TITLE: Forever Evil
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: David Finch
COLLECTS: Forever Evil #1-7
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
GRAPHIC NOVEL PRICE: $24.99
GRAPHIC NOVEL RELEASE DATE: September 3, 2014
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Well, we certainly know where the title Forever Evil came from. It damn near took forever to get all seven issues published…
But in any event, Forever Evil manages to open a lot of new and interesting storytelling doors, including inserting Lex Luthor into the Justice League, and turning Nightwing into a secret agent. But to tell those new stories, we had to put a new spin on an old one.
Various incarnations of the Crime Syndicate of America (Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, etc.) have appeared in the DC Universe since 1964. In essence, they’re an evil version of the Justice League. In Forever Evil, Geoff Johns and David Finch give us their take on the group, as they trap most of the Justice League, Justice League of America, and Justice League Dark inside the Firestorm Matrix. As such, they have little opposition as they take control of the Earth. But what they haven’t counted on was a resistance led by perhaps the most unlikely of heroes: Lex Luthor.
I was actually somewhat disappointed at the end of Trinity War, when the big reveal turned out to be the Crime Syndicate. It was a decent hook for Forever Evil. But in terms of the big reveal, instead of it being an “OMG!” moment, it was more like an “Oh, they’re doing the Crime Syndicate again,” moment. Then again, if you’re looking for originality, American superhero comics aren’t always the best place to look, are they?
Like Civil War, Blackest Night, Avengers vs. X-Men, and various other event comics from the big two, the main Forever Evil book simply gives us the broad strokes and major plot points of a story with an enormous scope, which could potentially spin off into a thousand smaller tales (some of which we’ve seen in books like Justice League). In that sense, it doesn’t dive in and give you some of the little details you want. For instance, we don’t necessarily get to know the Crime Syndicate very well. That stuff is saved for the supplementary material. It’s a decent book in it’s own right, but it’s hardly Johns’ best event comic.
As for David Finch, his overly dark and shadowy work, which I’ve condemned him for in the past, is actually a good fit for Forever Evil. Ultraman does cause a lunar eclipse, after all, which plunges out story into darkness. The three-page fold out where we see all the villains that have assembled with the Crime Syndicate is pretty cool, too.
This being said, Forever Evil does suffer from some of the usual David Finch problems. At certain points the characters’ faces look lifeless, like mannequins instead of living people (see the final page in issue #2). Batman’s appearance on the over issue #4 is downright bizarre. Between his cartoony expression and his awkward pose, it definitely makes for a “WTF” moment. In issue #2 Atomica (the Syndicate’s equivalent to The Atom) jumps also shrinks, and jumps inside Wonder Girl’s mouth, only to jump out later. Aside from not having much of an idea what she was even doing in there (though I suppose we can assume she was choking her or something), the miniaturized villain is proportioned a bit too largely for it to be believable, even by superhero standards. There’s also a panel where Ultraman breaks Black Adam’s jaw that ventures into the realm of unintentional humor.
Also, in issues #2 and 3, Batman and Catwoman return to S.T.A.R. Labs, their costumes torn from battle. The Dark Knight’s mask has a sizable tear, exposing his entire right eye. Yet neither Catwoman, nor anyone from the lab recognizes that Bruce Wayne, a public figure, is standing before them. Even if you buy the idea of superhero masks effectively concealing a person’s identity, this is pushing it. Quite frankly, it makes everyone in the scene look stupid. Especially Catwoman, who even gets to accompany the goddamn Batman back to his goddamn Batcave.
Johns uses Catwoman as the story’s major source of comic relief. Sadly, much of it feels forced, essentially turning her into the Jar Jar Binks of the story. She also spends much of her time pining for Batman at what is literally the worst possible time to put that kind of thing out there. Lady, there’ll be plenty of time to get his attention after you make sure the world doesn’t end!
