Thursday, 9 March 2017

Earth-2: Society #22 Review

Title: Earth-2: Society #22
Story: Life After Death
Characters: Batman (Helena Wayne), Power Girl (Kara Zor-L), Fury (Donna Troy), Hawkgirl (Kendra Muñoz-Saunders), Flash (Jay Garrick), Superman (Val-Zod), Oracle (Dick Grayson), Robin (John Grayson)
Creators: Dan Abnett (writer), Vicente Cifuentes (artist)
Publication Date: March 2017
Available In: Print | Digital

Summary: It's been six months since the heroes of Earth-2 defeated the Ultra-Humanite and now they just want to enjoy their lives and protect their new planet on both a small and larger scale. Over time, they have gained the trust of their new world's citizens, and some have even started new lives.

Review: It's been a little over a year now since Dan Abnett took over writing duties on this title, and it's been a rollercoaster of frustration for many fans who have been wanting to invest in these characters since James Robinson's original run. This week, we finally got the kind of story many of us have been wanting to get from Earth-2 for five years and it happened on the final chapter of the series.

In many ways, the final issue of Earth-2: Society is more than just an epilogue to a long and frustrating journey. It is also an apology to both Earth-2 and Justice Society fans. The final chapter apologises for the constant death and destruction that has unfortunately become the legacy of this incarnation of Earth-2--an absolute wrong direction that caused it to fail to live up fan expectations and even the legacy of the far superior pre-Crisis original. In addition to finally telling a story that's filled with hope and optimism, it also addressed the final problem so many of us have been complaining about for years: the legacy of the Earth-2 Batman.

Since the beginning of time, many of us have been expecting Helena Wayne (Bruce's own daughter) to continue her father's legacy as the Huntress and to fill the role of Batman on her respective world. Many of us were even upset to find out that there would be a new Batman debuting around the time that Thomas Wayne was teased on the cover for first Earth-2 annual in 2013. Promoting a new incarnation of Dick Grayson for Earth-2: Society similarly did not make many of us warm up to the idea.

In the final issue, Abnett finally addressed that complaint by restoring Helena Wayne to her rightful throne that has been denied to her for so long, but with a twist: instead of continuing her father's legacy as the Huntress, she actually took up the mantle of her father herself and literally became the newly restored Earth-2's Batman. Even the narration (not ironically provided by Power Girl) explicitly acknowledged that the role of Batman has always been Helena's birthright and that the legacy was never about gender or age, but about it being "absolutely right at last."

I admittedly have some mixed feelings about the way Helena was restored to her rightful place as her father's successor, but let's first talk about what I did like. I liked the explicit acknowledgement that the legacy of Batman is never about the literal man in the bat suit, but about the people Batman inspires to continue his work. In some ways, it's a callback to the original dialogue the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne had with Dick Grayson at her father's funeral in Adventure Comics #462 when he considered taking up the mantle of Batman in honour of Bruce.

In that scene, Helena said to Dick "only legends live forever, not the men who make them" and ultimately suggested that they both continue her father's work as their identities: Huntress and Robin respectively. One major difference, however, is that the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne stuck to her belief in never having a new Batman and carried on as the Huntress. She even rejected the idea of becoming the new Batman herself in the more recent Convergence event, again conversing with Dick Grayson.

The New 52 Helena significantly contrasted her pre-Crisis counterpart by deciding to take up the mantle herself, rationalising that Batman is a symbol that is also her inheritance. Her dialogue here actually mirrors that of the pre-Crisis Earth-2 Dick Grayson who said the exact same thing in Convergence when he finally decided to become Batman at the conclusion of that event. I actually enjoyed the parallelism Abnett established here that was both similar and different from previous continuity.

