Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | It only feels like ‘Forever’

All that evil and no goatees

All that evil and no goatees

Forever Evil #1 is an uneven debut for the seven-issue miniseries, revealing that the Crime Syndicate — for those who came in late, basically an evil Justice League from the parallel Earth-3 — has killed all the Leaguers and is recruiting allies among DC-Earth’s supervillains. Although a handful of scenes are genuinely chilling, much of it is exposition and survey, with some of that geared apparently toward ancillary miniseries. Geoff Johns’ script works well when his characters can give speeches, but turns awkward and simplistic in crowd scenes. David Finch’s pencils are appropriately murky and grim, although there’s not a lot of subtlety; and inker Richard Friend seems to have gotten quite a workout. (This is the superhero-comic equivalent of a downpour at dusk.) Fortunately, colorist Sonia Oback manages to bring some variety to the gloomy proceedings, whether it’s brightening up a neon-lit cityscape or energizing a crackling solar corona.

Still, for the start of the first “universe-wide” Big Event of DC’s New 52, Forever Evil #1 feels like an apocalyptic tease. The issue’s main shocks aren’t as shocking as one might imagine, and the demands of a shared superhero universe will require them to be reversed. There’s undoubtedly more carnage to come, but for now it’s an exercise in attitude.

Naturally, there’s more after the jump. SPOILERS FOLLOW …

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If Forever Evil #1 has a theme, it’s “abuse of power.” Granted, that’s not a particularly deep theme, but it runs through the issue’s two big monologues. One of those — and easily the best part of the issue — comes in the introductory sequence, where Lex Luthor tells a business target* just what will happen to him and his family if he doesn’t agree to be bought out by LexCorp. It’s juxtaposed with Lex’s internal monologue about what he did to an ungrateful cat, which itself is a little on the nose, but a succinct way to sum up Johns’ approach to the character.

Given his prominence in this issue, and editor Brian Cunningham’s comments that “if you are a Lex Luthor fan, you will love this miniseries,” odds are good that the Greatest Criminal Mind of Our Time eventually will help save the day. Lex and the Crime Syndicate’s Ultraman come from the same “you don’t understand my genius” place, but their fundamental difference is basically actual altruism. As part of the other monologue, Ultraman tells the assembled Secret Society that the Justice League’s Earth deserves what it gets because it “wastes its time protecting the weak.” Compare that with Luthor, who wanted to save his sister’s cat a) because she wouldn’t shut up about it, b) because he could, and probably (although this isn’t expressed) c) because, deep down, he loved his sister. When Luthor realizes, at the end of the issue, that Superman has been replaced by someone with his powers but without his ethics or restraint (and who snorts Kryptonite to boot), he recognizes his role has changed as well. We haven’t met the current version of Earth-3’s heroic Luthor, but he can’t be far off; it’ll be instructive to compare how close he is to “our” Lex.

So, in summary, Luthor gets some of the issue’s best moments, and a Superman analogue gives an evil version of the sort of inspiring speech the real Superman’s supposed to give. Also, the Crime Syndicate announces its arrival across all electronic media with a stark orange “THIS WORLD IS OURS.” Those are the high points of Forever Evil #1. The rest isn’t bad, but it wavers between “somewhat derivative” and “clunky,” with a little “disingenuous” thrown in.

While I did like the “THIS WORLD IS OURS” detail, Grant Morrison went it one better, sending the Anti-Life Equation through social media in 2008’s Final Crisis; so even with our ever-increasing dependence on technology (and FC no longer being in continuity), it felt a little repetitive. The similarities don’t stop there.

Of course, Forever Evil isn’t the first DC event to feature the villains winning. Final Crisis had Darkseid recruit a Secret Society to help rule the Earth, although in light of the Anti-Life Equation they were almost superfluous. Before that, 2005’s Villains United (written by Gail Simone as a lead-in to the Johns-written Infinite Crisis) featured a newly assembled Secret Society, motivated by the events of 2004’s Identity Crisis. Heck, an army of supervillains from across the Multiverse took over Earth-Four for a couple of issues, ‘waaay back in Crisis On Infinite Earths issues 9-10.

