Earth 2: The Dark Age by Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott

If you’re unfamiliar with the DC Universe, Earth 2 is a parallel Earth, one similar to our own in many respects, but different in many others.  DC has employed this parallel universe concept for decades, currently claiming that their are 52 parallel Earths within the DC multiverse.

Once upon a time, Earth 2 existed during WWII and the original incarnations of modern day heroes, such as The Flash and Green Lantern, were still very much active.  From time to time, these heroes would travel to Earth 1, for all intents and purposes, our contemporary Earth.  It proved an opportunity to keep long revered versions of characters around while still focusing on modern incarnations – and it offered some great plot possibilities.  As a kid, I loved it when Earth 2’s Justice Society of America would crossover with Earth 1’s Justice League of America.

A few years ago, DC brought the Earth 2 concept back, but instead of it existing during WWII, it is a world where Darkseid invaded and destroyed much of the planet.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman died protecting that world, and now new heroes have emerged, heroes such as Jay Garrick and Alan Scott.  And though these were the original men to bear the mantles of The Flash and Green Lantern in the early 1940s, they have very much been updated and have little in common with their previous versions.  They are young, they are different, and they took some getting used to, but I have grown to appreciate them.

In this forth volume, The Dark Age, new series writer Tom Taylor pushes down on the accelerator and never lets up!  I picked this volume up at the library and meant to read a few pages before bed.  Before I knew it, I’d read the whole book (and stayed up later than intended).  It’s so good, I could not put it down.

For some reason, Superman, previously thought dead, is now in service to Darkseid and destroying anything and anyone getting in his way.  A new Batman has also arisen, more violent than his predecessor, but very much against the evils of Darkseid.  Dr. Fate, the Flash, Hawkgirl, and Sandman are still fighting hard, but now we’re introduced to a new Red Tornado, a queen of Atlantis, Jimmy Olson, and an alien that may turn the tide against the evil Superman.

The beautiful thing about Earth 2 is that it is not trapped in the endless cycle of its characters’ counterparts.  On Earth 2, anything goes, and Tom Taylor has taken full advantage of that fact.  Our heroes are pummeled throughout most of this book with nonstop action, yet Taylor still builds a captivating plot and introduces new mysteries.  Truly, this is one of the most exciting super hero books I’ve read in quite a while.

As always, Nicola Scott’s pencil’s are exquisite.  She uses clean lines, dynamic angles, and fluid pacing.  Furthermore, at one point Barry Kitson helps out with the pencils, and the transition is nearly seamless.  I’ve followed Kitson’s work since the mid-1990s, and he’s never been better!

One thing that drives me away from mainstream super hero comic books, especially those by DC or Marvel, is that no matter how much things change, they will always stay the same.  It’s a necessity to the serialized business.  Parallel universes give publishers and creators the chance to really cut loose and provide unpredictable stories.  Earth 2 is a prime example of how such stories can be successfully executed, and The Dark Age is my favorite installment to date.

 

 

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Green Arrow Volume 5: The Outsiders War by Lemire and Sorrentino

I got into Green Arrow when Kevin Smith brought him back from the dead.  Don’t get me wrong, any kid growing up in the early 80’s loved Green Arrow, but mostly as a member of the Justice League of America.  No, I started seriously following the character when Smith returned Oliver Queen to the land of the living and then began expanding his cast of characters.  Then Meltzer came along with “The Archer’s Quest” and took an already complex character to a whole new level of sophistication.

When The New 52 began, I heard that Green Arrow really suffered in terms of story quality.  I steered clear.  Even as the show on the CW captured my interest, I still kept my distance from the comic book because of its negative reviews.

However, when Jeff Lemire came aboard the title, I knew it was time for me to join as well.  “The Outsiders War” is a fantastic read.

