Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Pandora, Despero, and being ‘Forever’ 2002

Forever Red Rover

Everyone has Serious Eyes except HawkmaAAAA LOOK AWAY LOOK AWAY

The final issue of Forever Evil was originally scheduled to come out this week, but now seems to have been delayed until May 21.  That’s too bad, at least for those of us who’ve been following the thing since September (because those delays evaporate in collections). However, it gives me some time to digest what’s been presented so far. It also offers a chance to look back at a 2002 graphic novel that features a couple of the same peripheral elements.

* * *

As Caleb pointed out last week, Pandora helped craft the New 52′s underlying cosmic structure in the final issue of Flashpoint.  There, she told the still-unrebooted Barry “Flash” Allen that the “shattered history of heroes” needed to be fixed so it could be strong enough to stave off an ominous threat. Pandora then appeared in each of the New 52′s initial group of first issues, a silent reminder of these books’ common origin.

However, DC was slow to reveal Pandora’s details. She went unnamed for just over three months, she received a Free Comic Book Day spotlight a few months after that, and she finally got an origin (and an ongoing series, albeit one tied almost immediately to “Trinity War”) last summer.

Instead of clarifying matters, though, these new insights took Pandora further away from her initial Flashpoint function. Perhaps most confusing was her relationship with the New 52′s version of the Multiverse, because her infamous “box” turned out to be a three-eyed silver skull that, as of “Trinity War,” opened a portal to Earth-3. Therefore, while the Pandora of Flashpoint wanted the three DC, Vertigo and WildStorm universes knitted together, that still didn’t prevent the existence of the evil Earth-3 or the troubled Earth-2. To get technical for just a minute: If Pandora existed before the New 52, she might well go back to a period between the end of the original Multiverse in 1985, and the migration of various main-line DC titles to the new Vertigo imprint in 1993. For that matter, the New 52 Multiverse is itself different from the Multiverse that debuted at the end of the weekly series 52 — and Pandora’s work hasn’t cleared up any of that. Put more simply, she might have wanted to combine various parallel universes, but she must still deal with at least one that remains malignant (or, as“Trinity War” put it, the “birthplace of evil”).

Moreover, even as Pandora’s origin explained that her great crime involved unwittingly activating a sort of Mother Box, it acknowledged that maybe she hadn’t done enough to warrant eternal condemnation. The wizard Shazam said as much in the final pages of Pandora #1, although by that time Pandora had been fighting Shazam’s traditional foes, the Seven Deadly Enemies Of Man. Certainly this is all in the service of making Pandora sympathetic — something she’ll need in order to carry her ongoing series — but I’m not sure she’s all the way there. Cumulatively, all this backstory has made her a hyper-competent magic user buffeted by the whims of forces which are even more powerful. There’s potential for comics-industry meta-commentary, to be sure; but I doubt DC is going to give us Pandora, Agent of Editorial.

There are two more bits of information which I’m sure I’ve mentioned previously: Pandora’s three-eyed skull/box looks an awful lot like it’s related to Despero, who happened to show up in Justice League right before Forever Evil started (fighting a League team which included the traitorous Atom); and the Crime Syndicate’s Power Ring is powered by Volthoom, presumably the same entity revealed to be the First Lantern from the dawn of the Green Lantern Corps (which, by the way, seem exclusive to the main-line DC Universe).

So there’s a lot going on, not just with Pandora but with her roles in “Trinity War” and Forever Evil, and even a little bit of Green Lantern and Justice League history. I haven’t even mentioned her fellow Trinitarians of Sin, the Question — who showed up in “Trinity War” to offer dire portents, and then disappeared for Forever Evil — and the Phantom Stranger, who (like Pandora) has been active in the “Blight” tie-in because … well, maybe DC wanted to hype his and Pandora’s ongoing series? Anyway, you have to think Geoff Johns, Pandora writer Ray Fawkes, and anyone else at DC who’s remotely invested in Pandora are each wracking their brains trying to a) craft a story that’ll encompass all these things, and b) get it out before DC’s superhero readership stops caring entirely.

To recap, you’ve got

  • Pandora, who started as a cosmic guardian and is now a magic-using, gun-toting avenger (and who, according to Felix Faust in Pandora #9, is neither human nor from the main-line universe);
  • The Seven Deadly Enemies of Man (aka the Seven Deadly Sins), imprisoned by the wizard Shazam, released by Pandora, and now hunted by her;
  • “Pandora’s box,” the shiny three-eyed skull that opened the Earth-3 dimension door and was subsequently destroyed;
  • Despero, the hulking three-eyed alien who crashed the Justice League Satellite just prior to Forever Evil, and who has been appearing as part of the “jailbreak” storyline in Justice League of America;
  • Volthoom (aka the First Lantern), the entity powering the power ring of Earth-3′s Power Ring, recently defeated by DC-Earth’s Green Lantern Corps;
  • The New 52-niverse itself, formed out of three timelines by the Flash (with Pandora’s guidance), but still part of a Multiverse; and
  • The Question and the Phantom Stranger, Pandora’s fellow Trinitarians of Sin.

