By: James Robinson (story), Cafu (art), Julius Gopez (pencils), Cam Smith (inks), Pete Pantazis (colors)

The Story: The big guy goes after the small fry.

The Review: While some might use the recent announcement of Robinson’s departure from this series (and DC as a whole) as ammunition against DC’s creative instability, I happen to see it as a perhaps wise, even necessary thing.  Robinson’s power on Earth Two began waning a long time ago, and by now, his writing is no longer a factor for why I remain attached to the title.  Really, it’s more the concept, as opposed to the execution, that keeps me on board.

It is not lost on me, however, that even conceptually, this series is fully a product of Robinson’s imagination.  I’m perfectly willing to admit that in terms of actual plot development, he has good ideas and Earth Two has become a compelling, independent world because of it.  But his character work has been horrendously shallow on this series, mostly as a result of an increasingly hackneyed style of dialogue and narration.

Even though Al Pratt is the focus of the issue and despite literally going through analysis, we never see much of the army dog’s interior.  This is simply a lost opportunity on Robinson’s part.  PTSD has become so common among soldier characters that it’s almost trite, but nevertheless, we should have explored Al’s guilt over his fallen comrades more deeply before he comes to terms with it two or three pages later.  This guilt is about the only thing which could justify generic army dialogue like, “Stow it!  All ‘o you, we’re soldiers, American soldiers, you hear me?  We fight!  We get it done!

Generic dialogue, though it indicates a lack of personality, isn’t really the same as terrible or nonsensical dialogue, however.  By far the most cringe-inducing lines in the issue come from Al’s psychiatrist, who either states the obvious (“You’re a normal, healthy man who happened to survive being at the epicenter of a nuclear explosion…and who now has the power to grow to great heights, as well as having some kind of nuclear-augmented super-punch.”) or makes the most irrelevant remarks (“The thing I’m curious about—being there as I was and seeing you grow—how and why…did your clothes grow with you?”).  She’s not really there to provide some illumination to Al’s state of mind; she’s there to help Robinson deliver information he can’t comfortably insert elsewhere.

It still drives me crazy that Robinson continues to repeat the same continuity points over and over in every issue of Earth Two he writes.  They’re not only totally unnecessary for most readers (because, let’s face it, most of his readers by this point are loyalists, not newbies), they’re distracting and often clumsily written.  After all, Al has no need to explain what should be common knowledge to his psychiatrist, that “Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman—not to mention Robin and Supergirl—died saving the world and ending the war five years ago.”

Against all these problems of execution, Robinson still offers a compelling alternative to the current DCU.  The changes to the world order are particularly promising, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t take more time to explore them: Phnom Penh as a center of black market Apokolips tech, Rio de Janeiro perched atop a fire pit, Gotham City as a lost land where now “mad science and monsters rule!”  It may also be that he’s biting off far, far more than he can chew by growing the cast so exponentially, introducing four new ones in this issue alone (Big Barda, Mister Miracle, new character Henri Roy, Jr., and of course, the new Batman) and referring to several others (“Red Arrow,” and Kanto, an “assassin of Apokolips” who remains loyal to his homeworld unlike the self-interested Steppenwolf).  Again, it’s hard to get on board with Robinson’s storytelling, but the story itself remains full of potential.

We don’t see enough of Gopez’s work to really make a critique on it one way or another; the two-page interlude he draws looks mostly like your usual DC house art—meaning plain and unremarkable.  But since this means Cafu gets to draw practically the whole oversized issue himself, one can hardly mind.  Between him and Nicola Scott, this series has gotten quality art far in excess of the actual script.  With Pantazis’ wonderfully vivid colors, Cafu’s action-packed, versatile artwork looks more intense and stunning than ever.  When Al looms over a villain in his gargantuan size, when Batman knocks Mister Icicle through a stained glass window, when Big Barda gets choked and bound by Fury’s red-hot lasso—the tension is pitch-perfect in each and every panel, full of energy that the dialogue often lacks.

Conclusion: Great art and quite a lot of new developments makes this annual a worthwhile read, even if Robinson’s flawed writing remains clearly prominent.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Did new-Batman kill Mister Icicle there?  I mean, he shoots the villain square in the chest, but from what I’ve seen, those aren’t ordinary bullets loaded into his wrist guns.