Forever Evil: Arkham War 1

arkham war 1

Today, Mikyzptlk and Drew are discussing Forever Evil: Arkham War 1 , originally released October 9th, 2013.

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MikyzptlkGiant line-wide crossover events like Forever Evil can be exhausting. Suddenly, a story crops up that seemingly takes over the narrative of the entire “universe,” while sidelining the stories you might rather be following instead. Not only that, these events usually bring with them a slew of additional material in the form of tie-in miniseries. These minis can be very hit or miss, but the best ones tend to expand upon the main event by showing us the effects it’s having on the rest of the word, and characters, around it. This is where Arkham War comes in. The only problem is, I’m not sure who to root for. 

Bane has arrived at Gotham City. More specifically, he’s arrived at Blackgate Penitentiary, where the inmates have been running loose for a while already. Bane takes over, basically, by being Bane, and is quickly given the keys to the castle. Oh, he’s also told that Blackgate has a number of Talons on ice. I’m sure those’ll come in handy at some point. Meanwhile, Scarecrow is freaking out because he’s heard of Bane’s desire to take over Gotham. You see, the newly appointed Mayor, Oswald Cobblepot, has recently given divisions of the city to the various Batman rogues, and Scarecrow is worried about losing his newly acquired “slice” to Bane. Penguin reassures Scarecrow that he knows exactly what these new “civic leaders” need, and with that, the lines of war have been drawn.

Bane MutinyThose talking legs up there belong to Bane, and as you can imagine from the title of next month’s issue, things probably aren’t going to go too well for him. Speaking about this issue though, and the series in general, it could more specifically be titled Forever Evil: Bane vs. A Ton of Batman Rogues. As far as premises go, this ain’t a bad one. This issue sets things up quite nicely for the rivalry of villains vs. villains. Bane swoops in to upset the new status quo in Gotham just as some of Batman’s nastiest foes were getting settled in.

One of the things that I was looking forward to in Villain’s Month was getting to see what the effects of the Crime Syndicate’s global takeover. While we’ve gotten a taste of that in Forever Evil, I’ve wanted a closer look at the consequences of the villains inheriting the Earth. Writer Peter Tomasi, of the Batman and… series, is quite used to Gotham City by now, as well as picking up on threads left by Geoff Johns. He’s getting the chance to explore what happens to Gotham when “there is no Batman,” and, so far, he’s doing a great job at showing us just how terrifying a prospect that can be. Take a look at one of my favorite examples.

DollmanFirst of all, it’s Dollman! Hooray for the return of Dollman! Second of all, it’s Dollman! Run for your lives, it’s Dollman! Dollman doesn’t have any dialogue in this issue, something that I hope will change in the issues to come, but, come on, with a scene like this, does anything really need to be said? Tomasi gives us some other examples as well as to the terrifying shenanigans going on in Gotham these days including that of Professor Pyg.

Pyg manIt looks as if Bane is going to have Pyg deliver the message of “There is only Bane” to other Gothamites. I’m sure that none of this is going to go over very well consider the characters involved and, oh, the title of the book. While that is all well and good, I’m just happy to be seeing the consequences of the Crime Syndicate takeover as a truly expansive thing.

Drew, while I enjoyed this issue for the reasons that I’ve detailed above, I think I’ve discovered a glaring problem. Namely, I’m not sure who to root for here. Not only that, but I’m not even sure who the protagonist is supposed to be. I feel like it’s supposed to be Bane since he’s featured on the first page and is a major point of focus. On the other hand, since this is about a war, the Penguin, on the other side of the war, could be the protagonist as well. The bigger problem I see here is that, regardless of who the protagonist is, I don’t really care who wins. Hmm…I wonder if that’ll hurt my enjoyment of this series. Drew, where do you stand on this?

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Drew: Mik, I think you nailed it: I don’t care who wins, either. There’s going to be hell to pay when Batman returns to Gotham (and there’s not even tension on that point — Forever Evil 1 revealed that he is, in fact, alive), and I don’t think who wins this war is going to matter much to him. The Arkhamites are going back to Arkham, and the Blackgaters are going back to Blackgate. I hate to dismiss a comic book story with “obviously the hero is going to win,” but it’s impossible for me to get invested in one of these teams winning, when I know (and want) Batman to be the real winner.

That’s not to say the issue is devoid of any merit. I was particularly interested in Scarecrow’s difficulty in convincing his peers that Bane is a threat — apparently, his history of creating and manipulating fear has made everyone suspicious of his fear-mongering. It’s a classic boy-who-cried-wolf scenario, but blown up to a scale big enough to comment on the way fear is used in politics.

Pyg Points

Unfortunately, even this point is undercut by how evil everything needs to be. Pyg is eventually convinced to listen to Crane simply because Pyg is a psychopath who likes death. None of his suspicions mattered in the face of the opportunity to kill and maim. It moves the plot along (sort of), but at the cost of any of the tension Tomasi managed to amass.

The only other scene that stood out to me found Gordon on the roof of GCPD, chain-smoking next to the smashed bat-signal. One of his detectives is giving him an update, but Gordon seems to have lost hope — or at least, he’s lost his steely resolve to never be surprised at what Gotham throws at him. Gotham without Batman is an interesting idea to explore, but I think most would agree that No Man’s Land did it better — where Gotham was central to the story, not simply collateral damage from a bigger event happening elsewhere.