In thinking about how these disparate elements related to one another, I realized I’d already seen a couple of them working together.

* * *

As of Thanksgiving 2002, DC’s superhero line was humming along nicely. There were no “No Man’s Lands” or Electric Supermen, legacy heroes were plentiful, and Lex Luthor was President of the United States. OK, so it wasn’t perfect, but it was relatively calm. Accordingly, into this peaceful environment came JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice, a hardcover graphic novel written by David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns, penciled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesús Meriño, colored by Guy Major, lettered by Ken Lopez, and edited by Dan Raspler and Steven Wacker. It was advertised as the start of a new series of Justice League/Justice Society team-ups, and while those didn’t last too long, V&V holds up pretty well.

As one might expect, it hews closely to an old-school structure: The two teams get together socially (at Thanksgiving, naturally), but they’re called to a crisis (the Fourth World villain Doctor Bedlam, attacking a global conference where Luthor is speaking), and it balloons into something much bigger. Turns out Doctor Bedlam’s mind-hopping technology is just the vehicle for a coordinated series of attacks from the old JSA villain Johnny Double, working with — wait for it — Despero and the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man. (Luthor even finds himself unwillingly on the heroes’ side.) The 7DEs then take over the bodies of seven Leaguers and Socialites — including Batman, which was refreshing, as today we’d probably expect Superman to be “turned evil” so Bats could take him out — and collectively spread their “emotional virus” across the world. Naturally, the combined teams split into smaller groups before coming together at the end to settle affairs with Despero and Johnny.

What struck me about this original graphic novel was its efficiency. At 94 pages, it has plenty of room for character moments (like Stargirl’s nervousness about visiting the Watchtower, or Black Canary’s professionalism as a member of both teams), big action sequences (including a few splash pages and double-page spreads), and even some exposition. The latter is handled especially well, considering the plot picks up from a Despero story in Supergirl, involves a semi-obscure New God and some Marvel Family minutiae, and uses legacies like the Hector Hall version of Doctor Fate without needing to explain who Hector Hall is. Basically, V&V is comfortable within the larger (and, at the time, more complicated) DC Universe, but doesn’t feel compelled to wallow in the details. Despite its continuity connections, V&V tells a pretty simple story which springs out of, and plays off of, the interactions between the “worlds” of the JLA and JSA.

Beyond that it’s straight-up superheroics: Green Arrow, Black Canary and Doctor Mid-Nite staring down Despero, the Atom telling two Flashes how to turn a fire demon into a black hole, and Wonder Woman’s lasso casting out evil spirits. Thanks to Pacheco, Meriño and Major, it looks fantastic (although I still can’t figure out what Batman was eating for Thanksgiving — banana pudding with monster-sized Nilla wafers?). Virtue and Vice is about seasoned professionals tackling global- and cosmic-level threats, and like its heroes it exudes confidence.

By contrast, Forever Evil wants to show how different it is from such garden-variety superheroics, mainly by removing most of the superheroes from the playing field. As such, it is probably unfair to compare the two stories. Virtue and Vice was meant to stand alone (mostly), while Forever Evil is part of a larger, longer campaign to reshape the New 52. V&V was about celebrating the Original Super-Team and the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes, and FE goes in almost exactly the opposite direction. Heck, maybe the reason the Despero/Pandora/Seven Deadlies connection hasn’t been made in FE is because somebody at DC is trying to make it sufficiently distinct from the events of V&V.

Nevertheless, Virtue and Vice connected those disparate bad guys in a way that felt natural, worked within the logic of DC’s shared universe, and didn’t otherwise get in the way of a splashy story about superheroes, monsters, and demons. Forever Evil is a story about different degrees of criminality and the ways in which a “bad person” can work for the greater good. However, FE (including its tie-ins and preludes) has also wanted to establish its universe-building bona fides, and so has been throwing ideas at readers without having them pay off. (FE is also having to build some of these elements from the ground up, whereas V&V could just remind readers of what they may already have known.)

