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Subj: Earth-2 #26 - The Pretender...
Posted: Sat Aug 09, 2014 at 12:45:05 pm EDT (Viewed 692 times)
"You are Afraid."
"I'm not afraid. I'm just a better man than you." - Val-Zod
Even discounting the publisher's contentious recent history concerning its creative talent It may be considered a sign of the ever increasing commercial times that with issue #26 of Earth-2, and after playing an invaluable role in crafting the revamped world of the Golden-Age Justice Society, DC Comics choose not to mark the final contribution to the highly successful series of the talented Nicola Scott.
Perhaps the oversight is a result of living in the internet age, when Scott herself can announce her departure on her Facebook age and other sites and it be old news by the time the book itself comes out. But then one must bear in mind that not every reader of Earth-2 will follow such media, and print will last theoretically forever - why then did it not occur to editorial to tack on a thank-you to Ms Scott... or at least a mention that this was her final issue? Surely this must count as a grevious oversight, made more shameful by the fact that with the ever impressive colours of Pete Pantazis delivers another superbly rendered and emotive issue of Tom Taylor's overhauling of the series.
Tom Taylor's reign as writer has been a continually improving and joyous harking back to the great teambook ethos of yesteryear, with the backdrop of the Apokolips War fuelling the motives and direction of the series the pacing is constantly electric with this and delivers no end of opportunity for genuinely likable Super-heroes and a mandate to deliver surprise developments in the plot.
In accordance with that ethos this issue according to the cover is to be new hero Val-Zod at last confronting his fellow insane Kryptonian Kal-el, in fact though the clash between these two Supermen unfolds not at all how one might have anticipated. Secrets are revealed. And preconceptions overturned...
With the execution last issue of adoptive Father Jonathan Kent the now Evil-Superman has crossed ever more unthinkable moral boundaries, as the artificial construct housing Lois Lane's brain patterns The Red Tornado is one example of resurrection with a conscience, as a direct mirror of her the also resurrected Superman highlights the question of Soul by proving in no uncertain terms has no conscience. Only an animated cadaver could be so cold blooded and missing in compassion.
Cradling the devastated Martha Kent The Red Tornado's compassion is self evident - Lois Lane wears her heart, as ever, on her sleeve. But an android with a soul is still a curious object when all she sees is relayed through her Audio/Visuals back the World Army headquarters on Amazon Island. That Lois doesn't find this connection disconcerting and distracting might suggest the artificiality of her awareness, a denial if you will, logic after all would allow her to process and accept her new status-quo, but emotion...?
Whatever the reality of Lois Lane's new existence it is Nicola Scott's subtlety which gives these questions all the more relevance, small details such as this android being able to close eyes in very humanlike grief, indeed so powerful is Lois' personality even a smile is transformed into very genuine affect. If machines can ever achieve life then The Red Tornado project might be said to have fulfilled its potential.
As Lois is forced to leave the devastated Martha Kent even the brutal murder of her husband at her son's hands is not enough to stop her leading with the departing Lois to stop him doing the same to anyone else, for his sake as much as theirs. Touching as it is it does ring as a faux gesture given the sheer unrelenting inhumanity Superman has unleashed on the world, the scale of his destruction and betrayal are like nothing else any man has delivered to the World. An unparalleled mass murderer with no possibility of redemption. But in what has become this books continuing strength surprises are in store...
Utilising an almost cinematic approach to page design Nicola Scott's use of landscape and sky throughout her work on Earth-2 is an important aspect in what it is that has actually made this world feel and read as a three-dimensional creation. With Pete Pantazis playing an integral part in her artistic realisation the tone and visual flair of the series to date has been one of largely summer hues, of warm sepia and bright sunshine. As The Green Lantern holds to earth from entering a celestial gateway into Apokolips' space it is left to the quickly moving World Army and the eclectic group of Super-humans of which Batman has gathered together. If Lois is the conscience of the book them Batman is its will. And that strength of purpose is one that appears to be most intriguing to Queen Marella, the colouring from eete Pantazis is superb in this sequence as while the sky is filled with crackling energy the overall effect given is of warm dusk. With Batman silhouetted against the redness of the sky Marella's regal bearing is distinctly one of admiration for the man. And perhaps more?
