DC Villains Month Week 3: Some real gems this week. Sarcasm!

A comic review article by: Kyle Garret

Oh, Forever Evil, you are surely going to have a better week four than a week three, because you cranked out some real gems this week, and I am, of course, being sarcastic. But unlike last week, I’m going to try to show some balance here. Alas, that’s going to be hard.

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK #23.2: ECLIPSO

Justice League Dark 23.2: Eclipso

1 star

Written by Dan Didio
Art by Philip Tan, Jason Paz, and Nathan Eyring (c)

I swear to you, I went into this issue with no bias. Yes, I haven’t been exactly thrilled with DC under Didio’s leadership, but I don’t hate him the way most of the internet seems to. In fact, I wish he’d gotten his way sooner, as I think the DCU reboot made way more sense post-Final Crisis than because of Flashpoint (if that was really the case). Maybe Bob Harras wouldn’t have been available to take the EIC job back then, too.

That said, this comic is pretty bad. Philip Tan does an fine job on the art, but it’s ruined by what he has to draw, which is mostly a guy in his apartment alone narrating – in word balloons – his every action. I had honestly believe that, other than in an homage, comic book characters had stopped saying their every action aloud roughly twenty-five years ago, but apparently not. It makes every single thing that happens in this issue seem ridiculous. There’s no weight to the drama at all. There can’t be, because it’s too jarring.

One of the difficulties facing the writers of most of these one shots is telling an origin story in a creative way. More of them have succeeded than failed, but that’s because most of them have been written by professionals – professional writers, I should say. There’s very little creativity here. Aside from the guy talking to himself, we get Eclipso flat out telling us his origin story. It’s not worked in among the other plot lines and given to use in bits in pieces. There’s no well weaved parallel with other events. There’s no unique insight added to the origin.

In one way, this issue is something of a palette cleanser, in that it’s exactly what I worried these issues would be like. Seeing my biggest fear materialized, it’s made me look at the other issues in a better light.

SWAMP THING #23.1: ARCANE

Swamp Thing #23.1: Arcane

3 stars

Written by Charles Soule
Art by Jesus Saiz and Matthew Wilson (c)

Charles Soule is making some bank on this Forever Evil business. He’s written an awful lot of these – 3 this week alone. This is the first one which stood out to me, I think, perhaps, because Swamp Thing is more in keeping with the types of stories Soule is best at telling. That’s complete speculation on my part, of course.

In theory, we should probably have some idea of what’s happened in Swamp Thing recently, but I have no idea and I followed the story well enough. Arcane was, at one point, an avatar of The Rot, which is exactly what it sounds like. Now he’s stuck in some other dimension and his niece, Abigail Arcane, has taken over the role of avatar.

Arcane’s origin is suitably creepy, although it essentially boils down to “he was born a freaky kid.” Soule does a nice job of not making this simply about Anton Arcane, but also Abigail. She wants to learn about her mother, but the story Arcane tells goes well beyond that. It turns out that Anton wasn’t the only freaky kid in the Arcane family, it’s just that Abigail wasn’t aware of it like Anton.

It’s an interesting concept, that rot is one of the essential elements of the world. In Arcane’s mind, he’s simply maintaining the natural order of things by spreading rot. It’s set up as being evil, sure, but there’s an underlying element of this just being another perspective, which just happens to be at odds with the one most of us have.

Jesus Saiz was an excellent choice to draw this book. His work seems to have gotten less angular since his days on Checkmate, which was the last time I saw it. There’s also less stark contrasts in dark and light, which is appropriate, given how much of Arcane is meant to be grey. There’s less Michael Gaydos and more Michael Lark, which works really well here.

ACTION COMICS #23.3: LEX LUTHOR

Action Comics 23.3: Lex Luthor

2 stars

Written by Charles Soule
Art by Raymund Bermudez, Dan Green, and Ulises Arreola (c)

This Soule written-issue doesn’t come off nearly as well as Arcane.

The problem is clear right from the start. Luthor is let free from prison even though he had a 20 year sentence. How was he released? “Lawyers,” he says. That’s all he says. We don’t get any further explanation. And that’s ultimately the problem with this issue – we’re told things, but we don’t really get any explanations. We’re shown things, but they seem to exist in a vacuum, so we have no sense of the reasoning.

When Luthor gets out of jail, he’s told he’s gotten phone calls from “Bar, Olive, and Emma” all requesting dates. He tells his assistant to tell the women “to get their cell phones out and prove how much they’d like to spend an evening with me.” Yes, because we all know how much supermodels and movie stars fawn over ex-convict businessmen. But it’s different for Lex Luthor, you see, because he’s just so great, even if we have no idea why.