This aspect of the miniseries (and its tie-ins) suggests most strongly that DC isn’t done with the fallout from Forever Evil. I expect its final issue — whenever it comes out — to be a massive clash of storylines, wrapping up JLA’s jailbreak; the return of the magic-users from “Blight”; the arrival of Cyborg and the Metal Men; and of course the big battle between the Crime Syndicate, Luthor’s Injustice League and the Luthor of Earth-3. However, I also think FE #7 will include a substantial infodump (like the one at the end of “Trinity War”) setting out whatever connections Geoff Johns needs to make for his conclusion to work.

At the very least I think FE #7 must take care of everyone from Earth-3, but that doesn’t mean it’ll settle these other plotlines — including Pandora’s role in Flashpoint. Faust’s comments in Pandora #9 about “what [she] created” suggest that at least one person hasn’t forgotten about her original function, even if the explanation takes another year and/or another big event, which could be the upcoming Futures End. After all, Crisis on Infinite Earths started off with a mysterious force destroying Earth-Three, so who’s to say Pandora isn’t the harbinger (as it were) of something similar?

Ultimately, however, the real difference in Virtue and Vice and Forever Evil comes down to a business decision. By the end of 2002, DC had spent more than 16 years (since summer 1986′s Superman reboot) crafting and cultivating the revisions to its shared universe, and could put together a story using disparate elements from across that universe. In 2014, DC is barely two and a half years into a similar process, and has little of the narrative infrastructure that could facilitate a similar story. Thus, while Forever Evil has its problems, on one level it’s the product of its environment. One hopes that the current crossover cycle ends sooner rather than later, so that DC can let its shared universe develop organically, and some day produce a story as evergreen as Virtue and Vice.

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Comments

20 Comments

Loved reading “Virtue And Vice”! I’ll have to pull that out for a re-read!

The villain isn’t Johnny Double (he’s a good guy, and one of DC’s obscure detective characters who first appeared in 1968), it’s Johnny Sorrow.

AirDave, Yes, “Virtue And Vice was a good.

I’m waiting for a sequel toThe Golden Age, a 1993 four-issue Elseworlds comic book mini-series by writer James Robinson and artist Paul Smith

There was actually a prequel to Virtue & Vice in the JLA/ JSA Secret Files & Origins #1. Called ” The Day Before” it sets up the graphic novel with vignettes of downtime moments between the JSA & the JLA. All of the characters and their “sins” (Batman-Wrath, Mr. Terrific-Pride, Power Girl-Lust, Plastic Man-Greed, Captain Marvel-Gluttony, Kyle Rayner-Envy, and Dr. Fate-Sloth) are foreshadowed in the Secret Files story. The original graphic novel does stand with out the prequel, however, the story is greatly enhanced by reading both.

Ah, I remember the Golden Age, I have the first half in prestige format and never ended up getting the rest though. Amazing story and stirred interest in New Frontier for me. I will have to try out Vice and Virtue though, sounds really good.

I really enjoyed the old Universe and spent a ton of money on it. A lot of the Nu52, just didn’t rub me right.

Forever Evil seems to be following Johns’s usually M.O in events. Craft an event from some ongoing books, normally really good stuff from him, if exposition heavy, but he didn’t have much to work with in the Nu52. Mystery at first- How is this happening? We are so lost?, way too much stuff to juggle going on, but he does that well too for about four issues. Fifth and sixth issue, big changes and developments. Seventh and final issue, too much crap and exposition.

Infinite Crisis I think was his best event. But, his Green Lantern series is still the prize. Some of the best work from him. He is doing a great job expanding the company into different media though.

I stopped caring about Forever Evil a long time ago. I just Want It To End already!

“Forever Evil” is forever long.

Isn’t Hawkman looking at Plastic Man?

Let me put it this way…

Forever Evil is simply a mess.

Just like 99% the rest of NuDC.

Pathetic!

I miss pre-new 52 Geoff Johns.

God, I thought this story was dragging feet as it was. A two month delay? That’s ridiculous. It has some good moments like Sinestro fighting Power Ring, but it’s just taking too long to get where its going. I’ve said this before but the days of the 12 month long crossover are behind us. In the old days these books were at least longer than a regular book. But now you wait months on end and get spoon fed 20 pages of story here and there while other books are at a stand still with filler stories. I think that model needs to re-examined.

Is it possible that Pandora is Darkseid’s daughter? In the New 52′s Justice League opening arc Darkseid said he came to Earth 1 to look for his daughter. Somebody mentioned to me that his daughter may be Gypsy from the new Vibe series but I don’t see the connection. So unless I am missing something, another unresolved question for the New 52 is who is Darkseid’s daughter?

Virtue & Vice is one of my favourite DC stories and I really truly think the artwork by Pacheco, Meriño et al was absolutely gorgeous, especially on lovely glossy paper.

