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This week (4 September 2013), Forever Evil #1 kicks off the Villains Month for DC Comics, with #23.1 issues for Batman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Justice League and Justice League Dark. The newer Justice League of America gets in on the action as well.
Just a quick note on this week’s Villain books: almost all of them take a similar approach, following some life story or fragment from the past and how it relates to a current situation. They are done with varying degrees of success, so rather than rehash this point in every mini-review, we’ll take each on its own villainous merits. Otherwise, this very repetition should drag them all down by a point or two on the originality stakes. A general point to be made is that almost none of these books tie directly into the Forever Evil story, and they simply highlight a villain. It’s like a whole month of “Zero” issues, but for villains.
Forever Evil #1 – DC Comics, Geoff Johns (writer), David Finch (artists). Rating: 7/10
Can it really be said that “Trinity War” ended? The conclusion to last week’s Justice League #23 was such a cliffhanger that it was impossible to interpret it as anything other than an ad for this month’s event. Johns treads a thin line in this partial anti-climax, making villains the new status quo and spending much of this issue cramming every panel with exposition from a multitude of villains. Johns makes Lex Luthor his anti-hero in many respects, although it is difficult to approach this issue in isolation of the rest of the DCU. That’s not to say you have to read every villain title this month, but rather you will need at least a passing familiarity with the DCU before strapping in. Finch delivers some cinematic art though, laying out the template for this dystopian landscape. It’s dense and dark, and has the solid foundations of something interesting, but we just can’t help but feel that this is like starting over after getting so close to an answer concerning the connections between Pandora and the New 52. For this reason, it is difficult to get too excited about something that is likely to be yanked away in a few months.
Batman #23.1 – DC Comics, Andy Kubert (writer), Andy Clarke (artist). Rating: 7/10
It is a frustrating time to be a fan of Scott Snyder’s Batman. After the terrific Court of Owls and Death of the Family events, things came to a complete halt as the “Zero Year” arc kicked off. Now even that takes a back seat to a month filled with villain vignettes, and this one unsurprisingly kicks off with Mr. J himself. Giving us glimpses of a childhood filled with abuse, and contrasted with adult transferrence onto a gorilla named Jackanapes, it’s either a new window into Joker’s soul or a complete mockery of the format DC is running with this month. As Joker skips arm in arm with his ape, and almost weeps for his fate, we firmly suspect the latter. Andy Clarke draws the Joker like we’ve rarely seen him before, expressive and emotional. Perhaps we’ve just forgotten after months of him running around without a face. Either way, Clarke shows some terrific versatility between the two time zones, with the flashback scenes truly nightmarish at times. It’s surrealist and completely bonkers, but here they seem like admirable traits.
Green Arrow #23.1 – DC Comics, Jeff Lemire (writer), Andrea Sorrentino (artist). Rating: 8/10
As the “.1” would imply, this is one of the few issues that actually acts as an interlude to the main story, rather than taking us away from it completely. Perhaps this is because the creative team of Lemire and Sorrentino have stayed in place, treating this as an opportunity to explore some of the character details that the pace of a monthly title doesn’t otherwise allow. Once again, we get a familiar tale of a childhood trauma made into furious vengeance by a twisted mind, this time for Arrow’s perpetual rogue Count Vertigo. Sorrentino’s unique style gives this issue a sense of continuity with the rest of the run, making this an extended flashback sequence that easily allows us to return to the main title next month. The beauty of this issue is that it gives us a different perspective, a human one, on the Count, but this in no way diminishes his power. Indeed, Lemire’s version is far more formidable than the often cartoonish pre-Crisis version ever was. One of the first recommendations of the month.
