Chris's Fun Time Forever Evil Read-A-Thon: Week 1

(otherwise known as: "How I Spent All the Money I Couldn't Afford to Spend")

CAVEAT EMPTOR: THAR BE SPOILERS HERE

I've been waiting for Forever Evil to hit since the second it was released. On a scale of 1 to 10, DC Villains are in the "You had me at hello..." category of comic characters I love. While the New 52 has had more drastic ups and downs than a coked up kangaroo and it's characters suffered more pointless changes than Joan Rivers before speaking at a fundraiser for the visually impaired, the concept of a "Villain's Month" is an exciting one, especially when coupled with the return of the cult-favorite Crime Syndicate!

So how did DC's now-infamous writing and editorial staff handle the dawn of a new and nefarious era in their books? Let's hit the first 3 comics I picked up:

Action Comics 23.1: Cyborg Superman

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  • This cover is flat-out beautifully done. It works well, even without the gimmick of 3-D covers. You see it and immediately get the impression of just how limitless the Cyborg's power can be, with his arm constantly changing structure in increasingly complex patterns. The background is simple, yet effective. Also, Cyborg Supes is literally going for the "I'MA CHARGIN MAH LAZAH" look, so I can't complain. Best cover of the bunch this week, imo.

So I've made some comments before about my disappointment with the new direction Cyborg Superman has been taken in; specifically that he's no longer Hank "Please God, just kill me already" Henshaw. To any who share my concerns and frustration over DC's erasing a character from continuity who played a huge role in one of their "still in pre-52 continuity" titles (Green Lantern), this issue will not ease your pain one bit.

On page 1, we're immediately treated to Cyborg Supes's "new" origin. Not only was he Kara's father, as we already knew, but it seems our now roboti-fied Kryptonian friend called in a favor with Brainiac and was...erm..."rescued" by the master of robotics. The downside of making a deal with Brainiac appears to be that he can do whatever the hell he wants with his buddies after rescuing them. Should've read the fine-print, Mr. El.

Brainiac impresses even himself with how awesome the new-and-improved Kryptonian bot looks. I guess Brains is a fan of abstract art, because nothing about Cyborg Supes looks all that "perfected" or clean. The guy's actually kind of an asymmetrical mess, with this huge robo-arm and one fake eye, but to be honest, it works on panel. Cyborg Superman does look as badass as he should.

Brainiac decides he'd love some more super-bots in his life; and like a proud father, instead of obtaining more perfect specimens himself, he sends his "son" out to do his bidding while he sits at home, presumably collecting welfare and watching Judge Judy and The Price is Right with an ice cold brewski at his side. What a guy!

What follows is a sometimes powerful, often hilariously cocky display of what our new Cyborg Supes can do in his quest for more perfect test subjects.

What Worked:

  1. The artwork in this issue was phenomenal. Mike Hawthorne is given a chance to run wild with Cyborg Superman and his deformed arm in this issue, and he takes the reigns, handling this brilliantly. Even the pre-Cyborg Kryptonian scenes are drawn in a very captivating and dynamic fashion.
  2. Brainiac is depicted very well here. His ominous presence is felt throughout the issue and I like how his tech has a very distinct look and feel to it. the spidery visuals remind me of the bots in that campy 90s film, Virus. And that's essentially what Cyborg Superman becomes.
  3. Zor and Jor's dynamic is presented well. The clash between the brothers' two mindsets and philosophies is a nice little moment that distinguishes not only them, but their children as well.

What Didn't:

  1. Still not a fan of this new origin. Hank Henshaw was a clever parody of Mr. Fantastic, mixed with a tragic motive behind his crimes, and then played off in a comedic way again at times. He changed tones quite a bit, but neither he nor his stories wavered in power or impact. Zor was an interesting and shocking choice for the new Cyborg Superman, but once that shock wears off, the Darth Vader comparisons quickly start to set in.
  2. The reveal that Brainiac created Cyborg Supes in the New 52 is just icing on the proverbial rage-cake. In the former era of DC comics, Hank Henshaw had a level of technopathy and longevity that put him on par, if not even more advanced than Brains. Zor-El appears to be nowhere near the power level of his namesake and that's a shame.
  3. While we get to see Zor causing a lot of explosions and rocking his heat vision along with some cool new neural shock trick, I was still left with a vague impression of his actual strength. There were no real fights on his level, just him pwning a bunch of intergalactic civilians. I'd be interested to see how far his "survival of the fittest" mentality takes him once he tackles some stronger opponents.

