“Forever Evil” was preceded by “Trinity War”, an overlong six-part “Justice League” franchise crossover that featured its heroes aimlessly racing across the DCU before the surprise appearance of the Crime Syndicate in the book’s final act. When all was said and done, the book turned out to exist just to get to the shocking ending that promised an exciting story to follow. Unfortunately, to put it mildly, “Forever Evil” takes the same path as “Trinity War” and ends up almost as empty.
The heroes of the various Justice Leagues are missing and the Crime Syndicate have inherited the Earth in “Forever Evil”, a seven-chapter story that follows Lex Luthor and his ever-expanding team of (mostly) villains; they are the only people with the ability to take back their planet. The Crime Syndicate are villains from a mirror universe, who are doppelgängers of their iconic counterparts from the DCU, though their features are the end of their similarities. Ultraman, Super Woman, Owl Man, Johnny Quick, and Power Ring ought to be familiar to longtime DC Comics readers (they are the mirror opposites of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, the Flash, and Green Lantern, respectively). Writer Geoff Johns has also introduced the villains Atomica, Death Storm, and Grid to the already powerful team (and who, also respectively, are evil versions of the Atom, Firestorm, and Cyborg).
Johns is teamed with superstar artist David Finch on “Forever Evil”, but Finch’s pencils are not a strong match for a book that is laden with dozens upon dozens of different characters, squeezed tightly into almost every frame of the opening chapter. Finch struggles to give his characters’ faces a sense of depth and here they look overly angular at times and one-dimensional in others. The eyes of Finch’s characters have the lifelessness of the human cast of most motion capture animated films (i.e. “The Polar Express”). Finch’s storytelling skills are excellent and his layouts are often exciting, but the faces on his characters too often become a distraction.
Inker Richard Friend does a superb job of inking Finch’s pencils. Friend brings intricate details to all of Finch’s work. While a four page spread of dozens of villains must have been exhaustive for the artist, Friend’s inking looks like it was equally so. Friend adds the perfect weight to every fold, seam, and crease in this scene and throughout “Forever Evil”. Colorist Sonia Oback palette is appealing; she excels at bringing some much needed dimension to Finch’s characters.
Where “Forever Evil” is consistently interesting is in Johns’ presentation of Lex. The longtime Superman villain is fully fleshed out, warts and all, and Johns begins to lay the foundation for the character to become something of an anti-hero. At the opening of the book, Lex is the familiar soulless billionaire, threatening the livelihood of Thomas Kord and Kord’s entire family (the dialogue in this scene is classic vile-to-the-core Lex Luthor). By the conclusion, Lex is still the same driven man, but he’s been shed of some of his callousness. Seeing Lex transcend super villainy is one of the few areas of “Forever Evil” that doesn’t feel as though the story was mandated.
In addition to Johns’ take on Lex, he also includes a number of great character moments with the heroes and villains featured in “Forever Evil”. After the Crime Syndicate reveals that Nightwing is Dick Grayson (more on this shortly), the heroes of the Teen Titans decide whether or not to head into battle in the following nice piece of dialogue between Red Robin and Superboy:
Superboy: “If the Justice League lost to these guys, what can the Teen Titans possibly do?
Red Robin: “We can fight until our dying breath.”
Superboy: “You sound like Batman.”
Red Robin: “And you need to start acting like Superman instead of Superboy.”
Johns includes Captain Cold throughout the book, but he becomes a more prominent character in the latter half of “Forever Evil” and he is incredibly welcome. In Johns’ hands, Captain Cold becomes one of the more captivating villains of the DCU. He operates by a code and he’s fearless, even when standing up against characters who significantly overpower him. Johns has a long history with Captain Cold and he’s expert at demonstrating that the character’s perceived shortcomings can work to Cold’s advantage (Johnny Quick learns this the hard way).
Unfortunately, a number of great character scenes can’t help “Forever Evil” from becoming anything more than an eventless road-trip story, where Lex goes from point A to Z, gathering new allies. Batman, Bizarro, Sinestro, Black Manta, Deathstroke, Captain Cold, Catwoman, and Black Adam join forces with the greatest criminal mind of our time as he plans an assault on the Crime Syndicate.
A key subplot in the first chapter of the seven-chapter book is the revelation that Dick Grayson is Nightwing. The Crime Syndicate captures the hero and unmasks him on live television with the following warning:
Superwoman: “Grayson has many friends and many places he calls home.”
Owl Man: “We know them all.”
Ultra Man: “We will hunt down and destroy everything this Richard Grayson cares about.”
Okay, let’s forget the fact that this discovery would lead just about any reporter to the fact that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Forget that. The Crime Syndicate, who prove themselves to be completely soulless, never make good on their promise to eradicate everything important to Dick. Why not include a subplot in which the Earth’s remaining heroes work together to protect Dick’s closest acquaintances? It would have added an interesting layer to a story that only exists to build to a big finish (which, in fact, is just a tease for DC’s next big event).
Again, the book is not without merit. When all is said and done, Johns has established a new status quo for the Justice League that is intriguing. The writer spends enough time getting to the heart of who Lex Luthor is that we can get behind some of the choices the villain makes by the time we reach the book’s close. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to get behind “Forever Evil.”
Written by: Geoff Johns
Art: David Finch
Inks: Richard Friend
Colors: Sonia Oback
Letters: Rob Leigh, Carlos M. Mangual
Publisher: DC Comics
Original Publication Date: September 2013
Pages: 227 pages