Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Earth-2 4, originally released August 1st, 2012.
Patrick: Self-awareness is all the rage these days. You can get away with telling any story – no matter how cliche or inane – by simply having the characters acknowledge the various well-worn tropes they’re engaged in. It’s a safe way for writers and film-makers to assure their audience that they’re in on the joke – yes, we all know how crazy this looks. Joss Whedon is the king of this sort of thing (y’all saw Avengers, right?), but you see it everywhere. There are a couple of draw-backs to this approach, but the biggest danger is that of white-washing your characters’ personalities. If everyone is savvy enough to comment on their genre-adventures, then no one’s really an individual. Another big draw-back is that it makes everyone extremely — and interchangeably — chatty. While Earth-2 manages some neat concepts and fun characters, the cut-and-paste nature of the dialogue is holding it back in a serious way.
Issue number four is light on plotting: Hawkgirl, Flash, Green Lantern and Atom fight Grundy in Washington D.C. Uh, maybe that’s being too reductive – let’s take a look at how each character gets into this fight.
His fresh Greeny powers granting him the abilities to fly and hone in on Grundy’s location, Alan Scott charges into battle. He gives half a second over to thinking about grieving over Sam, but he shrugs it off so he can… what exactly? That ends up being Alan’s questions after he throws a few impotent punches and fails to generate constructs.
When they notice all the plant life dying around them, Hawkgirl and Jay Garrick (not yet calling himself The Flash) decide that they need to team up and find the source of this Rot. It’s unclear exactly who feels what, but one of them is able to trace the Big Bad to D.C. Jay gives his new friend a ride on the super-speed express, and they arrive on the scene moments before Alan. Neither of them are all that effective at fending off Grundy, so Jay mostly sticks to getting people out of harm’s way. Never mind that Hawkgirl would have been pretty good at rescuing people too — she can fly after all.
And last out of the hero’s stable is Al Pratt, The Atom. There’s a mega-compressed origin story tucked in here: guy survives atomic blast, is discovered by — and then eventually works for — the World Army. Al parachutes into the battle (without a parachute, so that’s sorta cool), becomes huge and stomps Grundy. Rather than thank the heroes for their assistance, he tells them that they’re all coming with him.
Now, I like a good gathering of heroes. I’m a sucker for this kind of thing — and when they get to come together while thwomping an avatar of death and decay. I’m so all-for-it conceptually that I want to share that kickin’ moment:
Which is cool and all, but this series – and this issue in particular – suffers from some awkward-ass dialogue. Some of it is that aforementioned self-awareness, but other times the conversations just straight don’t make sense. Much like the “TRUST YOU!?” fiasco from last month, conversations occasionally just don’t make sense. Hawkgirl and Flash — on the subject of following the trail of the Rot — have this confusing exchange:
Hawkgirl: It’s almost overwhelming. You still can’t feel that?
Flash: How can you stand it Hawkgirl? S’leading us back… to America.
It’s possible that Jay’s first “it” refers to the friction from him running so fast, as that was the topic of conversation a few panels previous. But both the “it” and the “that” in Hawkgirl’s line refer specifically to the Rot-trail they’re following. Also, I don’t want to deduct points for creative contractions, but “s’leading?”
Or like, flying over the ocean, Alan Scott just says “America” to himself. It’s fucking weird. Does he not know that he’s going to to have to fly over 3000 miles of America before reaching his destination on the east coast? Also, who’s he talking to? He’s just zooming over the Pacific, no one’s listening, dude.
And then there’s this one:
“How’s the hell this happening?” Clearly, that line read “How’s this happening?” at one point, but someone added “the hell” for emphasis and never bothered to correct the rest of the sentence. The only reason I really nitpick this is that it feels like validation for every time I read an exchange between characters and then say to myself “wait, what?”
It’s also weird that 90% of this issue is basically a Boss Fight — and not one that’s going particularly well — that’s immediately shut down as a giant hero falls out of the sky and squishes the baddie. It’s like making the house dropping on the Wicked Witch of the East the climax of the story — we don’t get the satisfying conclusion of the munchkins fighting her off themselves.
I don’t mean to give the impression that I didn’t like this issue. It’s still remarkably fun and paced within an inch of its life. A lot of that comes across in Nicola Scott and Eduardo Pansica’s art, which is always clean and shockingly adept at portraying scenes of devastation involving several characters. This panel demonstrates what I’m talking about pretty well:
Grundy’s pretty scary; looks like Green Lantern’s in trouble; Flash is rescuing some people — yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
What do you think, Drew? Am I being too hard on the dialogue or are you distracted by it too? Also, it looks like we’re flashing back to a time when Bats, Supes and Wonder Woman were stomping around Earth-2 — does that sound like fun to you?
Drew: We’ve seen a lot of interesting approaches to establishing characters in the New 52, but they can roughly be broken down into two categories: characters who haven’t changed, so can continue doing what they do with the understanding that we know who they are and what they’re about; and characters who are very different in the DCnU, where a little more time must be invested in establishing their personality and motivations. Earth-2 strangely wants it both ways, hoping to mine its audience’s goodwill towards the Golden Age characters, while tonelessly updating their universe.
Actually, the universe isn’t that bad, but the characters really are. I don’t know much about Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, Al Pratt, or Hawkgirl, but I feel like I know them less after reading this issue. A lot of people have made a lot of unfortunate comments responding to the decision to make Alan Scott gay, but one thing that was made clear to me through that backlash was the notion that, gay or no, this Alan Scott is very different from the one we know. Never mind that I don’t personally have any attachment to the character, giving him a new personality and origin means starting from zero for everyone, which this title has been pretty bad at thus far.
All we know about this Alan is that he loved a man named Sam, who died in a train crash. And actually, I only remember that his lover was named Sam because this issue reminded me. He was a character who existed for all of a few pages in a single issue. I’ve seen goons last longer, and they’re supposed to be dispatched mindlessly. Hell, I have more time to relate to Grundy here than there was to learn anything about what made Sam (if that’s what you say his name was) so great. It’s a classic case of telling rather than showing, but I’m really not feeling the loss of Sam as a big motivator for anything.
Though I guess that’s more motivation than “why not?” which seems to be all that motivates Jay. At least they established that he has nothing better to do, but he’s more or less been running since the night Marathon landed in that field; dude could use a break.
I suppose my biggest issue is that this title continues to be one giant origin story, which I’ve never been a fan of. What’s worse, these aren’t even good origin stories. We’ve already gotten two (two) origins where a powerful entity gives a normal human a superhuman ability before they cease to exist, conveniently becoming unavailable to answer any questions. That’s a story that would be trite once. Hawkgirl is a little more mysterious, but I don’t have much faith in Robinson to deploy that story in a compelling way (even if that story doesn’t turn out to just be the god of Hawkgirls turning her into a Hawkgirl with its dying breath).
Patrick is right, the characters here are largely interchangeable, which unfortunately means they’re all equally uninteresting. But, he’s also right in saying it isn’t all bad. I’m still intrigued by Earth-2 itself, which is being developed in the way I expect of characters (and oddly, the characters are laid out with little fanfare the way I expect of plot-points). There are all kinds of intriguing mysteries about this world, which makes me interested in learning more about it. I just wish this nonsense about these poorly-conceived characters wasn’t getting in the way.
I certainly don’t think you’re being hard on the dialogue, Patrick; it’s too often dumb. I’ll do you one better, and say that the characterization and plotting are also dumb. In short, I’m not finding much to like in this title, and I’m not sure its occasional pleasures really justify reading it. We might need to devote some of the comments to a discussion about removing it from the pull altogether.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?