And that reminds me — the scene in Forever Evil #1 where Ultraman fries the Monocle is fairly generic, but to this longtime reader it felt like a callback to Crisis on Infinite Earths #10, where Brainiac notes that “we do not need two Luthors” and disintegrates the Earth-Two original. Likewise, the handful of pages where various villains banter among themselves reminded me strongly of similar meet-and-greets in COIE. Both seemed composed around an expedient dialogue formula: each character calls out another by codename, and then says something descriptive.

Here’s a sample from COIE #5 (scripted by Marv Wolfman):

GREEN ARROW: That’s Rann … where Adam Strange lives.

EARTH-TWO HAWKGIRL: Rann? Adam Strange–? Who are they?

GREEN ARROW: C’mon, you hadda hear of ‘em, Hawkgirl.

ATOM: Arrow, the Hawks from Earth-2 aren’t from space like our Hawks.

And from Forever Evil #1:

MULTIPLEX: I told you it was legitimate, Frost. The coin means you’ve been chosen.

KILLER FROST: But for what, Multiplex?

THE PENGUIN (in an unrelated conversation): [The Joker’s] going to start trouble, Bane. That maniac hates structure.

BANE: If the Joker starts anything, Penguin, I will break him the way Batman should have.

Now, it’s not exactly fair to make a comparison with a 28-year-old miniseries that dealt regularly with dozens of characters in practically each issue, and which was written under vastly different circumstances. Regardless, clunky dialogue is clunky dialogue, and the “cocktail-party” scenes in Forever Evil seem to exist solely to show why we care — for lack of a better word — about DC-Earth’s supervillains, particularly when the Crime Syndicate doesn’t appear to need them for anything. This would be a more important point to make if these villains were either new to the reader or if they played a larger part in the issue. Johns and artist Andy Kubert did a similar sequence in 2011’s Flashpoint #1, ticking off the heroes of that altered timeline.

Instead, the villains introducing themselves are each fairly familiar (Multiplex and Killer Frost may be the most obscure, but they’ve been fighting Firestorm since the mid-‘70s) and the sequence ends up explaining that the Crime Syndicate wants to recruit them. From that standpoint it’s not as efficient as simply jumping ahead in the narrative and showing groups of villains either affiliated with, or opposed to, the Syndicate. Still, it gives Johns and Finch the chance to write and draw villains they don’t usually get to handle, and I suppose we’ll see how much these characters contribute down the road. Speaking of which, other blatantly-expository scenes include a page’s worth of dialogue between Black Adam and Amanda Waller, presumably leading into a tie-in Suicide Squad storyline, and a couple of pages with the Teen Titans, also presumably setting up their tie-in issues.

One bit of exposition actually undercuts the mood the issue is trying to establish. When Despero brags that he — and not the Crime Syndicate — brought down the Justice League’s space station, he’s referring to the events of Justice League #20, when the Watchtower was destroyed in a battle involving him and some second-string Leaguers. To be sure, one of those Leaguers was later revealed as a member of the Crime Syndicate (and re-reading that issue really brings that out), but Despero did the heavy lifting, as it were. Thus, the most visible evidence that the League is gone actually comes from a little while back, and not from the Syndicate’s very visible arrival.

The Crime Syndicate also asserts its power in one of the more direct parallels to Luthor’s opening monologue, namely by unmasking Nightwing on global television. Just as Luthor outlined what he’d do to Thomas Kord’s family if Kord didn’t play ball, Ultraman declares that “[a]ll who would oppose us [...] risk not your lives, but the lives of those you cherish. Your family, friends and neighbors will die while you watch.” Both speeches are meant to demonstrate the dangers of super-people with no moral compasses. The speeches work because they’re objectively scary, and together they establish a certain hopeless, cutthroat atmosphere. At first it was just Luthor; now it’s the whole world.

