So, the first big crisis event comic of DC’s New 52 has concluded. After taking longer than my school year to come out, Geoff Johns puts to bed what has been considered “Phase 1” of the New 52, a term that I’m not sure I like. Partially because if looked at the wrong way, it implies the New 52 will end and we don’t live in a world where such things would happen without something incredibly awful happening to counter-balance it.
Now, before getting on my case on my thoughts of the New 52, I of course will look at this book as objectively as I can and utilize only the facts that have been established in this new continuity. Like my Batman Eternal reviews, this is more going to be me looking at parts of the event that either worked or didn’t and then give an overall conclusion.
If it wasn’t obvious, there will be spoilers aplenty.
a.k.a. Trinity War.
How can I talk about the event without talking about the prologue itself? Because that is all Trinity War was, in the long run. The beginning of it was sound, a member of the Justice League of America, Dr. Light, was murdered by what appears to be Superman, who may/may not have been effected by an ancient, mysterious artifact, Pandora’s Box. This begins an investigation and inevitable conflict that serves as just the beginning of the world’s darkest hour.
I guess the most bothersome thing about this prologue is the ‘twist’. The title ‘Trinity War’ had several different meanings that it could take. Was it the conflict between the Justice League, Justice League of America and Justice League Dark? Nope. Was it the shattering of the friendship between the Trinity of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman? Nope. Was it describing the machinations of the mysterious immortal criminals, the Trinity of Sin (Pandora, Phantom Stranger and The Question), out to free themselves from their eternal damnation? Hell no! You know what the ‘trinity’ means?
Surprise! Crime Syndicate of Earth 3! Apart from being spoiled months in advanced (not a singular problem to this story but a problem of the Big 2 in general), the in-story explanation makes no sense. Resident prophet, Madame Xanadu, reveals that the meaning of ‘trinity’ is ‘Earth 3’, the birthplace of evil. Guess the biggest question is: Why would it be called “Earth 3”? No one in-story knows about “Earth 2”, the universe where many of the Justice Society are (well, until someone, not understanding the meaning of “oversaturation”, thought it’d be more interesting to have a Superman and Batman there again). The definition of Earth 3 being the universe of evil doppelgangers of the Justice League only has relevancy of those readers who know what the Crime Syndicate is and what happened to their world in the previous continuity. We may be coming back to this fact a little further down.
a.k.a. Lex Luthor.
Without a doubt, the protagonist of Forever Evil is Lex Luthor. If there is one thing I can’t criticize about the event it is Geoff Johns’ interpretation of the character. Lex is written as an ultimate pragmatist and opportunist, but not to the point of complete insanity or just pure dickishness like Norman Osborn. Lexy believes that he has the will to move the world and we as an audience are able to see that through some of the best internal monologue I’ve seen in quite a while, discussing how Lex sees the world and diving into his past.
As fantastic as Lex has been throughout the story, where it leaves him off has put him in quite the interesting place. He is now considered the hero that saved the world from the Crime Syndicate and it has left him feeling that he likes being called a hero. With the Syndicate gone and his stock higher than it has ever been, who knows where Lex’s story will take him (except we do; thank you solicitations and spoiler-filled hype articles).
a.k.a. “Evil Is Relative”.
While Lex had a very good character arc throughout this story, I have to be honest when I say the same could not be said for the rest of the characters. This was very much a villain vs. villain story with the Crime Syndicate as the antagonists and Lex’s Injustice League as the protagonist. One of the themes that has been said to run through this story is that “evil is relative” and that even villains can have standards and perhaps something that is evil to us is not so evil to another. While I can say that this theme can be seen in Lex and some of his team, the same really can’t be said for the rest.
Let’s face it: the Crime Syndicate is evil. You can say “well that’s just how they did things on their universe”, but you don’t have someone like the Outsider (E-3 Alfred Pennyworth) call his home “the birthplace of evil” and expect us to honestly see them as anything else. Ultraman may harp on wanting to be the strongest and to strengthen the world, but in the end, he’s obviously on in it for himself. Some people have thought that all Owlman (Thomas Wayne Jr.) wants is a family, but on seeing him in the main story and his origin in Justice League #25, I disagree. He just comes off as a sociopathic control freak. Johnny Quick, Atomica and Deathstorm…well…they’re just psychopaths. Power Ring has some sympathies from being a massive coward essentially bullied by his ring and manipulated by Deathstorm. Superwoman, even at the end, has been someone hard to pin down in this.
