Monday, September 23, 2013

Earth 2: The Gathering (comics)

Writer: James Robinson
Artist: Nicola Scott
Collects: Earth 2 #1-6

This is blasphemy of the highest order, but I never could get into Starman. Everyone and their grandmother claims it's a classic, but I tried the first volume and didn't make it past the first issue. It felt like someone vomited words onto page after page. It was like somebody forgot they were writing a comic and just started writing a novel instead. It wasn't long before I tapped and went to read something else.

Earth 2 is better in this regard, but only just. Starman began and ended in the 90's. Earth 2 debuted in 2012. Not a whole lot of forward progression.

Ultimately, this is the problem with James Robinsons writing. He's way too verbose, seeming to forget that we left the Bronze Age of Comics a long time ago. This is more of a problem for some than others; given my attention issues, it's no surprise I have difficulty with his work as well as older comics. Still, I feel like I expect - and should expect - him to progress in this regard.

I hope I'm not coming off too harsh here, because this is not going to be a scathing review. Despite all this, Earth 2 did what Starman could not. It kept my interest.

While I've established that Robinsons weakness is his overly purple prose, his strength is, without question, his ability to build worlds. I didn't make it through Starman*, but I read more than enough about it to appreciate just how much work and thought he put into that series. Worldbuilding is an important skill, especially when doing what Robinson does here; essentially reworking common tropes into an alternate universe rich enough to stand on its own.

Earth 2 does that well, even without the big marquee heroes that prop up the regular line of DC Comics. Don't let the cover fool you; Earth 2 Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman are important to this universe, but as it's backstory. They're off the table two thirds of the way through the first issue.

No, a retread of the typical DC Universe with a different coat of paint is not what this series is about. Robinson is essentially given the keys to the group of characters he obviously has the most affection for - the Justice Society of America - and he builds an entire world around them, reminiscent of the old days of the multiverse. Only this time, they're not old timers who fought Hitler and aged gracefully, eventually mentoring the next generation. This is their genesis; here, we see their start, in the present day as young heroes just coming on to the scene of a world that has gone a long time without heroes.

The prose may be stuck in the 70's or the 80's, but the retool feels modern, which does make for an odd clash in style.

Unfortunately, we don't get far enough in this volume for the series to really get going. The six issues do "wonders"** for set-up purposes, but in six issues we barely get past the first threat. Robinsons verbosity is part of the problem; the sequence where Mercury meets Jay Garrick and gives the man his powers is a good six pages of exposition that could have been pared down to three, maybe four. Mercury just will not shut up. Hell, no one will in this book. Earth 2 needed a pass or two by the trusty red marker.

None of this is to say the page space is entirely wasted. As I said, Robinsons specialty is worldbuilding and while this arc could have used some trimming, he still manages to cram in quite a bit. By the end of the volume we know more about the world and its inhabitants in six issues than we do the Justice League after two years of the New 52 series.

Nicola Scott may be a least a part of why Earth 2 kept my interest while prior Robinson comics didn't. Her artwork is gorgeous the whole way through. I don't know if it was her doing, but I particularly liked the costume design of just about everyone in the book, especially the Green Lantern. Superman's another I enjoyed. His costume is a major improvement over the pseudo-armor of the regular version; it's kind of a shame we have it for all of one issue.

Typical extras round out the collection. Character sketches, pencil pages. The usual. They're always welcome, mind you, just sort of expected.

My Opinion: Read It

This was one of the tougher scores to give. I have my misgivings, but I still enjoyed the book and I think the series has potential. I'm a little wary going forward, though; I hear the series only gets wordier as it progresses. Still, it's worth the time.

* I may give Starman another shot in the future. I tried it years ago, after all. I might have an easier time sitting through it now. Who knows.

** I really liked how the superheroes were referred to as "wonders" in this world. As if they were a new set of modern "Wonders of the World". Fitting, not to mention it feels natural. I could see the world latching on to something like that when they first arrived on the scene. It's a far sight better than that turd of a line we got in Justice League, "you're the worlds greatest super-heroes". Ugh...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Detective Comics: Scare Tactics (comics)

Writers: Tony Daniel, Gregg Hurwitz, James Tynion IV
Artists: Tony Daniel, Ed Benes, Pere Perez and a metric ton of others in the backups
Collects: Detective Comics (vol. 2) #8-12, #0, Detective Comics Annual #1, plus all the backups

Volume One was a swing and a miss. The focus on a new villain was laudable, but Daniel forgot to make him interesting, despite having six issues to do it. Volume Two manages to fix some of the issues that plagued the first, enough to be worth the read, but it's also Daniels last. He seemed to catch on to what needed fixing just as he was leaving.

Figures, right?

Length has a lot to do with the improvement. Perhaps it's because he was winding down his run, but Daniel decided not to go with another six issue plotline; instead, he busts the page space into smaller chunks. None of the stories go past three issues. In fact, the majority of them are all of a single issue. As regards actually writing a comic, Tony Daniel is as hit or miss as they come. By keeping the length under control, he's made it easier to deal with the losers of the bunch; after all, if a given story is a dud, it's far easier to sit through when it's only a single issue as opposed to six.

As a side benefit, there's a fair bit of variety to Scare Tactics. The Court of Owls are around for an issue, the Mad Hatter pops up, Dr. Strange cameos, Daniel introduces what I believe is a new villain in Mr. Toxic - who holds the only multi issue plot in the volume - and Catwoman even pops in for a few pages. Scarecrow's around too, but despite the obvious allusion to him in the title, he's there for all of two pages. The book doesn't just sit around, content to stick with one focus; since one issue stories make up the majority of the volume, we're constantly moving to something different.

The annual is the last issue Tony Daniel scripted. In a way, it's his run on the character coming full circle. Life After Death was far from the greatest comic to ever hit the racks, but it's easily the biggest story Tony Daniel ever did with Batman; it warranted tie-ins, a miniseries that acted as a prologue or side story and references throughout the line. Fitting then that Daniel revisits the Black Mask one more time before departing.

It's the quintessential "putting the toys back in the toybox" story. Life After Death was meant to retool the Black Mask character in the wake of his death way back when, putting a new face beneath the mask. With the relaunch, that's no longer necessary - plus that story sort of removed the one Arkham figurehead Batman could interact with - so with a a cursory reference to his death and a handwave, Roman Sionis is back. It serves its purpose - and what follows is a fairly decent little adventure - but it's far from remarkable.

Part of the problem is that I just couldn't get used to Daniels take on Black Mask. My favorite voice for the character has always been the one we got out of Judd Winicks "Under the Hood"; Winick gave him intelligence, purpose and a dark wit that elicited sincere laughter out of me on several occasions. In comparison, Daniels take lacks personality; as a result, it feels as though he's only used so Daniel could use the relaunch to fix a few things.

None of the stories are all that remarkable, but at least I didn't forget it after about a week like the last volume. The collection finishes with a series of backup strips; I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I believe it's every one up to the last issue of this collection. They range from good to dull to outright bizzare; Two-Face chills with some zen monks or something? The one about Jokers severed face is the best. They aren't worth the price of admission alone but they're nice extras.

My Opinion: Try It

The last hurrah of Tony Daniels Detective Comics is an improvement over the prior volume, yet still far from remarkable. Worth a read if you see it in the local library, since there's no need to have read the first. Not sure it's worth a purchase though.