construct one, able to transport a planet no less, is just one more thing not to think too hard over. Fortunately the ace of this story is such that these holes can be glossed over and the reader swept along by events without dwelling on the holes.
Wasting no time Bedlam activates the Stargate and the sky above earth is engulfed in the crimson effect of the cosmic tunnel opening up in space. Green Lantern and Marella can sense what is happening. And the Lantern doesn't hesitate to take the initiative and head outto buy his world precious time for earth's forces to attack the source-point in Switzerland. It's wonderful pacing from Taylor, these are not the amateurs one might expect of people who have just recently come into power, instead as in the old traditions of superhero comics they react gallantly and professionally. Like the Emerald Gladiator of old Green Lantern leaves Hawkgirl to coordinate the strikeback with Batman as he confidently heads off into space, remarkably sure of his own power to be able to achieve his aims in holding the earth back from entering the gate.
As events race to a head the question of Val-Zod's uncertain intentions is finally addressed on Amazonia, as the babbling Khalid nonchalantly walks up to him and pops the helm of Nabu on him! The Kryptonian is given an epithany by interfacing with the power within and makes his choice. He won't kill Kal-el, but he will fix what he has broken. A neat ethic, Tom Taylor's rationale for the scene appears to be implying Khalid/Nabu chose this precise moment to use the helm damaged by Kal-el in order to show Val what his destiny should be. It is significant that Val's first action upon removing it is to repair it. As a scene it works to bridge the moment, but as a satisfying culmination to Zod's ongoing internal struggle it disappoints by essentially sidestepping the ongoing and fundamental ethical struggle Val Zod is living with and denying the reader a natural process of reaching a rational carefully considered final decision from the man. Whatever Nabu showed him is enough to trigger a fundamental change in his outlook and while the method is dubious the effect is nonetheless inspiring as Val finally rises to his destiny and fixes the damaged helm before heroically heading into space... where Green Lantern is succeeding in preventing Earth's journey through the gates to Hell. Unfortunately Evil-Superman arrives to put paid to this act, which is when Val Zod intervenes and the meeting of two diametrically opposed Titans commences. Good versus Evil never more defined and clear as this... One dressed in black, the other in White. One a mass murderer and Zealot, the other a pacifist and reluctant saviour. Kal-el has unknowingly just met his successor as earth's mightiest champion... the new Superman
Despite the lack of an official Justice Society as yet Earth-2 is triumphant in standing as a fine example of what the Superhero team book can still occasionally achieve in this 2014 insular marketplace. Without a doubt one of its strengths lies in the simple fact that it stands alone as a title, with no other related titles siphoning the momentum and attention the focus is wholly on this one isolated and unique book. Which in today's franchise obsessed industry stands as a remarkable example of what has gone wrong in comics.
Enjoy it while it lasts, with an incredible weekly series imminent for Earth-2 the omens are not good for the energy and sustainability of this titles otherwise ingenious and inspired cast. Here's hoping that the splendid talents of Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott are able to navigate a path through this oncoming onslaught and maintain a title here that can maintain the momentum and energy which make it so exceptional on the modern marketplace...
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