This too is nothing new, not just for DC generally but Johns specifically. The various miniseries that led into Infinite Crisis were meant to culminate in the DC Universe’s “worst day,” Blackest Night’s zombie-superhero aesthetic is self-explanatory, and Flashpoint’s altered timeline was basically Murphy’s Law run amok. So far Forever Evil looks like another variation on that theme, only this time testing how much havoc the villains can wreak on society as a whole, and not just the Teen Titans. Why it has to take seven issues isn’t clear from this first one, unless the implication is that the whole series will move at a somewhat-measured pace.** I expect Johns to check in with the Justice League (who, if I’m right about “Trinity War,” are trapped on a decimated Earth-3), and to make Luthor the primary opposition to the Crime Syndicate, but basically this looks like a pretty straightforward storyline: the Syndicate leaves its mark, Luthor and the League each try to bring them down, and some combination of the latter succeeds. (Throwing in Earth 2’s proto-Justice Society might be worth another issue or so, but upon further reflection I don’t think Johns will actually do that.)

Otherwise, the only questions about Forever Evil may involve how bad things get, and how much the Leaguers have to do to set things straight. Assuming the publisher doesn’t want most of its superhero line set in a dystopian hellscape, you have to think the answers will be “not that bad, relatively speaking” and “six months, tops.” Reverse Nightwing’s unmasking with some magic or time-travel (or both), rebuild the Watchtower, and before you can say “Mephisto,” voila! It’s April 2014!

To be sure, there’s that dynamic, but there’s also the expectation from any Big Event that “this changes everything.” Even accounting for my own natural resistance to change, I wonder how much change the New 52 really needs at this point. I mean, by April it’ll be just over two-and-a-half years old. The two years’ worth of actual comics have already seen a good bit of turnover, both in terms of titles and creative teams. Paradoxically, despite all of that, I’m not sure that the shared-universe itself has developed so substantially — i.e., is “old enough” — to warrant a round of big changes.

Ah, but that’s getting way ahead of ourselves. For now it’s sufficient to say Forever Evil #1 is a somber mix of the depressingly familiar, with a few flashes of innovation hinting at future improvement. I’m curious enough to keep reading, but I hope I haven’t read it all before.

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* [The reference to Thomas Kord’s son is hard to ignore, and I am thisclose to predicting a New 52 version of the Ted Kord Blue Beetle by this time next year.]

** [Issue #1 features 32 pages of story, five pages of DC house ads, and a final editorial page. The ads don’t start until about Page 20, which obviously helps the story early on. There are four splash pages and a four-page spread, but they’re spaced pretty well throughout the issue. The scene shifts and the handful of action sequences are enough to keep things from feeling too decompressed.]

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“Grant Morrison went it one better, sending the Anti-Life Equation through social media in 2008′s Final Crisis”

Nothing about that was better than anything. It was lame and besmirched Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. The Anti-Life Equation isn’t an ACTUAL equation, guys. Of numbers OR worlds.

Great analysis, Tom.

I read through Trinity War, expecting something to happen, and came away with the same sensation I get from watching a rugby scrum. A whole lot of tightly-clustered motion, wobbling around aimlessly, for purposes known only to those involved…

Then the Syndicate arrives annnnd… Evil Wins. Somehow. Apparently, it’s crucially important to DC to tell (and re-tell, ad nauseum) the story of a World Where Evil Wins. Or a World Without The Trinty/Major Heroes. Or Luthor’s Not Really A Villain-Villain. Ho-hum.

I may still be proven wrong, but aside from a select few character beats here and there, I really feel like I’ve seen all this before. I’m not excited by Villain’s Month at all. I think Forever Evil is going to be fairly predictable from start to finish. I’m not upset about it. I just don’t feel even a twinge about leaving the rest of this Re-Event..revent?.. on the shelves, in favor of other, better stories.