First of all, the mythology Lemire built concerning clans centered upon The Spear, The Sword, The Fist, The Axe, The Mask, The Shield, and The Arrow is something both fresh and unique.  Lemire delivers a fascinating story involving Green Arrow’s past on the island, his father, his half-sister, as well as both Shado and Katana.  The repercussions of this story could have lasting effects upon the character for years to come.

However, Andrea Sorrentino is an even greater force behind this title.  I’ve honestly never quite seen art such as this, and I’ve read comic books for well over thirty years.  The layouts, the pictures within pictures, the sheer fluidity from panel to panel – it is the work of an extremely talented person.  But, even with that being said, the art is even further enhanced by Marcelo Maiolo, surely one of the most interesting colorists in the industry.  If I sat here and described the colors to you, you’d think me insane because nothing is the conventional color you’d expect .  But they work. They work beautifully.

If you’re a fan of the character, I definitely recommend “The Outsider’s War” as well as it’s predecessor, “The Kill Machine.”

Forever Evil by Geoff Johns and David Finch – A Book Review

This book is the culmination of years’ worth of storytelling.  Truly, it is the result of multiple plots nurtured since The New 52’s dawn.  Did it satisfy?  Yes.

Without spoiling too much, the events of Trinity War led to Forever Evil, which means that the Justice Leagues are incapacitated.  Save Batman and Catwoman, they are completely out of the picture.  So when the Crime Syndicate invades the planet and promptly gains control, there is no one left to challenge them.  Or is there?  Lex Luthor releases his own personal Superman, recruits Captain Cold, Deathstroke, Black Adam, Sinestro, and Black Manta, and even convinces Batman to join his efforts, and this unlikely band takes on the Crime Syndicate and their Secret Society of Super Villains.

I enjoyed this book.  I like Johns take on Lex Luthor, and I believe Luthor’s motivation to appear the hero.  Johns brought about a renaissance with the Rogues back in the early 2000’s, and his new take on Captain Cold is equally engrossing.  Always entertaining, Johns introduced some old favorites to The New 52, and even set about a new direction for several popular characters.

I will say this, though.  While I always have a great time with Johns, the book felt a little too much like Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers.  Super hero comics are largely derivative, and everything old tends to be new again, but I found it hard to consider anything I read as breaking serous new ground.  Of course, I guess one could argue that Luthor was president before Osborn’s ascension to power.  At any rate, I’m a DC guy, have been since 1980, and it was a blast seeing new takes on old favorites—especially the Crime Syndicate with the additions of Atomica and Deathstorm.

Let’s move on to the art.  David Finch is an amazing artist, no doubt.  Unfortunately, in my opinion, his work never seems serviced by color.  In other words, his pencils are truly astounding, but, after they are colored, his art always looks a little busy to me.  However, comic books are a sequential medium, and Finch does well moving the action and story from one panel to the next.  I would love to see this book in black and white sometime.

Overall, at 240 pages, this book is well worth the money.  It resolves several plots and also sets up several more for the future.  It gives most of DC’s preeminent villains a moment to shine, and positions Lex Luthor to be more than just Superman’s antagonist.  If handled correctly, like with Norman Osborn, this multifaceted bad guy could become one of DC’s most fascinating characters.

Earth 2: The Tower Of Fate by James Robinson and Nicola Scott – A Book Review

There are two things I love in my graphic novels: world building and a true sense of danger.  Earth 2 has both in droves.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of Earth 2, it is an earth much like our own, but it’s just a little bit different.  In the “silver” age of comic books, Earth 2 remained in a perpetual World War 2 where the original versions of characters like The Flash and Green Lantern were still active.  That Earth 2 eventually merged with our “modern” earth in the mid-eighties and those characters aged appropriately (sort of), and so they were very old, active super heroes who referred to themselves by their original name predating Justice League of America, which was Justice Society of America.

DC Comics (sort of) rebooted their universe a few years ago, now calling itself The New 52.  The idea is that there are 52 worlds in the DC Universe, each with different versions of our well-known heroes. Of course, this provided the perfect opportunity for the Justice Society of America to go back to their original, young ages, but DC took it even a step further.