Or it could just be that the constant shifts in editorial direction and schizophrenic creative team changes just means it’s a mess. There’s no reason FE#7 has to wrap up anything or provide any closure. It could just roll into the next event that no one will care about, in the same way Trinity War fed into Forever Evil which is just DC following Marvel’s lead after Civil War.

much like Old Testament and New Testament …..the dc comics universe provides a schism ….for me only the golden age and silver age are gospel ….post crisis and certainly new 52 are simply pagan play things…while for me Jay Garrick linked all versions of continuity up until recently ..no links even marginally exist in today ‘s dc …thankfully I own thousands of books worth rereading ….much like most music of today (total garbage) I’m thankful for my vinyls…entertainment (music,film,television,theatre,sports and comics ) all have their present day champions and some display merit ….but until the sands of time bury us all I’ll look toward past masters to lift my spirits and await (with futility I fear) for today’s efforts to prove worthy of my impassioned interest

Virtue & Vice is one of the best stories to come out of the post-Crisis DCU. It focused on the heroes, paid attention to the continuity of the DCU at the time, was done in one, and a great, great story. So, you know, pretty much the opposite of the crap-fest that is Forever Evil! In my opinion, this crossover has just been so horribly mis-managed by DC’s editorial staff and so poorly written that frankly, it’s pretty much killed all interest in the DCU for me. Oh, indvidual books like Aquaman and Wonder Woman are still decent reads for the most part, but as a whole, the quality of writing has slipped so far that they might as well farm the properties out to another company at this point. I used to think Geoff Johns was a great writer. I am pretty sure those days are done.

“…so that DC can let its shared universe develop organically, and some day produce a story as evergreen as Virtue and Vice.”

No, I think its current shared universe needs to be put down like a rabid dog, and a healthier DCU, which can produce evergreen stories again, take its place. And I agree about Geoff Johns–he was really good, but now something has gone horribly wrong.

God, I love this book, top-notch work with both teams working quite well. Love the touches like how, for once, the bad guys have no plans to turn on each other as Sorrow wants the JSA destroyed and Earth in ruins, he could care less what Despero does with the planet afterward. Plus, tiny bits like Dr. Midnite holding Black Canary’s mid-section to direct her Canary Cry and Green Arrow snapping “watch the hands” at the guy who briefly dated Canary when Oliver was dead. Everyone shines well, including Firestorm and fantastic work all around, still one of the best team-ups ever.

“although I still can’t figure out what Batman was eating for Thanksgiving — banana pudding with monster-sized Nilla wafers?”

This mystery has also vexed me for years. Whatever it was I don’t want any, it looks like what our cats throw up.

In order to stop the endless events, we need to make writers and editorial stop using phrases like this from another CBR story: “Snyder and Capullo will follow “Zero Year” with a six-issue story the writer said will have major consequences.” They may as well say they are quitting politics to spend more time with their families.

We’ve apparently reached the point where “major consequences” means “I don’t know if I trust that guy.” (See: Death of the Family). Whereas they used to mean the death or maiming of a character…however momentary that may be, it at least meant that things actually changed.

After reading the end of the Blight storyline tonight, which had so much potential even after the introduction of Nanda Parbat, I have no faith for how this entire line is going to go. Everything in every line is only setting up the NEXT BIG THING!!@!!

The character development in these events can be very compelling, but usually not as engaging as in their own monthlies where writers who are used to handling these characters ply their trade. Because DC decided that their history meant nothing and they could completely reboot everything (and I do see both sides in this debate, but for these purposes, let’s suppose I am completely supportive of it), we have no real history with these characters.

Other than the fact that the world is in danger, and we all agreed that there was a five year gap where the JL got shit done, why am I supposed to care about these characters? I have read far too many DC titles since the New52 and I often find myself wondering, why am I reading this? This would never happen!! Yes, Batman’s arms would tear off as he feared. Why not have a stroke of genius and have him go all Spidey on Man-Bat’s ass and swoop out of danger? (No, I’m definitely not a Marvel guy trolling.)

I guess I’m just having trouble staying on board. Some parts of the ride of the New52 I have liked, such as the Batman Year One storyline and the Court of Owls. All-Star Western. Green Arrow has been a bit of a roller coaster — both good and bad. Superman Unchained. DC Comics Presents (RIP). Flash has been great (though, mostly to look at), Nightwing, JLI was fun, and I’ve enjoyed GL but find the endless tie-ins with the other GL titles unworthy. Earth 2 needs another title since WF is only now getting there. Action has been mostly a miss — very disjointed.

I have an unwarranted faith that this will all pay off for me, but I have these and other titles I have been buying from the beginning because I had faith in them. So far, I have not had much return for my storytelling dollar. This unrequited faith will not last much longer.

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