Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion 1

Alternating Currents: Rogues Rebellion 1, Drew and John

Today, Drew and guest writer John Crowley are discussing Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion 1, originally released October 16th, 2013.

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DrewWe’re reminded over and over again that it isn’t the powers that make superheroes heroes. Anytime a newly powered teenager or well-meaning techno-geek runs into the established heroes, they’re given a speech about the great responsibility that comes with their powers. But what about the other side of the coin? What makes a supervillain a villain? The Rogues have always been a little less villainous than, say, Batman’s baddies, but their thievery has always put them on the wrong side of the law. The Crime Syndicate’s arrival has shifted the moral landscape significantly, placing the rogues firmly on the side of angels, as Rogues Rebillion 1 finds them protecting the Gem Cities — much like Flash would if he were there.

The Rogues return to Central City to find it in ruins. Like, toppled buildings, ash-strewn streets, everything-is-on-fire kind of ruins.

"What are we going to steal now?"

Suffice it to say, they aren’t thrilled at the state of their hometown. The Rogues have always adhered to a “don’t shit where you eat” policy, which really doesn’t jibe with the Syndicate’s “burn the place where you eat to the ground” model. They quickly set to freeing the cops Grodd had imprisoned, as well as securing the hospital where Lisa Snart is still in a coma. Unfortunately, the Syndicate is set on destroying Central City — starting with the hospital. The Rogues manage to take the off-brand emissaries the Syndicate sent, but that’s when Power Ring and Deathstorm show up to lay down the law(lessness).

The basic premise of Forever Evil, “what would happen if the villains of the DC Universe took over the world?” is answered with Captain Cold’s first line here: “…we never wanted to rule the world.” Like Catwoman, the Rogues have always been thieves rather than sociopaths — no poisoning the water supply, no mutant henchmen, no elaborate death-traps. Their city being razed is as devastating to them as it would be to any normal human, only they have the power to do something about it.

They just have to decide to use it. Lenny’s insistence that the Rogues are “about the score” is a simple enough concept, but Heatwave and Trickster both struggle with the notion that they shouldn’t let a bunch of innocent cops waste away, tied to a bunch of trees.

Paging Mr. Checkov…

Artist Patrick Zircher maximizes the tension between Lenny and Axel, pointedly introducing Checkov’s gun, showing Axel being mad about it, cutting back to the gun, then blinding us with a different act of insubordination: Singh threatening to shoot the Rogues. The fact that we were expecting Axel to pick up the gun works to make us question the morality of Singh’s actions. We expect a villain to threaten to kill a cop in cold blood, but we’re confronted with the opposite, making Lenny’s (and even Axel’s) restraint look all the more noble.

Zircher’s work is as clean and clear as I’ve come to expect of him, but he splits the issue with Scott Hepburn. Hepburn’s cartoonier style fits in quite well with the tone of The Flash, but offers a stark contrast to the gritty realism Zircher establishes in the first half of the issue. Fortunately, that tonal shift perfectly matches the action. Zircher’s section is all about destruction and morality, while Hepburn is given over to sympathy and quip-filled fight scenes. Hepburn keeps each fight to a single page, giving colorist Nick Filardi room to give each one its own color palette.

Hot, meet Cold.

It’s a great way to cue us into the form, giving each of these scenes a kind of classic conflict-failure-success narrative in miniature. This sets up a rhythmic expectation — when Lenny is still down at the end of his fight with Multiplex, we know that he’s in real trouble. Sam’s rescue a half a page later is unexpected — a feat that is all the more impressive given the fact that Hepburn sets it up a page earlier. The action is so propulsive, we barely notice Sam’s concern at the end of Axel’s scene.

Actually, Sam belies a larger form at play — the three pages of the Rogues winning is kicked off by Lennie’s attack of Black Bison, but the tides turn as Axel is taken down by Hyena. We then cut back to Lennie, still knocking Black Bison out, but then he, too, is taken down — this time by Multiplex. Three pages of winning, followed by two and a half pages of failure, followed by a surprise win. It’s a great sequence, fraught with ups and downs, and ultimately a macrocosm of the conflict-failure-success pattern each constituent page was following.

Man, after a rough experience with Arkham War, I didn’t have the highest hopes for this issue, but writer Brian Buccellato delivers a rousing issue, with all the depth and formal mastery I’ve come to expect of his work on The Flash. I should have had more faith. John, I know you were excited for this issue — did it live up to your expectations?
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John: Well, Drew, I’m still relatively new to comics (it’s been about a year) so I’ve yet to learn when my expectations need tempering (a phenomenon I’m sure no other comic reader can relate to). It’s not that I hated the issue, but it sure didn’t live up to all my hopes and dreams.

