Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Form, function and ‘Forever Evil’

Buy this comic or we'll shoot this tycoon

Buy this comic or we’ll shoot this tycoon

Readers of superhero comics have long debated the merits of “decompression” and “waiting for the trade.” You can either read a serialized story as it comes out, or you can wait until it’s collected. With two issues to go, it looks like Forever Evil wants it both ways. It is structured for the Wednesday crowd but written for the trade; and so far, the result is a grim, vignette-driven affair. Writer Geoff Johns and artists David Finch and Ivan Reis (and their various collaborators) have set up an apocalyptic scenario and teased a handful of elements pointing toward its resolution; but they haven’t otherwise done much, issue to issue, to move the story closer to that resolution. Indeed, the deeper I get into Forever Evil, the more I suspect that it — like its prologue, “Trinity War” — may be only the latest chapter in an ever-expanding saga.

By itself that would be unsatisfying enough. However, Forever Evil was supposed to show off DC’s shared universe (New 52 edition). To be fair, its Justice League crossover issues have presented New 52 versions of Plastic Man, the Doom Patrol and the Metal Men, and alluded to past battles with old-school villains like Ultivac and the Construct. Still, except for the Metal Men, none seems directly related to FE’s eventual outcome; and each seems intended instead as an Easter egg or the seed of a future series. Indeed, while the “Blight” crossover has shown what happened to the magic-based superheroes, FE itself hasn’t delved too far into the whereabouts of DC-Earth’s non-Leaguer super-folk. For those of us wanting each issue to go somewhere new, or at least somewhere different, month in and month out Forever Evil has felt fairly repetitive. Moreover, in sidelining the Justice League itself, it’s removed a potentially productive narrative thread.

Inasmuch as these choices relate to the changing comics marketplace, Forever Evil could be one of the last big events structured this way, or it could be the shape of things to come.

* * *

Last week’s issue of Justice League started this line of thought. I liked the Metal Men reintroduction (written by Johns, laid out by Reis and finished by Joe Prado and Scott Hanna) quite a bit. It balanced Doc Magnus’ sentiment against his creations’ unbridled optimism very effectively; Johns brought a fresh perspective to each Metal Man’s distinctive personality; and Reis and company updated the droids’ designs appropriately. In fact, just about my only quibble with the story was that it took place between the covers of Justice League.

This is because Forever Evil has co-opted Justice League as a secondary storytelling track. Johns did something similar four years ago with Blackest Night and Green Lantern, weaving certain subplots through both the miniseries and the ongoing. Now, it’s fine if you read both FE and JL, because the ongoing series offers the space to expand on certain developments in the miniseries; plus, you get a double dose of plot every month. It’s even OK if you just read Forever Evil, because it stands alone fairly well. (In this respect it does better than Blackest Night.) However, just reading Justice League is like trying to follow a movie by watching only the deleted scenes.

As it happens, though, Forever Evil and Justice League are likely to be collected separately, just as Blackest Night and its GL tie-ins were. (As far as I know, only Absolute Blackest Night collected both.) In fact, besides those two, there are several separate storytelling tracks. There’s the Martian Manhunter/Stargirl story in Justice League of America; the “Blight” crossover running through JL Dark, Pandora, Phantom Stranger and Constantine; the three ancillary miniseries for the Flash’s Rogues Gallery, the Gotham villains and ARGUS; and various discrete tie-ins in books like Teen Titans, Suicide Squad and some of the “Villains’ Month” specials. That adds up to at least seven different collections (eight if DC decides to collect all the miscellaneous material) for what, as of Issue 5, has taken up only 48 hours in the life of DC-Earth. Naturally, regardless of form, readers can still choose which tracks to follow. I’ve been reading the main miniseries and the Justice League books, and decided to follow “Blight” because I was getting two of those series anyway. That gives me at least one FE-related book a week, which both mitigates and calls attention to the glacial pace of the main miniseries.

