Earth 2 has been a perennial favorite title amongst DC readers. The New 52 take on the Golden Age heroes has been immensely successful, even with public outcry over the so-called “controversy” of Alan Scott being gay. This is one of James Robinson’s last issues on the title, having been on it from the beginning. With this annual released just over a week after his announcement of his leaving DC Comics (and may I say in a very respectful manner, compared to some), there is some excitement. There is also some debate concerning a new Batman on the cover after the Earth 2 Bruce Wayne blew himself up along with the control nexus for Darkseid’s army. With the concept being that this is a world without the “Trinity of Wonders”, would this be respectful to the concept? And who is this new Batman?
Surprisingly, this issue deals more with The Atom, a.k.a. Captain Al Pratt of the World Army. Of the many heroes we’ve seen so far in Robinson’s run, he is the one we know the least about. And while some mysteries remain, this issue is a refreshing look into the government’s personal superhero. While en route to Cambodia, Al reminisces about the last days of the War against Apokolips, the events that gave him his powers, his first missions, and so on. We also learn of the other hero in the World Army that isn’t presently a super villain (I’m talking about you, Terry Sloan), Captain Steel who, according to Al, is much more analytical than everyone’s favorite giant with an atomic punch. In Cambodia, Al, disguised as a tourist, is looking for arms dealer Henri Roy. In the years since the war, a black market in high-tech weapons, armor, and “specialized” prosthetic enhancements has sprung up, and Henri is a big shot. Henri has his men capture Al, and after a beatdown Al reveals that Henri’s own son, Henri Jr., has ratted him out. He then drops the act and goes hero. Henri has his men use their weapons as he clambers into a mech to take on Atom.
Enter the Batman (pun not intended), who helps Atom out before disappearing. Atom meets up with his handler and Henri Jr. and is told that he and Captain Steel will be getting more heroes to help them out as part of a group backed by the World Army (sound familiar?), the downside being Sloan is in charge of the science department. Henri Jr. is the first new recruit. Batman 2.0, meanwhile, gives us some background while tangling with his version of Mister Freeze – a merc given ice powers by Kanto, an envoy of Darkseid and the “Assassin of Apokolips”. Kanto apparently is ordering those to whom he gave powers to prepare for war, a scenario echoed by the World Army at the end of Atom’s story. Batman decides to meet up with Hawkgirl, who seems to have a connection….
An interlude has us meet Captain Steel, who is diving into an Apokoliptian firepit in Rio de Janeiro much to his discomfort, but he’s the only agent they can send in due to his abilities. Our final coda has us meet up with Mister Miracle and Big Barda (WOTN’s Samantha Cross’s personal favorite) in the ruins of Gotham taking down dinosaur like creatures created in the chaos of the war and the tainted environment. They are in the beginnings of their relationship; she’s dealing with her defecting from Darkseid and he’s trying to keep her on task. Of course, they’re interrupted by Fury, Steppenwolf’s agent. With Steppenwolf controlling a rogue nation who has declared war on everyone else, we got a three-way war: Steppenwolf, the villains loyal to Apokolips, and the World Army. It seems Robinson is beginning to tie his threads together as he prepares to bow out, but where are Alan, Jay, and everyone else?
Robinson’s writing is strong, making us more sympathetic to Atom who, until this point, has been more of an antagonist/”frenemy” of our JSA. Originally written as a shrimp made tough and later given atomic powers, the original Al Pratt was an ideal to those wanting to get tough to rival Charles Atlas. The New 52 version is much more fleshed out. Even though in his natural state he’s shorter than average, Al here has always been tough. Here, he is written as someone trying to get a grasp on everything after a major accident. Given that his powers first manifest during a bout of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, he becomes a timely character in the wake of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars and the cases of Stop-Loss and PTSD. He is a blue-collar soldier in a strange world with strange gifts, making him a sympathetic character to the reader.
The new Captain Steel is not a blond pretty boy, but a swarthy Han Solo type with enough swagger to back that comparison up. The new Batman is still a mystery, and is the least fleshed out of the new characters. Atom should have been the one on the cover and they should have saved Batman 2.0 as a surprise inside. But we haven’t seen the last of him. Big Barda and Mister Miracle haven’t changed much and it’s interesting to see them in the beginning of what is one of the great relationships in comics…if they survive Fury. The art by Cafu and Gopez is brilliant, especially the effects with Atom’s powers, the blasts from the weapons of Henri and his minions, the tech of the World Army, and the fighting prowess of the new Batman. The colors by Pete Pantazis complements the art wonderfully.
All in all I say this is the beginning of the end of Robinson’s grand tour into Earth 2. He is gathering his threads together and preparing them for a final showdown. War is looming even with the presence of more heroes this time. Can Earth 2 survive? Stay tuned!