In general I’m in love with the idea of Forever Evil. As you pointed out Drew, the entire event seems to be an exploration of villains and villainy within the DC universe. Each title associated with it highlights a different kind of bad — Forever Evil is about Megalomaniacs, Arkham War stars the crazies, A.R.G.U.S. is probably about those who do bad in the name of good, and Rogues Rebellion features what could best be described as your 9-5 criminals. Exploring each mindset — why these different kinds of villains do what they do — makes for a fascinating and compelling character study.

The problem with this issue is how weak it is on characterization. In a sort of weird agreement/reversal with your position Drew, this shouldn’t have surprised me given Buccalleto’s writing on The Flash. As you mentioned, the plotting here is great -– everything from the issue as a whole, down to the fight scene at the end. What’s missing, though, are the three dimensional characters that are required for this kind of story. Buccalleto’s Rogues lack depth, and are indistinguishable from one another.

With the exception of the flippant Trickster none of the Rogues have distinguished personalities, and the one defining trait they all have — being “tough” guys — isn’t particularly interesting, not to mention believable. I don’t even need excessive swearing here (though I could do with less “hecks” and “craps”) just some bad guy dialogue that doesn’t sound like it was written by a preacher.

More problematic, though, is that I’d have a hard time individually describing the Rogues if I couldn’t mention their powers or appearance. You could probably swap lines between them and never know the difference. Not to mention this lack of strongly defined character leads to more fundamental problems, like: what exactly causes these men to stand against the Syndicate? The Rogues are upfront about their disinterest in world domination, but disinterest doesn’t strike me as a strong enough motivation to defy the people that killed the Justice League. What is it about the Rogues that makes them not just adverse to world domination, but hostile towards it? I understand that Captain Cold and Mirror Master want to keep Glider alive, but the Syndicate welcomed them into their organization, and as far as I’m aware there wasn’t a stipulation banning villains in recovery. I doubt the Syndicate wouldn’t have let them move her. There isn’t anything in this issue that defines for me what their motivation is, and I could take a guess, but it’d be speculation and it‘d be biased because I’ve read Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge. Interestingly enough, many of these character issues weren’t apparent to me until my second reading. I did a lot of assuming about the characters based on other material, and I can only wonder if that was a shared fault between Buccalleto and myself. It’s understandable, but it’s lazy writing to rely on the Rogues’ Pre-Flashpoint mythos to do the work for you (especially since they’re so keen to over explain other things.)

Reflections...

Now maybe I’m putting too much weight on this one issue, but it’s hard for me to root for these guys if I don’t know what they’re fighting for. Yes saving the cops is a redeeming quality (but again, I’m not sure why?) and sure the Syndicate is easy to root against, but those two things alone can’t fuel a character driven book for 6 issues.

Quick mention: Drew, I know you already mentioned the art, but I can’t help to bring up how great Zircher’s work is in this issue. The Central city skyline shot and the cops tied to trees shots gave me chills and cemented for me how awful things on Earth are going. Great stuff.

Chain Gang I’ve got my fingers crossed for issue #2.

John Crowley – having recently discovered the adulthood phenomenon of disposable income, figured that, after getting a 401k, treating himself to comics was the perfect way to embrace being a grown-up. He lives in Washington, DC and writes for Destroy the Cyborg!

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15 comments on “Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion 1

  1. John raises some good points about the repetitiveness of this issue, but I’m less convinced by the notion that the Rogues’ actions need more justification. Does it need to be spelled out for us why characters might object to seeing their hometown in ruins, or letting a group of innocent people starve to death, or allowing a hospital to be destroyed?

    Like, I don’t need a comic to justify for my why Superman would help get a cat out of a tree (or, you know, prevent a hospital from being destroyed). The Rogues are thieves, sure, but they aren’t sociopaths. The Crime Syndicate’s arrival has ruined the Rogues’ lives as thoroughly as any civilians (there’s not much to steal if the world is a pile of rubble), so it makes sense that the Rogues would be as unhappy with the situation as anyone else. Sure, the fact that the Syndicate is powerful enough to destroy the Justice League might give them pause, but when push comes to shove, who else could stand up to them?

    Also, I flatly reject the notion that the Syndicate would have allowed them to move Lisa to another hospital. (Also, what other hospital? The world is in ruins, and even Gotham has lost power.) These aren’t “us vs. them” bad-guy promoters, they simply believe that might makes right — that taking what they want is the proper way to do things. That is, they have no sympathy for their “teammates,” they just want to do the evilest thing they can do at any moment. Any request for mercy would have been met with a sarcastic “boohoo,” and a swift strangling with Superwoman’s barbed wire of lies (I’m guessing as to what that’s called).

