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...

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