Good column. I’m going to disagree.
Yes, the Secret Society storyline seems like it’s been beaten to death in the last few years, not only because of the stories you mentioned but also because of the Alex Ross “Justice” mini series from a few years back and even Dwayne McDuffie’s brief Justice League stint. The current crop of DC writers really looooooove their modern versions of the Legion of Doom. Heck, you could even perhaps say this all began in the mid-1990s with Morrison’s JLA run and his Rock of Ages storyline.
But I’m pretty sure that while the Crime Syndicate’s made many appearances since first being introduced in the early 1960s, DC has never attempted a storyline of this scale, where they “invade” and actually take over.
Morrison’s Earth 2 might have been the closest. So that approach in Forever Evil is refreshing.
Also this isn’t just a group of evil superpowered villains. They’re from a mirror universe, so I’m sure Johns will be playing around with those concepts. This isn’t just the bad guys winning. It’s an invasion.
And heck, if you’re going to say there’s nothing new here, well, the very concept of allowing the villains to win for a time is a standard of comic story telling. There’d be no comics if there wasn’t the middle “villains appear to beat the heroes” section of the story.
The trick is finding a new way to tell that story, and so far I’m optimistic that’s what Johns is doing.
As for major changes, I think there may be some. We’ve gotten some hints with the announcement of Jeff Lemire’s Justice League Canada. Does the US get decimated? Does it get quarantined? Does the US decide to drive out all superheroes over suspicions related to Forever Evil? Something’s up…
I still think the biggest problem with the NEW 52 is that because we are still so unfamiliar with these heroes/villains and their new histories, the stakes are diminished.
Back in, say, the 1980s, if the Justice League Satellite came crashing down (which, come to think of it, it did in a martian invasion, right?) that was HUGE because: a) The Justice League had already been using it as a headquarters for around two decades in real time and b). No other writers had really attempted to tell that story. The JLA was headquartered in space for decades.
But in the New 52 readers have no emotional attachment to the Watchtower because it just one day popped up. It was introduced with no fanfare and shot out of the sky about ten issues later – not 20 years later. Yes, we’re “told” they were up there for five years, but we as readers didn’t experience it.
Also the “new” Justice League just hasn’t had enough stories together for us to “feel” the loss of these heroes and the impact on this New 52 earth. Again, as fans sure we know what the Justice League represents and that this “should be” a big deal. But THIS version is still so new and, frankly, unexplored that to build a whole story around their disappearance doesn’t have as much impact as, again, it might have had had this story been attempted in the “old” DCU.
But Forever Evil does get to tell a new Crime Syndicate story in a far more ambitious way than would have been tried in the Silver Age, so that’s a plus.

“And that reminds me — the scene in Forever Evil #1 where Ultraman fries the Monocle is fairly generic, but to this longtime reader it felt like a callback to Crisis on Infinite Earths #10, where Brainiac notes that “we do not need two Luthors” and disintegrates the Earth-Two original”

“While I did like the “THIS WORLD IS OURS” detail, Grant Morrison went it one better, sending the Anti-Life Equation through social media in 2008′s Final Crisis; so even with our ever-increasing dependence on technology (and FC no longer being in continuity), it felt a little repetitive. The similarities don’t stop there”

Great column, Tom.

Morrison and Wolfman are far better writers than Johns. and such a little thing makes such a big difference.

Do the Morrison haters have his name on Google Alert? They don’t miss a thing!

Johns is rewriting bad versions of stories written by Marv Wolfman since Infinite Crisis.

I’m glad that someone is finally pointing this.

Good column. an accurate analysis of Forever Evil # 1.

This story is different as Brian mentioned.

DC did the big reboot for a new start and readers, but they are relying on the old Universe. A lot doesn’t make sense in story or out. Nightwing means nothing to them if he’s only been around for four years? But, he means a lot to us, who have been following him for years and supposedly this is not to be the same person. They needed to hit someone bigger.

I have read a lot of DC, it reminds me of a lot of the previous big events in the last decade. The NEW 52 might be 2.5 years old, but if they are doing the first Universe event, I hope it does change something and not magically changed six months later.

Soooo grumpy old fan is a column to complain about dc? Its hard to visit this site when you guys are COMPLETELY bias.

I know this is very unlikely, but if the Joker really hates structure I would LOVE for him to be the one to take down the Syndicate. I’m tired of the “Luthor is bad but he won’t let someone else take over and will work with heroes to get them to do his dirty work” bit (like Marvel does with Doom) like I expect from this series. It’d be refreshing to see the Joker burn it all to the ground.

And then he can kill Nightwing. Something bad needs to happen to him since he had his identity revealed and Joker kills Robins.

As a grumpy old fan myself, I frick’n love the Crime Syndicate and I’m happy to see them back in big way! But yes Johns is borrowing alot from other stories:

-Zapping Monocle reminds me of Underworld Unleashed, when Neron, again tells the DC villains the world is their’s and kills Mongul for not wanting to play ball.

