Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Earth 2, Volume 1: The Gathering Review (James Robinson, Nicola Scott)

What if, like the first story arc of New 52 Justice League, Earth was attacked by Parademons except the Justice League – or Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman anyway – managed to stop them but were killed at the same time? The planet would be saved but the Age of Wonders (superheroes) would be over. And then one day new Wonders started appearing again … That’s the premise of Earth 2. 

Earth 2 isn’t among the worst of the New 52 I’ve read and it’s actually not bad in a mindless-entertainment kinda way. James Robinson’s versions of Golden Age characters Alan Scott/Green Lantern, Jay Garrick/Flash, Al Pratt/The Atom, and Kendra Saunders/Hawkgirl are mostly enjoyable. You get the broad strokes of their characters and understand their motivations – the bare minimum needed when creating a story. DC have also decided to make Alan Scott gay, probably as a cynical attempt to appear modern and forward-thinking, though I was glad (GLAAD?) to see it didn’t become a major story point like it has in Batwoman where her sexuality is brought up nearly every damn issue. I get it, she’s a lesbian, I don’t care, just give her a decent damn story for once! 

Though Earth 2 is an ok book, there are a ton of weird scenes and plot holes that stand out. That first issue alone was nuts. HOW did Superman die again? Wonder Woman gets literally stabbed in the back in the most unimaginative death scene I’ve ever read. And Batman sacrificing himself for humanity? Fair enough but I kinda expected it to be a fakeout and there’d be a panel at the end where Bruce is sat in an Italian cafĂ©, grinning. And even though there are more than 3 superheroes in Earth 2, once Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman die, that’s it – Supergirl and Robin both die off-page, because the script says so.

Then we get the new superhero transformations which are arbitrary as hell. After Alan’s lover is killed in a train accident in China, the New 52 version of the Burning Bush appears, a green energy mass claiming to be the Earth’s energy, and tells Alan that he’s going to be the planet’s Green Knight which is what Swamp Thing is often referred to. And the enemy of the book is Solomon Grundy (why?!) who’s controlling the Rot that’s killing the planet. That’s right, they’re peddling out the Rotworld storyline again from New 52 Swamp Thing/Animal Man! 

All of which suggests that Alan Scott should become Swamp Thing but this is Earth 2 where everything’s ker-aayyzee so he’s going to be something else. The green energy, still giving Alan the hard sell on becoming it’s Green Knight, then says “that power will shine forth from you as it would the light from a lamp” – at no point are lanterns mentioned at all! So he should become either Green Knight or Green Lamp! But no, he’s Green Lantern because the script says so.

Jay Garrick’s backstory is pretty anachronistic too. Mercury falls from the sky and lands near him as Jay’s lamenting out loud his directionless future! Hawkgirl doesn’t even get a backstory, she just shows up fully formed! The Atom is your basic military tool following orders. Even Mister Terrific puts in an appearance too (but since he’s never mentioned again I guess it was a blip? He is a terrible character though so the less we see of him, the better - Mister Terrible!). 

Grundy on the other hand is a pure cardboard cut-out. He’s appears for no reason other than the new Wonders need an enemy, his motivation is something generic like taking over the world and the Grey that’s taking over everything is helping him because the script says so. 

Despite all this, it’s enjoyable enough fluff for a generic superhero story – neither offensively stupid nor is it clever or original enough to make it stand out – until the jaw-dropping finale. Why jaw-dropping? Because it completely rips off The Avengers movie ending, beat for beat. 

The set-up is that Solomon Grundy and his Rot have infested Washington DC and the Wonders sent in to fight them can’t stop him. So in the secret army HQ, not unlike SHIELD’s helicarrier, some shady government types on large screens side by side order a tactical nuclear strike on the capital to wipe out the problem. A billionaire in a power suit (Alan Scott/Green Lantern) goes into space to divert the nukes, deals with the threat, then, his powers used up, falls to Earth and is caught by a team-mate before he hits the ground (Hawkgirl rather than Hulk). The day is saved! I can’t believe, in such a blatant copy-cat scenario, Alan didn’t say something about getting ethnic fast food somewhere nearby! 

How did this get past editorial? Did no-one say “Uh, this reads a lot like the finale to the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time…”. I just can’t believe how shameless it is. 

The last 2 pages of the book though made me laugh because it was so unexpected. However, it does raise a recurring problem DC has with its superhero teams: they’re all colossal dicks to one another! Why do they even need supervillains to fight when DC is so interested in having their superheroes fight each other? It’s soooooo stupid, annoying, and beyond boring at this point. What, the Flash is going to die? Exactly. Kudos on Green Lantern speaking his mind though. I agree with him but like Superman in the JLA, that kinda thing should be unspoken because there’s no team/series otherwise! But I am curious to see what happens next so, while it came out of nowhere like a sucker punch, it worked. 

Nicola Scott’s artwork is serviceable at best. She may be a fine artist but you couldn’t tell from this book which is drawn in DC’s bland house style (very busy pencils, over-packed panels). I didn’t hate it but I definitely didn’t love it. The character designs are awful. Flash’s outfit is just bad (that helmet!) and the Atom’s mask is a freakin’ balaclava! That’s probably not on Scott though, I’m sure a higher-up like Jim Lee had the final say on the look (man, that guy’s New 52 redesigns have all been crap haven’t they? Time to retire, Jim!). 

Earth 2 definitely isn’t a must-read series and it’s certainly not doing anything new, despite the potential to, but considering the dearth of readable New 52 books, you could do a lot worse. It’s an ok big dumb superhero comic, and the lower your expectations going in, the more you’ll get out of it.

Earth 2 Volume 1: The Gathering

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