The attempts at making Luthor seem awesome are actually less problematic than the attempts at making him seem evil. Luthor takes down a business rival by…well, I have no idea. He tells someone something and his rival is accused of some crime, but we’re never told what it is. So we have no idea how Lex manages to beat him.

Then Lex basically has the crew of a space shuttle killed in an effort to get Superman’s attention and immediately afterwards pushes his assistant off the top of his building. Neither act has the slightest impact on anything at all, and both happen for no apparent reason. None of these people had to die, but Luthor kills them, because this version of Luthor just kills people even if he doesn’t have to. Because he’s evil, you see. He’s evil!

The beauty of Lex Luthor has always been that he manipulates events in the background. Lex doesn’t get his hands dirty. He remains above the fray. He’s a super-genius and a ruthless businessman who often gets away with things by working the system. This version of Lex Luthor is just a psychopath.

DETECTIVE COMICS #23.3: THE SCARECROW

Detective Comics 23.3: Scarecrow

3.5 stars

Written by Peter Tomasi
Art by Szymon Kudranski and John Kalisz (c)

I guess it shouldn’t be a shock that, of all the “family” of titles that DC has, the best for the Forever Evil one shots has been the Bat-Family. It only makes sense, given that Batman has the best villains in all of comics. But given all the random changes DC editorial have made to Bat-History and the fact that there are a ton of these requiring a lot of creative teams, there were still some question marks.

So far, pretty darn good. Peter Tomasi is hugely underrated, particularly by me up until I read this story. This isn't an origin story by any means, and is barely a Scarecrow story. Yes, Scarecrow is the focus, but this is more about how the former residents of Arkham prepare for a war with the current residents of Blackgate prison. As it should be, the Secret Society's plans for the world are secondary to what's happening in Gotham.

The division between what would be considered Batman's crazy villains and those that aren't theoretically sane is a nice one. While Blackgate doesn't have the storied history that Arkham does, it's still an essential element of Gotham. The division between the two can sometimes be problematic (for example, Penguin should end up in Blackgate, not Arkham, and there's a case to be made for Riddler, too), but the fact that exists underscores how wonderfully diverse Batman's villains are.

Granted, this issue more or less fails to live up to the basic criteria of these one shots: they are intended to focus on specific characters and/or tell us their origins. But I'm willing to look past that because it's so wonderful to see how Scarecrow relates to Mister Freeze, Riddler, Killer Croc, and Poison Ivy. In this case, the story works because it's the Scarecrow, because Crane knows psychology, so he knows how to handle each villain.

The art by Szymon Kudranski is perfectly dark and abstract, clouded when it needs to be, but sharp at the right moments. There are moments when his work takes on Jae Lee like style, and others where is seems heavily influenced by Michael Gaydos (and there's the second time I've mentioned him in these reviews -- here's hoping he's drawing one of these books for the sake of kismet). John Kalisz does a wonderful job with the colors. Each villains gets their own color palette that helps emphasis the individual scenes.

Funny enough, this issue leads directly into Arkham War #1, yet I'm okay with that. It bothered me with the Rogues (see below), but at least with Scarecrow we get something substantial, something that actually sets up exactly what the upcoming series will be about.

The rest of the bunch:

In Justice League of America #7.3, we learn that the new Shadow Thief really, really hates aliens. Cliff Richards’ art on The Dark Knight #23.3 is some of the best I’ve ever seen from him, on a nice story by John Layman. It did make me think about the days when Clayface wasn’t a giant monster. He and Killer Croc have undergone big transformations over the years. Batman #23.3 is another winner, with a good Penguin story written by Frank Tieri with some nice art by Christian Duce. I’d like to see more work form him in the future. I feel like the origin for Ra’s Al Ghul that we get in Batman and Robin #23.3 is something we’ve seen before and often, or basically whenever Ra’s makes an appearance. Flash #23.3 has the singular quality of being an event book that stems from an event book that stems from a crossover that then leads to an event book that is also a crossover. In other words, not much happens in this issue and it leads direct to Rogues Rebellion #1, so keep forking over your money for a story at some point. Wonder Woman 23.1 is a perfectly fine origin story about Cheetah, although I have to wonder how that school hadn't been shut down by the government by now. Green Lantern #23.3 features a lot of zombies for Black Hand to hang out with, but pales in comparison to the phenomenal spotlight issue he got just before "Blackest Night." I will say this about Superman #23.3: H'el is one of the stupidest names for a villain I've ever heard. Justice League #23.3 is appropriately ambitious for a comic involving Dial E, although it really needed to be longer. Teen Titans #23.2 looks like it was slapped together at the last minute and features Deathblow (to go along with titular Deathstroke), so you knew it wasn't going to end well.

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