Friday 10 June 2016

Earth-2: Society #13 Review

Title: Earth-2: Society #13
Story: A Whole New World
Characters: Fury, Hawkgirl (Kendra Muñoz-Saunders), Green Lantern (Alan Scott), Flash (Jay Garrick), Huntress (Helena Wayne), Power Girl (Kara Zor-L), Val-Zod, Sandman (Wesley Dodds), Sonia Sato, Doctor Fate (Khalid Ben-Hassin)
Creators: Dan Abnett (writer), Federico Dallocchio (artist)
Publication Date: June 2016
Available In: Print | Digital

Summary: Hawkgirl returns to Neotropolis after spending months venturing into the wilderness, looking for any signs of life. There to greet her are the Flash and Power Girl who tell her that she 'sounded off' alarms with her arrival. Hawkgirl confirms that she didn't arrive alone and introduced her friends to Fury.

At an impromptu Justice Society meeting, Fury explains to the attending wonders how she brought back the Amazons post-planetfall, and how the Pandora vessel can be used to reboot their Earth. She also proposes that they form an alliance with the Amazons in order to share the wisdom and technology of the Amazons to better improve their world.

Observing the Justice Society meeting through surveillance cameras are Sonia Sato and Wesley Dodds, the latter of whom is not comfortable with the presence of another "Batman" and finds him untrustworthy. Sonia Sato tries to justify his presence by confirming that Helena Wayne herself appointed him to run the Wayne Foundation and protect her city, presumably because she's either always in Neotropolis where Justice Society headquarters is located, or is always busy averting crises in other cities, she's never available to do either. Dodds remains unconvinced, however.

After the meeting, Power Girl meets with the Huntress to discuss the possibility of 'rebooting' their new planet into the one they lost using Fury's Pandora vessel, which--like the source vault--has stored 'memories' of the old Earth. Huntress has mixed feelings about its use since Fury hasn't exactly earned the trust of the world and wonders, but does trust Kendra's judgement. Khalid joins in on their conversation and informs the two women that the Pandora vessel can do much more than just reboot the Earth, suggesting that it has the ability to bring back the dead. The thought of that freaks Huntress out.

Elsewhere on Earth-2, the Ultra-Humanite is raising an army of orphaned children that he artificially aged and brainwashed to assist him in his planned conquest of the new planet. Though no longer threatened by the Green Lantern, he now perceives Fury as a new threat to his goals, and wishes to get ahold of her Pandora vessel in order to remake the Earth to his liking. Amongst his slave army is an artificially aged John Grayson, the long lost son of Dick Grayson.

Review: Following the resource crisis of the last five issues, this issue begins a new story arc, this time with a focus on actually rebooting the new Earth into the old one. It also starts to address some problematic plot threads that were left hanging since last year like the fate of Dick Grayson's son, how Dick learnt to be Batman within the very short timeframe that Earth was being rebuilt, and how Helena Wayne factors into that story.

On the latter story, writer Dan Abnett is at least trying to make it work in a way that doesn't completely remove Helena out of her own story. In this issue, Abnett explicitly acknowledges for the first time in 13 issues that a relationship between Dick and Helena does actually exist, and that she personally appointed him to be Earth-2's newest Batman. However, in doing so, Abnett actually made the first obvious problem that exists with this premise stand out even more: the decision to push Helena aside in favour of a new Earth-2 Batman still comes from a place of institutional sexism, and one that--in this case--was imposed by an all-male editorial office.

As I've stated before, there is no necessity for a new Earth-2 Batman because Helena already exists with the right character developments to succeed her own father, Bruce Wayne. Within the established New 52 continuity, she was her father's only Robin, and as a child, Bruce actively raised her to succeed him. She put many of those skills to good use as an adult as the Huntress, and there is a lot more that can be done with her character outside of the Huntress mask. Helena is the character who should be carrying on the Wayne family legacy, not her grandfather (who was meant to be dead from the beginning) and not a random bloke who happens to share the same name as Dick Grayson, but has none of his actual history or character developments.

Even from a narrative standpoint, it still doesn't no sense for Helena to just hand over her own family legacy to a random bloke who is not a member of her family, nor someone that she is personally close to like a spouse. She also has no reason to care for this one guy's tragic loss when that is literally everyone's story on this new Earth-2. Everyone--including Helena herself--lost friends and family with the destruction of the old Earth, which means his personal loss is far from unique to justify Helena deciding he should be the one (out of many Earth-2 survivors with a similar story) to succeed her own father instead of herself. Even the sound of that is wildly absurd. Unless Abnett establishes some kind of meaningful history between Dick and Helena on the original Earth prior to its destruction, this new Dick Grayson will never not feel like an imposter taking over a narrative that doesn't belong to him. Even if Abnett does succeed on that front, DC choosing not to capitalise on Helena's potential is still short-sighted and sexist because there is NOT a shortage of Batman stories on Prime Earth alone about men as successors of Bruce Wayne, including Dick Grayson, who is already fronting two other comics.

