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Earth 2 #13

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers

Earth 2 #13 (cover)

As the World Army prepares to go to war with Steppenwolf in Dherain, we rejoin Commander Khan on the Sentinel as he confers with his superiors and explains his reasons for sending Captain Steel to investigate the strange reports coming from the fire pit in Rio De Janeiro. The fire pits were created by Terry Sloan during the war, using Apokolips science from Steppenwolf‘s base, and they have continued to burn around the world ever since. While the pit in Rio is fiery and hot, it is no longer radioactive. After years of being dormant the pit has suddenly become active, in the last week people have gone missing, and a figure has been seen in the flames.

Khan is confident that the unique properties of Captain Steel’s metal body will allow him to enter the fire pit safely and ascertain the cause of the strange activity. When Captain Steel arrives in Rio he is greeted by the inventor Jim Lockhart, who is responsible for developing vehicles for the World Army to use in special missions. Lockhart has now completed the Red Torpedo, a small craft with a tough outer shell that Captain Steel will use to travel into the fiery core of the pit.

Earth 2 #13 (preview 1)

The people of Rio watch and wait as Captain Steel boards the Red Torpedo and descends into the fire pit. Meanwhile in China, where Hawkgirl is trying to find out why Green Lanterns partner Sam was murdered, she is attacked in the graveyard where Sam is buried by a group of assassins riding genetically enhanced Apokorats. She manages to fend off some of her attacker, blasting them from their mounts, when the new Batman arrives to dispatch another rider with an explosive Batarang. The mysterious Batman informs Hawkgirl that Kanto the Assassin of Apokolips is involved, instructing her to follow the trail to Kanto, before vanishing in a cloud of red smoke. Hawkgirl is left stunned by this new Batman’s sudden appearance; neither can she begin to understand how Sam became involved with Apokolips Battle Tech, or why he was killed for it.

Back in Rio the fire pit is raging as something begins to emerge. Commander Khan desperately asks Lockhart to report what is happening, they are expecting the torpedo to return, but Lockhart can only watch in horror as a burning figure emerges from the flames and shambles towards him.

The new subplot introduced in last weeks annual, about the investigation into the fire pits Sloan created during the Apokolips War, quickly becomes the focal point in Earth 2 #13 as we finally get a chance to see Captain Steel in action. Earth 2 #13 is another fine example of how richly detailed James Robinson’s alternative world has become, as he skilfully integrates Captain Steels origin into the plot, while revealing several key aspects about the World Army and their operations. We learn how American citizen Hank Heywood JR, a native Filipino, was born with a congenital defect that made his bones crumble. His father was a scientist, who used his genius to create a form of metal which he then infused with his sons DNA, before injecting it into Hank’s body.

Earth 2 #13 (preview 4)

The metal bonded with Hank JR’s skeleton, before replacing his limbs, and even some of his internal organs. The procedure saved his life, giving him super strength and the ability to control any machinery by will power alone. Heywood then contacted the World Army about his discovery, intending to help them create an army of Captain Steels. The Apokolips forces discovered Heywood’s plan and attacked before he could reveal his secrets. His son fought valiantly against the Parademon horde, but he couldn’t stop them all. His father killed himself to prevent Steppenwolf from obtaining his research data, sacrificing himself to keep his secrets safe, and afterwards Hank JR went on to join the World Army – becoming its first new wonder.

For fans of the golden age character Commander Steel, or the more recent Citizen Steel, it would seem that James Robinson has worked his magic again to update the character and his origin for a new generation of readers to enjoy. Captain Steel also takes a steely approach to his duty as a member of the World Army, he is very abrupt and just wants to get the job done, and seems to have little time or inclination to discuss his mission with Lockhart. The introduction to Captain Steel has been perfectly handled by James Robinson, the inclusion of Jim Lockhart is also an added bonus, striking just the right balance between the past and updating it for the New 52 version of Earth 2.

We also learn details of the Red Files, secret projects initiated by the World Army after the Apokolips War to form contingency plans and deterrents against any future threats. These projects all contain the word red in their code names: the Red Tornado was one of the first, then there is the Red Arrow who has apparently been working secretly in the field for years, and the inventor Jim Lockhart is the man who built Red Torpedo.

Earth 2 #13 (preview 5)

The new Batman also returns in Earth 2 #13 after making his debut in last weeks annual. He arrives to help Hawkgirl when she is attacked in the graveyard. Although I think she would have been more than capable of handling the Apokorats herself, it sets up a nice scene between her and Batman, who then suddenly disappears in a cloud of red mist. One aspect here that I do find a little irritating is the fact that Hawkgirl’s name has suddenly been changed from Kendra to Shiera. No reason given to explain this change, hopefully it’s just a mistake, but it is a little worrying and highly inconsistent with what we have come to expect from this series.

With the news that James Robinson has decided to leave DC and move on from Earth 2 after issue #16, there has been intense speculation about his reasons for leaving. He will be greatly missed by fans of the series, the dedication and attention to detail that Robinson has invested in establishing the characters of Earth 2 has been remarkable, and whoever takes over from him will have a lot to live up to. I just hope that Hawkgirl’s name change isn’t a sign that things are already starting to unravel, as it would be a great shame to see the essence of what has made Earth 2 so enjoyable become diluted by a series of bland concepts and uninspired storylines.

The art for this issue of Earth 2 is handled by Yildiray Cinar, his brilliant pencils are nicely complemented by Rob Hunter’s inks, and together with color by Pete Pantazis and some great lettering by Dezi Sienty this issue really seems to jump off the page. Earth 2 #13’s dramatic cover, with Captain Steel swathed in flames, is provided by Booth Rapmund. Its a really eye catching cover, with Captain Steel battling his way through fire, and gives a sense of just how powerful this character is. As this issue races towards its shocking conclusion, a new threat is discovered within the crimson flames of the fire pit, one so powerful that it could destroy the entire planet.

Although I was a little disappointed that the cliff-hanger from last weeks annual wasn’t resolved, I do like how Robinson is maintaining the mystery surrounding the new Batman, who indecently has no trouble disappearing back into the shadows. Earth 2 #13 is a densely plotted issue, full of great character moments, and Robinson keeps you on the edge of your seat right up until the final page.