Forever Evil #1–7
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by David Finch
My reading of collected editions written by Geoff Johns continues. This one was of interest because it was the first company-wide crossover event of the DC New 52, running during the end of 2013 and the first half of 2014, so there was an almost historical aspect to the book. There is nothing new or different in the approach to the crossover, but a new universe to play with allows for different opportunities.
The story starts with Lex Luthor threatening Thomas Kord in a helicopter, because Luthor is an evil businessman and Johns has to show this. While Luthor is doing this, the electricity goes out over Metropolis and all screens that have power bear the message, ‘This world is ours’. At the same time, while outside Arkham Asylum, Nightwing is taken down and captured by a group of characters. An almost identical-looking Superman breaks into Luthor Towers, steals the kryptonite hidden within, and snorts it like a drug – the Crime Syndicate, the evil version of the Justice League from Earth 3, has taken Earth.
Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Power Ring, Deathstorm, Johnny Quick, Atomica – in a live relay to the whole world, they claim to have killed the Justice League, taken the Watchtower and called together all the supervillains to pledge allegiance to this new world order. They reveal Nightwing as Richard Grayson, telling the assembled villains that they know the names and locations of his associates, and that they will destroy them. Then Ultraman moves the moon in front of the sun to stop the sting of ultraviolet sunlight. Grid (the Crime Syndicate version of Vic Stone) controls computers and their version of Alfred looks after a prisoner from their dimension.
Luthor realises that this is a job for Superman, so brings out his own version: subject B-Zero, a clone from a single cell of Kryptonian blood (who quickly acquires the name of Bizarro). He also dons a protective armour suit he’s had built using 38 companies he bought specifically for that reason. Meanwhile, in STAR Labs, Batman and Catwoman break in – they need the help of Dr Stone to fix this Earth’s Vic Stone; we discover that Superman has a sliver of kryptonite in his brain, incapacitating him, and Deathstorm has opened up Firestorm’s matrix, which pulled all the other heroes inside it; they are gone.
Over at the villain gathering, things don’t go smoothly: Ultraman crushes Black Adam’s mouth so he can’t say his magic word, and the Rogues refuse to join the Crime Syndicate, barely escaping with their lives but ending up stuck in a mirror, with the exception of a depowered Captain Cold. Black Manta retrieves Black Adam from the sea where Ultraman left him – and all these people by sheer bloody luck happen to meet CONVENIENTLY at the same time with Luthor and B-Zero; what are the chances of that happening? (As my dad would say, when we would watch films as a family and complain about the ludicrous narrative conveniences that occurred, the reason it happened is because the plot said so, now shut up and watch the film.) This band of (bad) brothers go to Wayne Enterprises but Batman is there, closely followed by Power Ring; Batman puts on a yellow power ring he happens to have, but it doesn’t work well for him, but then Sinestro appears out of nowhere, takes the yellow ring and kills Power Ring. We now have the team that will fight back against the Crime Syndicate: Luthor, Bizarro, Black Adam, Black Manta, Captain Cold, Sinestro, Deathstroke (who was there to kill them but is offered a better deal by Luthor) plus Batman and Catwoman.
This story is ‘Luthor as hero wins out due to his being smarter’, which is an unusual premise to take (if symbolically connected to the old DC universe, where the Earth 3 Luthor was the only hero on that world), but it treads a fine line with being an unpleasant read because he is still a nasty, evil individual who takes advantage of people and kills them if necessary. I understand the inherent drama in putting a villainous character into a heroic role, but it doesn’t make it enjoyable if you don’t like Luthor. I’ve never liked the Luthor character, so it meant that I was reading a book with a protagonist I don’t want to read about, and it’s not as if he has a redemptive arc (the most we get is him being slightly less corporate towards Thomas Kord’s son, a certain Ted Kord …) – Luthor is still a disagreeable and obnoxious human being at the end, who wins the day, gains secret information and gets to be excessively smug because he saves Superman’s life. The New 52 universe is certainly not the old DC universe, and although I enjoyed some aspects of this book, I’m glad I don’t read many DC books now.
The other aspect to discuss in a comic book is the art, but there’s not much more to say about Finch’s style: it’s suitably dark and moody and muscular, perfect for a story where the bad guys beat the even worse guys, with everything in shadow (literally and metaphorically), but he doesn’t seemed to have developed much in the years since I first saw (and enjoyed) his work, and there is a certain same-i-ness to his characters in anatomy and facial structure that means that other identifiers are needed to distinguish them. It’s not bad – Finch knows how to construct a good panel and a good page, and there is never confusion in the storytelling – but I would have preferred some advancement in his abilities.