Spotlight: Forever Evil #1

(w) Geoff Johns

Forever_Evil_1_v43xi7j9q0_(a) David Finch

** SPOILERS FOR “TRINITY WAR” AS WELL AS THIS ISSUE **

Months before it ever started, “Trinity War” was believed to be DC’s first big crossover event. It would focus on the three Justice Leagues — proper, of America, and Dark, respectively — and have major ramifications for the entire DCnU. Instead, “Trinity War” ended up being more of a prelude chapter to Forever Evil, the first TRUE crossover in the ‘New 52’, one that actually will reach into every corner of this shared comic book universe.

The opening sequence in Forever Evil #1 is truly chilling. Lex Luthor is one of the most vile and dark villains Superman or the Justice League have ever faced; he’s academically, scientifically, and culturally brilliant; his multi-billion dollar company owns much of Metropolis, real estate or otherwise; and he just so happens to want to rule the world. Kord Industries is in the way of Luthor’s plans, so instead of negotiating with the stubborn Thomas Kord, Luthor simply threatens the man’s entire family with a frighteningly specific plan should Kord fail to sign over control of his family’s legacy company to a psychopath with a chip on his shoulder for Superman. This scene shows how well Johns knows this character and sets an overall tone for the issue going forward.

Obviously, this is the first of seven issues, so there’s a lot more questions being raised than answers being given. At the end of “Trinity War”, the Crime Syndicate arrived via interdimensional portal from the dying Earth 3. The final pages of Justice League #23 only gave vague hints as to the Crime Syndicate’s motives, but Forever Evil #1 expounds on those hints and fleshes out a world under the thumb of super-powered despots. Heroes are gone, criminals run amok doing whatever they like, infrastructure has crumbled, and the message broadcast by the Crime Syndicate over every communication bandwidth available becomes clear: This world is ours.

We don’t get to see the Crime Syndicate much in Forever Evil #1, nor do we get to see the actual battle between the Syndicate and the three Justice Leagues that results in the disappearance of nearly every superhero. I do wish there had been more information about how the Leagues fell. Most likely, we’ll get the full story starting next month when various DC titles start tying-in to Forever Evil, but that’s a full month without any real answers, which is a 6/10 on the frustration scale. I don’t know why DC is content with everything being so vague right now, but it seems to be an ongoing problem for many titles: not enough information to keep readers interested. I will be reading the rest of Forever Evil because I’m extremely interested in what comes next, but for the casual reader interested in the villains of the DCnU, this crossover event could be too much too fast without context.

GRADE

8/10

Aquaman #22 Review

(w) Geoff Johns

AQM_Cv22_2xfan5xsw8_(a) Paul Pelletier

Aquaman can seriously not catch a break. Let’s start at the beginning.

First, Aquaman has to deal with the Trench and the monsters breaking out of it like whoa. That’s enough to make you pissed because guess what, Aquaman isn’t the king of Atlantis so this shouldn’t be his problem. But he deals with it anyway because he’s a good guy and doesn’t like seeing people being killed by vicious half-man, half-fish cannibals.

Next, Black Manta decides he wants to be a bigger dick than normal and starts killing off members of Aquaman’s superhuman team of which he was a member before he became a part of the Justice League. And because of their sordid history, Aquaman goes off to find Black Manta alone without the help of the Others even though it was their teammate who was murdered, as well. “The Others” ended with another one of Aquaman’s oldest friends being murdered before he stops Manta. So, it’s still a win?

Then, the crap hit the fan when Atlantis is attacked. Though Atlanteans are supposed to be hundred of years more advanced than humanity, they don’t comprehend the fact that humans have no idea Atlantis doesn’t exist. A conspiracy to coax a war between Atlantis and the surface world to get Aquaman back as King of Atlantis? No way, man. Surface dwellers who don’t know about us maliciously attacking our secret city miles beneath the ocean? Absolutely. So Aquaman is caught in between his step brother leading Atlantis and the Justice League trying to save the city of Boston. Aquaman manages to stop all the fighting, but he has to be king, which he’s not terribly excited about.

Now, even though he only did it to stop the war between Atlantis and humanity, Aquaman’s title as King of Atlantis is being questioned by some Ice King that likes to talk in circles. I get that one must have an air of mystery about oneself, but if you ask someone to talk about what they know about you, it’s polite to correct them if they’ve heard wrong. Instead, old Frosty Tips thinks it’s acceptable to try and freeze Aquaman to death. Ancient baddies love bein’ vague, and Icicle Party doesn’t disappoint when it comes to being broad and general in the way he speaks. Who is Mr. Icy? Someone from the past. Why is he so mad? Because someone did him wrong. Why doesn’t he like Aquaman? What, you don’t already know? The Ice King is an ass and just isn’t all that menacing by himself. Too bad he has the entire population of Atlantis’ broke down sister city in the Bermuda Triangle standing behind him now…

Aquaman #22 is fun because the Ice Wizard Numero Uno is a villain steeped in platitudes about destiny, rightful places, and dishonor. In many ways, Icy McFreezePants is the epitome of classic villains of the DC universe who don’t have much to say beyond “I’m right and you’re wrong”. It’s catty, and it’s a bit like Ice Cakes is a twelve-year-old girl whose friends are hanging out with the new girl.

