Earth 2 #18: The Dark Age
(This review contains spoilers for character reveals, but no spoilers for plot points.)
Floating in the air above a ruined, military prison, the Superman of Earth 2 has risen from the ashes, and begun to wage a war in the name of alien invaders. Deep in the prison, The Batman of Earth 2 begins a plot that might thwart the dark Superman’s plans. Several heroes are still missing in action, however, while the world building of Earth 2 continues at a fast pace.
I have also decided to include some new headings in this review, which I hope will be useful to readers. These headings are small points that explain additional information about specific comics, or comic books in general. Since I have had a few readers say that they are unfamiliar with comics, these points might help build familiarity. The first one is below:
What is Earth 2? A parallel Earth in a parallel universe where events happened differently to the mainstream, DC comics Earth, where Superman and The Batman are based. Parallel Earths are a key plot point of many comics, and of science fiction in popular culture (The television series Fringe for example).
Large scale, full-page artworks divide up and frame the key dramatic moments of the story. Visual story telling takes a distinct pattern here. Smaller panels with key facial expressions build toward large panels where huge, heroic actions take place. This tension escalation pushes the story forward at a quick pace.
Color is essential for building character in Earth 2. Bright yellow, green, and blue indicate a more heroic character. Red is a warning, perhaps suggesting extraordinary amounts of power (Superman, The Batman, Red Tornado, and The Flash for example). White appears for the first time in a characters costume. Traditionally, white means purity or newness (sometimes funerals), and it makes sense that entirely new or young characters appearing in this issue have white incorporated into their costume since they have not yet tested their abilities completely.
Both Superman and The Batman of Earth 2 are dressed in black and red. Warning colours are appropriate here. Both men are less connected with the other cast of characters compared to their counterparts on the mainstream Earth, and are therefore less predictable, and more dangerous.
Despite his transformation into a cold and dictator Superman, Kal-El still retains his sense of humor. Just like his costume, he indulges in black humor rather than the light-hearted comedy that audience associate with Superman (especially audiences familiar with the Superman films of the 1970’s).
Red Tornado plays a key role, having the courage to stand up to The Batman. This moves Earth 2 toward building a potential Justice Society, matching up with the golden age threads Earth 2 ostensibly draws on.
What is the Golden Age? Comic books were first published in the late 1930’s and 1940’s. This was the first appearance of Super Heroes in comic books. The Justice Society emerged from comics published during this time period.
Who are the Justice Society? A team of DC comics super heroes from the golden age who originally fought in World War II. The team include characters like Green Lantern (Alan Scott) and The Flash (Jay Garrick), who would later inspire new versions of super heroes with the same names (Hal Jordan, Barry Allen). DC comics has previously published a comic book entitled The Justice Society alongside the more well know Justice League.
Several new characters appear. Earth 2 introduces a parallel Aquaman and Jimmy Olsen – Jimmy is still Jimmy, but Aquaman is now Aquawoman. introducing Aquawoman, however, in addition to a younger Jimmy Olsen with technology based powers similar to Cyborg, moves Earth 2 toward an echo of the Justice League (particularly with the increasingly larger role for The Batman, and The Atom and Captain Steel missing).
In contrast, Mr. Terrific still receives several key moments as he engages in some complex problem solving, which then recruits the unique abilities of the Golden Age Sandman (Wesley Dodds). I stopped to ask what direction this comic going in though? My thoughts are that the balancing act between potential super hero teams aligns with what DC comics originally intended when Earth 2 began publishing. Earth 2 set out to build a complex world that kept readers guessing whether the golden age threads would be picked up and tied together, or alternatively, whether they would be woven into something altogether unexpected.
The Golden Age characters kick-started the comic book industry, however, and it would be a shame if they were sidelined, mocked, or forgotten.
Themes, Ethics, Values.
The story arc and themes are straightforward, with no major embellishment. A powerful dictator must be stopped by a growing team of heroes. What’s interesting is how the heroes react to a key scene that takes place toward the end of the comic.
Without spoiling the details, Red Tornado moves to protect the young Jimmy Olsen from witnessing the act that takes place. It’s an interesting moment that raises themes of child safety, particularly with all kinds of images available and unrestricted on the internet.
Themes of viewing unrestricted, online images is brought up moments before this final scene. Jimmy Olsen uses his influence over technology to scour the internet of Earth 2 for news about Superman. Despite witnessing images of war and destruction online, Red Tornado still moves to protect the boy from seeing an act taking place in front of him. The scenes make an interesting point about the effects of live versus recorded acts. The ethic here is protecting younger viewers from witnessing too many violent acts.
There are moments of bravery against overwhelming odds that appear at the beginning of the comic. The Flash of Earth 2, also a younger hero, stands up to Superman despite being completely outclassed, and witnessing heroes with more strength take on the Man of Steel moments ago, and being swatted aside.
A bit more on Earth 2 #18
Powerful artwork propels the story forward, and key, affecting moments build character. Danger levels rise, and with a shocking closing page, Earth 2 continues its war between the forces of good, evil, and the world army.