One could readily see how well these two could work together, both fighters and both fierce in their objectives. Thomas Wayne's actual credentials to be able to be The Batman are still vague, how does a medical Doctor become a tactical genius pray tell, or proficient in advanced stealth and covert operations? One day it may be explained. But surveying the Installation projecting the gateway his ruthlessness and cold calculation is in full effect, willing to simply blast the place to nothingness but aware that this approach my well not work to shut down the portal. Clearly then subterfuge is the order of the day. And with Marella's advice the strategy becomes clear.
Spectacularly rendered the earth's finest launch into their attack, Batman's Miraclo boost so potent he can flatten a Warhound with one punch! As interesting a feature as this is for his character One has to question why a Batman is being transformed into an Hourman; traditionally Batman has always operated by stealth and careful planning due in part to his human limitation, If this Batman is a physical juggernaut it then changes the formula underpinning the character and the more cerebral parts become redundant. Still, without a doubt Thomas Wayne is a very welcome addition to the mythos of Earth-2.
As the assault commences in Switzerland however elsewhere the Evil-Superman, finally, meets his match. The zealous demolisher versus the Pacifist. The question of how an affirmed non-violent character can ever hope to stand up to a murderous Superman is one that would seem to have an obvious end result, that of either disappointment or deferred victory, but here as their final meeting unfolds Tom Taylor delivers an impressive grit to Val-Zod. No longer hiding from the world the sudden confidence and courage given to him by Doctor Fate's helmet is demonstrated by a previously unseen aspect to the character. That of Maturity. Faced with a nightmarish opponent wearing the same Kryptonian standard he does Zod's strategy is for declining a hand to hand clash and instead reasoning. It shouldn't work as a scene and yet Tom Taylor's measured delivery with Scott's able realisation gives it a surprisingly plausible result. The simple art of Talk appears to be just enough to gain the Evil-Superman's curiosity, he notes Zods increasing physical strength and in what could be a slice of meta-text from the writer Zod dismisses the wearisome nature of this monotone one-dimensional cutout of a villain. The reign of the Evil-Superman is over.
Coming from the writer of the excruciatingly cynical 'Injustice' series this is a welcome and firm statement of intent - aided by the reveal yet to come.
With Val affirming his new determination to help his friends in this desperate battle for the earth the brutal Evil-Superman's progress is met by the young Zod's passive resistance, having vowed not to throw punches Zod's strategy is one of earnest and dogged hounding of his opponents forward movement, and while it may on paper appear to be a doomed strategy the actual effects in practise are surprisingly effective - Zod isn't set on actually beating the Evil-Superman, rather his is a delaying tactic to prevent the unstoppable Zealot from returning to the Switzerland base and crushing the forces attempting to shut down the Apokolips gateway. And as we follow events unfolding we see that it works.
In Switzerland The Flash and Queen Marella implement her plan, using the Flash's speed to get her inside the complex and into the central core where New God Bedlam and the enthralled Mister Miracle, Terry Sloane, and Mister Terrific watch over the portal technology they have created. It has to be said that ever since Grant Morrison redefined the New Gods some few years ago their power and status has been universally impressive. Here in Earth-2 we have seen even the disposable Parademon hordes are no easy fodder, and new creations Beguiler and Bedlam are potent enough to hold off most metahuman's, as Marella discovers.
But as Beguiler found out firsthand in the previous issue this lady is not to be dismissed easily, Marella's physical power is one thing, her other gift however is to be able to manipulate water, ALL water. Including the water in a human body.
