Sunday, January 6, 2013

Altered States

Earth 2: The Gathering: written by James Robinson; illustrated by Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott with Eduardo Pansica (2012): James Robinson and artist Paul Smith's 1990's alternate-history take on the Justice Society of America, The Golden Age, is one of the great 'What if?' superhero comic books. His 1990's run on Starman is also beloved of many. Here, he's working in peak form, having been given a chance to reimagine DC's old Earth-2 continuity (originally the home to DC's World War Two versions of superheroes) in the present day. Admittedly, all the press got excited about was the recasting of the (formerly) Golden-Age Green Lantern Alan Scott as gay.

Freed from 'normal' continuity, Robinson really goes all out here -- this is DC's best superhero book right now. Nicola and Trevor Scott supply clean, vaguely retro artwork (in the sense that it's not overcrowded and doesn't rely on the computerized colour palette for most of its best effects). The 'new' versions of old heroes are a pretty interesting lot, as Robinson seems to have been given carte blanche to rework the origins of the heroes. The Flash is now a magical hero, his super-speed granted by a dying Mercury (yes, that Mercury); the Green Lantern now fills Swamp Thing's role as a guardian of the world's biosphere. Oh, and Sandman is Canadian.

In the world of Earth-2, the Big Three -- Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman -- died in a last-ditch (and successful) effort to save Earth from a global invasion by the malign, super-powered forces of the planet Apokolips. Years later, with the Earth rebuilding, the next wave of heroes finally starts to emerge: the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, the Atom, the Sandman, and soon all the other Golden-Age heroes, I'm assuming.

But a second invasion from Apokolips may be looming. And on the homefront, Mr. 8 (Mister Terrific in the Golden-Age continuity) advances his plans to save the Earth by any means necessary, which in the past resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of humans during the Apokolips War.

It's all a lot of occasionally grim but mostly surprising super-hero fun. Robinson seems to have been rejuvenated himself by getting to work on an alternate continuity; here's hoping he gets to write this for a few years, and that editorial interference stays at a minimum. Recommended.

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