Forever Evil 6

forever evil 6Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing Forever Evil 6, originally released March 5th, 2014. 

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Spencer: One of the biggest issues I’ve had with Forever Evil has been trying to figure out just how, exactly, its interpretation of Earth-3 works. Before the reboot Earth-3 was a world of opposites, where all evil characters were good guys and all the good guys were villains, and villains always won, but ever since the Crime Syndicate forced their way onto our world at the end of “Trinity War” writer Geoff Johns has largely shown Earth-3 as a world where everybody is evil, which I haven’t quite been able to wrap my head around up to this point. Johns and David Finch’s Forever Evil 6 has finally helped put things in perspective for me, though, by unmasking the Syndicate’s prisoner and showing us exactly what a hero looks like on Earth-3.

Batman and Lex Luthor lead their ragtag team of villains and anti-heroes into the fallen Justice League satellite in hopes of rescuing Nightwing and taking down the Syndicate (notably, Batman doesn’t argue when Luthor commands the team to kill them). Batman and Luthor find that Grid has strapped Nightwing into an Apokolyptian device called the Murder Machine; when they enter the room it seals and a timer begins counting down on a bomb wired to Nightwing’s heartbeat. With little choice, Luthor seemingly strangles Nightwing to death.

I say seemingly because, as Batman lashes out at Luthor for his actions, Luthor shouts “It’s not too late, you idiot!” I came into this issue fully prepared to rage about the predicted death of Nightwing, and if he indeed did bite it this issue, then I’ll still do my raging, because this event hasn’t given him the spotlight he deserves, but the fact that Luthor seems to have something up his sleeve to save Dick makes me hopeful that we haven’t seen the last of Nightwing, and it also allowed me to focus my attention on what everyone else was up to.

The Crime Syndicate, busy worrying about the tear in the sky, are summoned back to the satellite and take on the team of villains. Black Manta and Captain Cold manage to defeat the Outsider, Johnny Quick and Atomica, but the real problem starts when they free the Syndicate’s prisoner, who immediately murders Johnny and steals his power.

My prediction about the prisoner's identity was half right at least!

Yes, that’s Alexander Luthor fueled by the power of Shazam Mazahs, and yes, he’s apparently what passes for a hero on Earth-3. Knowing that Earth-3’s greatest hero is also seemingly a madman who slaughters his villains and steals their powers does wonders for finally cementing Johns’ vision of Earth-3 as a world of constant evil in my mind. There is legitimately no “good” on Earth-3, only more evil or less evil.

Still, Luthor’s arrival poses a lot of questions. Some have me intrigued about the answers: for example, how did he gain the power of Mazahs? I’m betting Luthor started out as the genius he’s usually portrayed as and stole the ability from one of the Syndicate members he murdered. Other questions seem to poke holes in the narrative, though: for example, if Luthor is so dangerous, why did the Syndicate bother to bring him along with them at all?

Regardless of the answer, this issue is the most engaged that I’ve been in the story of Forever Evil since it began, and while some of that definitely comes down to Earth-3 finally coming into focus for me, another part of it is due to straight-up catharsis. The Crime Syndicate are such repulsive, irreprehensible characters that it’s been hard to read about them up to now, but seeing Manta and Cold finally give them a taste of their own medicine is incredibly cathartic, albeit still remarkably dark.

I’ve also enjoyed seeing Finch’s artwork evolve; I’ll probably never be the biggest fan of his style, but compared to his work on Justice League of America there’s a marked improvement. I don’t know whether to credit Finch, inker Richard Friend or colorist Sonia Oback, but his work has lost the oppressive, dark tone it used to have that often made his pages gritty and hard to make out. I was most impressed by this two-page spread:

The Crime Syndicate in widescreen (where available)

The spectacle of the Syndicate breaking through the windows would work well enough on its own, but I especially enjoy how the image is shrunken down a bit to widescreen proportions, which helps sell this as an important, epic moment, and the glass shattering through the gutters is a fun touch.