As Bedlam falls his grip on his slaves disappears and the Portal is shut down. Which in turn frees Green Lantern to help in finishing off the Parademon hordes back on earth. It's all well constructed stuff from Tom Taylor.
But the Evil-Superman and Zod? Still battling. It might be a result of Bedlam's fall, it might be that Zod's inner fortitude is just that great, but Zod holds his ground against the inhuman crazed Superman with impressive determination. Evil-Superman even asks aloud whether Zod is just that much stronger than him. But as if in response his skin begins to calcify and crack.
Here then is the denouement to the story of Kal-el, hero and victim of the first War against Apokolips. When this hero returned unexpectedly and in full control of Darkseid and the forces of Apokolips the question was what had happened to him to so radically rewrite his personality and compassion, was he an animated cadaver powered by Darkseid's will? An imposter converted to fill the role? A Brainwashed Kal-el...? Here finally Tom Taylor at last delivers the answer to the question, and in the process raises only more.
His body cracking and transforming the confused Superman nevertheless continues to assault Val, much to Val's distress, his red eyes now turn white and one can only assume his deterioration is linked to the manipulative Bedlam's fall. As The Red Tornado arrives though she is under no doubt, this isn't Kal, it isn't her husband come back to life - this is a Pretender.
This sequence is an example of fluid and confident plotting as Lois had already called foul on the mass murdering man wearing Superman's face back in Issue #20, and here as his reversion to his true(?) form is completed we see her judgment, based on intimate knowledge of the real man, was entirely sound. With Bedlam's control fading this now shambling wreck is stood revealed as a Bizarro...
The final judgement of Lois Lane is both satisfying and a welcome reaffirmation as to the more optimistic tone of Earth-2 which James Robinson was careful to highlight in the formative issues of this series. More than any other DC book out today Earth-2 is the one which harks back to the golden age of comicbooks, the heroism, and the strong moral examples of well crafted characters. Lois' dismissal of this abomination is one that resonates beyond the immediate circumstances of the war on Earth-2 and resounds as a comment on the darkness that infects the Superhero output of DC and Marvel comics. Tom Taylor takes the opportunity here to reiterate the ethos of this brighter world and a promise that no matter what darkness comes the heroes of this earth will be more than willing to both meet it and extinguish it.
While the questions surrounding this revealed Evil-Superman remain frustratingly unanswered as the story closes it does serve as a worrying example of Taylor's growing penchant for glossing over such important plot points, last issue it was Val-Zod's abrupt switch from apathy to proactivity that jarred, before that the question of where Brutaal/Superman had sprung from after five years of never being seen or used, now we have the mystery of how a Bizarro comes to be in the service of Darkseid and apparently channeling his Omega Force.
The other mild irritant however is a tacked on ending which sees a recovered Bedlam having somehow repossessed Mister Miracle, Terrific, and Sloane, and now plotting yet more mischief using their amassed expertise in Dimensional gateway technology. An unwelcome and distracting lead in to the grinding promise of a weekly series of Earth-2 in the form of World's End...
Still, taken as a whole this was a very fine issue. Tom Taylor's right to be seen as James Robinson's worthy successor has been proven, and with his growing confidence comes a welcome willingness to try fresh ideas and exploit the alternate earth concept of the book to create something that is both accessible and appealing to follow for a loyal readership. Whether it is Jay Garrick's reassuring gentlemanliness in the face of the Queen of Atlantis, or the brusque professionalism of Batman, there is a fine understanding of the varied characters under his aegeis and what makes them tick.
A worthy climax to the Apokolips War and an equally worthy send-off for Nicola Scott the issue closes on an optimistic note, though disappointingly the celebrating heroes still have yet to adopt any group name for themselves. Are DC afraid of the Justice Society moniker?
Here's hoping that new artist Andy Smith can keep up the books exceptionally high standard and that the extraordinary talent of colourist Pete Pantazis will be there to ease his way in.
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