Review: Villains Month Week 1 is mostly pretty good

A comic review article by: Kyle Garret

Forever Evil

Forever Evil #1

2 stars

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by David Finch, Richard Friend, and Sonia Oback (c)

The problem with event comics in the New 52 is that they are created by people who worked on the previous versions of the characters.  Follow me, here...

Geoff Johns has been writing DC characters for years.  We can all consciously think that, hey, this is the New 52 Superman, he's a brand new character, but that's not how it works.  In our heads, the history is still there, even if it never "really" happened.  We know Superman as a character who has been around for 75 years.  We know him.  We know what he's all about.  Putting him in a new costume, making him single again, and claiming that he's a rebooted version is all well and good, but there's baggage that comes with the name.  There's an emotional connection that comes with the character.

That's what makes Forever Evil so problematic.

Because while DC can claim that Forever Evil features New 52 versions of their characters, the only reason this story has any impact at all is because we associate these characters with what has come before.

We don't know this version of the Justice League.  Twenty-three issues isn't enough for us to know such a large cast of characters.  Their disappearance from the world doesn't matter, because we have yet to see what kind of impact they've had.  There's no history there.  It's no coincidence that we don't see panic in the street that they're gone, because no one knows what to make of them.  Heck, for most of their run, people have questioned if they're really heroes or not.  So how could their apparent deaths really be that upsetting?

No, it's upsetting if they're the Justice League we've known for decades.  The remnants of these heroes being given to their enemies is only upsetting if there's history between them.  The Cheetah gets Wonder Woman's lasso, but it doesn't really matter because there's so very little history between them.  For that moment to have impact, we have to see it as the old Cheetah receiving the old Wonder Woman's lasso.

And that's the thing -- Johns may be consciously writing the New 52 Cheetah and Wonder Woman (and everyone else), but he's banking on the emotional core that comes with the pre-reboot characters.  He's counting on it, even if he might not be aware of it, because he can't separate himself from that.  He's been writing these characters for too long to disassociate them.

This is the big reason why Forever Evil fails: it doesn't work as a New 52 story.  It might have worked as a pre-New 52 story, but we'll never know.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of little reasons why Forever Evil fails.

I'm going to leave the art alone.  You're either a fan of Finch's work or you're not.  The story is conveyed as well as can be, all things considered.  I don't mind Finch's art.  I don't know that I'd go out of my way to read a book he's working on, but he's not an artist that kicks me out of a story, either.  No, the art isn't the problem with this comic.

The first glaring problem with this story comes when Nightwing enters.  He is swinging to Akrham, Mr. Zsasz in tow.  Seems perfectly normal, yes?  But Nightwing is coming from Chicago.  Even if you didn't know that's where he hangs out these days, it's explained in the dialogue with Batgirl.  So why is Nightwing swinging from the rooftops?  Did he swing all the way from Chicago?  Did he fly back to Gotham and then decide that, after flying, he should really just swing to Arkham from the airport?  Did he drive, stop a ways outside of Arkham, and then swing from there?  And why the hell would he do any of those things?

WTF Nightwing?

Where the hell is the editor?  A simple "I tracked Zsasz back to Gotham from Chicago" would have made the entire previous paragraph go away.  But apparently DC editors only interfere when they want to change big storylines at the last minute.

And, not for nothing, but Nightwing isn't talking to Batgirl here; he's talking to Oracle.  In fact, the awkwardly posed panel of Barbara standing up seems to be there just so we know she's not in a wheel chair anymore, because otherwise this is a pre-New 52 scene.

Later, we jump to the Rogues, who all have real superpowers now, which is disappointing.  I always enjoyed the fact that the Rogues were regular criminals using crazy weapons to set themselves apart, but that's not particularly "extreme," so that had to go.

But let's just jump ahead to a classic bit of Johns' writing: drug addict Ultraman.  I mentioned things needing to be "extreme," and Ultraman tracking down Kryptonite and smoking it just scream "extreme."  See, this is called Forever Evil, so we need to know that these characters are bad to the bone.  In case destroying the Justice League didn't get that across (and, really, why would it, when most of the DCU don't trust them?), doing drugs should do the trick.

Finally, we come to the money shot: the collected bad guys of the New 52 brought together by the Crime Syndicate.  We get multiple panels of stunted dialogue created for the sole purpose of spotlighting just how many top tier villains are in the crowd.  Oh, and then they kill The Monocle to prove how truly evil they are.

Wait a minute...

The Monocle?  Has he even appeared in the New 52?

Goes to Google...checks multiple web sites...Nope, no Monocle in the New 52.

Okay, then.

Killing The Monocle is not enough, so the Syndicate pull out their big surprise -- they've captured Nightwing!  And they reveal that he's really Richard Grayson!