I even liked the idea of Helena challenging gender norms by choosing not to change her new identity to a more "gender appropriate" one. That was actually really cool! But despite all of the cool things Abnett did with making Helena the new (and final) Earth-2 Batman, it also came at a price: Helena lost the Huntress, which was more than just her unique superhero identity. It was the identity that acknowledged both sides of her heritage: the legacies of both Batman and Catwoman. Even her Huntress costume reflected this idea. It was also an identity that allowed her to continue her father's work, while allowing her to create a legacy of her own. It was an identity that allowed her to shape her own light and not bask in the shadow of her father. In becoming Batman, she not only erases her mother's contribution to her heritage, but she also loses everything else that made her standout as a hero.

The best way, in my opinion, to allow Helena to be both the Batman and Huntress would be to reinstate the pre-Crisis original to the Prime Earth continuity for Justice Society Rebirth. That way you get both stories instead of exchanging one for another. You'll still have the New 52 Helena on the newly reformed Earth-2 functioning as Batman, and you'll still have the more classic Helena operating as the Huntress with the Justice Society like in times past. It could even lead to an interesting story if the two Helenas met in an Earth-0/Earth-2 crossover event like in days past when the Justice League and Justice Society had their annual Earth-1/Earth-2 crossovers. Such a crossover could even lead to a successful relaunch of a future Earth-2 title where the New 52 Helena's story as Batman could continue. But now I'm pitching ideas for DC. Back to reviewing the comic...

As for the Earth-2 Dick Grayson, he didn't actually end up dying as it appeared in the last issue. He ended up surviving, but took on a new role as Oracle in the same capacity as the Prime Earth Barbara Gordon, complete with a high tech wheelchair. I actually like this new direction for Dick Grayson, and for the first time, I'm actually interested in his character! It's such a shame that such an interesting development happened on the last issue of the series instead of issue #1 where the idea would've been more warmly received and the character wouldn't have aroused the controversy that he did. I'm now hoping for a new Earth-2 relaunch just to get Dick Grayson as Oracle! (I've been missing having a real Oracle since we lost Barbara from that role in 2011).

Dick's son predictably became Helena's Robin, which paralleled the original Golden Age dynamic of her father and an 8-year-old Dick Grayson in the 1940s, but he hasn't started delivering puns yet.

The rest of the cast unfortunately don't get much spotlight, at least none other than depicting them doing acts of heroism here and there. Like Val-Zod stopping a man from committing suicide, Alan Scott rescuing a cat from a tree, Jay Garrick stopping a robbery, Fury fighting a giant robot, and Power Girl rescuing some people.

On Alan Scott, we do see him hold a picture of his boyfriend, Sam Zhao, and smiling. I'm wondering now if Sam is back from the dead and Alan is back together with him? I wish there had been a more explicit confirmation of this, but I will tell myself that he's back and Alan is with him again. He definitely deserves that since it was a serious misstep on Robinson's part to stuff Sam in the fridge in his second appearance as a way of giving Alan his origin story as the Green Lantern.

On the whole, I was genuinely surprised by this issue. I came into this finale expecting not to care and feeling relieved that this was finally over. But now? I'm actually sad to see it go because Abnett established some very interesting developments in this last issue that I would like to see follow-ups to: Concepts like Helena Wayne as Batman complete with her own Robin, Dick Grayson as Oracle, and Alan Scott being back together with his boyfriend to tell a proper queer story. I also want to know if Jay Garrick gets back together with Joan, or if Sonia Sato and Khalid Ben-Hassin come back, or if Al Pratt becomes the Atom again with his arm back intact. Stuff like that.

In the end, Dan Abnett did the impossible. After a full year of course-correcting what has been one of the most brutal murders of an entire franchise in DC history, he succeeded in the unenviable task of pulling a sunken ship out of the ocean with good parts to make a whole new ship with. He managed to take the pieces of a rotting corpse that has been hanged, dragged, and quartered and managed to breathe new life into this body without creating a new Frankenstein monster. He managed to put a train back together on the tracks after the train had gotten massively derailed and driven off of a cliff at high speed. He fully revitalised this new Earth-2 that many of us were sure we were going to forget about once it ended this week.