In Summation:

  • Our New-52 Cyborg Superman is a strange mix of Darth Vader, Bear Grylls, a Neo Nazi, and Wall-E, all rolled into one intimidating, yet sometimes crippled looking robot. If you're a new DC reader looking for a big threat to the Superman family, check this out. As a longtime reader and fan of the character name, I'd advise other Henshaw fans that you're in for a bumpy ride if you do decide to purchase this issue. The art alone is worth your cash, but the story is oft-putting at times. It probably falls in the lower half of my rankings this week.

Batman & Robin 23.1: Two Face

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  • Right off the bat, this cover is nowhere near as gripping as Action Comics's was. But to be fair, Cyborg Superman set the bar very high. Not sure what happened here really. I guess Harvey decided on tails, he'd be gentle and on heads, it's S&M time with poor Bruce. Their friendship just took a turn for the weird and kinky, this is why poor Two-Face can't keep his law school pals around for long. Well...that and various gangs are murdering them all the time.

I'll be honest: I was hesitant going into this issue. Two-Face isn't really my cup of tea. I've often found him too gimmicky for his own good and the only time I've really enjoyed him was when he was utilized in a comedic way during A Serious House on a Serious Earth.

This issue floored me though. Tomasi threw down a really solid snapshot of Harvey here, and gave some insight into the way Gotham's being handled after the disappearance (death?) of Batman and the Justice League. I guess he was really cleaning up Gotham on his own, because the streets are running rampant with thugs, gangs, and various deformities now that Arkham has been unleashed.

I'm enjoying Scarecrow in the New 52. He has a playful air about him that works quite well. And it's nice to see that he's been given a pretty high standing in the Society, since he was one of the first villains to be seen captured and recruited into it's ranks.

The storyline here doesn't always match up with what we see in Forever Evil #1, but that's ok. I'm not reading this one-shot for continuity, brilliant editing, or cohesion. I'm reading it to see HARVEY DENT BE A FRICKIN' BADASS. We all get the coin-flip gimmick and of course Harvey's coin points him to the Society's offer, but what follows are 10, count 'em, 10 pages of glorified gun violence that Sly Stallone himself would be proud of. And it's all done to, in Harvey's mind, deliver cold, hard justice to his city. Side note: for some reason, he has some sort of automatic rifle that shoots lightning? Maybe Two-Face borrowed it from Maxie Zeus, or maybe he found some E-Tech weapons on Pandora, idk. Props to him for thinking outside the box though...

The book ends with an interesting turn as Two-Face winds up at odds with the Society he just joined (see what I mean about this guy and having friends?), so it will be interesting to see where Harvey goes from here. He appears to be on his own in a quest for destruction now, but will he continue down that route, get roped back into the Society, or wind up on Lex Luthor's soon-to-be resistance effort? Time will tell.

What Worked:

  1. Two-Face's unpredictability was handled well in this issue. Not only that, Tomasi coupled it with a slight conscience that still exists in Harvey's mind. It was cool to see him show some genuine anger at the demise of his former colleagues and act on that. His coin flips determine outcomes, but his inner-monologue and decisions are still formed as reactions to events around him.
  2. Harvey was a badass. "Give my regards to the ferryman": an epic line delivered in an epic way. Seriously, read this now, preferably while "Shoot to Thrill" by AC/DC is blaring in the background.

What Didn't:

  1. Again, minor inconsistencies between this issue and Forever Evil #1. Better attention could have been paid by the editorial staff. Harvey's in the Society one second, then out the next, then back in? Or is he in, then reiterating that he's in, then staying out? It would seem the Arkham meeting would have happened when the inmates were broken out, but then this issue wouldn't make much sense. So did Scarecrow mass text his cell contacts? "m33t me bak @ arkham. srs bsns. silver dollars 4 u.". It's a confusing plot point, and the coin devices that the Society members hold seem to vary from issue to issue.
  2. I was not in love with the artwork in this comic. Some of the panel transitions can be a bit confusing and muddled. Harvey himself is drawn decently though.

