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