I’m still turned-off by Finch’s portrayal of women, though. At least Catwoman’s outfit stayed zippered-up the entire issue, but Finch somehow makes sure to show every female character shoving her butt at the camera at least once. The only reason it isn’t a deal-breaker is because there are only three women in this issue at all, which, when you consider that the book is juggling 19 characters, points to even deeper gender issues than I have time to consider.

My biggest qualm with this issue, though, comes courtesy of Lex Luthor himself:

I see someone's been reading Justice League

It’s absolutely in character for Lex to make this argument, but the problem is that Lex is right. Johns has not only given us an incompetent Justice League that can’t function as a team even after five years together, but he’s made the villains of the DC Universe more “heroic” than the heroes, and that’s just messed up. The DC Universe has been growing darker and darker for years now, but this is somehow the point where it’s starting to become legitimately upsetting. Heroes appear to be dropping out of vogue again—at least at DC—and that points to issues far beyond what’s happening in one comic book.

Patrick, as you can see, this issue left me a little torn—I enjoyed it, yet didn’t much care for what it stands for.  How did it fare for you?

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Patrick: Actually, Spencer, I thought this one was pretty good. I normally shy away from broad statements of quality like that (“Actually pretty good” –Patrick Ehlers, Retcon Punch), but I also think I’m starting to understand what we’re dealing with here in the form of Forever Evil, The Trinity War, Justice League and the like. As these stories veer darker and more anti-heroic, it’s easy to think of them as emblematic of the entire publishing line — after all, the Creative Director is writing these books and all of the heroes feature in these stories. But that’s an artificial darkness, an artificial rejection of traditional heroes. I know, I know: it’s all artificial, blah blah blah. This isn’t me insisting that one thing is canonical and another thing isn’t, but I think it’s safe to say that this darkness, which grows more absurd by the page, is darkness for it’s own sake, and not for some greater purpose.

In fact, the darkness finally ramps up to a level of ridiculous consistency that some of the cornier moves that I made fun of in the past — like Ultraman snorting Kryptonite for energy — suddenly make sense as drops in an insane bucket. Black Manta shanking the shit* out of The Outsider? Captain Cold shattering Johnny Quick’s tibia? Nightwing hooked up to a Murder Machine? MURDER MACHINE, Y’ALL: MURDER MACHINE! This is straight, wacky nonsense, transcending the grimy grind of the rest of the series (and its off-shoots). It’s a little bothersome that it took Johns so damn long to get to this point — Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly managed this kind of lunacy in the first 20 pages of JLA Earth-2 — but it’s fun that we’re there now.

The machine-gun pacing at the end of the issue only intensifies this feeling that the narrative has spiraled way outside of anyone’s control. I don’t know if it’s more evenly distributed in the print version, but the digital frequently puts different scenes on opposite pages. And that action hops back and forth between two scenes that take place in nearly identical rooms and populated with non-intuitive groups of characters. It takes a concerted effort to remember who’s within striking distance of whom. Normally, I’d write that off as bad space work — and it is — but by the end of the issue, it’s all whipped up into an intentionally confusing tornado. Dovetail that with two ticking time-bombs (one literal and one backwards Shazam!) and shit’s just gone crazy.

Also, it’s dumb, but the sky-high brawl between Black Adam and Ultraman is appropriately hyper-dramatic. Everyone’s a sucker for Dark Knight Returns-esque lightning streaking across the sky.

Ultraman vs. Black Adam

That’s actually sort of the beauty of the whole issue – it make the stupid shit seem fun. Not that there isn’t plenty of stupid shit in the issue. Like when Atomica claims not to be able to penetrate Black Manta’s suit because it’s sealed “on a microscopic level.” Okay, I guess, as long as we’re talking about magic men fly-punching each other, we can believe that there’s a material that’s impenetrable at a subatomic level, but we’ve seen Atomica shrink herself down to ride electrons as they zip through the internet. Electrons. At electron-size, you can move between the spaces within an atom.