Quote Lex Luthor: "Who the hell is Richard--"

And here we go again.  Because this unmasking is only important in the pre-New 52 universe.  In that universe, people actually know who Nightwing is.  In this universe, he's only been around for a few years at most.  In the old universe, he grew up as Bruce Wayne's ward, making his unmasking a big problem for Batman.  In this universe?

I have no idea.  Supposedly, Dick was never Bruce's ward in the New 52, which begs the question of why he's always going to black tie social functions for the Wayne Foundation.  But Nightwing #0 suggests that Dick lived in an orphanage that Wayne built, not in Wayne Manor.  So this is DC's way of dodging the obvious impact Nightwing's identity being revealed would have.

Unfortunately, it also makes the reveal meaningless.

The book ends with Ultraman moving the moon to block out the sun (okay) because apparently our sun makes him weak, so I guess it's his Kryptonite, which now has me wondering if our sun is like crack cocaine to our Superman.  I'd read that story.

The story continues, however, as "all the greatest villains of the DCU take center stage" even though they're only great because of who they were before the New 52, as most of them have only appeared once since the reboot.

I think the concept behind Forever Evil is ballsy, but it was so ill conceived that it just makes me sad for what DC has become.

Batman Forever Evil: the Joker

Batman 23.1: Joker

4 stars

Written by Andy Kubert
Art by Andy Clarke and Blond (c)

I've read all of this week's Forever Evil comics from DC out of a) morbid curiosity and b) an interest in reviewing them and I honestly didn't think I would find any of them any good.  Believe it or not, I found 3 that were more than just good, they were really good -- great, even.  Much to my surprise, one of them was The Joker.

I should get this out of the way: there's nothing about this story that places it in the New 52.  That is to say, this book could have existed in any other version of the DCU.  I know I'm beating a dead horse with this, but it was my understanding that the New 52 was created to tell new types of stories that just couldn't be told in the old continuity.  That's not the case with most of these books, and certainly not the case with the good ones.

Batman 23.1 is written by Andy Kubert, whose known more for his art than his words.  He has an uphill battle in front of him.  While most of these Forever Evil one shots are being promoted as origin stories, Kubert can't really do that with the Joker.  For one, part of the Joker's appeal is that his past is still relatively cloudy; we don't know a lot.  There's also the fact that the closest thing to a Joker origin story that we've seen is Batman: The Killing Joke, and I can't imagine anyone, let alone a relatively new writer, wanting to step on the toes of that classic.

Don't those Gorilla looks beautiful?

But Kubert does a nice job of incorporating vague scenes of the Joker's past while focusing on his relationship with an atypical Joker character: a gorilla sidekick dressed as a clown.  As ridiculous as that sounds, Kubert still maintains the perfect tone for a Joker story.  Yes, it is ridiculous, but it's also creepy.  Interspersing the abuse young Joker took from his aunt and opening with Joker letting a snake swallow a man whole keeps the story fully grounded in the horror that is the Joker.

It was a smart move to make the abuser in the Joker's past her aunt, too.  For one, there's the implication that he's not always with her, so the extent of the abuse is unknown.  It also leaves his parents untouched, which I think is necessary to tell this type of a story while not ruining the mystery.

But as great as the writing is, the real stand out in this issue is the art.  I've always considered Andy Clarke to be a good artist in so far as I've always enjoyed it when I've seen it.  He doesn't seem to get much attention or critical acclaim, perhaps because he doesn't work on a lot of comics.  The former, at least, should change with this issue.  He takes his art to another level.

Not being an artist, I'm sure I won't do it justice, but I'll give it a shot.

Clarke's artwork reminds me of Brian Bolland's, particularly when drawing gorillas.  The panel of a baby Jackanapes could very well have been an Animal Man cover.  It's not quite as dark, though, which works for the story of a gorilla clown (clown gorilla?).  There's almost an early Gary Frank aspect to his faces, if that makes any sense.  Does "it looks really cool?" qualify as a critique?

Clarke modifies his style for the few panels that take place in the Joker's past.  Characters become more exaggerated, outlines become thick and scratchy.  There's an added dark, jaggedness to every panel that doesn't exist in the present tense.  It's very effective at maintaining the tone.

All in all this is a solid Joker story with some fantastic art, and much better than I expected any of these Forever Evil books to be.

Forever Evil: the Ventriliquist

The Dark Knight 23.1: Ventriloquist


Written by Gail Simone
Art by Derlis Santacruz, Karl Kessel, and Brett Smith (c)

I have been critical of the New 52.  One of my many complaints is that they seem to be relying on recreating old characters -- often to be "extreme" -- when I thought the whole point was to create something new.  If you're getting people to read your books because they want to see what a new version of an old character looks like, then you're pandering to the people who have always read comics, not the supposed new audience the New 52 was meant to pull in.

The fact that the new designs for old characters have been unimpressive doesn't help.  In most cases, the old versions were better (yes, I know how I sound).

