In the wake of news of his pending departure from "Earth 2" and DC Comics, James Robinson's cornerstone for the next level of development of "Earth 2" is packed with all sorts of promises of what could or still might be. Branded with an Andy Kubert drawing of the new Batman on the cover, "Earth 2 Annual" #1 features the Al Pratt Atom with scenes devoted to Captain Steel, Barda and Mister Miracle and, of course, the new Batman.
Robinson's story has the scope of a summertime annual from yesteryear, but is clearly plunked between "Earth 2" #12 and #13. The extra space and the label of "Annual" allows Robinson to investigate people and places he simply hasn't had the time or space to develop in the monthly allotment of twenty pages. Hawkgirl makes a single-panel appearance while Flash, Green Lantern and Doctor Fate are nowhere to be found. "Earth 2 Annual" #1 is about continuing the process of building the world and succeeds quite nicely in doing so. Pratt is given significant panel time and ample caption boxes to correspond. Robinson doesn't make Pratt an exceptionally sympathetic character, but he does show us exactly what motivates Pratt and where his mind is. As for the new Batman, Robinson gives just enough to present a mystery, but not a deep enough mystery to derail the rest of the story.
The art from Cafu and Julius Gopez is a mixed bag of good-but-not-quite-great drawings, storytelling and framing. Some panels are exceptionally powerful and invigorating, like almost every panel where the Atom is at full size. Other panels, like the discussion between Pratt, Sonia Sato and Henri Roy, Jr. are simply fine, not particularly memorable or interesting, but ambulatory enough to carry the story forward. Pete Pantazis' colors boost the artwork considerably, adding soft tones to the flashback scenes while giving the modern day techno-bazar of Phnom Penh a harsh, unsettling glow. Carlos M. Mangual's letters are almost as mixed a bag as the art itself. Some scenes with Atom enlarged have outlined and colored text while other scenes simply use a larger font size. Each caption box is easily attributable to the characters and the narrative boxes stand part quite nicely.
The protagonists of "Earth 2 Annual" #1 all get a nice turn in the spotlight, a chance to flex their muscles and show readers what they've got. Batman's scenes sharply distinguish this Dark Knight from all others while the rest of the book uncovers more of the connective tissue left behind following the invasion from Apokolips. Placed under the prism of his nearing departure, "Earth 2 Annual" #1 multiplies the loss of Robinson to this title and the larger DC Universe. For now, however, there are a few more stories still to come from Robinson to showcase what could have been (or might yet still be), and this Annual does a spiffy job of seeding those story vines.