The old Batman is dead. Long live Batman! EARTH 2 ANNUAL #1 introduces the replacement for the Dark Knight of DC’s perennial backup universe. Who would dare assume the cape and cowl after their world’s loss? What’s the deal with Al Pratt, aka The Atom? And how will either factor into the upcoming assault on Dherain, newly conquered base of operations for Steppenwolf?
For those just stepping into EARTH 2, the series began with a flashback to five years prior, when Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman died freeing the world from invaders from Apocolips. Also this universe’s versions of Supergirl and Robin got sucked into a wormhole and landed in the main universe, becoming Power Girl and The Huntress respectively. But that’s besides the point. Another thing that happened but didn’t seem important at the time was that a squad of soldiers mounted a last stand in a jungle against Parademon attack, resulting in a nuclear explosion.
As we learn in EARTH 2 ANNUAL #1, the only survivor of said nuclear explosion was Al Pratt, who developed inexplicable size-changing powers and atomic fists. The world army, desperate to form new superheroes in the wake of the previous loss, recruited Pratt, giving him the monicker of The Atom. For his own part, Pratt dove into the work in an effort to cope with the loss of his men and his post traumatic stress.
Yes, despite solicitations and cover art advertising this as an Earth 2 Batman centered comic, most of the page count is devoted to Atom and his mission to capture a French war criminal.
Which is not to say Batman does nothing. While Al gets his infiltration on, the mysterious new caped crusader fights the new version of the Icicle, dubbed Mr Icicle in an attempt to draw parallels to classic Bat-villain Mr Freeze. He even kind of looks like the current depiction of Freeze, except without the big helmet. We learn that Icicle gained frost powers from Kanto, the “Assassin of Apokolips”, a loyal agent of that alien planet who spent the intervening years “empowering” others.
As for Batman himself, we never learn who he is, though we do know he only just started his masked vigilante career. On the subject of his costume, it uses red accents heavily. No doubt this was influenced by Flashpoint, where the alternate history version of the dark knight also incorporated red. Personally I don’t mind, since Batman: Knight of Vengeance was one of the better miniseries from Flashpoint, and I quite liked the costume. Although this does make me wonder if this Batman here is also Thomas Wayne, unlikely since this universe’s Bruce Wayne already had a teenage daughter (the aforementioned Robin) by the time he died, and it’s been years since. If it was Thomas Wayne, he’d have to be much too old for crime fighting. Unless Damian exists in this universe and no one told us, I’m officially out of ideas as to who he is.
It came to my attention some time ago that James Robinson, one of my personal favorite writers and the mastermind behind EARTH 2 thus far, is leaving the book as of issue sixteen. With issue thirteen out this week, that’s four issues for him to wrap everything he has planned up before the book is either passed to another writer, or DC just cancels the title. Not that I’ve heard anything about it being canceled, but you never know. This does mean we can officially add Robinson to the list of high profile writers leaving DC. Combine that with those leaving Marvel, and the independent publishers seem to be gaining a lot more talent at the expense of the big two.
Oh well, there will always be more new meat to fill slots. It’s the entertainment industry, there’s always someone awaiting a chance to write. The operative question is whether those filling the void will be any good. We can only hope.
As for EARTH 2 ANNUAL #1, it was pretty good, though unless you really need to know what this version of Batman is doing, you can probably skip it. There’s nothing we already learned in previous issues, or likely will learn in future ones. We briefly meet the new Captain Steel, but only for a subplot that will get explored in depth later. The book is worth it if either Earth 2 Batman or The Atom do it for you.