Convergence: Crime Syndicate 1

Alternating Currents: Convergence: Crime Syndicate 1, Michael and Drew

Today, Michael and Drew are discussing Convergence: Crime Syndicate 1 originally released April 29th, 2015. This issue is part of Convergence. For our conversations about the rest of Convergence last week, click here.

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Michael: Week Four of Convergence has included my first exposure to tie-ins that attempt to dedicate equal page time to two of the alternate Earths that will be coming to blows once the dome comes down. Convergence: Crime Syndicate 1 follows two alternate versions of the Justice League: The Crime Syndicate of America from pre-Crisis Earth 3 and Justice Legion Alpha of the 853rd Century.

On Earth 3, the depowered Crime Syndicate mounts an assault on to rescue Superwoman (Lois Lane) from death row. Their liberation attempt is stopped by Flash Rogue counterparts The Rogue Hunters. The Syndicate is arrested, failing to save Superwoman from her execution. On the Earth of “DC One Million” Justice Legion Alpha has also lost one of their members, Owlwoman, to their enemies the Luthorians. The Legion is on the run from the Luthorians, who eventually find and attack them once again. After both teams on both Earths lose more members, Telos makes his speech and drops the dome. Characters like Owlman and Superman decide that they don’t want to play Telos’ game, while Ultraman is more than happy to take on Justice Legion Alpha.

I think what makes Convergence: Crime Syndicate 1 engaging is the parallel narrative that writer Brian Buccellato crafts. On both Earths you have the Batman figures taking the “drastic times call for drastic measures” approach, trying to convince their team members to do the same. On Earth 3, Owlman loves Superwoman and is desperate to save her from the electric chair. In the 853rd Century, Batman is tired of being on the losing side of the war with the Luthorians, and wants to start evening the odds by using lethal force. Both of these character decisions are Buccellato taking facets of the platonic Batman and turning them on their head. DC One Million Batman is desperately trying to break Batman’s unbreakable rule of killing while Owlman becomes nihilistic after losing his lover and basically gives up on a mission of any kind by the end of the issue.

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The book is titled Convergence: Crime Syndicate, naturally giving the Crime Syndicate the more compelling story of the two Earths. Throughout his 75 years Batman has been portrayed as the ultimate man, capable of accomplishing incredible feats armed with not much beyond his mind and his skills. So it should be no surprise that when the powerless Crime Syndicate turns to Owlman for guidance: “How do we do this? How do YOU do this?” Superwoman writes in her journal that the Justice League chose the difficult path of heroism while the Syndicate chose the easy way out and used their powers for greed. Once the dome descends on Metropolis the Syndicate becomes powerless in every possible way. Their jailbreak assault is a go-for-broke act of desperation: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid going out in a blaze of glory.

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After their powers are restored however, they come to the conclusion that they don’t need to follow Owlman’s fatalistic game plan; Ultraman’s the top dog again so why not engage in a super brawl with some alternate Earth heroes?

This isn’t the first instance of this in Convergence, but I like the idea that some of our heroes and villains are still in full costume despite the fact that they have no powers; Johnny Quick comments on the absurdity of this himself. Even though they are not the villains they once were, they are trying to hold onto their identities as best as they can. True as that may be, suiting up sans powers also feels very true to costumed-clad characters originally written in the ‘60s. I mean, what’s a superhero (villain) without an outlandish costume?

Artist Phil Winslade does a great job selling both Owlamn’s grief at the death of Lois and the fact that a villain would wear an Owl mask that essentially is eating his own face. I very much enjoyed Winslade’s Crime Syndicate get-ups as well as his layouts. The tragic scene where Superwoman is being marched to the electric chair cross-cut with the downfall of the Crime Syndicate/Rogue Hunter battle is a great piece of comic book art that gets completely lost in digital form. Long live print! (he wrote on the internet.)

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Ok Drew, what’ve you got? Do you think that we’ll see any further development as far as Justice Legion Alpha goes? I’m betting that their Batman kills someone, because ya know, he really wants to.

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Drew: It’s interesting — this issue opens with Superwoman, looking back on her life, wishing she had made other choices. She’s the only character who ever expresses desire for redemption, but she’s also the only character who doesn’t make it to the end of the issue. Where many other “battles” in Convergence seem poised for team-ups, there’s really no doubt that the Crime Syndicate would be the villains here. Of course, Buccellato also notes that Owlman wouldn’t really have all that much invested in saving his city. It’s not clear if he fully understands the stakes when he slinks away from the fight, but suicide-by-refusing-to-save-his-city seems like a poetic way for him to go.

Flipping back to that opening journal entry from Superwoman, the rueful regret about “choices” resonates with the pet themes of Convergence — namely, that creators miss these versions of their characters, taken away by the choices of editorial. Unlike other Convergence titles, though, this regret doesn’t seem as focused on the characters as it is the tone of the issue. Indeed, this issue feels very much like it could have been the result of some zany pre-Crisis crossover.

Part of that throwback quality is in the writing, where Buccellato writes every character with clarity and optimism (even if they’re being optimistic about staging a jailbreak), but it’s Winslade’s classic linework that makes this issue feel like a relic of another time. I should clarify — while we’ve used “relic of another time” as a criticism of Convergence tie-ins embracing some of the more embarrassing stylistic ticks of comics past, this issue is pure Silve Age fun.

Or is it Bronze Age? I suppose the scuffle between Batman and Superman over killing is a little dark for the Silver Age, but I’m still overwhelmed at the optimism of this issue. Or maybe I’m just happy this version of the Crime Syndicate isn’t Geoff Johns’ grim ad absurdum Syndicate, who snort powdered Kryptonite and destroyed the Earth for fun. A Crime Syndicate that steals but doesn’t kill is infinitely more relatable, believable, and compelling. I mean, I actually feel bad for Superwoman.

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Maybe sitting alone writing is particularly relatable to me, but Winslade really emphasizes her isolation here, giving us a sense of who she is and what she’s going through. That kind of empathy could never happen with today’s Crime Syndicate, which should maybe make DC reexamine their choices.

I also want to praise Lovern Kindzierski’s color work as part of the throwback aesthetic of this issue. We’ve seen other colorists attempt a period look by affecting halfdot patterns and plate misalignments, but here, Kindzierski opts for a lighter touch, and the effect is much more in line with classic comics. It makes sense; Kindzierski cut his teeth long before anyone ever thought of coloring a comic book with a computers, but he also isn’t shy about using modern techniques — there are gradients, color holds, and subtleties of shading you’d never see in a hand-separated comic — but they never become overbearing or distracting from the linework. It’s a lesson more modern colorists could stand to learn.

I had an absolute blast with this issue. Other issues this week suffered from my unfamiliarity with the characters, but this creative team manages to broadcast exactly who these characters are, what they care about, and where they’re going. It’s exactly what a first issue should be.

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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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

One comment on “Convergence: Crime Syndicate 1

  1. I’ll echo the praise of Kindzierski’s colors. The techniques don’t feel old-fashioned (Drew points out the many ways that they’re not), but the palette achieves that nostalgic tinge. Even the persistently grey sky has a lightness to it that perfectly emulates the tone set by these evil-but-not-THAT-evil characters.

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