Spencer: I often find myself thinking of Geoff Johns as “the comic-bookiest writer in all of comics”, in the sense that so much of his work revolves around the history and mythology of the characters he’s writing, and enjoying his work often depends on having a history with the characters yourself. That’s not necessarily good or bad on its own; Johns’ style has its strong points and its weak ones, and while examples of both pop up in Forever Evil 7, it fortunately falls mostly on the “strong” side.
Lex revives Nightwing — though the jury’s out on whether that was his original intention or not — and Dick, Batman, Catwoman and Cyborg are able to use Wonder Woman’s lasso to free the various Justice Leagues from the prison within Firestorm. How? It’s because Batman has a “connection” with Diana. Yeah, “connection.”
It’s not like this revelation comes out of nowhere — Batman and Wonder Woman flirted throughout the entirety of the Justice League animated series, and this reveal makes that scene where Bruce creepily watches Clark and Diana kiss make a lot more sense — but I can’t say I’m exactly eager for a Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman love triangle. Not only do I not want to see these guys at odds, but it continues to devalue Diana, leaving her as little more than a love interest.
Actually, this issue is pretty lousy about its female characters in general — which is a fairly common weakness of Johns’, which probably echoes back to the decades of poor treatment of women in the comics of Johns’ youth in general. Atomica dies — admittedly deservedly — and while Catwoman gets some fun quips in, she’s essentially pointless; if you remove her from Forever Evil the plot wouldn’t change one iota, and the one scene that’s supposedly about her is of course actually about her pining for Batman.
Then there’s Superwoman. The issue reveals that Alexander Luthor is the father of her unborn child and that she’s always been on his side. Fair enough, but it feels like every word out of Superwoman’s mouth is “my lover” this and “my unborn child” that; her motivation for constantly shifting alliances is so she can find the “strongest” man to protect her child, which is fairly reasonable until you remember that Lois is one of the most powerful metahumans on the planet, which is easy enough to forget considering that she almost never uses her abilities, almost always tricking men into doing her dirty work instead. I might be more inclined to overlook Superwoman, to just consider her an exaggerated femme fatale, if there were more women in this book who were handled well, but as it is, they’re all almost solely defined by their relationship to men. It’s ridiculous, and not in the good way.
Anyway, Alexander Luthor blows through our Luthor’s team of anti-heroes and ultimately kills Bizarro, causing Lex to flip his bald lid. Alexander insists that he’s the strongest there is, but Lex simply outsmarts him, using the fact that they’re genetically the same person to call down the power of Mazahs!, return Lex to his human form, and murder him. He then kills Atomica and cripples Ultraman, becoming a hero to the world in the process. Meanwhile, the being that chased the Syndicate from their world in the first place is still out there and, surprise, it’s not Darkseid:
This is one of those moments I mentioned in the introduction that only works if you’re already familiar with DC mythology, but if you are then man does it work! The Anti-Monitor is perhaps the strongest character in the history of DC Comics, and his appearance here totally took me by surprise; I actually squealed out loud sitting in my car reading this on my lunch break. Johns was so clever leading up to this moment, feeding us clues that so obviously read “Darkseid” that I never even considered that the threat could be somebody else entirely.
It’s that sense of sheer comic-booky fun that propels this issue. It’s incredibly cathartic to see the “heroes” finally take down the Syndicate, the action is brutal yet clever, and the relationships Johns builds between the members of Lex’s little villains brigade are all endearing in their own way. I was taken by surprise by Black Adam and Sinestro bonding, but considering that both are dictators, it makes a lot of sense, and the rapport between Lex and Captain Cold is fun just because they’re so mismatched. Still, the heart of this issue (outside of Batman and Nightwing, who we don’t see enough of) is Lex and Bizarro.
This issue tries to do a lot with Lex Luthor, and the one area where it unabashedly succeeds is with these two. Its easy to see Bizarro crumbling Lex’s emotional barrier throughout the series, but at the same time, I often wonder if Lex is actually capable of showing true compassion for anyone.
The rest of the stuff with Lex is a little iffy to me. Johns tries to create a theme about learning from failure, but it never quite comes together (when does Lex fail?), and Lex’s compassion for Ted Kord doesn’t feel earned; Lex saving the world I get — he’s never wanted it destroyed — but his connections with Bizarro and his sister are still somewhat self-serving. I guess I just don’t see what led to Lex’s heart growing ten sizes; Patrick, any thoughts?
