Review: Earth 2 Vol. 1: The Gathering hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Earth 2 Vol. 1: The GatheringJust as there's few writers I'd trust more to return Barbara Gordon to the role of Batgirl than Gail Simone, there's few writers I'd trust to re-imagine the Justice Society of America than James Robinson.

I can't help but see the Earth 2 series (the first issues of which are collected in Earth 2: The Gathering) as fitting right in Robinson's writerly sweet spot. It's specifically DC's older heroes, which gives Robinson license to delve into all the DC historical minutia he uses so well, and it's largely an Elseworlds series (though with "real universe" ties), such to let Robinson do his own thing unfettered by larger continuity, in the spirit of his Golden Age.

I have enjoyed and found interesting Robinson's somewhat controversial works since he returned to DC, namely Cry for Justice and Justice League, but now I can finally say this: Earth 2 is James Robinson's best work since Starman, one that I think will fully put him on the map again.

[Review contains spoilers]

What complaints one might have about the new Earth 2 depend largely, I believe, on the expectations the reader brings into it. For instance, I'm thrilled with Robinson's recreation of Green Lantern Alan Scott and don't mind at all that Alan's green powers now come from the Earth; his ecological bent combines Alan's mythos with aspects that hearken to his one-time love Rose "Thorn" Canton, who had plant-based powers and passed them for a time to her daughter Jade -- generally, this all seems germane to Alan Scott, and Alan's demeanor is in line with his pre-Flashpoint "elder statesman" portrayal. (Robinson also offers perhaps the most cogent ever explanation for why this hero should be called Green Lantern, and why his powers should be then summoned through a ring.)

On the other hand, Robinson's new Flash Jay Garrick evokes former (Kid) Flashes Wally West and Bart Allen considerably more than he does the Justice Society's -- and his powers, far from being science based (as science-based as super-speed from inhaling water vapors can be) are now mystically granted by the god Mercury. Granted, old-Jay and new have Mercury's helmet in common, but this is far afield from the Jay of the past, and the greater issue is Jay's personality -- it's considerably jarring to see him go from elder statesman to young turk, impetuous and somewhat naive, especially when Alan Scott beside him keeps his leadership status.

But, indeed, Earth 2 is not the same old thing, though it's clearly a tribute to it. Robinson also introduces here a new Hawkgirl (though still Kendra Saunders, whom Robinson helped create), and a new Atom, Solomon Grundy, Mr. Terrific, and the Sandmen. Each different than before, but each with echoes of the past. And in this way, Earth 2 emerges as something DC Comics has needed for a while -- an ongoing Elseworlds series, a kind of Tangent universe, though where the characters' adventures still "matter," in which the best aspects of an Elseworlds book come through on every page: getting to see old, familiar characters reimagined in new and different ways.

And if the new Jay Garrick reminds us a little bit of Wally and Bart, well, that's not such a bad thing to have around, either.

Earth 2 is a rolicking adventure story that indeed reminded me of Robinson's very first (and only) JSA arc back with David Goyer -- the gathering of the heroes, the mysterious threat in the background, and this time, and all-out battle with Grundy rather than Mordru, which seems more appropriate. Robinson builds a fascinating world here quite outside the new heroes, especially the World Army that polices Earth 2. More than just a Justice League title using different heroes, Earth 2 depicts an entirely different reality even with its own language tics, and learning more about it will keep me coming back just as much as the heroes.

Robinson has always tended toward more emotional explorations of his characters, and in his most recent Justice League run, this almost became too prominent, as well as a certain choppy Superman/Batman-esque tendency to overlap the characters' narration boxes. Both of these aspects are present, worryingly, in the book's first issue (even as Huntress Helena Wayne is about to lose her father, I couldn't quite rectify her sorrow here with the tough Helena Bertinelli that I hear in my head), but fortunately these quirks dissipate once the book gets going.

Sometimes the characters' conversations, in Robinson's Sorkin-esque realistic style, feel disjointed (see Flash repeating Hawkgirl's "Trust me" four pages after the says it), but these are the exception and not the rule. For a reader who might have had difficulty with Robinson's style in the past, they can rest assured that in Earth 2, the coast is clear.

Artist Nicola Scott does her best work for DC so far in Gathering. I have enjoyed her work on Teen Titans, among other places, though I felt at times the characters' faces had a sameness to them. I have no such concerns in Earth 2, and I thought Scott depicted the youthful Jay Garrick especially well, and the inside of the World Army headquarters. It's tough to tell when fill-in artist Eduardo Pansica takes over, too, which is nice, making the look of the book cohesive overall.

From a bunch of great origins to equally-great character interaction and action, Earth 2: The Gathering never stumbles; the quality remains high from start to finish. This is an exciting book, and I couldn't be more thrilled that James Robinson is at its helm. The next volume, Earth 2: Tower of Fate, can't come soon enough; heck, why isn't DC producing digital specials about Earth 2's secondary characters?