GRADE

8/10

Justice League of America #3

(w) Geoff Johns     (a) David Finch

I want to like Justice League of America more than I do. The first issue was fun in as much as a set-up issue can be, and the second issue was build-up for the teams first mission. There hasn’t been a lot of time to develop the team dynamic, and it’s starting to hurt the series as a whole. It’s surprising because Geoff Johns is usually spot-on when it comes to character development and team books.

Before I get into the issue proper, I want to address something that’s been bothering me since the first issue. WHERE IS SIMON BAZ? He was completely absent from the first two issues — his dossier introduction aside — and in Justice League of America #3, he appears in all of two panels, and they’re both panorama shots so he’s barely visible. Simon’s inclusion on the team is a big reason why I was interested in the title in the first place, and he’s still nowhere to be seen three issues in. A lot of people had the same issue with Justice League when it first began, but those first six issues were a complete origin story where all the Leaguers meet for the first time. The JLA is established and has yet to have a full-team mission.

Alright. Moving on.



** SPOILERS AHEAD **


Justice League of America #3 opens with a scene between Stargirl and Amanda Waller. While their conversation starts off innocently enough, it quickly takes a sharp left turn when Waller takes a hard stance against Stargirl’s wish to be a more active member of the team. The comic book trope of the youngest superhero of the bunch feeling left out drives the sequence, but Waller’s ugly attitude shows just how sketchy this team is at it’s most basic level. Courtney Whitmore — as Waller reveals her name to be — joined the team as a bright-eyed, optimistic do-gooder who is now being blackmailed into running PR for this government-sanctioned superhero team. It’s all very intriguing. And David Finch’s facial work really characterizes Waller’s ugly nature.

Vibe feels like a ‘deus ex machina’ to get the team and himself out of almost any technological quandary. Oh, there’s a security camera? Vibe can’t be photographed and neither can those around him…as of this issue. Not in his own series; only in this issue of Justice League of America. Also, I really don’t like Katana. I’ve never read any of her pre-New 52 material, and the first issue of Katana was so hideous I just put it down and screamed into a pillow for a few minutes. She just seems like such a ridiculous Japanese stereotype that I just can’t understand why people stomach her.

Green Arrow’s faux pas during an orchestrated arrest of Catwoman fantastically well done, and Ollie’s subsequent use of the privileged information about Catwoman’s true allegiances to garner a place on the team is eloquent and hilarious.

Speaking of Catwoman, I read Catwoman #19 after Justice League of America #3 because it’s supposed to be a look at Selina’s 48 hours inside Arkham Asylum before she escapes at the end of JLA #3. I wouldn’t recommend doing the same unless you’re interested in reading a story that has nothing to do with anything at all. The whole plan was for Catwoman to get info about the Secret Society whilst inside Arkham. Instead, she antagonizes everyone and really doesn’t get much in the process. 

GRADE
7/10

Total Side Note:
Within the pages of Catwoman #19, Ann Nocenti took it upon herself to explain that Arkham Asylum isn’t actually a historic mansion turned into a hospital, but rather a fully modern facility employing holographic technology to make it look like a historic mansion. 

Two reasons why I hate this so much.

1.) It totally and completely destroys the idea that Arkham is a genuinely frightening place. The facility’s presence is juxtaposed to it’s primary function which is what made it such a compelling part of the Batman mythos. If this holds across other titles, it will mean that Arkham is just another loony bin, no different than your average high-tech insane asylum.

2.) If Dr. Arkham has the money to spend on holographic infrastructure for an entire facility, why can’t he spend more on security, overall structural integrity, and pooling of resources to achieve real results? It makes absolutely no sense. If Dr. Arkham is some weirdo who only runs the asylum to play around with the criminally insane, why does Batman trust him? And if he truly does think he’s doing the best he can, why does Batman suffer such a fool?