In Summation:

  • If you like Harvey Dent doing what Harvey Dent does best: flipping coins and shooting up rival street gangs, this is the Villains Month issue for you. The whole thing plays out as a mix between a grindhouse-type film and a therapist's session with your ex-girlfriend ("I do want to...but I don't...but now I do again!"), and that's awesome enough for me. As an action book, it accomplishes what it sets out to.

Batman The Dark Knight 23.1: Ventriloquist

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  • Hawt (kidding). What's with the bondage theme in these? I thought the heroes are dead, not tied up in everyone's basements playing "It puts the lotion on it's skin...". This is Forever Evil, Geoff Johns, not Forever 50 Shades of Evil. But hey, this cover is still amazing. It's a bit crudely drawn, but I love the little Bat-family puppets hanging up behind Shauna. Ferdie is really pushed to the forefront to give him a menacing look, while Shauna remains eerily lifeless behind him.

Of all the character changes that the New 52 gave us, I think this is the one that worked the most for me. I loved me some old Ventriloquist. Arnold and Scarface made a memorable duo and although he was a minor rogue in Batman's overall gallery, I remembered the gimmick and enjoyed him all the same. Shauna was a left-field thing for me when she first hit the pages of Batgirl, and I was weary since a female Ventriloquist was fairly unremarkable and uninteresting before the reboot. However, Gail Simone, as with most of her creations, knocks it out of the park with this character.

There's a latent Joker-esque humor in Ferdie/Shauna's persona, though they're not the same kind of crazy that Mr. J is. Rather, Simone paints a backstory for Shauna that's both tragic and spattered with hints of dark humor. As Shauna's recollecting her past for an "interview", she's also preparing an abandoned Gotham theater for one of her stage shows, which draws a handful of refugees inside. The theater she and Ferdie are occupying contains working electricity and a bevy of survival provisions for her guests, but also draws in some unwelcome visitors.

Shauna's backstory continues to show why she's a much bigger threat than any Ventriloquist we've seen in the DCU before, not to mention a bigger threat than Batman's usual adversaries. Her telepathy and telekinesis feats are somewhat limited in range, but put to frighteningly violent use. It reminds me a lot of Cliff Carmichael's appearance in the Suicide Squad and 2006 Firestorm series.

Shauna's none too happy with the punks trying to steal from her theater and Ferdie's "I hate hecklers" is a pretty accurate verbalization of her unhappiness. To be fair, I'm sure she's seen a lot of them, as her stage show does kinda suck. We get it Ferdie, you're a horny puppet. Groundbreaking AND hilarious, folks.

What follows is Ferdie going Child's Play on these thugs, hunting them down 1 by 1 and taking them to task. There's a hilarious reveal partway through this showdown that gave me some insight into just how messed up Shauna really is. Coupling that with the very serious realization at the end made me definitely aware of how vicious and merciless our New 52 Ventriloquist is.

What Worked:

  1. Shauna/Ferdie have me hooked. Gail has been a very controversial writer in her short time at DC comics. People have loved and hated her work on Secret Six, for very viable reasons. But there's no questioning that she's taken concepts and characters that were tired and gave them new life with rich backstories. Her creations (Ragdoll Jr., Scandal, The Parademon, Dwarfstar, Black Alice, etc...) were all given very distinct personalities and made into characters you could either love or love to hate. Shauna is no exception; she has the quirkiness and dark humor of a Simone creation and the menacing creep-factor of a villain who's worthy of a place in Arkham alongside Batman's other opponents.
  2. The way this story plays out like a small horror film is great. Characters are brought in and we know to fear for them because we're given a clear impression that Shauna's not just going to put on her show and chill out with her guests later. The sense of danger grows throughout the book as we see how twisted her mind has been since she was a young girl.
  3. The art team did a great job here too. On panel, it has a Secret Six vibe to it as well. Gritty, but not sacrificing the vibrant colors on the page in order to make it gritty.