-Unmaksing Nightwin reminds me of how Morrison killed the Martian Manhunter in the first issue of Final Crisis. Again to prove how badass the new guy in town is. I’m not sure how they put the cork in the bottle about Dick Grayson, this outs Bruce Wayne as well! I don’t see how DC fixes this, without it being BS like Marvel’s One More Day.

I don’t get you picking on ‘cocktail party’ dialogue though- how about an example of superior dialogue. And as it’s been mentioned, it’s really not about writing a new and original superhero comicbook, it’s about writing a good one.

Lastly, I don’t think Lex Luthor is a better person than the CS (really loved his sister, how do you know this?). He’s just getting the lesson that survive of the fittest is fine for the fittest, but it really sucks for everyone else. He will be played as the hero of the story, but no way in hell does he take down the Syndicate.

A couple of thoughts:
The last time the Joker got excluded, he ended up killing the person who excluded him from the Secret Society.
Maxwell Lord (if he exists) could serve as a deus ex machina to solve Nightwing’s problem.
Also, I predict there will be a shortage of green kyptonite due to Ultraman’s habit.

Holy Retro copycats Batman
Golly Gee Whiz , im gonna be comic a writer and then, copy old comics, over and over again, Gee Wheez!!

What you need to do is compare Forever with Marvel’s Infinity. Forever is a linear, paint-by-numbers story with barely passable dialog and some weird cat reminiscences from Luthor. Infinity is also an intro story, but it has better dialog, better graphics, you spend more time on each page (at least I did), and there is a nice twist/surprise at the end of the issue. Infinity feels meatier. You’re getting something more than just what has come before. Also, the connected issues in Infinity are much, much better. The Forever 23.1 issues just seem like filler. I love the DC characters – at least as depicted before the New 52, which I really don’t like. But Marvel’s Infinity is, by comparison, so much more interesting. We’ll see what the rest of the issues bring.

I really liked this issue. I admit I have some qualms about this being a story we have seen before, but I think the focus on Lex makes the potential for something new to arise quite strong. Lex doesn’t think of himself as the bad guy, after all. He’s the hero, protecting the world from aliens. This is his big chance to shine.

My big qualm is really about the CSA. They aren’t characters just yet. Which isn’t that surprising. How often has anyone really fleshed these folks out? I just rewatched Crisis on Two Worlds, and except for Owlman and maybe Superwoman, the CSA remained stick figures there, too. It will be nice if Geoff can make something more of them.

But overall, I was pleased. There is a lot of promise here. If only Geoff can fulfill that that promise. His track record on event series is very mixed. Liked Flashpoint, loved Blackest Night, thought his others had a lot of buildup without any payoff.

Johns like Morrison is a rehash hack. Forerver Evil #1 is boring, predictable and ridiculous with really ugly and amaturish art.

If you want a really good event comic, check out Battle of the Atom and Inifinty.

I thought this was a Grade A terrible comic. So many things wrong with this comic, my #1 is since Nightwings identity is now known, wouldn’t every one in the world be able to put two and two together and know Batman’s identity? Is this gonna be like Spider Mans identity being revealed in Marvel’s Civil War event comic?

Oh look, that classic Grumpy Old Fan formula:

Old DC Fan who has been reading comics for an absurdly long time complains about repeated ideas, as if somehow, with a stable of characters 70+ years old this is unexpected? Check!

Has a huge bias against Geoff Johns, who seems to be vilified because he does everything a good writer of corporate-owned, commercial serialized dramas do, while forgetting that there are other writers at DC at all? Check!

Legion of anti-Johnsian sycophants, who offer no explanation as to how Johns is supposedly destroying their beloved shared universe? Check!

Barely touches upon the same flaws constantly apparent in Marvel titles? Check!

These articles, like its writer, are getting old and predictable, and don’t add anything new or constructive to the criticism of cape-and-tights books at all. It is simply the nostalgic reveries of that same aging audience who can’t seem to understand that comics need to attract younger readers to survive, and that clinging to an idyllic Golden Age is not going to do that.

If you come to column with the name “Grumpy Old Fan” and are surprised he can see the flaws in the new stuff and doesn’t like the current writers, you probably shouldn’t read the column at all and just read the comics you like.

Why frustrate yourself?

Some people can’t accept the harsh truth about the supbar work of Geoff Johns.

Another great column.
Keep up the good work, Tom! ;)

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