Justice League of America #2

(w) Geoff Johns     (a) David Finch

After a brisk yet satisfying first issue, Justice League of America #2 stumbles a bit as Geoff Johns attempts to get the action rolling as quickly as possible. Honestly, it’s kind of annoying that the “Secret Society” is already known to so many people. I know Martian Manhunter says that all the villains he’s interrogated have no idea what the Society is, but the fact remains that A.R.G.U.S. knows about it so how secret can it truly be? Johns spent six issues building up to Darkseid’s arrival in Justice League. Here, the team is already assembled and out on their first mission. I’m all for getting to the point, but this seems needlessly fast paced.

The most unfortunate part is that this entire issue feels very much like it could have been the first, with the first issue as a #0. I know DC already did “Zero Month”, but if Johns wants things to move at this kind of speed, he’s already misstepped because the first issue was so slow. Both issues have been good, but neither fit together particularly well, and that’s not a good relationship between the first and second issues of a new flagship series. 

Surprisingly, Green Arrow turns out to be the surprise star of JLA #2, and he’s only conscious for the latter half of the issue. I still don’t know why, but Johns insists on writing Steve Trevor as a massive ass, and his conversation with a newly awake Ollie Queen reasserts this bewildering fact all over again. Back in Justice League #8, Arrow attempted to join the League proper with less than desirable results. Trevor approached Arrow and it was established that Green Arrow would be an agent of A.R.G.U.S. It seems that now, after Ollie’s been through the gauntlet to uncover the Society, Trevor has no problem throwing him to the curb without a satisfying explanation. The emotional tension between Ollie and Steve is great, and Ollie’s insistance that Steve “sold out” is a fantastic throwback to Green Arrow’s classic counterculture characterization.

Even though JLA #2 doesn’t have the same feel as the first issue, Geoff Johns is still stetting up something big. Perhaps the series is supposed to feel like it’s not completely sure of itself, much like Steve Trevor and his grasp on the JLA situation in general. Last year’s The New 52 #1, which came out on Free Comic Book Day, portended the coming of a Trinity War that pitted hero against hero. That reality is coming closer and closer to fruition with more characters and plot lines being introduced.

GRADE
7.5/10

Justice League #18

(w) Geoff Johns     (a) Jesus Saiz

Geoff Johns is taking the same route Cartoon Network’s Justice League did in 2004 by expanding the roster of the League in anticipation of bigger, more ferocious enemies in the future. Honestly, it would have been nice to see more of the core team’s adventures and interpersonal relationships before diving into team expansion. Sure, this is Justice League #18 and the ‘New 52’ has been around for close to two years, but in the modern age of decompressed storytelling, 18 issues has only produced a handful of conflicts that the League has faced. 

Back in the day, 18 issues could have been 18 different stories, a different approach to team building, but one that offered a more robust look at how said team works as a unit. Today, it’s still somewhat unclear how the core League members truly work together, how their personalities play off each other, and how that affects their behavior. Johns has done an excellent job delivering character development where possible, but it’s still frustrating to see new members coming in at this point. And that’s not even mentioning Justice League of America, which also sees Johns bringing lesser known characters into the spotlight. It’s just a geyser of new characters, it seems.


** SPOILERS AHEAD! **


Justice League #18 is an exciting issue because we get to see so many faces in one issue. With Hal Jordan out of the picture for the time being, and the near-destruction of Boston in “Throne of Atlantis”, Batman and Cyborg decide it’s time to reveal the Grid, a circumstantial database of all the world’s superheroes. I say circumstantial because the entire Grid was a side-effect of the persistent flow of information into Cyborg’s always-connected mainframe. Since he’s basically a living supercomputer, Cyborg shares the curse of overabundance with Superman — they’re both continuously aware of almost everything around them. The difference is that Clark hears everyone while Victor processes digital information terabytes at a time. Thus, over the five years of the League’s existence, Cyborg inadvertently collected all the known information on every superhero on Earth.

But it’s just that: only the known information. Justice League #18 not only showcases established heroes like Black Canary, Zatanna, Firestorm, and Nightwing in a new light, but also gives minor and new characters a chance to shine with a chance at membership in the planet’s most exclusive hero club. While the current members of the League all understand the where they are and what the stakes are going forward, most of the invited candidates have no idea what they’re in for. It’s this juxtaposition that provides a nervous tension that simmers throughout the issue. Even Nightwing and Batman’s short interaction reflects their relationship post-“Death of the Family”. And how could it not be awkward? Six of the most powerful beings on the planet are judging and choosing new colleagues to patrol everything, not just a city or neighborhood beat.

There’s no escaping the fact that Justice League #18 is a good old-fashioned prelude issue. There’s so much being set up from beginning to end that it’s hard to squeeze a story-proper out of an issue like this. Fortunately, Geoff Johns stands up to the task and makes the entire affair feel completely fluid and natural. My bias for the structure of character development aside, JL #18 hits all the right marks. At the end of the day, it’s really hard not to like seeing so many familiar (and some unfamiliar) faces in one issue.

