Earth 2 Annual #1 slows the pace down some from the last few months of this title. Click the jump to read review.
We start to learn more about the world with the introduction of Phnom Fenh, a dangerous and filthy hive for those who would profit from the war that nearly destroyed the world. It’s here we find out more about Captain Al Pratt and how he became The Atom. For the first time we are getting to know what makes The Atom tick and, in sharp contrast to the way he is portrayed in the rest of the series so far, he is a likeable character. Readers will identify with the man who was trying to capture The Flash by using his mother. Its great to get a well rounded look at a rich, well crafted character as apposed to the “just doing his job” soldier who may be a good guy.
Also we get a glimpse of Commander Steel the metal clad hero who’s powers are completely unknown to us at this point because it was just a glimpse. Also in this issue we get introduced to Earth 2’s new Batman. We don’t know anything about this crimson-caped vigilante except that he is new to the role and he may not have qualms about killing to get the job done. Batman’s appearance is brief but he has a small side story that will likely lead us back to the main story arc. The story is punctuated by the return of Big Barda and Mr. Miracle leading me to wonder how such a huge cast will be folded into the storyline.
The pacing and layout of this issue are fantastic. The artwork is exemplary in every detail and really captures the imagination. An annual, which features more pages, this issue is allowed more room to grow and to fan out. James Robinson uses every panel to weave more of the story and history of this universe than we normally get in two issues of Earth 2. Part of the allure that this book has is the strikingly unique but familiar settings, such as the savage land of Gotham city. Gotham is devoid of human life but teeming with twisted creatures and beasts. And with each new story old faces are popping up in new ways.
Despite the higher page count, this doesn’t really make it feel like an annual. Some of you who may have been reading Batman last year would have read the Batman Annual. That book was a standalone; new readers could understand the story. That annual took place during major events and had a character changing moment in it. Still if you did not read Batman Annual #1, no problem, you did not have to read it to get the complete picture. With Earth 2, readers who missed this annual would be lost reading next month’s issue, wondering “When did Batman show up”? The annual feels like issue 12.5. I love it when the annual takes place during a story like it did with Superboy that was in the confines of H’El on Earth and yet had I missed it, the editors would not have even needed a footnote.
I highly recommend this annual as it really is must-read material rather than a “get it or don’t” story. That being said, it’s worth it. If you have been keeping up with Earth 2, this will fill in more of the dark areas on your map and perhaps change your view of the characters we know so far. I am very excited to find out just who this new Batman is and how he and the other additions will change the course of parallel history.