I didn’t hate this as much as I thought I might, which is about as high of praise as I would ever expect from a crossover tie-in. Tomasi has a few interesting ideas, but it’s going to be hard to turn those into a story we care about in spite of knowing the ending. I’m not entirely sure I have the patience to see if he can.
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For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

13 comments on “Forever Evil: Arkham War 1

  1. I certainly want Batman to be the winner here too, but I think that has to do with the likability of these characters. Rogues Rebellion is going to have a similar villain vs. villain thing going on (but then I guess that’s what FE is all about), but I feel like if this was Bane vs. The Rogues, I’d easily want the Rogues to win if only because I actually like them. The Rogues are much more charismatic and closer to Ocean’s 11, so I can actually root for them. It’s not that I don’t like the Batman rogues, but I like then in more of a “that’s a cool villain” kind of way, and I certainly never want them to win.

    I really wanted FE and Villain’s Month to get me invested in DC’s villains like Breaking Bad got me invested in Walter White. Sure, a lot of DC’s villains are psychos, but there are enough of them that are sane enough that I feel I could get behind them and actually want to see them win. I’m still hoping to get a taste of that in Luthor’s Injustice League, which is why I’m still hopeful for that book. As of now though, I think that’s why I feel let down with the majority of material that I’ve read.

    • Yeah, September kind of wore me out on DC villains. I think you really nailed the distinction between the Rogues of the Gem Cities and Batman’s villains: the Rogues are basically high-powered thieves with a moral code, while Gotham is home to complete psychopaths. If Tomasi wanted to get us rooting for the villains here, he probably shouldn’t have lead with Pyg grafting a foot onto the arm of a concert violinist. No moral code there. Like, not only do I not want to relate to these villains, I’m not even sure it’s possible.

      • Exactly. I really don’t want to relate to the villains presented here. It’s not like Batman doesn’t have relatable villains either. I’ve often rooted for Catwoman, Ivy, Harley, Two Face, Freeze, and others. Characters with a more tragic and sympathetic origin would have been a better choice here.

        FE would have been the perfect opportunity to have a bunch of Secret Six-like mini series, but with different groups of villains. Come to think of it, why the hell didn’t Gail Simone get one of these minis? I like Tomasi, and I know that he’s doing a good job with Batman and…, but I think Simone would have been much more effective at giving us a group of villains to root for.

    • Why can’t I have a rooting interest in everyone dying?! Not to bring politics into it, but people of one party enjoy watching the primaries of the other party because they want to see all the candidates tear each other apart before the General Election. That’s how I’m reading this! 🙂

      • Well that’s the difference between watching a contest and watching a narrative. You can easy observe an election or primary or baseball game where you don’t have a dog in the fight because there’s a proving element built right in to the process – you’re there to witness one team or politician or whatever assert its dominance over another. But a story is fundamentally different – you’re not reading Batman to see if Batman wins, you’re reading to see HOW he wins. And we can still care about it — even though the outcome seems obvious — because we are emotionally invested in the price he has to pay to win. I don’t see how anyone could be emotionally invested in these versions of Pyg and Penguin and Bane.

        • Yep. I don’t think it’s enough to see characters I dislike fail. I need to see characters I like succeed. I mean, where’s the drama if you don’t want anyone to succeed? We’re rooting against all of the characters here, which makes their last-minute failure at the hands of Batman feel even cheaper than in a story where we’re rooting for Batman from the start.

        • I’m more that happy to watch the fatal flaws of all the villians be their own downfall. I can see a story where they lose control of Gotham all on their own because of their own hubris, etc…What if Gordon is able to regain control of Gotham WITHOUT the Bat? What would that say about Gordon, the GCPD, Batman?

  2. I disagree when you say there’s no one to root for. I’m rooting for Arkham. They seem like the underdogs, and I know and love the Arkham villains much more. This isn’t a case of who’s the better of the two evils. This is a case of two terrible groups fighting. I don’t care that the Arkham villains are doing terrible things to the civilians. I can just have fun rooting for people that I should hate. I could compare the way I feel about this book to the way I feel about Trinity War (at least the beginning of it when it was the leagues fighting). Sure they’re all good guys, but I’m sure everyone was rooting for one team over the others. Same thing here. Both sides are completely irredeemable bad guys, and gotham will suffer no matter which one is, but I can still pick a side and root for that side to win. It’s just not said which side to root for.

    • I agree with that in the abstract. Like, I think the Arkhamites are more likeable than the Blackgaters simply because they wear more fun costumes and are generally more esoteric – driven to crime for philosophically interesting reasons. Pyg is just such a bad example of this, though. Drew points it out, but stitching someone’s foot onto the end of the arm is ABSOLUTELY HORRIFYING*, and does a lot to undermine the affinity I might have for the former inmates of Arkham.

      *Also, I love that Drew and I might both be overly sensitive to this act because we’re both musicians, and recognize just how thoroughly that violinist’s life.

    • I really don’t think it’s fair to compare this to Trinity War (or any other situation where you might root for someone), since who you root for whoever you relate to or like more. “I like Batman, I hope he wins!” Or, “That Vibe seems like a good guy, I hope he wins.” Like, I get that some of the rogues gallery are fun characters — I loves me a good Two-Face story — but they aren’t presented here as either likable or relatable. This issue goes out of its way to make it absolutely certain that we can’t root for Pyg. Conversely, Bane is just killing people to make a point throughout this issue — can’t really root for him, either. Like, I get that Man-Bat or Mr. Freeze can be sympathetic characters, but there’s no sympathy here — just monstrous act after monstrous act.

  3. I don’t think you’re really supposed to root for anyone in the story. I think it’s going to be more of a showcase of the devastating effects a war between supervillains can cause

  4. Honestly, I think the worst thing about this title was that the cover promised the “World’s Greatest Villains”, then proceeded to include Playboy Bunny and The Joker’s Daughter in that group. Ick.

  5. Pingback: Batman Eternal 1 | Retcon Punch

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