Forever Evil pulls off a major stunt in the first issue by having the Crime Syndicate unmask Nightwing on worldwide television. Thus, his true identity as Dick Grayson is exposed to the world…and yet only one person is able to connect Dick Grayson to Bruce Wayne, and then Bruce Wayne to Batman. Perhaps I’m a bit fuzzy on DC’s purposefully ambiguous New 52 canon, but Dick Grayson was raised by Bruce Wayne, right? And Bruce Wayne is a world famous socialite, right? This means it’s probably common knowledge, at least in some circles, that Bruce and Dick are connected. And yet only one person is able to figure it out. Not Commissioner Gordon, or anyone at the GCPD. Not cunning journalists like Lois Lane or Perry White. Not The Riddler, who as we’re learning in Batman: Zero Year, is as smart as he’s ever been. Not Catwoman, who is looking directly at a half unmasked Batman as he learns what’s happened to Dick. Just how stupid are these people?
Of course, half of an event comic stunt’s merit is what you do after the event. In terms of DC’s plans for the now ex-Nightwing, and the upcoming Grayson series where Dick is a secret agent, I’m doing my best to withhold judgment until I see the content. But was anyone really dying to see Nightwing as a secret agent? Was that, like, a thing that I missed?
I’m also interested in this book’s definition of the word “evil.” During his big speech to all the villains in issue #1, Ultraman talks about how the Crime Syndicate’s motives are fueled by the concept of natural selection. That’s actually a pretty interesting notion, and helps make the crime syndicate more than just generic bad guys who look like the Justice League. That is, until we get to the end of the speech…
“Your world fights against the most basic rule of evolution: Natural selection. The progression of the human race has been halted by allowing those who offer society nothing to consume, procreate, and breathe. This place has allowed the inadequate, incompetent and ignorant to thrive. The destitute are winning. But the war is not over. You are the strongest there are. Join us and we will take this world together. Aeternus malum. Forever evil.”
See? They worked the title in there.
The problem I have is with those last four words. The word “evil” (at least according to the dictionary I’m using) means “morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked.” You can debate about the connections, or lack thereof, all you want. But with those four words, Ultraman is labeling himself and the Syndicate as the bad guys. And that doesn’t match up with the rest of the speech. In his mind, he’s correcting something that’s wrong. This plays into the notion that most people who do bad things actually believe they’re doing good things. Heck, in Forever Evil we get inside Lex Luthor’s mind, and we see that he fully believes he’s doing the right thing by opposing Superman. He thinks he’s saving humanity, preventing the race from becoming stagnant and relying on superheroes to save the day. He’s not “evil,” per se. In essence, that’s true of the Crime Syndicate, despite all the horrible things they do. They just have differing philosophies. It might have been interesting to see Johns and Finch play that up a bit more. Mind you, this is a superhero comic book, not a debate about natural selection. But it might have helped add an extra dimension to things.
Obviously, Lex Luthor is the character that gets the big rub from Forever Evil. Johns highlights the more human side of the character, and shines a light on the notion that despite his narcissism, he really does want to save the human race. And where it leaves him at the conclusion of the story is almost worth having to wait as long as we did for the series to play out in its entirety. The sort of master/pet friendship he develops with Bizarro is kind of interesting. Though in issue #7, Johns pushes things a bit too far when something pretty bad happens to Bizarro, and Lex exclaims: “But he was my monster!” I get where he was going with it, but…no.
All in all, Forever Evil is strictly okay. It’s a new take on an old story, which is fine. But I’m not sure we’ll be looking back on it with much reverence in the coming years. It got us to a fairly interesting place, and gave a lot of new creators the opportunity to give us fresh takes on DC’s catalog of villains, both of which redeem it a bit. But we’ve certainly seen better.
Front page image from dc.wikia.com. Image 1 from theweeklycrisis.com. Image 2 from insidepulse.com. Image 3 from jilianscharr.wordpress.com. Image 4 from comicvine.com.