Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Earth-2 Reboots: Air Wave and Amazing Man

Welcome to The New 52 Earth-2 by James Robinson. Robinson has apparently been given a completely blank page in re-imagining the Golden Age heroes he is most closely identified with. The only rule seems to be to tie this world to Earth-1's Justice League and the invasion of Darkseid from Apokalips.

When I first saw that Robinson was going to be writing a new Earth-2 book the biggest question I had was: How is he going to do it? Since 1940, these characters have been tied to World War II, Hitler, Preseident Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the magic that kept most of the classic, Golden Age heroes from taking the Axis down and winning the war. What would James Robinson be bringing to these characters - as well as bringing these characters to - that Geoff Johns, David Goyer, Roy Thomas and a host of creators before him hadn't to make these characters fresh and interesting? I was curious, because of what he had famously done with Starman. He's made several attempts since Starman to see if lightning would strike twice. His Cry For Justice was savaged by critics. His run on Justice League of America was the final run before The New 52 reboot, and featured sidekicks and Teen Titans in their mentors' roles. His latest effort, The Shade twelve-issue maxi-series was nearly cancelled by issue eight. I was wondering if James Robinson had reached a point in his career like my other favorite writer, Marv Wolfman, where there was an end of words.

I am thrilled that that is not the case.

I'm following Earth-2 and, my good friend, Sean Elks' reviews of the book.

These new All-Stars have come together not to fight the European Axis of Evil, including Adolf Hitler; but, to fend off an apocalyptic invasion by Darkseid! Here, there is no Trinity - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. Sidekicks Robin and Supergirl are Earth-1's Huntress and Power Girl. There doesn't appear to be a Hawkman. Earth-2's most brilliant mind, Terry Sloane is also the most dangerous one as well. Green Lantern Alan Scott is gay. Al Pratt isn't much of a "Tiny Titan" when he grows to Goliath-size as an Atom Smasher. More familiar, but just as mysterious is Hawkgirl and her connection to Pratt. Jay Garrick still seems to be a bit of a slacker. It will be interesting to see how these heroes come together to beat the new incarnation of Solomon Grundy. More interesting will be to see the new Earth-2 recruits.

Jay's now ex-girlfriend left him to start over on the West Coast at Tyler Chemical. It should be interesting to see The New 52 version of Rex Tyler. It will be interesting to see what's become of Terry Sloane's doppelganger, Michael Holt.

I am very interested to see what Robinson has in store, on Earth-2. This isn't the Justice Society anymore. It's not Infinity, Inc. Or, Young All-Stars, or All-Star Squadron or All-Star Comics. Near the end, the Justice Society of America's roster bloated to epic proportions, Gog and the Kingdom Come Superman were introduced, and wackiness ensued.

I'm hoping that Robinson keeps the core cast as small and as tight as he did in Starman and adds some guest appearances and cameos sparingly. There are a couple that I am looking out for.

First, is Larry Jordan. The Golden-Age Air Wave. Larry was an attorney by day and a masked mystery man by night. His powers were radio based. That was mainly because as a Golden Age hero, radio was the big deal. Larry sort of faded from heroics, because film, television and roller blades have become equally to more relevant and important in pop culture that radio.

Technology has certainly changed since Larry was an All-Star. Cell phone technology and communications are industry leaders in modern times. I could see Robinson re-imagining Larry Jordan as a communications giant like Bill Gates or the late Steve Jobs. Oracle was an incredible, invaluable character, not just to Batman, but to the entire DCU at the time. I could see Larry Jordan starting out as a broadcasting engineer and developing into a near equal to Alan Scott. Alan Scott can have a television and maybe a radio broadcasting empire. Larry Jordan could be an Air Wave with a communications empire. The television series 24 capitalized on the use of cell phones and computer information searches and data transfer to keep the action moving. That was a background point that was developed to the forefront. I'd like to see Air Wave return and look cool.