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs, pencilled pages by Nicola Scott]

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10 comments:

  1. My only real problem with Earth 2 is that I want more of it. Given the current state of the market and the fact that the book's sales have yet to stabilize, I understand DC's trepidation to expand the franchise, but digital-first spotlight chapters are a great suggestion to test the waters.

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  2. I LOVE this series! I collect it in floppy form and I download the digital versions after the price drops. I bought this hardcover and I'll probably buy the next one when it comes out in October. I want to support this book as much as possible because I love it so much. I picked up and read #12 yesterday and, like every month, I simply don't want to wait another month for the next issue; I want it now! To me, it's James Robinson doing what he does best: world-building with no restrictions. He can do whatever he likes because it's on Earth 2 and doesn't have to coincide with any other series. And Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott on art just make it one of the most beautiful books to look at. Overall it's probably the book I most look forward to every month.

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  3. Thanks to your post and some very glowing Amazon reviews, I believe I will be checking out this book! I had no interest before but I'm definitely intrigued now.

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  4. This is one of the best reads that DC has right now. You did a great job on this review. I agree with your thoughts about this being an Elseworlds type reality. Some of the best moments are coming from the background story of the One World Army headquarters where a soap opera worthy power struggle is playing out as Grundy threatens all.

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  5. While I agree on most of your thoughts, I don't quite share your enthusiasm. I felt the plot to be horrendously decompressed, which was really annoying. I was excited to see this "Elseworld" Tale start, and I will buy the next volumes to see if it gets better, because Robinson does create a world with many promises. But the decompression, some poorly written dialogues and the very boring threat (Grundy? A "Grey" force a la "Rotworld"? Some reminiscent "Blackest Night" threads?) made me feel let down.

    Robinson needs to up his game, and quickly, because one cannot say the writing is stellar nor the story original. This book enjoys the benefits of being an Elseworld Tale, but if it doesn't get to the core of it, it will lose any momentum it has.

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    Replies
    1. Totally get where you're coming from. Much as I liked Robinson's Grundy, I did have a "that's it?" feeling about him, too. Some people have complained Justice League: Origin was too action-oriented, but at least Darkseid brings the League together and they fight Darkseid; here, Grundy didn't seem really connected to the heroes aside from Green Lantern (as opposed to whatever destroyed Alan Scott's train and hurt Mercury). That wasn't enough by far, however, to put me off the title, and I'm glad you're giving it another volume.

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    2. Thanks a lot for answering! I definitely will give it another volume, because the threat looming in Vol.1 may become clearer and seems to be very interesting. Also, this universe has great potential, and with time I hope it will develop greatly.

      Truth is, I'm just sick that DC writers use the attractiveness and the grapping mythology of their universe to decompress SO much of their scripts. Earth 2 is a good example, and so is Justice League: Origin, which I didn't like at all (way too much brawl, not enough brain... and "the" moment between Batman & Green Lantern at the end made me lose my mind, because it convinces me even more that Geoff Johns doesn't understand Batman at all). I'm even afraid Snyder's "Zero Year" is going to be touched by this decompression plague.

      It's not a stand against the stories themselves, rather it's a stand against the “marketing-ly” way the stories are told. When I read Golden Age stories, I am in awe of the craziness and inventiveness cramped in such a little space of the tales told back then: one issue of Detective Comics in the 40's is the equivalent of a 6-parts arc nowadays... Could we not tell stories like Earth 2 but with a better writing and a quicker pace, which would emulate the excitement and the attraction this universe does have?

      That's my take.

      Also, I take some more time here to tell you how much I appreciate your website and your thoughts on every volume you review. You never cease to impress me with your calm analyzes, which are a breath of fresh air. I can be an angry fanboy, and so are so many reviewers out there, but you always keep a positive attitude and find for each book a valuable p.o.v. to adopt to fully enjoy them. For that I thank you. Keep on doing such a great job :)!

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  6. I personally enjoy decompressed comic book storytelling. Likewise, I found Johns' Batman: Earth One to be terrific.

    I do agree Justice League Vol. 1 was disappointing, but I wouldn't call it bad.

    As for Earth 2, I greatly anticipate reading it. Robinson's one of my favorite comic writers.

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  7. Where was the #0 issue placed in this volume?
    You might write about the placement of #0 issues all over the New 52 collected editions, when they were out some of them seemed to be a forced add to the collections, for example I think they will collect Batman #0 in the future Zero Year HC

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    1. The Zero issue isn't collected in this book. The Worlds' Finest zero issue is collected in Worlds' Finest: Lost Daughters of Earth 2, but the Earth 2 zero issue isn't collected until Earth 2 Vol. 2: Tower of Fate. Hope that helps!

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