Green Lantern #23.1 – DC Comics, Robert Venditti (writer), Rag Morales (artist). Rating: 8/10
This sidebar couldn’t come at a worse time for Robert Venditti’s debut run on Green Lantern, which is just finding its feet after a decade of Geoff Johns behind the wheel. A kind of “zero” issue, it tells the origin of Relic, a being from another time and place that witnessed the “Lightsmiths” drain the emotional spectrum from his reality. His anger against all those who bear the light in some way ties directly into the events of the last few issues, and acts as an introduction to the “Lights Out” event that will immediately follow. Apart from being a fun Elseworlds tale, it gives us everything we need to know about Relic to prepare us for the oncoming storm. Rags Morales gives series artist Billy Tan a break this month, and there certainly isn’t the same sense of scale. However, combined with Andrew Dahlhouse’s wonderful work with colours, he provides something that sits outside of Tan’s universe, but is easy to draw parallels between them. Relic is crafted as a worthy opponent for the Lantern Corp, and promises a big crossover event in the coming months.
Justice League #23.1 – DC Comics, Greg Pak (writer), Paolo Sequiera, Netho Diaz (artists) . Rating 6/10
It would be too easy to let us know what was happening to the Justice League, so instead we get the New 52 origin of Darkseid. Beginning life as a simple farmer (no, really), the tale of Uxus is akin to that of Prometheus. Disgusted with seeing his brethren kneel before the old gods, he manages to kill them and take their powers for himself. We witness Kaiyo the Chaos Bringer (aka Trickster) lead Darkseid out of Apokalips to bring defeat to one Earth after the next, and all she’s missing is a silver surfboard to help satisfy his hunger. Pak gets dangerously close to diminishing some of Darkseid’s power in this issue, but ultimately redeems it by reassuring us of his motivations. The art team does a solid job in representing both the new and old gods, even if the latter are not terribly visually interesting. It’s a curious origin story, but not one that needed to be told to understand that Darkseid is a very, very bad man. It does tease his return in Batman/Superman and Earth 2, and perhaps another event in the works.
Justice League Dark #23.1 – DC Comics, Ann Noncenti (writer), Chriscross, Fabrizio Fiorentino and Tom Derenick (artists). Rating: 4/10
There’s going to be some killer and some filler in an event like this, and this Creeper origin story certainly falls in the latter camp. After reading through this muddled mess of an issue, we weren’t surprised to see Ann Nocenti’s name attached, although in her partial defence, the character has never been terribly compelling. Having previously appeared in Justice League International, and more recently in The Phantom Stranger and Katana, Noncenti reimagines the Creeper’s origins and his connection to TV celebrity Jack Ryder, recently “killed” in an attack on Metropolis. It lurches from ancient Japan to a demon realm and back to the present day, giving us a sense of the Creeper’s history but without any corresponding context. We learn neither how he fits into this world or what he can do, and we definitely aren’t given any reason to care. The disjointed nature continues in the pencil team of Chriscross, Fabrizio Fiorentino and Tom Derenick, who bring a confusing mix of ugly faces, muddled action and uninteresting layouts. Despite the good will Lemire has been building in this title over the last few months, you can take a wide berth on this one-shot.
Justice League of America #7.1 – DC Comics, Matt Kindt (writer), Sami Basri, Keith Champagne, Carmen Carnero, Bit (artists). Rating: 8/10
A bit of an exception to the rule here, this is a one-off story that is just fun to read, regardless of whether it ties into anything. Floyd Lawton has always been a compelling anti-hero, driven by a combination of family loyalty and money. Written best by Gail Simone mid last decade, Matt Kindt does a fine job in bringing a suitably tragic tale to the New 52. After seeing his family gunned down by stray bullets, Lawton trains his whole life to ensure that no bullet of his is ever wasted. Bookending the narrative with a call from Amanda Waller, this issue actually ties in directly to both the next issue of Suicide Squad and the Forever Evil event. What a novelty! The artists split the duties between the modern day setting and the flashbacks, and this is quite effective for the tale. The modern stuff has a vaguely Bruce Timm feel to the character design, with classic triangular body types. In fact, the colours are so beautifully clean that they almost look like they have been lifted directly from animation cels. Check it out, not just because it may tie into the wider event, but because it is compelling story.
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