The other hero I'm looking to see make a comeback is Will Everett's Amazing Man. There are way too few cool black super heroes in comics. So far, Michael Holt is the lone hero of color or ethnicity on Earth-2. Will Everett was a bold move by Roy Thomas introducing a black super hero during World War II. Times and race relations haven't changed much. Amazing Man made a brief comeback on Captain Atom's Extreme Justice.

I wouldn't really see a lot of change in Everett. His absorbing powers are unique, if a bit redundant considering Marvel's Absorbing Man. He might be redundant considering the powerhouse that Al Pratt has become.

I think it is important to bring Will Everett back as almost Earth-2's version of John Henry Irons or Luke Cage. An average, blue collar, working class individual with amazing abilities. Someone to balance the Jay Garricks of Earth-2 against the Michael Holts and Alan Scotts. Ted Grant's Wildcat has not made an appearance in Earth-2, yet, so maybe Will Everett can fill that gap. Maybe Robinson can reimagine Everett as an Olympic-level athlete that becomes a team strongman. Like Arn "Iron" Munro was for the Young All-Stars.

The New 52's Earth-2 is part of DC Entertainment ushering in a new comic book age. We've seen the Golden, Silver and Bronze ages all come and go with different heroes making their mark in each age. Jay Garrick and Alan Scott have become timeless heroes alongside Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince. This revival could either be landmark or epic fail. I'm excited. I'm hoping that James Robinson returns to his Earth-2, Golden Age roots and is able to revive these characters and bring on a new golden age. Hopefully, his efforts will keep these characters fresh and relevant to a modern audience. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Starman #0

 Dave sez, this was originally posted at Player Affinity.

September is Zero Month! DC Comics wraps up the first twelve months of The New 52 with the line-wide Zero Month. This is the first Zero Month since October of 1994. College freshmen this year were born in 1994, and are probably unfamiliar with what a zero issue is. Beloit College produces an annual mindset list for faculty to better relate to incoming freshmen. If there were one for comic book editors and writers, an item such as books like Zero Hour, Zero Month issues, Year One annuals, Final Night, Armageddon 2001, Legends and Crisis on Infinite Earths have all been single volume works collected in trade paperbacks or hardcover editions. They have not been seen firsthand as single issue monthly installments.

One of the finest zero issues to be produced in the fall of 1994, and one that still stands the test of time, is Starman #0, by Earth-2 writer James Robinson!

Lasting only 80 issues from October 1994 to August 2001, this is another book that today's college freshmen are more likely unfamiliar with. Starman #0 has been collected in the Starman: Sins of the Father trade paperback as well as the first Starman Omnibus hardcover and most recently the first Starman Omnibus trade paperback. The second volume Starman Omnibus trade paperback releases this month.

More familiar is Robinson's recent work on the New Krypton storyline; his run on Justice League of America featuring Dick Grayson as Batman, Donna Troy replacing Wonder Woman and Mon-El standing Superman; and, his Cry For Justice mini-series with Green Lantern leading a Justice League composed of co-hort Green Arrow, Freddie Freeman's Captain Marvel, Supergirl, the Ray Palmer Atom, Mikaal Tomas Starman and Congorilla with a fleeting cameo by Batwoman.

Earlier this month, Robinson's Earth-2 #0 was released. Eighteen years earlier, in October 1994, Robinson took a small corner of the DC Universe and re-imagined it. He had virtually the same clean slate and blank page as today. He started by making the location the most important character of Starman.
Opal City, Maryland becomes as much a character in the pages of Starman as Ted Knight and his son Jack. Opal's founding and founder are clearly defined from the start. Burnley Ellsworth is an homage to Starman artist Jack Burnley and editor Whitney Ellsworth. Robinson must know the Golden Rule: location, location, location. Superman and Metropolis are as much connected as Smallville was connected to him as Superboy; as Gotham City to Batman; Central City to Barry Allen, Keystone City to Jay Garrick and Coast City to Hal Jordan. From the start, Robinson is taking a minor character in Starman and elevating him to major status.

