Wednesday, June 5, 2013

New Comics Wednesday: Earth 2 (DC New 52)

As long-time readers of my blog know, I fell away from comics in the early 90s, shortly after the first issue of X-Force (the "original") came out. Comics just didn't seem fun any more. They seemed to be about variant covers and an endless parade of new #1 issues designed to appeal to speculators instead of fans, and all that, as we know, eventually led to a long, dark period for comics producers, sellers, and readers.

Today's spotlight for New Comics Wednesday is about a new title that's part of DC's New 52 Universe - a "second-wave" title (meaning that it wasn't one of the original New 52 titles, but a replacement for a canceled book) called Earth 2.

What I love about this book is its sense of fun, which honestly is lacking in quite a few of the New 52 titles. DC seems to be trying to mimic the success of Christopher Nolan's Batman movie trilogy and apply those sensibilities to every comic. Gone are the somewhat goofy Silver Age references that I grew up with.

Alas, "my" DC Universe that I grew up with as a kid is officially gone, until such time as DC decides to resurrect it via yet another reboot (unlikely) or through the ever-popular mechanic of a parallel Earth in an alternate universe (somewhat likely), which of course will then be destroyed in an event that involves the word "Crisis" in the title.

Let's get back to Earth 2 and what makes it such a great comic.

As a reminder, I avoid any spoilers of current storylines playing out in the comics. Also, this is intended to be a summary of the title in general. A new issue of Earth 2, #13, came out today, but I won't be picking it up until I visit my favorite local comic book store with my daughter after picking her up from daycare this evening, so I can't speak to the specifics of what's going on with this week's issue.

Quick Background on the "Parallel Earth" Concept
If you don't read comics, specifically DC Comics, you may not be familiar with the concept of "parallel Earths." To summarize it as quickly as possible - Superheroes were "invented" in the late 1930s and came to true popularity during World War II. Familiar characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the "Golden-Age Flash" (the guy with the winged helmet and blue pants) and the "Golden-Age Green Lantern" (the guy with blonde hair and a purple cape) had tons of adventures, many of which involved defeating the Axis Powers from World War II.

After the war, superhero comics took a dip in popularity, and only a few certain heroes were able to maintain their circulation (including Batman and Superman), while others, like the Flash and Green Lantern, ceased publication. In the mid 1950s, there was a superhero resurgence of a sort with the creation of the "Silver Age Flash" in Showcase Comics #4, which featured a brand new Flash, Barry Allen and the guy with the classic red and yellow costume that most of you know. This new Flash kicked off a whole series of new comics, and superheroes from the past were resurrected and brought back to life with new names, new powers, and fancy new costumers. Most of the DC Comics heroes we think of today, like Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, are actually these second-generation Silver Age heroes.

However, there were some problems with this - you had these "new" heroes who eventually came to interact with older, semi-unchanged heroes like Batman and Superman, who had been established as having been around 10+ years earlier fighting the Axis during World War 2. The writers eventually retconned this issue by creating the idea of a parallel Earth that housed all of the original Golden Age heroes, and saying that the Earth with the Silver Age versions of the heroes was the "primary" Earth of DC Comics. This opened the door to create fun cross-over events where characters from the Golden Age Earth 2 ultimately encountered their Silver Age counterparts on Earth 1 and worked together to defeat scum and villainy and all that jazz.

Ultimately, this gave rise to hundreds of parallel Earths, most of which were eventually wiped out in a series of events like "Crisis on Infinite Earths." At the creation of DC's New 52 in September 2011, it was assumed that most of the parallel Earths had, once again, been retconned out of existence. A few months later, a new title was announced...

What's It About?
Earth 2 is about the heroes of, you guessed it, Earth 2. With the complete reconstruction of the DC universe that took place in the wake of the "Flashpoint" event and the development of the "New 52," this Earth 2 is actually not the repository of the old Golden Age heroes any longer. Instead, it's an opportunity to tell stories of alternate versions of the "Trinity" (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman), as well as the Flash and Green Lantern, while also introducing other long-time DC characters such as Hawkgirl, Dr. Fate, and Solomon Grundy, who (so far) don't exist in the "primary" New 52 Universe.

So far, the series seems to be focusing on five main characters: the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, Dr. Fate, and the Atom, explaining how each character got their powers and how they came to work together in a loose representation of the old Justice Society of America.

Similar to the primary DC New 52 Universe, Earth 2 was invaded by Darkseid and his parademons and other minions from Apokalips, but on Earth 2, the damage was far, far worse, and drastic steps were taken to defeat Darkseid, resulting in some far-ranging effects that have dramatically changed the world of Earth 2 permanently. This isn't just a copy of Earth 1 with different heroes. It's completely different, with elements like a world army that is trying to control the heroes (who are called "wonders" on this Earth), and pockets of the world that are still controlled by minions of Darkseird who were left on Earth 2 after the gateway to Apokalips was closed.

Who's On the Creative Team?
Earth 2's writer has been the excellent James Robinson, a writer from the other side of the pond who has written a ton of great stuff over the past two decades, including work on Grendel, Batman, Superman, Detective Comics, Action Comics, Justice League of America, and more. He's probably most famous for his work on re-inventing Starman and subsequently the Golden Age Justice Society of America, which of course makes him the perfect writer for Earth 2.