What Didn't:

  1. Not sure if I like the silly little drills on Ferdie's hands. I miss Scarface wielding a firearm and I think just equipping Ferdie with a knife or having him pick up weaponry to use on the go would look better. Not to mention, it would show an even higher and more precise level of telekinetic control on Shauna's part.
  2. Gail Simone, what the hell? y u no liek kittehz? my feelz :(

In Summation:

  • My favorite book of the week, bar none. Simone was spotty with both Batgirl and Firestorm, but you can tell when she loves the character she's working with. I highly recommend it, not just because of Gail Simone writing or my enjoyment of the character, but because this book is incredibly accessible. You can jump right into it having not read any of the New 52 or any DC comics to begin with. It works the way a one-off should work and should appease both new readers and veteran DC fans if you're looking for a new villain to delve into.

Batman 23.1: The Joker

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  • Here's an example of a cover that definitely works with the 3D gimmick. Still, it's a pretty nice Joker cover on it's own, though a bit cluttered for my taste.

Within 2 pages of this book, I realized we were being given a new "origin story" for the Joker, one that I'm not too fond of. That being said, we can always also chalk this up to the Joker just daydreaming up his own totally false origin, it wouldn't be the first time he's done so. What's interesting about this "origin", however, is that it's events play into Mr. J's motives and actions for the remainder of the book.

We're placed back in "Several Years Ago" (ok...?), where Joker and a small gang of his are killing some people and causing trouble at a zoo. Why a zoo? Because Joker...things don't have to make sense...so yeah. Actually, it seems Joker has his own motivation for this heist, he's at the zoo to steal a baby gorilla (a callback to his stuffed gorilla in our "flashback"). Why the rest of his gang was reveling in the zoo-tastrophe when there's fresh gorilla children to be stolen will remain a mystery.

And so, one of the greatest characters of the New 52 is soon brought into it's forefront. Joker steals as-of-yet-nameless gorilla to start a "family"; to raise a child in a better way than he was raised. A more truthful reason would seem to be that he just wanted a badass gorilla partner to fly around in jetpacks with him. Whatever his intentions really are, one hardly starts to care when he drops his son's new name: Jackanapes. Yep, classic Joker right there.

From here on out, the issue is very much in line with Joker's usual comedic tones. He dresses Jack up in garish clothing and arms him with ridiculous weaponry after we get a montage of Mr. J's philosophy as a parent.

As the book draws to a close, things go south for Joker and Jack during a plane heist, and Joker walks away with the impression that Jackanapes has been lost in a watery grave. Which, we all know as comic book readers, means Jack will be back soon enough. Ironic, as Joker is the one who has suffered a similar fate as of recently.

What Worked:

  1. This issue picked up after a rough start as it went along. The dynamic between Joker and Jack became a big focus, and was an entertaining and appropriately humorous section of the comic.
  2. Jackanapes really IS a great name for a baby gorilla.

What Didn't:

  1. Less of Joker's lame new gang. They were grating personalities and not the least bit memorable.
  2. Joker's new origin was a miss. Personally, I'm chalking it up to his own insanity and tendency to make things up, even when thinking to himself. I hope subsequent writers can do the same.

In Summation:

  • This particular Joker origin is not what I was really looking for, and I think most others feel the same. However, the book does recover after this start and provide an endearing and entertaining tale of one of the Joker's more obscure adventures. The artwork also improved significantly after the origin portion of the issue. I thoroughly enjoyed the introduction of Jackanapes and can't wait until he plays a part in the New 52 and possibly Forever Evil itself. Yep, you heard it here first folks: I'm predicting that Jackanapes will be the downfall of the Crime Syndicate and save the world. Mark it down in your calendars.

(space reserved for the remainder of my Week 1 reviews)

Here's how I rank DC's Forever Evil series/tie-ins thus far:

  1. Batman TDK: The Ventriloquist (5/5)
  2. Earth 2: Desaad (4.5/5)
  3. Justice League Dark: The Creeper (4.5/5)
  4. Forever Evil 1 (4.5/5)
  5. Justice League: Darkseid (4/5)
  6. The Flash: Grodd (4/5)
  7. Batman & Robin: Two-Face (4/5)
  8. Justice League of America: Deadshot (3.5/5)
  9. Batman: The Joker (3.5/5)
  10. Detective Comics: Poison Ivy (3/5)
  11. Green Arrow: Count Vertigo (3/5)
  12. Action Comics: Cyborg Superman (3/5)
  13. Green Lantern: Relic (2/5)
  14. Superman: Bizarro (and no, this is not Bizarro-speak for "his was actually the best")
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