One of the major differences between The New 52 Earth-1 and Earth-2 is the absence of the Trinity. There is no Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman on Earth-2. Sidekicks Robin and Supergirl have crossed over and become Huntress and Power Girl. Robinson is familiar with this kind of change, too. David Knight took over as Starman from both his father and the '90's meta-human hero Will Peyton. Peyton's Starman lasted 45 issues from 1988 to 1992. Robinson's revival picks up only two years after Will Peyton's adventures were cancelled. David Knight made a guest appearance to reclaim the mantle of Starman. Here, it is his. He is immediately killed by a sniper's bullet.

Superman has his Luthor; The Batman has The Joker; Wonder Woman has The Cheetah. Starman's opposite is The Mist. He is very much like The Joker, he doesn't have an alter ego. He could be known by only one name, Kyle. The Mist has come to Opal City and take his revenge on Ted Knight by taking every thing important and valuable from him piece by piece before finally killing Knight himself at last. His son, Kyle, and his daughter, Nash, are partners in his scheme. After murdering David, Kyle visits Jack at his antique store to kill him as well.

Here is the difference between a character created by James Robinson and a character created by someone like, say, Geoff Johns. There are a couple of characters that Johns has either written or created that come off as bitter fanboys mocking the comic book reading audience. Superboy/man Prime and David Gates are two familiar examples. What was disappointing to the point of abandonment with Justice League was that David Gates appeared to be a fanboy, to the point of writing a book supporting the team's debut adventure. When he learned that the Justice League was the cause of his terminal illness, he turned against them violently. Jack Knight was no Starman fan. He mocked and ridiculed his brother wearing the classic costume. But, his affinity for old things is more of a respect equal to his contempt for the Starman legacy.

He smartly deduces that Kyle is no customer, when The Mist's son comes in to his shop. After being shot in the leg and his arm singed, Jack escapes as Kyle blows up the store.

Meanwhile, at the Knight Observatory, Nash watches as it explodes, and Ted is knocked down by a falling brick outside.

The Mist's plan seems to be unfolding smoothly. Except for Jack's escape from Kyle.
 There were other characters rebooted and relaunched with the October 1994 Zero Month following DC Comics' Zero Hour event. Hawkman was one of the major revisions. Manhunter, Fate, Lobo, Guy Gardner: Warrior, Aquaman all received the Zero Month treatment. The Trinity, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman along with The Flash, Green Lantern and Green Arrow all got zero issues. The most enduring character was the Jack Knight Starman. Even in spite of his whole history now being erased from current continuity by DC's The New 52 relaunch. Not every DC character receieves the omnibus treatment. Jack Knight, Earth-2 and Golden Age history have been Robinson's defining work.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

James Robinson is From Earth 2

Hi, I'm Dave. I like comic books. I read comic books.

I decided to take a risk on James Robinson and pick up DC's Earth 2. It was the same risk that ended in disappointment when I picked up his seven issue Justice League: Cry For Justice mini-series and again when I started reading his run on the main Justice League book.

Cry For Justice was a brilliant idea, but the idea for a separate, more pro-active, Justice League is not a new one. Batman famously left the League and started The Outsiders, when foreign policy kept him from rescuing Lucius Fox from Baron Bedlam in Markovia. for a time Martian Manhunter led a Justice League: Task Force; Captain Atom led a Justice League: Extreme. Prior to the legendary epic Crisis on Infinite Earths, Aquaman moved the League inland to Detroit. Afterward, there was the Bwa-ha-ha-ha League with Blue Beetle, Booster Gold and Guy Gardner; and both the Justice League International and Justice League Europe. When an alien entity was interested in remaking the Earth as a new home, The Advance Man inadvertantly launched the Justice Leagues. Superman and Martian Manhunter were part of a Justice League of Aliens, Wonder Woman led a Justice League of Amazons, Aquaman led a Justice League of Atlantis, while the Batman Family was a Justice League of Arkham. What Robinson brought to Cry For Justice was a lot of rage and vengeance. A sense of righteous anger. He was going to shake up the status quo by making the heroes more pro-active and have them go after the bad guys. He pitted his League against a rogue Batman, named Prometheus. Who cut off Speedy's arm. Prometheus was so evil that there was only one way to stop him.