At the risk of spoiling the story so far, here’s what’s happened over the past five issues of Forever Evil: the evil Crime Syndicate of Earth-3 has invaded “our” Earth, imprisoned the Justice Leagues, eclipsed the sun, revealed Nightwing’s secret identity, defeated the Teen Titans and Black Adam, and caused “our” supervillains to divide up into collaborators and rebels. Luthor awakened his “B-Zero” creation, Batman and Catwoman joined Luthor’s team of villains, Sinestro killed the Crime Syndicate’s Power Ring, the CS’s Owlman is trying to recruit Nightwing for his own ends, and now the big red energy-thing that destroyed Earth-3 is headed for our Earth. Meanwhile, Justice League has been crossing over directly with FE, offering infodumps on the Crime Syndicate, Cyborg and the Metal Men. Elsewhere, JLA has related Martian Manhunter and Stargirl’s attempts to save the Leaguers before their prison explodes; while “Blight” started off with Constantine, Pandora, Nightmare Nurse, Phantom Stranger and Deadman fighting a creature made out of evil, and now has moved to dismantling the Crime Syndicate’s trap for DC-Earth’s mystics.

That’s a lot of material, but in practice it seems like the further one gets from the main miniseries, the faster it moves. Like the Johns-written Flashpoint, Forever Evil seems content to have established its setting so it can tell appropriately-bleak stories within that setting. This has let Forever Evil and Justice League focus on characters, particularly Lex Luthor, the Syndicators, Batman and Cyborg. However, that focus paradoxically makes it hard to tell a distinct story beyond “Luthor decides to save the world.” Through five issues each of FE and JL (counting the Secret Society issue from Villains’ Month), there’s been plenty of scheming, but not much forward motion.

More accurately, the forward motion has been split among those various tracks, at least as far as the three Justice Leagues are concerned. As mentioned above, the story of Forever Evil has been “villains win; ‘heroes’ fight back.” In FE itself those heroes have been Luthor’s crew, plus Batman and Catwoman. In Justice League it’s Cyborg, in JLA it’s Martian Manhunter and Stargirl, and in the “Blight” crossover it’s been Constantine, Pandora, Phantom Stranger, et al. However, it’s hard to see at this point how the various League teams will figure (if at all) into FE’s conclusion, other than an awkward series of deus ex machina-style reveals: “Look, they’re out of the Firestorm Matrix! Here comes Cyborg with the Metal Men! Hey, that Thaumaton thingee isn’t working!” For that matter, the infighting among Ultraman, Superwoman, and Owlman will no doubt inform FE’s ending as much as Luthor’s inevitable method for exposing Ultraman to direct sunlight.

(Brief digression here — yes, I think it will be Luthor, not Superman, who defeats Ultraman. One of the aforementioned save-the-day reveals could well be Superman pushing the Moon back into place, then flying down to announce “oh hey, we escaped.” Still, given Luthor’s prominence here, and the appropriateness of him downing “a” Superman, my money’s on him sending Sinestro and/or Black Adam to move the moon.)

While we can see how these various pieces work together generally, the fact that they’ve been split apart weakens Forever Evil as a whole. In this respect I’m happy to read Forever Evil alongside the aforementioned crossovers in single-issue form, because it gives me an overall sense of progress that I don’t think you really get from the miniseries alone. By the same token, though, a Forever Evil miniseries that incorporated all of these subplots, and left the various Justice League series to their own devices, would definitely look a lot different. It would have a bigger cast, fewer double-page spreads, and not as much room for character bits. It might also be a better piece of storytelling.

See, in its current form, Forever Evil has not only outsourced much of its narrative thrust, it’s made sure that practically nothing which happens in those crossovers will really advance the plot — because the really important developments must happen, virtually by definition, in FE itself. For example, if the March solicits are any indication, the various Leaguers won’t be freed from Firestorm’s prison until JLA #13, set to be published two weeks before FE #7. Likewise, Cyborg and the Metal Men are scheduled to fight Grid in Justice League #29, which comes out a week before FE’s conclusion. For its part, “Blight” had exactly zero impact on the main FE miniseries, and could well end satisfactorily (after eighteen issues) without ever being mentioned in FE itself. Entertaining as it has been, “Blight” therefore threatens to be the crossover equivalent of busy work.

