Forever Evil #1: Ding, Dong, The League Is Dead
Well, The Trinity War came in with a clusterfuck, but went out with an impressive bang – a rare example of an "event" story with an iffy build-up, but a solid ending. After three different Justice Leagues collided with chaotic and confusing results, all the hot-potato over Pandora's Box hid the fact that it wasn't a box at all, but a gateway to Earth 3 (hence, 'trinity'), which is where the Crime Syndicate is from. For those not in the know, the Crime Syndicate are evil versions of the Justice League, from a world where all good guys are bad guys and bad guys are good guys (or so it went in the Old 52). Ultraman, Superwoman, Owlman, Power Ring, Johnny Quick, Deathstorm and Atomica (instead of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Firestorm and The Atom, respectively). Thus, Earth 3 is Opposite Land. The "Antimatter Universe" as it was once called. Amanda Waller put the Justice League of America together just in case the regular Justice League went rogue. Well, she's about to get a face full of it, because that's what's just been unleashed upon the Earth.
Forever Evil #1 kicks off the first stand-alone event book of the New 52 era, and it's a pretty cool start. We open with Lex Luthor being a particularly evil bastard to Thomas Kord of Kord Industries (Blue Beetle fans, take heed) in the attempt to acquire his business, when suddenly, the whole of Metropolis loses power and goes dark, causing Luthor's helicopter to crash. This is thanks to Grid, the Crime Syndicate version of Cyborg, who is sending the CS's claim through all technology simply saying "This World Is Ours."
Cut to Nightwing returning Mr. Zsasz to Arkham Asylum, in time to see Superwoman busting open its doors, and in time to get beaten down by Owlman and taken captive. Cut back to Ultraman storming into the Lexcorp building, much to Luthor's surprise, and breaking into his vault and grabbing his secret stash of Kryptonite, because he snorts it to make himself stronger. Cut to The Rogues trying to break The Trickster out of Iron Heights, only to be beaten to the punch by Quick and Atomica, who free everybody. Deathstorm and Power Ring bust into Belle Reve and free Black Manta and the rest of Waller's Suicide Squad. The Crime Syndicate rounds up all the world's villains and has them meet in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, where the Justice League's Watchtower has been destroyed and discarded. They repeat their declaration, claim they've killed the Justice League, and offer the bad guys a piece of the world they now control as long as they behave and fall in line.
Then comes the kicker. As proof they mean business, they unmask Nightwing for all the world to see as Richard Grayson. Then they promise to hunt down everyone he cares about to murder them as an object lesson to any who would oppose them.
It's a hell of a start.
Say what you will (and we have) about Geoff Johns' recent work, but what he's set up here has some very intriguing possibilities. The heroes are gone or are being hunted, and the villains get free reign, but how long can an amalgamation of professional malcontents fake contentment under these iron fists? How much fun will it be to let the DC villains be pseudo-heroes when they eventually have to rise up and take on the Crime Syndicate themselves – or will that even be the case? Will the Justice League reappear and save the day before that happens, or will we get a chance to actively root for Lex Luthor? It sets up an interesting dynamic, proving to the world just how bad things could get if the real Justice League went rogue, justifying massive panic, distrust and overreactions in the name of security once things are put somewhere close to right again.
The issue itself feels heavy and dark, with an epic 'all bets are off' kind of feel to it helped along by Ultraman blocking the sun out by pushing the moon in its way, and that vibe is kind of refreshing. David Finch's artwork definitely fits the bill for the most part, although he sometimes has a way of drawing faces that make them look like they're stretched way too tight over the skull. But you can't argue with the massive four-page centerfold featuring the Crime Syndicate addressing the huge throng of villains, including everyone from Hugo Strange to Hector Hammond. When Finch is on, he's on, and his work is almost entirely top-notch here.
So, Forever Evil – despite having kind of an iffy name – is off to a pretty cool start. Will the Nightwing reveal destroy his life forever, or will he be killed by the end of the story? How are Tim Drake and Barbara Gordon going to deal with being hunted by the Crime Syndicate, and will Alfred get to fight the Evil Alfred from the Secret Society? Will Bruce Wayne being the public financier of Batman Incorporated combined with his adopted ward being revealed as Nightwing completely derail Batman's double life, or is a world fooled by Clark Kent's glasses going to keep on being clueless? How exactly are they expecting the moon to stay in one place blocking the sun? Does Ultraman keep flying up there to push it back where he wants it so the sun can't hurt him? If so, how does he do that without being hurt by the sun he's trying to block? Sure, it makes a cool visual, but does that make any sense?
Maybe I shouldn't think about it too hard. It's time to watch the new Bad Guy Earth unfold, this time without Axe Cop to save us all.