So with Johnny Quick, Outsider and Power Ring, we’ve officially got us a body count! I’m less excited to see Ultraman and Super Woman die: they’re awful, but we haven’t seen them be specifically awful for kind of a while. Then there’s Owlman. Do we want to see him die? In a story about unlikely heroes, I just don’t buy him as an unlikely hero, you know what I mean?

*I wanted so badly to make a Breaking Bad joke there, but Spencer just finished season one. Spencer, I won’t spoil anything, but I hope you like shankings!

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26 comments on “Forever Evil 6

  1. Aside from my dislike of Johns’ use of Batman as an ineffectual butt of jokes throughout his Justice League work, I think another big problem with what he’s been doing with the Justice League is that he seems to always be writing to set up the next thing. There’s almost no actual payoffs to anything, every arc is setting up some vague upcoming “Big Threat That Will Change The League Forever”. It seemed like Trinity War was being set up for two years and it ended up being almost entirely an event to set up Forever Evil. And now so much of FE has had little content itself, and seems to be setting up Lex on the Justice League.

    • Johns may be the best hype-man in the biz. The problem with always changing the status quo like that is that it doesn’t really matter. Like, if there’s no normal to deviate from, who cares when something CHANGES FOREVER!!!?

      He did the same thing with Green Lantern, but teased it out for like 7 years, and had a unifying mythology behind – something new and exciting. Generally, his work on Justice League has trod well-worn territory, and even though he’s been at it for two and a half years, it feels like he’s shotgunning it. If the Trinity War and Forever Evil came with more regular adventuring and crime fighting before it, the whole thing would feel a lot more meaningful.

      • Yeah, totally, he made it about showing the League was cruising for a bruising from go instead of giving us some time to just witness the New 52 version of the League do their thing. I guess my beef with how Batman’s handled as mentioned above is the most egregious in some ways, but it’s kind of true for all the Leaguers. With all of them except maybe Aquaman he kind of expects us to take it as read that they’re “The World’s Greatest Superheroes”. Though as mentioned, in the case of Batman he’s constantly calling even that into question.

        I read very little of his work on Green Lantern so I wasn’t aware there’s a pattern of this type of thing, but it definitely does make everything seem less meaningful. While the “no status quo” thing can work in some stories and even some comics, these status quo changes have been given so little time to breathe or be fleshed out that there’s little to hold onto character or story wise. Which is a shame, as I actually think there’s been some fun ideas, like the government funded Justice League designed to take down the original and the overall use of Steve Trevor. I think I’m most vocal in my disappointment with this book of all the “New 52” series because of that, and because it was touted as the flagship book of this new universe.

    • Johns Batman I have mixed opinions on/ I remember hearing him say he does not like the batgod aspect all that much and tries to write him as human as possible, which is one of the main reasons I loved Earth One so much was because his batman was very human and not some god but he also writes him as a snotty jerk in everything he writes him in. I do think the moment in #5 where he gets told off by the Legion of Doom when he says he’s going to lead the team and they just look at him like “excuse me” is perfect. It shows that even Batman is fallible and not always in charge.

  2. You know, a microscopically sealed Black Manta suite makes absolutely perfect sense. So long as you don’t think about it, of course. Seriously though, that scene made me stop and stare at the dumb for a second. Other than that, I’m just so damned pleased that so much actually happened in this issue. Man, if only each issue was like this. Remember Blackest Night? Those were some good times.

    • There’s something super fun about how killable the Syndicate is. Like, there was a lot of nuthin’ happening in previous issues, but that did lay the groundwork for how expendable those character’s are from the reader’s perspective. Like, I love that Johnny Quick can eat it and my ONLY feeling is “yessssssssssssssssssssssss.”