This sort of compartmentalization isn’t new to big crossover events. (After a while, the Green Lantern Corps simply dropped out of the pages of Crisis On Infinite Earths, and their subplot finished up over the course of six or seven issues of Green Lantern.) However, it seems especially obvious in Forever Evil, which has treated the various Justice Leaguers almost as afterthoughts. Indeed, the Justice League hasn’t appeared as such in its own title since the end of “Trinity War” in August. I could easily picture a Forever Evil conclusion where the escaped Leaguers show up after all the dust has settled, and find Luthor giving them the “what took you so long?” treatment. The point of FE may well be to get readers used to the idea of the new-look League that debuts in April.

Nevertheless, that makes me wonder why Justice League and JLA spent the past six months crossing over with FE. Why not tell stories (even if they’re flashbacks) featuring the actual Justice League, and publish separate Forever Evil [Colon] miniseries for the background and jailbreak subplots? Blackest Night did something similar with its Tales of the Corps miniseries. To be fair, Blackest Night had the advantage of spinning directly out of the Green Lantern books, whereas Forever Evil has been more of an external threat to which the various Leagues responded. As such, the GL books were better-suited to telling their own stories than the JL books have been.

Still, it’s not like readers won’t buy the Justice League titles, and it would satisfy readers who actually wanted to read more normal League stories during the fall and winter months. The classic complaint about crossovers is how much they derail ongoing series, and that’s especially true in an environment where big events end up driving the narrative of an ongoing series, instead of the other way around. Forever Evil’s structure sprawls out into the three Justice League titles seemingly by choice, not necessity. It could be leaner and tighter, but it has the space to do otherwise. (And yes, I know I’m spending almost 2000 words arguing for “leaner and tighter.”)

I can’t help but think, though, that as digital distribution and collected editions become bigger parts of the superhero-comics marketplace, events like Forever Evil will gradually abandon this branched-out structure. When we buy these comics, we’re basically buying story pages, arranged into standard-sized chunks. However, those chunks are tied to readers’ every-Wednesday buying habits. As digital and the collected-edition market move readers away from those habits, the single issue may similarly fade. Until then, readers and publishers may have to balance the every-Wednesday needs against the convenience of a collection, and hope the story makes it through intact.

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Comments

27 Comments

Beforehand I thought “Trinity War” was going to be mostly lead-up and “Forever Evil” would be things breaking loose with things happening, but it feels like the reverse: Trinity War moved crisply from one event to the next, and Forever Evil just feels like treading water until the new status quo (which we already know thanks to solicits) is introduced in two months. Deadly boring, everything that’s happened in FE could have been two tight issues.

Johns’ writing has really suffered ever since he took the corporate gig, which I get, but if he can’t deliver anymore he should get out of the way.

Marvel’s already proven this structure can work — as in sell — with the Avengers books.

During Civil War, New Avengers turned into a series of single-issue vignettes showing how individual members were reacting to events.

Secret Invasion turned New Avengers and Mighty Avengers into backstory infodumps for months on end, showing us exactly how the Skrulls infiltrated.

Fear Itself farmed out a vital chunk of its story to Invincible Iron Man.

Hard to blame DC for emulating such a proven strategy.

(Which is also why the “end” of Trinity War explosively severed my remaining connection with DC books. After being promised that Trinity War was going to be a huge event, the “conclusion” bordered on insulting. I couldn’t keep buying the books after breaking faith like that.)

-J

I’m surprised they haven’t tried simply doing an event miniseries WITHOUT tie-ins via ongoing series. How come they couldn’t do something like that?

