By: Tom Taylor (story), Eddy Barrows (pencils), Eber Ferreira (inks), Pete Pantazis (colors)

The Story: Jimmy Olsen considers the possibility of being Batman’s best pal.

The Review: Of the several improvements Taylor brought when he took over Earth Two, the best has to be where the character work is concerned. For all of James Robinson’s talents with solo characters, he struggled with the ensemble nature of this series, rarely writing a scene of two or more characters that wasn’t plot-driven or totally cheesy. Despite his sizable expansion of the cast, Taylor has shown greater mastery over them, whether on their own or in groups.

Only recently, though, has Taylor done sustained interactions among the characters, and in this issue he seems to have found his groove through two-person scenes. Improvisers and actors may agree when I say that two-person scenes are probably the purest kind there are; any more characters require a lot of choreography and rehearsal to pull off. Of all the various pairings, Jimmy Olsen and Thomas Wayne strike the best balance of personality and drama,* which both characters have parts in generating. At Thomas’ surprise that Jimmy knows his true identity, Jimmy declares, “I can hack any system. I can basically breathe information. No one can hide from me.”

Thomas cuts to the chase. “Lois told you.”

“Yes, she did.”

Funny, but also to a purpose, which is to get Thomas to start being a team player with this team he personally assembled. Jimmy’s remarkably jerk-free for a fictional kid scolding an adult, and he makes one of the most encouraging points in the series thus far: “This world is grim and dark and violent enough without you adding to the angst levels.” Amen, brother. I’ve said so myself for many an issue, and it’s about time someone acknowledged it.

And things do seem to be looking up, what with our heroes’ recent victories (relatively minor as they are) and the return of our original Wonders. Jay, Alan, and Kendra never did quite gel as a unit the first time, but it’s good nonetheless to see them together again, especially with Taylor taking fresh spins on their individual voices. Jay in particular sounds like a new man. It used to be his lines were so corny you could smear butter on them, but under torture, he finally reveals some genuine humanity, purposely annoying Beguiler with inane questions about her physiology:

“See, this is exactly what I’m say saying. How can you look outraged when you don’t have a brain? How do you have the motor skills? How are you not just a sack of skin and bones lying on the ground?”

I’m sure eventually things will return to Earth Two‘s usual equilibrium of gloominess, so let’s all enjoy the respite of bright moments while it lasts. And do comics ever get any brighter than a last-page reveal of a Superman crest? That’s the power of branding for you. Even with a neck-twisting Superman in the movies, a Superman turning Doomsday on Prime Earth,** and a Superman gone Apokoliptic on Earth-2 itself, that big S still has the power to fill you with hope, especially when revealed under someone’s ripped hoodie.

Barrows is a fine replacement for Nicola Scott, going for big moments nearly as often and with nearly as much glee. His linework isn’t quite as crisp and detailed, and the smoother, curvier figures do push him towards the more typical side of DC’s artistic spectrum, but unlike other house artists, he never pushes the emotions of his characters. Taylor’s two-person scenes work, not only because the dialogue fits so well, but also because of Barrows’ committedly low-key approach to the characters’ expressions.

Conclusion: An issue of sustained positive and interplay among the cast. Will Wonders never cease?

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Hence the suggestion of Jimmy becoming Thomas’ Robin, provided they have that serious talk about [Thomas’] attitude.” All I can say in response is yes, please—make it happen, Taylor!

** Which is the official name for the Earth of the DCU’s primary continuity, as I’ve recently discovered.

– No matter how you slice it, the Hawk-people do tend to be the least impressive members of any superhero team unless there’s an Arrow on it. A couple of pistols against Parademons—honestly.