      • Oh, I know. I was so happy to see that happen. The only Syndicate member I can see surviving this is Owlman and Superwoman. I’m not saying that either of them are heroes, but there seems to be something more to them than just straight-up villainy. Also, Superwoman’s pregnant right? You can’t just kill her. I mean, you can, but shit that would be fucked up. Throughout all of this, I’m still really curious as to how they will ultimately be defeated, or really, what will be done with them when they are.

        • I mean, it’s possible that they chase Darksied back through the dimensional rip and take him on on Apokalips. Honestly, I can’t imagine a truly satisfying way for this story to end, and suspect that it’ll be more set-up for future shit (as our Twibble friend suggests above).

          Also, while the CS is clearly bad news, if Grid is defeated and the JL returns, Forever Evil can basically end right? Like the other guys are bad dudes too, but they’re not unique in their badness or their strength, right?

        • I don’t know, killing a pregnant woman is about the only horrible thing that DC hasn’t done (recently). Seems like it might be time…

  3. “but he’s made the villains of the DC Universe more “heroic” than the heroes, and that’s just messed up. ”

    But that’s one of the key points of this event. If the heroes were seemingly gone from the public perspective and earth was being taken over, who would fight back against a despotic rule? The villains of course. It’s all about different shades of villainy and whether someone is truly evil or not. Someone like Black Manta is pure evil but he’s goal-oriented and a very personal kind of guy. Syndicate messed with his father’s grave and took away the one thing he wanted from him, so he sets his sights on them. Whereas people like Luthor and Cold aren’t as evil as Manta, and they even have heroic aspects about them. Luthor only fights Superman because he thinks Superman is the stagnation of humanity’s progress, and by extension superheroes, and he thinks that society will become weak and too reliant on heroes. He’s all about proving that humanity can rise to the challenge and survive when the heroes go away.

    And with Cold, well the rogues are really only thieves and kill only when necessary. They don’t harm women and children. They work together as a family. And for the most part, they’ve never really had powers. It’s all about proving human ingenuity with them and that even though they’re human in a world of superhumans, they have the skill set and knowledge to overcome those obstacles. I don’t know, but I feel like you missed one of the biggest core themes of Forever Evil as soon as you wrote that sentence. It’s about the different shades of villainy, and whether these guys are actually truly evil or if they have almost heroic motivations/elements about them but they just use darker methods of achieving that.

    anyways, enough ranting, here are some of my thoughts:
    -I totally saw Alexander Luthor coming, but I did not see Mazahs coming at all. That was a good twist in a predictable reveal
    -The Johnny Quick – Captain Cold fight, while oddly short, was everything I wanted as far as dialogue and actions go. Quick pointing out he killed Snart on his earth and that he was a cop, and then Cold going “I’m not a cop”, explaining the way his gun works, and then just kicking Quick’s leg off. It’s a capsule version of a perfect fight scene.
    -The stuff with Manta and the rest of the LoD is great as well. Outsider’s death was shocking and it really captured who Manta is and what his character is all about
    -man, forever evil has been ploddingly slow, but Johns jam-packed this issue with content bringing the story up to speed perfectly. I can’t wait to see where it goes
    -Finch’s art has been ranging from bad-great throughout the series, but here, he, his inker, and his colorist really brought their A-game. Everything is gorgeous here, and nothing looks out of place or rushed. I’m still in shock over how good this issue looks after dramatically varying art in the past five issues

    • That is true-enough about the sentence Spencer wrote, but I don’t think it’s true about his read of the series or this issue as a whole. When I read his piece, I guess my mind altered “but he’s made the villains of the DC Universe more “heroic” than the heroes” to “he’s made the heroes of the DC Universe more villainous than the villains.” It’s one thing to make the villains fight back against a greater injustice (and that is a cool thing and exactly what we’re seeing here), but it’s another to have the heroes negligent in their heroing. Spencer’s disappointed in the shortcomings of the heroes, which I can totally relate with.

      • Patrick, thats exactly what I meant. Thanks for clearing that up. I apologize if i was unclear, I’ve been fighting a really nasty flu all week and I’m sure its come across in my writing a little.