Anyway, I can’t argue that there are flaws with this issue, perhaps even some serious ones, but Johns finally turned on the balls-to-the-wall craziness he’s so good at with this issue, and in my mind, it goes a long way to making up for most of the problems; I just had too much fun with this issue to be mad at it. If the rest of Forever Evil had been like this I doubt I’d have trash-talked the series as much as I have. Patrick, did you have fun with this one, or did its weakness outweigh its strengths in your mind?
Patrick: Oh, who even knows anymore? There’s so much going on in this issue, and as Spencer mentioned, just about every action is designed to tickle to the pleasure centers of DC Comics fans. That’s not an inherently negative quality, but I do have the weird tendency to push back against someone who presents me with something they know I’ll like. Quick examples before I sound insane: I remember seeing Ariana Huffington speak at my small liberal arts college (this would have been about 10 years ago, before the Huffington Post ran the internet). Ariana was smart and well-informed and once she got down to the substance of her talk, it was challenging and engaging and I had a great time. Unfortunately, the first 15 minutes were jokes about George W. Bush. Again, 10 years ago, so it was all totally appropriate, and all stuff that I agreed with, but I resented the fact that Ms. Huffington was somehow cheating me out of meaningful content. Yes, yes, blah, blah, Bush joke. Who cares? Stop pushing our magic buttons and talk about policy or politics or the media for crying out loud.
That same feeling creeps in over just about all of this issue. Yes, yes, you know I’m going to get fanboy-y about Batman’s “connection” with Diana, or an 11th hour reveal of the Anti-Monitor, but that’s simply not storytelling. The Anti-Monitor is to an audience of DC fans what George Bush jokes are to a room full of liberal college students in 2004.
Let’s talk a little bit about Anti-Monitor (because, that’s the only reason he’s there: so we’ll talk about him). Anti-Monitor is the ultimate editorial tool, less a character and more a instrument of eliminating fictional realities. He’s a little bit like Galactus, only never depicted with any ounce of personality. Johns may be presenting a somewhat different take on the character here – his only line of dialogue seems to suggest that he actually has a goal. That’s a bizarre thought: that Anti-Monitor would have some specific reason to hunt Darksied, especially because Darksied is so closely tied into the origins of the New 52.
Hey guys – ready to go meta? Because I am.
Anti-Monitor is the quintessential retcon machine. Save a few appearances in the Sinestro Corps, this thing only shows up if the word “Crisis” is on his invitation. With all of this talk about The New 52: Futures End being named what it is, and the fact that all three weekly series will end on the same day, it’s tempting to believe that there is another universe-altering (read: editorially stream-lining) event in the works. I believe the issue expresses a strange mix of pride and dissatisfaction in both the execution of, and fan reaction to, the New 52.
First, there’s a weird little hiccup around the “death” of Dick Grayson. No one knows why this book was delayed for two months, but there’s some speculation that people were reacting poorly to the news about Dick Grayson and the cancellation of Nightwing. So I’m left with the question — was the scene where Lex revives Dick always in this book? Or was it a last-minute addition to appease fans of the character? Catwoman herself so much as asks the question outright.
“Does it really matter?” Lex could have said anything here. And if he really was trying to win over Batman and his allies, he wouldn’t have jeopardized that for a pithy little tease. No, that’s the voice of Geoff Johns, acknowledging that the moment is clouded in by the reactionary politics of a publisher that’s too big to take a chance by upsetting their fans.
It’s actually hard for me not to see Luthor as a stand-in for Johns throughout. Forever Evil, and more generally the New 52, has been accused of being a lot of things, but the principal criticism is that the heroes presented herein are a gross approximation of who the characters are “supposed” to be. You can tell from my sarcastic quotes that I don’t put a lot of stock in that objection, but I do understand why people would be upset about a new version of Superman. In this issue, Lex is very stubbornly pro-crummy-Superman – not only has he grown to love Bizarro, but by the issue’s end, he’s building a new one with the exact same flaws, even though he could build a better one. That “but he’s my monster” line actually got to me the most. This story, and the current DCU, might have become monstrous, but it’s the monster Geoff Johns has been working on for years. Say what you will about Forever Evil, but it is a natural step on the impossibly long road that Johns laid the first brick for in Justice League 1 almost three years ago.
The finale of Forever Evil effectively celebrates the Rube Goldberg machine that monster has become (metaphors!). So while I might groan at Lex’s ability to summon MAZAHS’ lightning because he has a voice that is probably pretty similar to his Earth-3 counterpart (though… why? They don’t have identical hair?), it’s exactly the kind of convoluted nonsense that powers this whole narrative engine. And now we’ve got Lex Luthor as the world’s savior and stranded Owlman, Ultraman and Superwoman in the mix for future stories. The monster just keeps on growing, which is what any good monster does.
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