As a huge fan of the Justice Society of America, I was very pleased to receive its re-incarnation in the form of Earth 2. There are characters like Alan Scott and Jay Garrick that need to be in a story because they are honest, bread and butter heroes. James Robinson is an author worthy of the challenge because he is an experienced writer with a back catalogue consisting of an epic seven year run on Starman, a huge role with Superman: New Krypton, and a run on JSA itself. His heroes take on a long journey of catharsis and change which worked incredibly well with Starman. There would be barely anyone other creator on a shortlist to write this book. Cafu is a young artist who has worked on a variety of smaller books including Grifter, but gained critical acclaim for his pencils on Thunder Agents. He has a clean and epic style to his art, befitting the classic superhero. He is joined by Julius Gopez, who has drawn recent new 52 books like Red Hood, the Ravagers and Team 7. They share pencilling duty on this the Annual of Earth 2. These books often allow a story, out of continuity to expand side plots, supporting cast or origins of the main protagonists. The title of this book is Secrets and Origins and the cover features Batman. But he was killed in the very first issue of the comic….
As much as Batman may appear to be the focus of this book, he is not. It is about the origin of Captain Atom. Initially seen earlier in the series as an adversary for the Flash, we come to see the beginnings of Captain Al Pratt: a soldier mysteriously found unwounded during the midst of a nuclear explosion. There are some lovely character expositions at play here, as simultaneously there are flashbacks intertwined with a psychiatric evaluation. The dialogue is minimal and we bear witness to Atom’s painful memories justifying his muted responses and immense guilt complex. As we join him on an undercover mission in Phnom Penh, the artwork is allowed to really show his enlarging ability and unleash his rage. The dialogue can be a little too wordy when it comes to the character conversations but there is plenty of space for Cafu and Gopez to take advantage of. Cafu has a great style and Atom’s expressions are always clear, and his use of shading allows the tension to emanate through the page. There is a fantastic double page splash where we see Al chasing his target through sequential panels across a single rooftop landscape. The Batman subplot is reasonable and a little cliché but the mystery lies in who he actually is, so it plays off well enough. There are also solid excerpts of side stories involving Captain Steel, Big Barda and Mister Miracle.
James Robinson is delicately crafting a world, in which the heroes of previous incarnations are being reborn into key players of the oncoming war against Steppenwolf. There is an interesting mix of JSA members and characters from the Fourth World and we are slowly being introduced to them. This allows meticulous construction from the ground up and we need to forget what we knew about the Flash, Dr. Fate, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern. I admire Robinson because he is now thirteen issues into his run and has yet to even formally develop a superhero team. He is taking is time and there has even been a comic dedicated to the backstory of the antagonist Steppenwolf. Though the issues have been on the slower side, the interweaving plots and Cafu’s great pencilling have kept the readers hooked. This issue takes these key storytelling methods and applies them well to Captain Al Pratt and builds the Earth 2 universe. His is a classic superhero tome of being the fortunate amongst unfortunates and dedicating his life to their memories. On a disappointing note there really is no need for Batman to be on the cover of this book, or even be part of this universe. The initial issues covered the deaths of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in a war against Apokolips, and that is how it should remain. I cannot help but think that an alternate costume Batman is presented in a bid to increase sales. This is incredibly demeaning to the well-composed character discourse of Captain Atom. The Justice Society of America is coming, we must treat them well and watch them fight.
“I don’t need weapons……I am one!”