  2. If the central premise of this issue is “the rogues are different than other villains” I think it’s absolutely worth while to ask why.

    Their city was burned to the ground, but the Syndicate made them one of the team. They called the Rogues allies and offered them the world. For all intents and purposes they don’t need the city anymore. So what I want to know is what about these people makes them want to defend it anyway? Why do they need the city? Why are they only about “the score?” Why don’t they decide to reach for more like every other villain?

    Again there are a lot of good answers to those questions, but I want them answered by Buccalleto and not past writers of these characters. Especially since the old stuff is no longer continuity. I’m not even saying I want every single of those answered, but one or two would make a big difference. You’re right that it’s not irrational to think that regular humans would act like that, but I didn’t say this aspect was implausible, just boring.

    I’d also bet that I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with this if these were three dimensional characters. I’d at least be able to relate to the kind of people they are if they had a personality. In the same way that you can guess if a friend is likely to be offended by a joke—I’d at least be able to see where they were coming from.

    I think you misread The Syndicate. Sure, they don’t like the weak and they’re not afraid to use fear, intimidation, and murder to get what they want, but that’s not the only tool in their box. If it was why invite all the supervillains to that meeting? Why call them allies? It makes their life easier if the most powerful people left on earth are on their side without having to kill them. If they were smart they might realize that was the only way to get Cold on their side — we’ll save your sister if you do what we say. They don’t need Cold and crew, but it would be nice to have them. We could probably go back and forth on this for a while, but the larger point was if that was the only justification they had to fight the Syndicate, it was flimsy.

    • Is it really boring if a character is motivated by their basic humanity? Every motivation, when you get down to the root of it, is driven by simple, relatable emotions. That is, any answer still lives or dies by us empathizing with (and ultimately supplying the emotions for) them.

      Honestly, I think the burden of explanation needs to be on any character who simply accepts the new world order. Like, the Syndicate didn’t just give the villains the world — they broke it. Wealth ceases to mean anything. That’s fine if, like Scarecrow, your highest aspiration is to have free reign to terrorize people, but if you just wanted a nicer car or something, you’re just SOL.

      Again, I don’t think the Rogues need to justify their focus on the score: they’re professionals whose profession happens to be stealing. Sure, there’s some immorality there, but I really don’t think that means they need to justify themselves every time they choose not to endorse the wholesale murder of a hospital full of innocent people. Like, we wouldn’t expect them to be blowing up hospitals when they face the Flash. Buccellato would have much more explaining to do if they suddenly were cool with that kind of thing now.

      It actually boggles my mind that protecting a hospital full of innocent people doesn’t strike you as reason enough to motivate someone. Why does Superman do such things? Why doe firemen? Why do we even build hospitals in the first place? This “go with the flow” argument should dictate that healthy people just leave the sick to fend for themselves, right? Sure, the Syndicate offered the Rogues amnesty, but that doesn’t automatically make killing innocent people palatable to non-sociopaths. They objected as any sane person would to the destruction of a hospital full of people. What more motivation could you possibly need?

      • I think we might be talking past each other here.

        If I were reading a traditional superhero comic I would totally agree with you. You don’t question why Superman saves people in his own comic book, but when it is reversed and Superman plays the villain you’d need an pretty good reason.

        The question I’m interested in is not so much why are these people good, but why aren’t they bad. They aren’t heroes. They’re not Superman. They’re not even fireman. They are criminals. They kill people. They are selfish. Even if they aren’t as bad as Joker, even if they have rules, they still aren’t “good guys.” So when they do the right thing and put other people’s lives before themselves it’s out of the ordinary. They fought Grodd because he would have killed them too. But with the Syndicate it’s different. All they have to do is walk away and they’ll live. If someone had a gun to your head and told you that everyone in this hospital is going to die, but you can either walk away and live or fight and die what would you choose? I couldn’t blame anybody — hero, villain, or average Joe — for walking away. What they do is an incredible act of heroism that is totally outside the realm of professional criminals. It’s not “go with the flow” it is “submit or die.” Not to mention we still don’t know if they wanted to defend the whole hospital or just save Glider.

        What makes these villain’s different is interesting, we just don’t get to explore it here. If the point of the book was to show why the Rogues are different than other criminals than I want to see why. If we just accept that they’re basically heroes and they’ll do the right thing then what is interesting about this premise? I’ll just read a superhero book then.