Is more effective this way. Part of the strategy is to get you condiotioned on a title you weren’t interested before. I was not a Justice League buyer every month(excluding digital dollar sales), but once Forever Evil came along, now I’m buying the issue every month. If DC decided that some books were not going to get the crossover treatment then it defeats the purpose of telling your event. After all, you wrote an article about it. It has worked.

I had a problem that some of the Flash, Aquaman, etc titles were not getting the treatment. To me it defeated the purpose, it made no sense to read these issues. All it said to me that those were reading Flash on a monthly basis wanted to read Flash on a monthly basis. The way I saw it was that these heroes were affected by the event, so why not getting treatment? The stand alone titles have no imcentive, which I will get to Nightwing.

I too was disappointed that Nightwing was getting the treatment. The biggest story of 2014 and he ain’t affected? It makes no rational sense. However, with Nightwing getting canceled, finally the issue is getting affected. I thought it took long enough but to be fair, and based on my understanding, the Nightwing books timeline is BEFORE the event began. That’s good, but in my opinion, it gave no purpose to buy the book because the event is why I’m reading. But then again, the loyal Nightwing fans are following the event: if you look at Nightwings sales the last couple of months, literally stable. Proof that Nightwing has a really strong following.

I like how the event is coming along. Is important. I laugh at those who miss the JL team. Not in a disrespectful way but in a mocking way. Because it was not intended for them. The various storylines between point A and point B is the reason why the event is working…though to be fair, is working because of Nightwing. Nightwing is the biggest reason why the event is working. Because instead of hoping to move the story forward, chances are you have learned about the Crime Syndicate; not to mention your respective crossover title(mine is Arkham War). DC is slick. They used conditioning as a way for fans to follow along the event. Because the intent was to make you buy Forever Evil, but at the same process, unconsciously make you look at other titles. Because once you learned a fact(Nightwings identity), then your attention will focus on a crossover. And is because of that why I will continue picking up Justice League after the event concludes.

Acer: I think we do not see that as the whole thrust of an “event” is to buoy the sales of all titles across a line, and without tie-in issues this cannot happen. Events grew out of the crossover, where two or more titles all told the same story for a few months, generally with a more popular book (like Uncanny X-Men) crossing over with a less popular one (Excalibur or X-Factor). As the number of books which were being crossed over grew, so too did the idea of an event where EVERY book can tie in to the one story (Crisis on Infinite Earths being the most obvious event to do this). Now we have the crossover element combined with a miniseries which tells the “spine” of the story, hmmm the equation is:
Crossover + miniseries = Event comic
Hope this is useful in explaining why we do not see just an event miniseries.

I have been very frustrated with the continual slow build of Forever Evil, and will now only read the last couple of issues of the main title itself. I prefer the model that 2000AD has taken in creating an eventy story, where a couple of stories in each issue tell stories that seem separate, only to have them come together at a later point (2000AD is an anthology and so is uniquely placed to use this structure).
e.g. years ago a story called The Dead Man had a fire-ravaged figure helping a boy in the Cursed Earth. At the same time in Judge Dredd, a story was being told of the rise of evil spirits (the Dark Sisters). It was revealed at the end of Dead Man that the dead man was Judge Dredd, just as the Dredd story had him being terribly burnt after going into the Cursed Earth. No extra titles were required, and a great story was made even greater !

For a recent example, check out the Trifecta story (available in trade), where THREE stories tell aspects of the same tale, eventually coming together for a big finale.
(for more details on this event check out my blog by clicking on my name)

Yes because its DC’s fault you’re spoiled to the new status quo because of solicits… stunods

I really feel sad about what happened to DC. They have flushed themselves down the toilet. All that’s left is a bad smell and an ugly stain.

Meanwhile, Dynamite is still publishing fine comic books, like the Shadow, the Spider, and the Lone Ranger. Every issue is consistently done well, with no crappy art, and no disrespect for established characters and continuity. But you’d better buy them while they last, because those titles are due to be canceled in a few issues.

