Earth 2 Vol. 3: Battle Cry, name-checking as he does obscure DC and even Quality Comics characters as he continues to build the world of Earth 2. In this, it's equally apparent the tragedy of this being Robinson's last volume on the series.
Those hoping for a clear conclusion of Robinson's run will be disappointed -- the book ends with a good cliffhanger, but nothing conclusive and no thematic wrap-up. Instead, much like Earth 2 Vol. 2: Tower of Fate, Robinson tells the story in his trademark fits and starts, weaving together four or five different storylines like a symphony -- one "tune" drops off over here, only to come rushing back a few issues later over there. Here, perhaps, we find the closure to Robinson's Earth 2 run, a volume that's as Robinson-esque as any that came before.
[Review contains spoilers]
While small, a crucial moment on Battle Cry is Robinson's use here of Jim Lockhart, creator of the Red Torpedo flying ship. Robinson is no stranger to Lockhart, having used him in Starman, but most readers probably won't be familiar -- a Quality Comics character purchased by DC and later associated with the All-Star Squadron; Stormy Foster is yet another that Robinson repurposes. That even before on-screen appearances by such Justice Society staples as Rex Tyler, Charles McNider, or Ted Grant, Robinson uses Jim Lockhart and Stormy Foster, shows the real breadth of characters Robinson intended to use in the series.
Equally entertaining, Robinson imagines some commonality between previously disparate "red" characters, tying together Red Torpedo, Red Tornado, Red Arrow, and others (plus the book's most interesting unfinished storyline, the coming of the Earth 2 Red Lantern). Robinson also introduces what I'm fairly sure is a new Human Bomb, though without a familiar moniker, much like his introduction in the last volume of new Dr. Fate Khalid Ben-Hassin.
Again, as readers have come to expect, Battle Cry bobs and weaves through the story it tells. The book starts out with the Earth 2 Annual #1, which would seem to detail the Atom's origin, but then transitions, like a "Choose Your Own Adventure," to follow the new Batman instead, and ends up with Mr. Miracle and Big Barda. The next issue is given over almost entirely to "new" (for Earth 2) character Captain Steel; at this point, the book is almost half-over and Robinson still hasn't used series leads Green Lantern and Flash. Obviously Robinson trusts that the book's readers are with him for the long haul and equally trust him in return; Earth 2 is not a book that's easy to pigeonhole, as it were, moving from Bat-intrigue to superhero battles to cosmic Fourth World conflicts, all with good faith that the reader will equally care about one and the other.
Inasmuch as I enjoy Earth 2 overall, I did feel Battle Cry's main event was not as strong as it could have been (though drawn strikingly by Nicola Scott). The Apokoliptian villain Steppenwolf sets himself up as a dictator, and new "wonders" Green Lantern, Flash, and Dr. Fate take on his armies and try to defeat him. The "wonders" fight with their supposed allies, the World Army, for an issue, then they fight Steppenwolf's super-powered minions for an issue, and then they fight Steppenwolf himself for an issue, all of it prelude to what Steppenwolf has really been planning all along.
Following from the last volume's battle between Dr. Fate and Wotan, this too feels too familiar -- surely we've seen superhero battles before, and the issue-by-issue escalation of the conflict comes off as formulaic. Far more engaging are the subplots -- the mystery of the new Batman, Mr. Miracle versus Wonder Woman's daughter, Captain Steel and the Red Lantern -- and this makes the story feel unbalanced, when one might expect the "Steppenwolf war" to be the main event.
Robinson sets up a curious dynamic in this volume, one that it's unfortunate we won't get to see him play out. Between this volume and the last, the Earth 2 world now has their original trinity back -- Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman -- in one form or another. As it stands, the new Superman and Wonder Woman's daughter Fury are both villains, but I still hope new writer Tom Taylor remarks on this in some way; Green Lantern, Flash, and Hawkgirl were meant to be the "new wonders" trinity, and it would be interesting to see how they square off, and feel about squaring off, with their resurrected counterparts.
The book ends with the Villains' Month issue Earth 2 #15.1, spotlighting Desaad. Written by Paul Levitz, it is not exceptional (the Villains' Month issues I've read so far haven't been great, though Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino's Green Arrow (Count Vertigo) and Charles Soule and Jesus Saiz's Swamp Thing (Arcane) issues were). The story mostly details what Desaad has been doing on Earth 1 the past five years, without delving very deeply into the character himself. Though an Earth 2 issue, the story indeed takes place entirely on Earth 1 and involves storylines from Levitz's Worlds' Finest. I'd have rather seen this stuck to the end of Worlds' Finest Vol. 2: Hunt and Be Hunted and have Matt Kindt's Earth 2 #15.2 Solomon Grundy story included here instead. Neither would be the best prize, an issue written by Robinson, but at least Kindt's issue would be more germane.
James Robinson's Earth 2 Vol. 3: Battle Cry serves to remind us what we liked about James Robinson's Earth 2, and perhaps at least it's better to go out on top than not. Surely, however, new writer Tom Taylor has big shoes to fill; Taylor's Injustice: Gods Among Us, by choice or fiat, has the sensitivity of a sledgehammer, and whether he can translate that into writing Robinson's diverse and esoteric Earth 2 cast remains to be seen. My hope is the standard Robinson set on this book can be upheld.
[Includes original covers]
We'll have those answers soon -- a review of Tom Taylor's Earth 2 Vol. 4: The Dark Age coming up.