Just 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]
New reviews next week. Have a great weekend!