Other than a few, isolated beats during the series (the Metal Men issue might be my favorite new 52 comic, Blight has been pretty good, the Atom fakeout was unexpected and I really like Grid as a Cyborg nemesis), this whole FE series has been drawn-out and boring. Other than a couple panels of a collective sucker punch at the beginning, we haven’t even gotten a proper Crime Syndicate vs. JL battle, and it doesn’t sound like we’re going to if Luthor saves the day and joins the league (a la Norman Osborn killing the Skrull queen and taking over SHIELD). But you could say the Syndicate destroyed the League; we haven’t seen them in months in their own book, and when FE is finally over, half the league is gone and replaced by Luthor and Capt. Cold. I was really excited to hear about FE before it started, now I can’t wait for it to come to an end.

I seriously hope that events like “Forever Evil” are NOT the wave of the future,because frankly, this has been boring as all get out.

Various characters show up and yell and fight a lot. The plot has not been advanced one iota. Then next month they do it all again. Even collected as a trade, this is tedious. There are occasional flashes of interest, I did enjoy seeing the Metal Men, for example. But those flashes are exceedingly rare.

@Acer: They did back with Final Crisis. There were tie-ins but they were all Final Crisis branded mini-series. Of course then people complained that Final Crisis didn’t tie in to the rest of the universe in any big way.

John Benton hit the nail squarely on the head. As soon as I realized that DC was jumping on the Marvel model, I jumped ship just as quickly. Serial storytelling at the big two is either dead or dying.

For me it’s simply gone on too long. I’ve lost interest.

Stop buying this bloated junk. There are better comics out there

I have been reading a long time and used to truly love this stuff. I mean yeah I was off set by resetting DC with the New 52 but in truth 75 years of continuity is hard to reconsile especially when you dont allow you main characters to age all that much ( I mean I am older than Batman now lol). That being said FE is truly a stagnate story which feels like it has covered about 20 minutes worth of real time. I did enjoy the Owlman back story and the Ultraman story ( which didn’t even happen in FE) but by and far I have felt let down by each issue. The last crossover DC did that had me really interested was The Blackest Night. After that it was all down hill. Flashpoint to me was a average Flash story arc . Its comic book stories like this that make me enjoy the slightly odder stories ( Wake, Black Science) . I mean hell the walking dead which I used to love has become completely redundant and that used to be on my slightly odd list. Ultimately if comic book companies do not allow their hero’s to change , age , die move etc then we will be Forever Doomed to have constantly recycled stories and origins until the original doesnt even exist anymore. ( admittedly I am a BAtman freak and that will be the last light to go out for me in the comic night sky) Thats my two cents anyhow

I’ve been enjoying Forever Evil. I guess I just don’t understand all of the negativity. It seems to be centered more around some peoples inability to move on and accept New 52 as the standard so anything that DC does upsets them. Why can’t they just let go and move on? I mean, I understand it sucks to lose something you loved, but why continue to complain about it 2+ years later?

Maybe it helps that I approach all of the books that I read with a positive attitude so I’m not looking for stuff to hate.

This has gone on for way too long….people at my LCS were at first excited about Forever Evil and have since lost interest….one person commented that they feel they have aged two years since FE started Let DC continue it’s run designed for the younger crowd with it’s “new ” characters….I plan on spending my money (and I collect over 50 books per month) on other companies that have better stories and long term planning.

I’m probably one of the few that have been enjoying FE, to me it has been a great ride to see Trinity War go from a concept brought out of a 10-year old’s head of seeing every JL fighting each other to the first act of something bigger.

I seriously want to know who’s under the Hood and what’s this new enemy that the CS is scared of, Blight has been a great read and it will probably bring some unexpected surprises as it ends. Of course I’m not forgetting about Nightwing, in my honest opinión, I think every fan is waiting to see Nightwing dead and go “I knew DD would eventually go through with killing NW” and I really hope that DD doesn’t go through with it.