But I said "most" cases, because the new Ventriloquist is fantastic.

I don't read Batgirl, which is where, I believe, the new Ventriloquist has been making her appearances, so I came into this completely blind.  That wasn't a problem, though, as this was as true of an origin story as you're going to get -- and what a creepy origin it is.

I'm going to avoid giving away too much because knowing too much would ruin the story.  I will say that the new Ventriloquist has an origin straight out of the best horror movies and that I'm hoping we see Gail Simone on a horror comic in the future.

Here's what I will give away: of all the Forever Evil books released in the first week, this one does the best job of incorporating the fact that the world has fallen apart.  For a minute, I thought I was reading a No Man's Land issue of Batman.  It's an important point, because while this is a relatively small story featuring a somewhat obscure villain, it does a nice job of conveying just how far apart the world has fallen since the Crime Syndicate took over.

Simone makes great use of some classic horror tropes.  We have a group of strangers brought together by fate, ostensibly trapped in a creepy old building.  There's the street gang who attack our group, only to be dispatched by what we thought was the main threat.  They're taken care of by a nice bit of "Puppet Master" style horror, an obvious addition to Ventriloquist lore that I don't think we've ever seen before.

And, of course, we get the fake-out.  Throughout the issue we learn about the Ventriloquist's disturbing origin, but she saves the refugees in the theater, so perhaps she's not all bad, right?  The final page reveal is well done.

The art by Derlis Santacruz isn't going to turn a lot of heads, but it does a nice job of telling the story.  Each of the characters is unique, and each of the murder victims is upsetting.  It will be interesting to see how Santacruz's art develops over time, because this is an excellent starting point.

Green Lantern Forever Evil: Relic

Green Lantern 23.1: Relic 

4 stars

Writer: Robert Venditti
Art: Rags Morales, Cam Smith, and Andrew Dahlhouse (c)

Full disclosure: I don't read Green Lantern.  I have never read Green Lantern.  The extent of my knowledge of Green Lantern comes from Justice League comics, and even then my Green Lantern experience featured Kyle Rayner, not Hal Jordan.  In fact, I kind of look at the return of Hal Jordan as the beginning of the end for the DCU I used to love; his return opened the Silver Age Nostalgia Flood Gates, even he probably deserved to come back, given how horribly he was sent off.

So here I am, guy who doesn't know Green Lantern, doesn't really like Green Lantern, might have a slight grudge against Green Lantern, reviewing one of these crazy ass one shots that, to be perfectly honest, I find questionable in their own right, as they are attached to a rather piss poor event comic.  Clearly, no good can come of this.

And yet.

From what I understand, Relic is a new character, but his spotlight issue isn't really about him.  I mean, it does feature his origin, but it doesn't tell us anything that couldn't have been explained in a single page.  No, this issue gives us a big picture look at the many Corps, a picture that I never considered before, and it makes for an intriguing and enjoyable read.

Green Lantern: Relic

First and foremost: "lightsmiths." Awesome.  Well played, Robert Venditti, well played.  For all I know, the Rainbow Corps have been referred as lightsmiths for decades, but this is the first time I've ever seen the term used to describe them, and it's perfect.  It makes them infinitely cooler in my eyes.  It also gives them a real sense of mythology, which is what this issue is all about.

I'm also not sure if the descriptions for each of the Corps are Venditti inventions or not, but they're different from what I've seen before -- they're also better.  Red isn't rage, it's fury.  Yellow isn't fear, it's terror.  Blue is faith, not hope.  And, perhaps best of all, green isn't will, it's resolve, which seems like a much better description in my mind.

Relic is from another dimension (digression: I find the New 52's use of alternative dimensions mind boggling given its intended goal of being new reader friendly, but I'll stop beating that dead horse for a little bit) where the Lanterns came into power wielding staffs, not rings.  They created entire worlds with those staffs but, as often happens with forces who have incredible power, they eventually fought each other.  In this case, the conflict was a result of the fact that the light is not unlimited.  This, in and of itself, is an interesting concept, as I don't know that I've ever heard anyone discuss if a Lantern's ring is limitless or not.

The mythology angle is played up in every way and it works; Relic's story feels epic.  Each major moment in his story is told in a single or double page spread, a single, still frame with captions to explain what's happened.  Not to get pretentious about it, but this is a modern version of the earliest form of storytelling; these are cave paintings in full color.

They're fantastic cave paintings, at that.  Rags Morales and Cam Smith do some dynamite work here.  Each one of the staff wielders is unique and memorable, and each one of these single and double page moments is bold.  The pages featuring the lifeless Lanterns floating in space are particularly effective, as is the shot of Relic building his ship.

It will be interesting to see how this issue works as an introduction to the new, post-Johns era of the Green Lantern books.  It seems like they're in good hands.

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