Robinson handles characterization very deftly in Earth 2, helping make the reader care about characters that originally, on the surface, seem uninteresting or kind of annoying. As a reader, you become invested in the characters and this is completely due to Robinson's ability to make each character seem real - we care about them as people, not because they can run fast or create things with their power rings.

Sadly, Robinson has announced that he'll be moving off of the title very soon, making the past few issues a bit bitter sweet for me. I like this new universe that Robinson has created in Earth 2, and I'm a little unsure how another writer will tackle what seems to be a very personal book for Robinson. Time will tell.

Pencilling duties on Earth 2 have mainly been handled by Nicola Scott, an Australian penciller and inker who got her start in comics in 2001 after switching from a brief acting career. Her past work at DC includes Birds of Prey and Secret Six, along with a few stints on Wonder Woman and Superman before landing the job on Earth 2. Her work on Earth 2 is extremely imaginative, and she has the ability to make things look intricately detailed and magical at the same time. Scott's character-work is top-notch, with each character having an artistic style that matches their richly created persona as developed by Robinson - there's no confusing one character for another, with either the writing or the art. Scott's background work also shows immense detail, which is something that a lot of artists unfortunately get lazy about given the time constraints of pushing out a monthly comic.

Artist Yildiray Cinar filled in for Scott on two issues (#7 and #8). Cinar, from Istanbul (not Constantinople), has worked on a variety of comics for DC, including Action Comics, Teen Titans, Legion of Superheroes, and the Fury of Firestorm. His style is quite different from Scott's, making his two issues not quite fit into the overall style of Earth 2 as developed by Nicola Scott. Thankfully, regular inker Trevor Scott (no relation - as far as I can tell), inked Cinar's pages as well, providing some consistency.

Who Will Like It?
This is a great title that can be read completely independently from the rest of the DC New 52 titles. It's the only title, so far, that takes place completely on Earth 2 and doesn't really have any ties to the primary Earth of the New 52, with the small exception of another title, Worlds' Finest, which features two characters from Earth 2 who were accidentally transported to Earth 1 and are trying to find a way home. However, everyone on Earth 2 thinks those two characters are dead, so they're not even looking for them. It's makes Earth 2 an excellent standalone book and a fun way to re-discover a bunch of classic DC heroes again in a whole new way.

This is a straight-up superhero title, so if you're not into heroes with capes, look elsewhere. However, you can also view Earth 2 as almost a war, or post-war, comic. The Apokalips invasions devastated Earth 2 in a way that didn't happen on Earth 1, and the repercussions have colored everything that's happened in the title.

There's also quite a bit of intrigue and mystery behind the world army and the guy who is calling the shots. I won't reveal who it is for those of you who are trying to avoid spoiler alerts, but it's been interesting seeing his behind-the-scenes machinations.

Lastly, one of the things I like about Earth 2 is that, since it's the only title taking place in this universe, you get a whole combination of a bunch of different types of powers. There are heroes powered by magic, by gods, by science, by nature... they're all thrown into the mix together, unlike in the main DC Universe where you have to grab Justice League Dark to read about magical heroes, both Animal Man and Swamp Thing to figure out what's happening with the Red and the Green, and various other titles to get heroes powered by gods, etc. In Earth 2, Robinson mixes these all up together to give you a full picture.

Any Good Fodder in Here for My Role-Playing Games?
Of course there is, but if you've read my other comic book reviews, you knew I was going to say that. Just thinking beyond borrowing ideas for a standard superhero RPG, you can also get some great ideas on how to incorporate magical heroes into a more mainstream superhero game, and borrow ideas on living in a post-war world (not quite post-apocalyptic, but more just the effects of living in a world that is recovering from what amounts to an alien invasion and how that would affect governmental and military operations going forward), and of course there's the very premise of the book itself as an idea for an RPG - having a parallel Earth and how that could be a fun and unique place for your characters to explore.

The main villain of the story also provides a good role-model for a GM looking to find ways to give his villains more depth behind the old cliches of just wanting power or hating the world for no reason.

Is It Good for Kids?
The book is rated "T" for Teen, and that's probably a pretty good guideline to follow. It's definitely not as scary or intense as something like Suicide Squad or even like some of the darker issues of Batman or Detective Comics get, but there is quite a bit of violence and many of the concepts will be difficult for younger kids to understand, such as why the world army (seemingly a "good guy" organization) is out to hunt down and capture the heroes, and why some heroes, such as the Atom, seem to be working with them. 

EARTH 2


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Homemade lemonade w/ mint
Listening: "Moose the Mooche (Quantic Remix)" by
Charlie Parker featuring Miles Davis

2 comments:

  1. Earth 2 is currently my favorite title. It draws upon classic DC properties and puts them in a fresh storyline. Of course, I tend to prefer the 'Golden Age' versions of characters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally prefer the Golden Age version of the characters. I really wish that they'd just start a kind of "Elseworlds" on-going title so we could continue to have adventures with those characters.

      Earth 2 is in my top 3 current DC New 52 titles. I'm a little nervous how things are going to be after Robinson leaves the title. Time will tell.

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