Start to finish, Cry For Justice was just dark, bitter and angry. There was no "Brightest Day" for either Green Lantern Hal Jordan or Green Arrow Oliver Queen at the end.

When Robinson took over for Dwayne McDuffie on Justice League of America after Cry For Justice, he pretty much inherited a Teen Titans book. Superman had gone off to New Krypton and was replaced by Mon-El from the Legion of Super-Heroes; Bruce Wayne was supposed dead and replaced by Dick Grayson as Batman; and, Donna Troy replaced Diana Prince as Wonder Woman. They were joined by Cyborg, Jade, Supergirl and Starfire.

I would have loved to see Robinson's take on either the Teen Titans or the Justice League. Not a hybrid of the two. The problem I found with trying to read his League is that I knew Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince would eventually return to their roles and the team would morph into something completely different. Again. Anything done in-between seemed more of a distraction.

Now, as part of The New 52, James Robinson has launched Earth 2.

The basic question I had, he answered immediately, which was: How do you have a Justice Society apart from the Golden Age and World War II? His answer part of relaunching DC's titles in a New Age, replace Hitler and the War with Darkseid and an invasion from Apocalypse. Brilliant.

In four issues he has re-introduced and updated The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkgirl, The Atom, Terry Sloane and Mister Terrific. He has decisively set them and their world apart from what might be considered Earth 1 - or the Earth where all the main action happens, whatever designation that Earth now has.

The only conclusion I can come to is that James Robinson is Roy Thomas' love child and that he is from Earth 2 and has no Earth 1 counterpart.

After taking over for Stan Lee at Marvel, Roy Thomas launched The Invaders, bringing together Captain America and Bucky, The Human Torch and Toro and Namor, The Sub-Mariner. To this core line-up he added Union Jack, Spitfire, The Whizzer and Miss America.

Moving to DC, Thomas launched the All-Star Squadron, grouping all of DC's Golden Age wartime heroes under President Roosevelt as a single unit.

One of his early projects at DC was a four-issue mini-series called, The Golden Age. It was an Elseworlds (alternate reality) look at the All-Star Squadron heroes post-World War II.

Following this, Robinson launched his most defining work.

Jack Knight made his first appearance, with his father, Ted, the Golden Age Starman, and brother David, in Zero Hour 1. The five-issue backwards numbered Zero Hour was an attempt to clean up some continuity hiccups created in the decade following Crisis On Infinite Earths. One of those hiccups appeared to be the co-existence of both a Golden Age and Modern Age Hawkman. One a reincarnated Pharaoh, the other a space cop. Hakwman became a singular hero. Zero Month followed, relaunching all of DC's characters.

Reading the first four issues of Earth 2, and seeing what Robinson may be doing there, has got me going back and re-reading Starman.

As if I needed a reason to do that. All I needed was a day that ended in "y".

With Starman, Robinson was able to carve out and define an obscure corner of the DC Universe. He drew attention to characters that at best were secondary support to heroes like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern. He may just be doing that again with Earth 2. I think most people are like me, hoping that he can do that kind of thing again.

His success with Starman, was that he made readers care about the characters he was writing. That's the kind of success any writing hopes for. My father passed from prostate cancer at the same time as Ted Knight's final battle with The Mist. Reading what James Robinson was doing with Jack and Ted's relationship, and how Jack related to those around him, hero, villain, civillian was compelling. I made a connection with a fictional character. I enjoyed his adventures. Robinson and co-creator Tony Harris created a character that I identified with, and felt was a little like me.

So, while I am reading Earth 2, I'll be re-reading Starman. And hoping that Robinson brings back heroes like Larry Jordan as Air Wave.
Maybe without the roller skates, though.