On this Earth 2, the world is set in modern times.  However, it has been widely defeated by Darkseid and his minions of Apokolips.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman kept it from being completely overrun by Darkseid, but they died doing so.  Now new heroes have emerged: Hawkgirl, The Flash, and Green Lantern, but they are not the “golden age” versions of the characters, or really any version of the characters for which you’re familiar.  And while that’s initially jolting, it’s ultimately refreshing.

I say that because this is a dangerous world. Our three supreme heroes have already died.  No one is safe, danger lurks evermore from Apokolips, and because it’s not the “main” version of these characters, anything can happen.

And this is a true world.  James Robinson, the author, takes us to several locales throughout the planet and builds plot points at each.  This is not a Justice Society of America story, for there is no Justice Society of America yet and there may never be in this title. This is an Earth 2 story.

The Tower of Fate is really about introducing Dr. Fate.  The volume gives glimpses into Terry Sloan, Mr. Terrific, Hawkgirl’s origin, Steppenwolf’s recruitment of Fury, but those are just glimpses, morsels to be played out later.  Dr. Fate’s origin is the only plot that really reaches a conclusion within the book.

James Robinson, the author, earned my undying loyalty with his seminal run on Starman.  With that being said, his plots are strong. He’s taking this title in very interesting, unique places. However, that is not to say he is without fault.  At times his dialogue is flat-out corny and obviously serving to progress the story, not the characters.  But, let’s keep in mind this is only the second volume and the story’s groundwork is still being laid.

The art by Nicola Scott is astounding.  It’s beautiful.  It’s pure.  It’s amazing.  If you love this medium, you will love Nicola Scott – there’s no other way to put it.

Furthermore, I don’t know who designed Dr. Fate’s updated look, but it’s the coolest Dr. Fate yet.  He truly looks like an otherworldly figure, but a figure with roots in ancient Egypt nonetheless.  And though we got only but a brief look, I adore Mr. Miracle’s revamped uniform.  Like Dr. Fate, he’s always had a cool costume, but now it’s just a little more modern, a little more dangerous, a little more awesome.

Earth 2 is not perfect, but it’s a really enjoyable read.  It’s a blast to see familiar characters with fresh updates, the artwork is wonderful, and there is always a sense of urgency and peril.  This is a book about an entire world of characters, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.  You should pay Earth 2 a visit.

 

The Flash: Rogues Revolution (Volume 2) by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato – A Book Review

I love the Flash.  I’ve loved the Flash since childhood.  I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: I especially loved Mark Waid and Geoff Johns’ runs on the Flash. I loved Barry, then I loved Wally, and then I loved Barry again (and I’m anxiously awaiting Wally’s return).

The New 52 felt unnecessary when it came to the Flash.  After all, Barry Allen had only recently returned to the role and Geoff Johns went to a lot of trouble to adapt the Flash’s world to accommodate Wally, Jay, and Barry.  But, even with that said, I didn’t mind the (sort of) reboot.  Comics are a perpetual medium, and companies must freshen things up as a whole every so often.

I’m telling you all of this because I like the Flash.  I really like the Flash.  I want to like the Flash.  And while I love The New 52 Flash’s art and its dedication to interesting layouts and an unrelenting sense of forward momentum, I can’t help but feel the stories are a step behind.

For me, and this is only my opinion, this volume of The Flash feel frenetic, and that’s good when it comes to art depicting the Fastest Man Alive, but not helpful when it comes to coherence.  The plots are rushed, the characterization is spotty (Barry’s a bartender now?), and the dialogue … Well, that’s one of my main sticking points.  The dialogue is clunky.  I really hate to criticize, but all of the characters’ sounded the same to me.  I did not get a sense of a distinct personality from any of them.