While these versions of the Earth-2 characters will always feel a bit distant to me because they're no longer a part of DC's mainstream continuity, Abnett got me to care about them once again and got me interested in seeing the journeys continue. Characters that I had trouble connecting with for so long, and he got me to care about them. I seriously didn't think that could still happen with all the negative feelings I've accumulated with this new Earth-2 as a consequence of a series of bad decisions that were made by the last editorial office, but here we are. Abnett did the impossible. He made me feel sad to see these characters go, but I hope we'll see them all again soon!

★★★★★

4 comments:

  1. I'm with you. I couldn't wait for this book to finally be over for the longest time, but now that it is, I don't want it to end. Also, I said this on Twitter, and I'll say it again, Abnett deserves a medal for what he managed to do with this book.

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  2. Your review pretty much sums up my thoughts :)

    I grew to like the Earth 2 team, it felt like a family which deserved a happy ending after all they had been through. I was rather annoyed by the path the series took during most of its run, but the prospect of resurrecting the actual Earth 2 (instead of keeping Blood Moon) was my only hope for the story to improve. Eventually Dan Abnett restored Earth 2 in effective way. I guess he understood what was good in the series and cared about the characters. Even Alan Scott was again humanized (by looking at Sam's photo), after his brainwashed "living weapon" status.

    The new Earth 2 with its decopunk aesthetics mixed with modernity is an interesting place to explore further. But as it's largely peaceful and prosperous, the Wonders might get involved in some multiverse missions and crossovers on other Earths. That's why I especially agree with your point about keeping two separate teams: classic JSA and Earth 2's Wonders (with two Helenas). Fans of both would be happy, I suppose.

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  3. i disagree, i think the runs were fine......the "constant" death went accord with the war they were fighting etc, but i don want them to continue this book some time in the future though.

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  4. Wow, this felt like a birthday gift, this issue, however bittersweet seeing how this review was written on the 9th, my beautiful day of birth. If you recall I totally called the Dick Grayson/Oracle idea in a previous letter a month or two ago, because it just made sense. The second his legs were crushed he should've been Oracle, not Batman, and the legacy would've been corrected and even improved upon that much sooner. I too am happy that Helena got her legacy back, but not at the cost of her individuality. However, a new costume could've contained all of that, the Catwoman part of her legacy, the colors of the Huntress costume and her explicit use of the crossbow would've been the type of outfit I would make for her, whether she was Batman or the Huntress, but I admit I don't know what that would look like, but I'm sad it took all the way until the last issue to make the Bat family work at their best potential. I would love to see a series with those three, as they are now, especially a Robin with superpowers. I noticed all the old villains are returning as well, like Lex Luthor and Captain Cold, which makes me wonder how they came to be out of that pandora's box; was it acting from some subconscious echoes of other realities where certain beings just have to exist? That could've been some great storyline ideas for the future if this series had continued. I like the idea of two Helena's, the best of both worlds, and I hope if they can find a way to revive Thomas Wayne Batman that they can definitely find a way to keep Power Girl and Helena Wayne Huntress intact, considering they are as much JSA Legacy as the rest that are returning. I'd like to think that in a multiverse that there's room for everyone and every idea so that no heroes have to be 'benched' because their appearances are only limited to the imagination. I have been reading Huntress adventures most of my life, and she has always been one of my top three favorite heroes, maybe even my favorite possibly (besides Spider Woman and adult Jean Grey). Please keep this column going, because the very idea of it and the fact that someone loves Helena like I do just keeps me alive and gives me hope that she will reappear and be used to her best potential. Thank you, and I too thank Dan Abnett for the near impossible task of making me miss a book that was all but destroyed by terrible editorial decisions, obvious sexism, and someone's weird addiction to torture porn that for some reason thought suffering and death was something we wanted to see in a comic starring one of the brightest, hopeful teams in existence. You brought the spirit and the joy back in a near herculean effort; and even if it was just a few issues it just showed me that miracles can happen, even on Earth 2.

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