I’m not saying the Crime Syndicate are bad villains or were bad villains in this. Quite the contrary, I really did enjoy them. I kind of wish more of them got expanded origin stories like Ultraman and Owlman did. It’s just the whole “evil is relative” and that on some level we could sympathize with these characters that I don’t really see.
Okay, this was where I had the biggest problem with the whole story. Dick Grayson, and more importantly, his role in all of this. At the end of Forever Evil #1, Dick’s identity was revealed to the world. I see the logic in having Nightwing exposed to the world. After all, if the Justice League is gone, who else better to assemble the heroes of Earth than Nightwing…
If this was before the New 52.
In the pages of his solo series, Nightwing has never been established as this great leader of people. All of his relationships to anyone outside of the Bat-Family have been declared non-canon in this continuity and, as we see at the end of the story, this reveal actually harms Batman more. Which brings me to another point: Nightwing essentially played a damsel in distress to give Batman more angst and motivation in this series. Now, we know that Dick will be going underground and joining the Spyral organization in the new Grayson series, but I feel like this reveal of an identity would have had more punch if his history had not been essentially gutted like a fish (this is not getting into how it seemed like every time Kyle Higgins was starting a new storyline, a bigger crossover seemed to interrupt it, but that’s a topic for another day).
a.k.a the art work.
I’ve always been up and down with David Finch as an artist. The guy can create some really great destruction, as demonstrated in this book alongside inker Richard Friend and colorist Sonia Oback. There has always been something off with the faces and the occasional body structure, at least for me. I will admit that the artistic team really does bring their A-Game for the final battle against the Syndicate and the surprise Earth 3 refuge (to be discussed below). The climax is appropriately dramatic and balls-to-the-wall with the thunder and lightning and so on. Overall, the art could seem very rushed in places, but it does pull together and create the kind of atmosphere necessary for a book of villains taking over the world.
Forever Plot Threads
a.k.a. the Ending
Okay, this is where you guys need to look away, because this is where the spoilers get heavy…
…..are they gone?
Okay, here we go.
Forever Evil has a similar place in the New 52 that Marvel’s Infinity has. Both are the first major event comics of a brand new initiative, both involve heroes being away when the Earth is put in danger, and both are in fact preludes to something bigger. In Infinity’s case, it is the incursions of parallel Earths crashing together. In Forever Evil’s case… well…
Are you familiar with a book called Crisis on Infinite Earths?
It was the massive event book in the 1980s that saw all parallel Earths in the DC universe merged together and essentially “rebooted” a great deal. It is where the terms “Pre-Crisis” and “Post-Crisis” come from. Several plot points in that book, such as the destruction of Earth 3 and Superwoman being pregnant with the child of Alexander Luthor of Earth 3 come from that book. But the biggest plot thread in Forever Evil that comes from that book is…
The Anti-Monitor. Arguably the Big Bad of the DC Universe alongside creatures such as Darkseid and Nekron has made his appearance in the New 52, being the cause of Earth 3’s destruction and of the red cracks in the sky (not the Time Lords, as me and many a Doctor Who fan have joked) and he is looking to consume universes in order to destroy Darkseid. Well, that‘s a cliff hanger…
a.k.a. In Summation
Look, I have had many problems with DC’s New 52 and I still do. The general attitude of the reboot, the editorial interference, the change for its own sake and with what seems like a lack of direction in some places. It has made me very volatile and hard to trust the company that has my favorite superheroes in the genre.
As I’ve discussed, I had problems with this story, I really did. But having said that, Johns and Finch did enough good in this story to make me interested in the main DC story again; the story that is going to continue in Johns’ Justice League (and yes, I read Justice League #30, which is the beginning of the Post-Forever Evil world and it was really good). It has been a long time since that has happened. I do like Geoff Johns, for all his faults. If it continues like this, and maybe if DC editorial can comprehend the desires of its fans, then maybe there can be hope for the New 52 as we move into Year Four. I really want to believe that.