Finally, granting the Rogues super powers is another step in the wrong direction.  I believe part of the Rogues’ charm was their ridiculous technology.  Next to Batman, Flash has some of the best villains out there, but unlike the Batman, they were really just crooks with some nifty gadgets.  Did anyone ever really think they stood a chance against a man who can move in the blink of an eye?  Johns did a wonderful job of conveying this irony during his first run on the title.  I understand the intent may be to make them more of a challenge to the Flash, but giving them super powers isn’t the way to achieve it.  I would instead have perhaps amped up their equipment, given it a more modern touch somehow, or, perhaps, rounded out their characterization.  Again, between Waid and Johns, it would be hard to add more depth to them, but simply giving them powers seems too easy and, ultimately, boring.

Now, I admit that I could be wrong.  Perhaps there is a master plan in the works here, maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit.  Perhaps Manapul and Buccellato are playing the long game, and what seems haphazard and disjointed will ultimately be a complex, interwoven tale that satisfies.  As of right now, though, I’m hesitant to believe this is the case.

Will I keep buying The Flash?  Probably, because I love the character, the art is some of the best in the industry, and, from what I hear, creative changes are looming.  I’ve followed this character since the early 80s and I see no reason to stop now, even if the actual storytelling isn’t my cup of tea at the moment.

Wonder Woman: Iron by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang – A Book Review

In this third installment of The New 52’s Wonder Woman, Azzarello continues to infuse Greek mythology into the Wonder Woman mythos.  Granted, her roots are in Greek lore, but I don’t believe any Wonder Woman writer has ever utilized the gods in such a dynamic fashion.  I’ve said this before, but I have never read Wonder Woman until Azzarello restarted her series, and it quickly rose to the top of my reading list.  Furthermore, in this volume, he fully introduces the New Gods with Orion.  In my mind, this makes perfect sense and is a stroke of brilliance.  What better place for the New Gods to appear than in a comic book with old gods still very much playing a role.  It is my sincerest hope that he plans a confrontation between the two groups, with Wonder Woman caught between.

I cannot wait to see what Azzarello does next.  His take on not only Wonder Woman, but Orion, Hera, Hermes, Ares, Apollo, as well as the introduction of previously unrevealed children of Zeus … it’s simply a very special story unraveling before our eyes. He and Chiang are not merely caretakers of Wonder Woman at the moment, they are architects of an entirely new mythos for her, they are not simply creating interesting stories, they are building entire worlds.

Their run on Wonder Woman will be remembered as a significant one, I assure you.

Batwoman: To Drown the World by J.H. Williams III – A Book Review

After giving Batwoman: Hydrology a rave review, I’m saddened to report that To Drown the World is the exact opposite of its predecessor.  Hydrology had astonishing art, extraordinary characterization, and an interesting plot.  To Drown the World has none of that, which is odd, considering it’s a continuation of Hydrology.  I think a major component contributing to my dissatisfaction is that Williams III is only on writing duties with this volume.  His artwork has always been amongst the defining attributes making Batwoman distinct.  Without it, any weaknesses in writing are enhanced.

To Drown the World has many failings in the writing, by the way.  Kate Kane’s lesbianism has always been handled maturely in the past, making her a unique and dynamic character in a sea of clichéd super heroes.  Not so in this volume.  It’s a grave undertaking to present sexuality of any sort in a comic book, and if one does not tackle it with focus, it can go off the tracks.  I felt that was the case in this volume.

Furthermore, the plot involving the Crime Bible has been going on for years and years and years.  Frankly, I’m tired of it.  It never seems to go anywhere, and if the villains are not well-rounded enough in a relatively grounded book such as Batwoman, they can drag the title down into farce.  Again, though the polar opposite of Hydrology, I felt this was the case.

Hydrology made me believe I’d be a Batwoman reader for the long haul.  To Drown the World has given me second thoughts on that matter.

Kate Kane is more than just a comic book character.  I’m sure she represents a lot of things to a lot of different people, and while that’s a tremendous responsibility for a writer, it’s there nonetheless.  With Batwoman, nothing short of an A+ effort will do.