Thursday, December 26, 2013

Forever Evil #1-4

As a homicidal Superman from an alternate universe rages unstoppably across the pages of a DC company-wide event, he is met by a confident Black Adam, who finds himself easily swatted away and the menacing alternate Superman continues unchecked.

That was a powerful dramatic moment in Forever Evil #3, penned by Geoff Johns. And the same description applies to a powerful dramatic moment in Infinite Crisis #6, penned by Geoff Johns. In the earlier story, the alternate Superman was Superboy Prime; in the more recent one, 7 and a half years later, the alternate Superman was Ultraman. Both stories have a primary menace from Earth Three, and a lot of the same characters on stage for a seven-issue event. One recalls art critic David Quantick's quotation "Pop will eat itself." Maybe Geoff Johns' company-wide events will eat themselves, too.

The New 52, or DCnU, is a reboot of the post-Infinite Crisis universe which began in the very issue I cited above. In many ways, it's a hard reboot, but as an allusion to the Sinestro Corps War (another company-wide event by Geoff Johns) reminds us, major portions of previous history are still in continuity. This messy blend between hard reboot and soft reboot don't improve the reading experience. We're reminded that Batman briefly wore a yellow power ring, but within pages of this, we are shown Catwoman marveling over being invited into the Batcave. Perhaps once that was a shocking moment, but in extremely recent DC history, that was old news. Likewise, to see that Batman had prepared a countermeasure for each member of the JLA was a striking moment back in Mark Waid's JLA story Tower of Babel.

As Forever Evil continues, we see familiar plot devices that are still in continuity, having survived the Flashpoint reboot. We see other familiar plot devices that are "new" to the characters but old to us, and as the two kinds of scene intersperse, I find myself asking if I'm supposed to be thinking "Oh, yeah" or "Hey, wow!" and gradually ceasing to feel invested in the story.

When this story began as Trinity War, I felt like many scenes were excellent, showing us the DCnU in fascinating scenes, with J'onn J'onzz and Shazam confronting Superman for the "first" time. It was clear in these scenes that their meetings were unfolding in very different ways from the previous continuity, and with better characterization this time around. As Trinity War gave way to Forever Evil, there's been less that's in any sense new, and more rehash of old themes.

It doesn't have to be this way. In a sense, the DCnU began in the mid-2000s with Geoff Johns showing succinct flashbacks (in Blackest Night, among other places) to early DC history that took the facts from the 1960s JLA (the same lineup, costumes, and villains) but adding the richer characterization that didn't exist in the 1960s. And so we see egos clashing as several Alpha males (and one Alpha female) had to find a new dynamic where none could dominate the others. This was new. This added something to the lore, making it better. Forever Evil dabbles in adding new things to the lore, but it feels like the tires are stuck in old ruts and will follow the same paths we've been led down before.

Perhaps there is a grander payoff in store. This story began with the destruction of Earth Three. It is hard to overlook the fact that a central element in DC lore, Crisis on Infinite Earths, also began with the destruction of Earth Three. In both cases, a common enemy bent on the destruction of everything that wasn't his destroyed the world of the Crime Syndicate before posing a threat to the worlds of our heroes later on. This itself was a grand thematic gesture, as it was the introduction of Earth Three back in 1964 that gave us the notion of a vast multiverse (and not just a pair of alternate universes).

If Johns is starting off with Earth Three in order to take the older story and reinvent it, with Darkseid now taking a role like that which the Anti-Monitor played before, we may be in the middle chapters of a series of events which will turn into a longer epic that adds to the existing lore instead of merely repeating it. If so, then Forever Evil, at least the earlier portions of it, may be recorded as a doldrum in a grand, memorable story.

If, however, we see in predictable fashion, the Justice Leagues escape from their prison, the forces of Luthor and Batman gradually gain in power before winning a climactic fistfight against the Crime Syndicate, then I'm going to have to question if following this epic was more entertaining than pulling old issues out of my collection to re-read stories that were at least original when they were new.