Somewhere in the article is mentioned that other DC characters are missing or just shown as cameos or even sedes for the future. I have been wondering pretty much from the start of the DCN52… Is everyone from the old universe on board? or we have a less crowded universe? and I’ve been meaning to ask this because over the bat books are introducing Spoiler as a new carácter during Eternal so it would be only logical to think that there are a lot characters still waiting to be introduced and that this N52 earth is a greatly less super-crowded earth which would serve DC right in terms of an easier universe to understand for new fans

Forever Evil has the same problem Secret Invasion had. It’s no longer than any other crossover (7 issues isn’t the longest crossover series) but it feels like it is. I’m as sick of the Crime Syndicate as I was of Skrulls (and I didn’t even read SI). I think partly it’s a combination of page count, decompressed writing and shipping schedule. 20 pages goes by and you fee like you’ve read one scene. Then you have to wait 4-5 weeks for the next little trickle of story. It hardly seems worth it at that rate. We still really haven’t gotten past “The World is Ours” yet. In the old days a major crossover was 30-40 pages. You felt you had enough story to hold you over till the next issue. The other problem is some of your favorite books are tied up for the duration of this event. This can be a problem if you aren’t interested in that event.

Marvel has made up for some of that with their accelerated shipping policy (AvX, Age of Ultron and Infinity). And other companies like IDW and Image are doing the same thing (see Transformers: Dark Cybertron and Walking Dead). I think the solution is either make longer individual issues (at a higher cost which I’m sure people would still pay) or go bi-weekly.

I agree with @GrandHarrier its great in my opinion. I love regular MARVEL and DC as long as Image and Valiant

Your description of the pace reminds me of something I recently realized about the structure of almost all superhero events: they’re all wholly First Act, mainly as a sales point, I imagine. In a three-act structure, the second act doesn’t begin until #6 of 7 in most cases, hence all the wheel-spinning. I can see an elongated Act 1, but having basically no Act 3 is why there’s no real conclusions anymore, only a move into the next event.

Exactly. From one event smack into another. Ugh. I used to love Justice League right behind The Flash. Was going to get the first two trades, but perusing future solicits made me wary.

Would rather check out a trade full of my heroes in six done-in-ones than several books of Forever Evil most of which feature prominent characters I could care less about.

DC52 nudged me towards other media than DC.
Forever Evil shoved me towards it.

I don’t think FE has been that bad as events go. I’ve enjoyed Luthor getting the limelight and the Syndicate back-stories in JL. The only 2 low points have been the massive potential wasted in Arkham War (which could have had different sections of Gotham at war each month instead of the slow plod/street battle that never resolves) and the lack of Justice League over in JLA. I thought MM and Stargirl might rescue a fellow leaguer every month instead of fighting the same group of villains as everyone else and not really getting any further forward. FE is definitely being used to set-up something else much like Trinity War (which I enjoyed month to month too). Not a great read as a standalone event 20 years down the line, perhaps, but fine as a monthly read I reckon.

I’ve had enough of a DCU overly influenced by Geoff Johns. and DiDio/Lee/Harras.

I love DC and will likely always be the first person to stick up for them whenever the latest hate train pulls into their station but Forever Evil for me is way too slow. It would have been better as a weekly or at least bi weekly series, it just doesn’t have enough substance to keep me engaged. I’m still buying the series as I still find it somewhat enjoyable but I’m looking forward to it ending and something new happens.

Careful there, Mahzian. That sounds dangerously close to criticism, and god forbid if people label you a hater.

I like the new 52, it got me back into comics, but FE has just gone on too long. It’s like Robert Jordan came back from the dead and decided to write comics. Ohh so many pages where nothing important happens.

this new 52 universe is so mucked up.. all the other titals flash, batman superman etc all live in a world without forever evil.. tied in it makes it confusing.. last month flash was solving a murder this month he come back to a forever evil destroyed cith

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