"Anybody can become angry, that is easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy." - Aristotle
he world of modern superheroes can be an unpleasant place. But as based on the evidence in this latest installment of Earth-2 the unpleasantness does not always come from sources other
than the titular heroes in question.
Hundreds of thousands dead in the last few weeks alone; with millions more suffering the terror of invasion, starvation, and lawlessness. Yes, Earth-2 has grave problems. How then do right minded folk react to these circumstances? Does the crisis of War against a common enemy bring out the best in people and unite tribes, or does it take a strong man capable of rising up above his kin, of enforcing his will over the masses and inspiring such passionate faith that he alone is accepted as the power which binds the masses?
As yet Earth-2 offers no firm conclusion on the matter. Written by Daniel Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, and Mike Johnston, Fate & Fury
is the latest story of this title that instead offers an unflattering and damning verdict on Authoritarianism in all
its forms. Any person with the power of state or higher authority is simply not to be trusted. At all.
Last month Mister Miracle is privy to the revelation that his Father, and New Genesis' revered ruler, made an unholy pact with his eternal enemy that consigned the world of Earth-2 to Darkseid's administrations. Highfather willingly gave Earth to Darkseid, knowing the Billions of lives that would sentence to death and worse. Before that revelation though the world is given back its mightiest champion Superman, only to find he is now a zealot and study of Darkseid devoted wholly to their destruction. The embodiment of elected government The World Council folded into irrelevance and impotence at the reality of the second coming of Apokolips, leaving Amar Khan on his own to rally what was left of the World Army and plan counter assaults. Khan would heroically sacrifice himself in a futile effort to limit Apokolips' ability to scar the earth...
So for this months Earth-2 the focus is moved to the whereabouts and actions of the wise man Nabu and the Queen of Atlantis, two of what remains of earth's most powerful and influential forces. And as we will see further proof of the anti-authoritarian stance by which this book, and the broader DCU, operates by today.
Against the backdrop of the Worlds End series and the tightening grip of The New Gods' destructive power the team of Daniel Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, and Mike Johnston deliver an installment of this title which is a marked improvement over the recent feeble efforts. If one were to set aside the never ending wave of misery and destruction from the ongoing war then you can enjoy a story that is about the abuse of power and the awful costs of hubris.
This issue marks the welcome return of Khalid Ben-Hassin as Doctor Fate. After a lengthy bout of madness he is one again coherent and now wrestles with the conciousness of Nabu inhabiting the helmet he wears. Nabu's position as earths most powerful sorceror comes with an unsurprising degree of arrogance, born in ancient egypt his is a pride and outlook direct from that era, and with freedom to roam in Khalid's body that arrogance has reached new and dangerous levels as he prepares the cautious Khalid for a direct strike at the heart of Apokolips itself... in Nabu and Khalid one can interpret the thematic struggle of two generations. The younger Khalid disagreeing and dismissing his elders declaration and bluster as the reckless arrogant reactions they are. In Atlantis the besieged Queen Marella similarly appears to have fallen into madness and reactionary measures, freeing an elder god to aid in Atlantis' survival and now bizarrely threatening full war on the surface world and those who imprisoned her. This despite her seeing firsthand what it is earth, HER earth, faces with Apokolips' arrival and her firsthand experiences that actually not all surface people are bad.
Madness. Or perhaps another sign that plot requirement trumps established characterision. This woefully schizophrenic characterisation has been an affliction throughout this Worlds End exercise, the fact that the book has three writers credited is one clue as to what the problem is, another though can be seen in the simple fact this whole storyline is clearly mandated by the marketing department at DC comics, and not writers concensus.
As Marella is interrupted and reasoned with by her Captain of Guard absurdity abounds further as we see the Captain point outside Atlantis' fringes to an ocean that has... completely dried up.
As the Captain points out to Marella that the now evaporated ocean her land sat below is a result of the great Firepits and the assault of Apokolips the reader can be forgiven for shaking their head at the absurdity of the scene. That Marella was oblivious to such a minor detail as a dissapearing Ocean above and around her, and by relation to be left wondering why Atlantis, and indeed the world, is unscathed by such a catastrophic event...
As Marella's collapse into impotent rage is occurring the powerdrunk Nabu has taken Khalid to the court of Apokolips. Here at least the story works very well, with Nabu's sense of superiority and entitlement an already well established facet to his character there is no need to to stretch the imagination that he is capable of such outragous behaviour as this. The most powerful sorceror to walk the earth, what has he to fear? As we discern some of Apokolips' history and stature we follow Nabu/Fate as he seeks out The Hall of Lore, a repository of knowledge and arcane weapons. And it is not unattended.