        I want to see the Rogues grapple with their morality. Have it tested. This happens in hero books all the time, but putting villains in this position offers a fresh scenario and helps define who these specific people are. Otherwise we’re just watching a play by play of what happened to them when The Syndicate took over. That’s not interesting.

        • “I couldn’t blame anybody — hero, villain, or average Joe — for walking away.”

          Fair enough, but equally I think we don’t need to be walked through anyone’s decision not to walk away. Like, both seem equally plausible to me (if not equally probable), to the point that I understand the motives based solely on the decision (self-preservation vs. morality).

          Ultimately, I think your problem is that you’re simply looking for something that this series never promised to be: the Rogues very expressly don’t kill civilians in the New 52. They have a “no killing rule,” just like (most of) our favorite heroes. Once that objection to murder is established (I forget if it was Flash 0 or the first annual), I’m happy to put myself in their shoes when it comes up again. My own understanding of how murder is worse than stealing stands in for theirs, and I don’t think this issue needs to explain the distinction. Killing is bad: there’s no moral question to grapple with

          The big thing for me is that the Syndicate aren’t street thugs, and this isn’t a mugging — they’re imposing a new world order. Even if the Rogues submit, they don’t get to “walk away.” I don’t want to get too highfaluting about this, but the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto demonstrates that it’s simply part of human nature to fight back under these circumstances. Mortal, non-superpowered people can do it, so I totally believe that the Rogues could, too.

          (As for the play-by-play nature of event tie-ins, I think that’s mostly the way they go. I know that’s not a defense of this issue, but I personally saw this as way more character-driven than, say, Arkham War.)

        • In the Annual Cold states “Number one: We don’t kill unless we have to.” That’s hardly the moral code of someone who lays their life on the line for justice they way they do. Not to mention “we don’t kill unless we have to” is worlds different than “we will defend human life at all costs” That’s where my rub is. I don’t disagree with you that standing up the Syndicate is a perfectly acceptable choice, I’m glad they did it (we wouldn’t have a story otherwise), but I would have found the entire issue more compelling if they had given that decision the gravitas it deserved.

        • Okay, I think were getting on the same page now. I’m totally with you on there being more room for gravitas — their decision would certainly mean more if we saw them weighing self-preservation against morality. Still, I’m personally a fan of letting the audience supply those emotional beats — I love having a more active role in digesting narratives. It’s not for everybody — and heavens knows it can be overdone — but it worked for me here.

          That said, you’re absolutely right about these characters basically being interchangeable. That emotional blankness I like so much works much better when it’s just the one character we’re most meant to identify with. That is, if Heatwave, Weather Wizard, and Mirror Master were a little more defined, I think Captain Cold’s lack of personality would be an asset rather than a liability.

    • John, I would argue that is has been pretty well established in the pages of “The Flash” that ‘no one messes with the Gem Cities except the Rogues’. Wasn’t that one of the major themes of the Gorilla Warfare storyline?

  3. With the exception of the jarring art switch midway through the issue – which is ultimately a rather minor complaint – I loved this issue. It might be that I already buy into the central conceit of the Rogues as villains who are villains for the sport and money of it rather than out of any particular ambition or, well, villainy, but everything just worked for me. The Rogue #1 one-shot was a great lead in and this issue certainly delivered on the promise of that issue.

    Added it to my pull, and am quite excited to see it play out, even if it just makes me more sad that we don’t have a Rogues ongoing and will soon be losing Buccellato to the Batman.

    • I really can’t get over just how well the form supports the story. I should admit a bias, though: Buccellato’s mastery of form is probably enough for me to overlook any other issues. I’d gladly read any story he wrote just to dig into how he told it.

      • Absolutely; Buccellato is one of the best comics writers out there because he really understands how to use comics to its fullest potential. As much as I love people like Scott Snyder, a lot of the biggest names like that write with a very cinematic style that feels like a movie storyboard most of the time (until their artists take the wheel and do crazy things like Capullo’s Riddler puzzle wheel a few issues back). That’s a valid style, but it doesn’t take full advantage of the comic medium.

        Buccellato is the only one that comes to mind as a comic author that wholly owns his medium.

      • Here I think we agree. The plotting they did here and especially throughout The Flash has been great. Stuff from the first arch is still playing out in the fourth arch and I’m definitely impressed.

  4. Pingback: Rogues Rebellion #4 | DestroyTheCyborg!

  5. Pingback: Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion 5 | Retcon Punch

  6. Pingback: Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion 6 | Retcon Punch

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