By: Greg Pak (story), Jae Lee (art), June Chung (colors)

The Story: Sometimes it feels like your younger self is like a person from another planet.

The Review: Even though the first issue was a bit thin story-wise, Pak took some unusual directions in both the plot and characters that still worked.  With that tentative first step out of the way, Pak lengthens his stride on this second issue, settling upon a surprisingly comfortable and engaging pace.  He has a great instinct for moving from a burst of action to a touch of exposition, from letting characters mull on their own to weaving them together.

It’s that last point where Pak reveals his craft.  Instead of throwing everyone into the story all at once, he methodically cues each one’s entrance at just the right moment in the action, where their presence would best invigorate the scene.  In steady order we get introduced to our villain, our dual heroes, our heroes’ doubles, their doubles’ wives, and several other important figures along the way.  For all that, the issue never feels crowded; each character appears just long enough to keep the story clipping forward, like a highly trained relay team.

It’s pretty sly of Pak to choose not only to explore our heroes’ early lives in his opening arc, but those of Earth-2’s finest as well.  So now he gets to tinker with the building blocks of another world on top of the formative days of DC’s biggest icons.  It’s fascinating to see Earth-2 in better days, before Apokolips invaded and ruined everything, though it makes you wonder how the planet might have eventually turned out if allowed to proceed on its current course.  For example, what would a cleaned-up Gotham-2 be like with its biggest villains cryogenically imprisoned in a detention facility/tourist destination (“Arkham Asylum Amusement Park”)?

Ultimately, we know that Gotham-2 is destined to ruin, just like the solar dreams of Metropolis-2.  It’s the only way our heroes achieve parity with their counterparts.  Earth 2’s Batman and Superman may be in the prime of their powers, with fulfilling personal lives and cities on the brink of utopia, but the Batman and Superman of Earth Prime still have their futures ahead of them.  All the happiness their other selves have now only make their dooms more tragic.

Through all this, Pak shows an incredibly strong grasp of all the characters.  It’s a rather brilliant choice that the Batmen work through their misunderstanding analytically, while it takes a display of heart to settle things between the Supermen.  The moment where Martha-2 embraces Clark-Prime is not just a tearjerker; it’s completely logical to who they are.  Her pure act of compassion feels natural for a woman who’s already nurtured one boy from another world as her own, and it reveals that Clark’s early surliness is as much a function of his absent parents as his youth.

Of course, a writer who worked on an unbeatably chipper series like The Incredible Hercules can’t help injecting some warmth and fun into a story, no matter how sentimental or serious.  For the most part, this job is handled deftly by Earth 2’s ladies, each with their own attraction.  Catwoman-2’s feline flippancy is always fun (realizing her protests to the sparring Batmen fall on deaf ears, she sighs, “Psh.  But you boys feel free to work it out your own way.”), and Wonder Woman-2’s tendencies toward the dramatic never fail to grab your attention (“No mercy, Clark!” she yells, brandishing her spear as she leaps from a Pegasus, “For a demon walks our Earth!”).*  But it may be Lois-2’s saucy pride that’s most charming.  Seeing her husband’s doppelganger all but drool over Wonder Woman’s arrival, she grumbles, “Hmp.”

“What’s the matter?” Superman-2 asks.

“I’ll talk with you later.”

“Lois, he’s not me,” he protests.  “I only ever had eyes for you.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

I’m of two minds about Lee’s art on this series.  He’s obviously skilled and entirely at home with the style he’s developed, with its flowing edges and silhouettes that seem almost alive, beyond the control of the characters they’re attached to.  But he’s also very much a Spartan sort of artist, nearly going out of his way to minimize the number of figures he has to draw, resulting in an emptier world and lonelier tone to the issue, which is occasionally at odds with Pak’s lively script.  Good thing Chung isn’t afraid to punch up the colors just a notch to make up for an otherwise shadowy-looking book.

Conclusion: It may not be the best or most outstanding new series from DC right now, but it has the virtue of being the most surprising, practically all of it in a good way.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I kind of love that Diana just pounces with a spear aimed at Lois’ chest without any warning whatsoever.  It’s just so very…Diana-ish.

– Bruce’s dad read him Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” when Bruce was five? Ol’ Thomas Wayne was just asking to be murdered, wasn’t he?