GRADE
7.5/10

Green Lantern #18

(w) Geoff Johns     (a) Szymon Kudranski

It’s the proverbial beginning of the end as Geoff Johns marches toward his final issue of writing Green Lantern. There are nine years and a whole lot of amazing stories that have come before this, and judging by Green Lantern #18, Johns is looking to change the franchise in big ways right here at his finale. “Wrath of the First Lantern” graces the issues’ cover even though Volthoom never even shows up, and the sour relationship between Hal Jordan and Sinestro rears it’s head, once again putting the two egomaniacs at odds.

Hal and Sinestro aren’t all that different — they both have elephant-sized egos, it’s just that more often than not, Hal has luck on his side while Sinestro has had to overcome extreme adversity to legitimize his overconfidence. Where these two Lanterns diverge is in their charm because Hal can talk to and persuade almost anyone to see things his way, while Sinestro likes to yell and curse to flaunt his mental psychological superiority. Johns encourages this poisonous relationship by throwing Simon Baz into the Dead Zone along with his two predecessors to see what the ring’s presence will do to them.

The biggest letdown on Green Lantern #18 is the detailed explanation of Volthoom by Tomar Re. First off, it’s too long; an entire two-page spread is dedicated to the story of the First Lantern and how he came to be, which is nice. But the entire tale feels shoehorned into an issue that should have focused solely on Hal and Sinestro finding a way back to the land of the living. Instead, Tomar Re’s exposition dump hits the brakes on any momentum Johns was building and leaves the rest of the issue feeling sluggish. Sure, we get a fight between Hal and Sinestro for possession of the atomically-split second GL ring, but after a long lecture from a dead guy about someone else who isn’t even in this issue, the brawl felt too short and overlooked.

Green Lantern #18 is a great issue when it’s focused on Hal, Sinestro, and Simon. While Johns does take some minor detours that feel underwhelming, the overall experience is pleasant. Szymon Kudranski’s art is spectacular and fits with the Dead Zone backdrop perfectly. Is it a coincidence that Hal seems to look a lot like Geoff Johns himself? “Wrath of the First Lantern” is a mixed bag when it comes to quality. I wasn’t impressed with the first four issues of the crossover and GL #18 doesn’t even feature the eponymous Lantern. As an actual story, it’s nothing to shake a stick at, but the effects of the First Lantern’s existence are causing all sorts of indirect results that are far more interesting than yet another emotional spectrum conflict.

GRADE
7.5/10

REVIEW: AQUAMAN #16

(w) Geoff Johns (a) Paul Pelletier

**WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD**

Hot off last week’s big reveal at the end Justice League #16, Geoff Johns throws “Throne of Atlantis” into fifth gear in Aquaman #16 with some fights, some twists, and a whole lot of new questions that need answering before the end of the crossover. Orm the Ocean Master — aka the current King of Atlantis — sentenced the Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman to death by expulsion to the “dark waters”. While Aquaman searches for his beleaguered friends who are sinking to the bottom of the Mid-Atlantic Trench in weird pods, the reserve members of the Justice League bring the fight to the invading Atlantean army on the surface. 

The most exciting part of Aquaman #16 is seeing the extended League roster show up to lend a hand in this time of crisis, and how that affects the League proper. Some choice dialogue reveals that Batman and Cyborg had been developing the idea of having a sort-of emergency call list of Leaguers on stand-by, but Batman’s frustration at Cyborg’s call to arms shows Vic acted of his own accord. Cyborg’s decision to circumvent Batman’s input is an important step for Victor, a relatively popular hero who isn’t featured in any other series of the ‘New 52’, and who desperately needed some character development beyond his father issues. Now, we have some friction between Cyborg and Batman, something that will surely come up in future issues. And seeing more heroes being added into the mix is just plain exciting.

While the extended League takes on the Atlantean forces, Aquaman and Cyborg manage to free Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman while also learning that the monsters Aquaman believed he had sealed away at the end of “The Trench” have mysteriously returned. Up to now, educated assumptions pointed to Orm’s hand moving the chess pieces around the board to force an war that would prove Atlantis’ superiority.   The dramatic irony of the Trench monsters’ freedom finally comes to light for the characters, but their arrival raises even more questions because Orm is as confused about their sudden and seemingly indiscriminate strike as the League. 

Even though everything is coming together, Johns keeps us guessing to the end with the big twist at the end of Aquaman #16. The reveal makes a lot of sense and it points to how and why the events of “Throne of Atlantis” have taken place, but it also leaves things open for a solid resolution in Justice League #17.

GRADE
8/10