        Julian, I agree with your assessment of the villains role in this story and I’m totally cool with that. The Rogues are among my absolute favorite characters in all of comics so I’m very partial to this kind of story, I just don’t appreciate how Johns has torn down the heroes to get to this point.

        • Oh okay I see what you’re saying now. And I completely understand that sentiment. I’m excited to see the league post-forever evil, especially with the character lineup mixing heroes and villains.

    • Also, yeah – good call-out on that Alexander Luthor thing. I was sorta disappointed when it was him, because, like come on. OF COURSE IT WAS HIM. But then the backwards Shazam shit (again, so stupid it’s fun) really comes out of nowhere and turns a non-surprise into a genuine surprise.

  4. I was just reveling in how bonkers this all was. I really think it’s bogus that DC has reportedly limited Johns to two books, because who the hell wants Jeff Parker writing Aquaman fighting a generic kaiju when the guy who got booted from the job is doling out stuff like this.

    • Oh, I get it though. If this kind of bonkers was achievable on a regular basis, Johns would a fucking magician. But I still feel like payoff often comes too late in a sequence of clunky, boring (and in the case of FEvil, ugly) issues.

      I’m not entirely sure what the best ingredients are, but there IS a certain kind of Geoff Johns alchemy that only he seems to be able to pull off, and when it works, it works in a blockbuster way that makes superhero stories feel vital and unique and even dangerous in their hugeness. I think this issue got to that John-iness in the same kind of way that GL20 did or the last couple issues of his Aquaman, or maybe Throne of Atlantis.

      • You’re not wrong, but I tend to enjoy the slow issues that he (and, similarly, Bendis at Marvel) are often criticized for to at least some degree and I’m nearly guaranteed a few outright classic issues each year from any book he touches. Most of DC’s publishing schedule seem much dodgier gambles to me, and it would probably need to be Azz, Snyder, Simone, or Lemire replacing him for me to not feel disheartened about him being pulled from any given book.

        • Can I please get a Garth Ennis Crime Syndicate prequel mini set on Earth-3? I know the guy is allergic to capes, but damn if he wouldn’t be perfect writing them and their world

  5. I like Jeff Parker. . . and I really don’t like Geoff Johns. So I guess the answer to your question would be, “Me!”

    • I have nothing against Parker as a writer in general, as I’ve dug his Batman ’66, but in the case of his admittedly few Aquaman floppies he kind of comes off as a (to use an outdated pro wrestling term) jobber replacing a guy who sincerely had big aspirations for the book. I worry that at its current quality this Aquaman solo iteration will join previous volumes in cancellation before we see another dozen issues. I feel like Johns put enough time into building up GL that it’s essentially cancellation proof but his moment with Aquaman could be dissolved very easily… Particularly if they make a hand-off to Ostrander at any point. 2 Aquaman books running at the same time with less-than-all-star creative teams does not bode well for either book. I say that candidly as this is my favorite comic character

      • Yeah, I was really surprised when I heard Johns was leaving Aquaman, because it felt like he had more to say with the character and more work to do making him truly A-List. I really liked Parker’s most recent issue, which saw Aquaman attending his high school reunion, but the rest of the story since Johns departure hasn’t stood out at all (“unoffensive” might be the best word to describe it).

        And I’ve grown less and less enthralled with the Others every time they’ve shown up even if I really enjoyed that Aquaman arc Johns introduced them in, so I’ll probably pass on that book. I’m not really surprised that they got their own spin-off book, but I am surprised at the timing for it.

        • Word on the skreets is that DC has limited him to 2 titles at a time on the grounds that he’s spending too much time and energy creating relatively invaluable comic content and not enough earning his sizable executive salary as Chief Creative Officer. If true then I find this mentality to be extremely disheartening.

        • LOL, I just realized “invaluable” probably means the opposite of what I needed it to mean. I was suggesting they don’t put a very high dollar value on even popular comic runs as opposed to their great financial interest in his primary responsibility of film and television

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