The existence of Helena Wayne does actually offer something new and different to the Batman legacy with strong potential for interesting stories to be told. A Dick Grayson who is little more than a Bruce Wayne clone complete with 'mainpain as a driving force' is not conceptually interesting and instead robs readers of a better a story surrounding an actual child of Batman who is actually diverse. Until an editor or someone of higher authority at DC acknowledges that as a problem, the Earth-2 Batman legacy story will never realise its full potential, and offers very little for a reader like me to care. That's even more true when the character DC trying to sell to us as 'Dick Grayson' is nothing more than an artificial construct of the real character that was the pre-Crisis Earth-2 Grayson. It's literally not the same thing, no matter how hard DC tries to sell us on that concept.

On the larger Earth-2 narrative itself, Abnett is also working to restore Earth-2 to it's more classic roots as the Justice Society Earth, namely by reintroducing classic Justice Society villains like the Ultra-Humanite and concepts like said villains plotting to take over the new Earth. Abnett is definitely moving in the right direction with the Earth-2 narrative. The only problem that is hindering my full interest in this story is the premise of the characters no longer existing on their original Earth for any of it to matter, and their new Earth is as artificial a construct as the new Dick Grayson. Literally.

If Earth-2: World's End had ended with the Earth-2 heroes actually averting this fate and defeating Apokolips, they would've still had an Earth to rebuild, but at least the original Earth would still have most of the human population around, their established countries, cultures, and history intact. It would've actually felt like a natural progression of the world building James Robinson started in Earth-2 #1 four years ago and not like an abrupt, hacked-to-death continuation of what looks like the Earth-2 James Robinson created.

The original Earth is as much a character in the Earth-2 narrative as the Justice Society characters themselves. Without it, that sense of a parallel Earth with an alternate history to Earth-0 is completely lost, and the stories are ultimately meaningless. If there is a perfect metaphor for what went wrong with Earth-2 following James Robinson's departure, imagine an alternate universe where Victor Frankenstein had actively murdered and dismembered the perfectly healthy human being he would later stitch back together and reanimate as his monstrous creation. A creature that sort of resembles the person it used to be, but is ultimately an artificially reanimated corpse. That is exactly what this new Earth-2 has become with DC editorial being our proverbial Dr. Frankenstein.

On the front of characterisation, that is honestly the only thing about Abnett's writing that's keeping me marginally interested in this otherwise sham of an Earth-2. Though a skilled storyteller doing his very best to make this artificial concept work, the only aspect of his writing that isn't suffering from the scars and fractures of the previous editorial office and writer are the characters. I guess it helps that most of the characters are not themselves undead corpses or robotic constructs of their former selves like their new Earth, but Abnett's writing of the characters themselves are what I'm enjoying most about his run.

Despite the obvious problems that exist with Helena's story on this Earth-2, Abnett is at least presenting her as an important world leader, and is characterising her as an heroic person who actually cares about the well-being of Earth-2 citizens. That does make sense for a character who was raised by Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle and was historically a lawyer. Her relationship with Power Girl is also left intact and handled with care and respect. Power Girl herself is written more closely to her pre-Flashpoint counterpart and Khalid--for the first time since Earth-2: World's End--has more of a speaking role in this issue. Though not a Kent Nelson, Khalid is at least being re-acknowledged as Doctor Fate again and it looks like he's going to play a more important role in Fury's storyline. Though I still find Fury's new origin problematic, Abnett is also characterising her more closely to a character who actually resembles Wonder Woman's daughter. He even gave her an invisible plane in this issue!

The only characters who didn't really get to do much in this issue were Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, Captain Steel, and Hawkgirl, but Hawkgirl at least got to play a more important role as the mediator between the Amazons and the rest of the human population. Val-Zod reappeared in costume without the 'S' on his chest, but didn't actually speak except for one line. Two characters I enjoyed reading this issue were Sonia Sato and Wesley Dodds, but that's mainly because I really enjoy the way Abnett writes them. In a meta sort of way, Sonia and Wesley kind of represent the voices of Earth-2 fans, especially when it comes to the Earth-2 Dick Grayson as Batman.

Like Earth-2 fans who find the new Earth-2 Grayson problematic as Batman, Dodds also doesn't accept this new guy as "Batman" and even dismisses him as a joke. Sonia counterbalances Wesley's rhetoric by saying 'hey, uh, Helena Wayne picked him' and he's all 'nah, I'm still not sold on this imposter at all.' It's actually kind of brilliant and funny at the same time. I think my favourite line of his in this issue was when he said 'Helena Wayne knows my extension number' as if saying 'hey, man, if Helena Wayne needs someone to keep an eye on Gotham, all she has to do is call me!' Dodds is quickly becoming my new favourite character in this series!

On the art front, I actually like Federico Dallocchio's art throughout this issue coupled with David Calderon's colours. It actually kind of reminds me of Andrea Sorrentino's art to a small extent since it's both simplistic yet detailed at the same time. The line work isn't overly complicated but still has depth. My only complaint is that Helena's Huntress mask is drawn very awkwardly in these pages and the colourist keeps getting the colours of her boots and gloves wrong. I know that Jorge Jimenez went with a mostly black and white Huntress costume design, but he did make the boots and gloves black. Hopefully the the colourist will remember to do that?

All in all, I can't say that I'm sold on the concept of characters who look like the Justice Society characters colonising a new planet as opposed to getting their original Earth back, but I do enjoy the book for the way Dan Abnett writes those characters. So it's something, I guess.


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