The scenes of the two attendants are suitably horrific given the place and what we have seen of others of Darkseid's servants. Unnerving to look at their threat is advanced by Arcanis' casual naming of Khalid and the sense he knows full well who and what Nabu is. As a story device this is a neat device, Nabu brought Doctor Fate here convinced of his own superiority, in one casual address the lowly minion of Darkseid casts that supposition on its head. Arcanis' assistant is a chillingly scarred and stitched prescence, a Warlock subjugated by Apokolips in much the same way as we guess Fate will be Arcanis then delivers a surprise move by insisting that this silenced figure of a Warlock will not resist the Helmet of Nabu... he is not attacking Doctor Fate, he is making the spirit of Nabu an offer... An offer Nabu, without any hesitation, accepts.
'The reader can be forgiven for shaking their head at the absurdity of the scene. That Marella was oblivious to such a minor detail as a suddenly dissapearing Ocean above and around her, and by relation to be left wondering why Atlantis, and indeed the world, is unscathed by such a catastrophic and rapid event...'
Nabu has betrayed the earth, and his chosen host Khalid. For a more powerful host devoted to evil. But if Nabu thought this was his
host he is mistaken and a victim of his own ego. The trap is sprung and the sorceror discovers the price of arrogance.
The scene is a well crafted example of power corrupting. Nabu's long imprisonment inside the Helm is certainly a factor in his rash presumption of superiority and entitlement, with vast power comes a sense of self belief and invulnerability, it may be the case that despite appearances he intended to use this new host to further the war against Darkseid, but with such a casual dismissal of his chosen host Khalid the sense of any trust one might have in this figure is broken. Nabu's authority will forever be suspect.
What humililation then, or perhaps it is a contrite courage, that the fleeing Khalid is contacted by the voice of the now compromised Nabu. Forced to grovel to the man he rejected as his chosen one, how chastened must Nabu now feel beng forced to do so, knowing that he has no one to blame for his Fate but himself and his own preening pride.
Perhaps though even in this chastened a form Nabu still has a sense of greater responsibility, as quite rightly he tells Khalid that whatever feelings he has against him it is the greater good of earth that is the only consideration at hand. In its simplest aspect then this is the equivalent of Ben Parkers seminal lesson to Peter Parker - with Great power comes great Responsibility. The tainted flawed elder spirit bestowing his wisdom on the next generation, whether Nabu is genuinely repentant is at present not important, it is Khalid who has the true power to affect and shape the present and future, not Nabu.
There is an irony in the situation here. When Khalid first accepted the mantle of Nabu it was due to the pursuit of one of Nabu's old foes Wotan. Wotan sought Nabu's Helmet as his own and the spirit of Nabu opposed this offer in favour of Khalid. Here today the Helm is given at first willingly by Nabu to the sinister Warlock, then reneged as Nabu's control is overruled and he is left with no say in his new host body. As Khalid returns to the chamber to confront the Warlock for the Helm it is doing so once again with Nabu's blessing and advising voice, a replay of the two's struggle against Wotan!
With the Helmet and its power worn by the Warlock the odds appear utterly hopeless, but as Nabu told Khalid he himself has the power to overturn the odds. And with nothing but courage, conviction, and a muttered spell this is Khalid's moment to deliver on that prediction and prove to all the right he has to be the wizards successor, Doctor Fate. Khalid's decision. Khalid's victory. The Helmet is once again his to don.
By finally asserting his own authority so firmly Khalid also asserts his own identity. Nabu's authority was flawed, dangerously out of step with the greater good, the more cautious Khalid will approach a problem like Apokolips in future in the company of his friends and allies. Together acting as both guardians and moral light to other below them looking up. While it appears the authority figures on Earth-2 have failed their people and are no longer welcome as a result perhaps then leadership and inspiration will result from the twin virtues of example and courage. A display of which we see glimmers from with the nascent rebirth of superheroes, but of which only a Justice Society will be able to deliver in the longterm...
Andy Smith and Cliff Richards share the pencil art duties for this issue and the result is a solid well co-ordinated effort. On the whole this was a good issue, a story with a purpose and some welcome genuine character growth in the form of the long neglected Khalid Ben-Hassin. As ever the flaws in this now endless storyline are deep and worrying, when rereading the James Robinson/Nicola Scott debut of Doctor Fate again the overall deterioration in the scope and depth of Earth-2 are all the more painful to see...