*Warning – Contains Spoilers*
For all the extended derivative hype and seemingly infinite delays, Forever Evil culminated this week. When books around it have already moved on, post the events in this book, it had the difficult task of completing a tale people had started to grow weary of. For a mammoth crossover there were obviously plans for a grand finale so there would always be some pomp and circumstance. The teasing of a new Justice League was also on the horizon, one that featured Luthor at its head. There has been a great deal of immensely slow build and the previous issues saw the villains of Earth formulating a plan in halting the crime syndicate. It was just a matter of time and patience, and a little bit of hope people would have endured the distance. For all these reasons Forever Evil would inevitably sell well and would deliver an exciting climax. And thus it did.
In reviewing this comic I have little interest in what came before and the frustrations I have had with the run and crossover ineptitudes. After all this is what we have been waiting for. It is not that difficult to summarise the plot: The Crime Syndicate came to this universe to channel more power, in order to compete against an even greater foe that left them running scared. They strategically took out all of the heroes on the planet and blacked out the sun. Only villains remained and they had a choice to join the Syndicate or fight against them. We have seen the likes of Lex, Bizarro, Captain Cold, Black Adam, Black Manta, Catwoman and Deathstroke rescue the traditional Justice League and charge against the Crime Syndicate. Geoff Johns has meticulously planned this story to push our villainous characters to the forefront and give time for new perspectives on classic evildoers.
The villain discourse is quite a simple one because for most immoral characters, their drives are inherently selfish. When you invite other bad guys into the fray, there will obviously be a degree of altercation. For a company of villains to succeed there has to be a unifying driving factor, and for the Crime Syndicate this is power and destruction of an adversary. Tailor into that a few important relationships such as Owlman and Alfred, Ultraman and Superwoman and you add a little more depth to the group. This tactic is similarly employed by the reformed Earth villains, as we see a repentant Manta, a conflicted Catwoman, a astray Captain Cold and most importantly a contemplative and more emotional Luthor. Where Johns succeeds is taking these plot threads to fruition in the realm of an overriding story. Each character has their moment of realisation, whether it be saying goodbye to a loved one or a moment of self-actualisation. Given the cast involved this proves to be a momentous effort, one that is effective on the whole but there are some difficulties. Johns’ writing is short and succinct but does suffer with a persistent Luther internal narrative. I find that is takes away from the many other side plots reaching a deserving climax. He is a central feature of the book but not the single most important voice. What was interesting with his story is that he partly reveals his motivations to Ultraman but then completes his line of thought in narrative boxes on the latter pages. I am certainly nitpicking here but it does disrupt the flow of the comic. There are a few moments that aren’t allowed the time to breathe, which is expected with the enormity of the task. Forever Evil is complicated and I am sure it reads better as a trade, because the subtleties will be lost on those who have read this book over the allotted time. This should not take away from excellent confrontational dialogue and a reasonable balance of character exposition.
There is such an exhaustive amount of art and writing in this issue that it is hard to take it all in. Finch has an unquestionably epic and heroic style with immense fine detailing, just look at Bizzaro’s helpless face and Alexander’s facial hair. His fighting scenes are great with emphatic strikes and charges, such as the flying lightening battle cries. You can almost feel the pain as Ultraman tries to burn Alexander’s eyes. However I find his art a little too dark as there is a lot of pencilling and inking with shading on top of that. It fits in the context of the plot and darkness of the theme but it does become quite murky in the lighter scenes. I think part of the problem with the continuity of the book, isn’t just the immense story exposition but the stifled flow of the panels. This is because the transitions suffer from poorly coherent perspectives that do not naturally connect. When Lex fights Alexander we move from a view behind Luthor, to an opposite direction wide-angle shot, to three similar panels from behind Alexander’s shoulder. It is not a natural page and when dealing with multiple action sequences the comic becomes quite disrupted. It is certainly a well-drawn comic and Finch has a number of skills at hand, but it does not read smoothly.
Despite my misgivings, the book actually comes together rather well. This is because the story maintains its impact throughout and the concepts are well delivered. The Crime Syndicate are defeated because their weaknesses are brought to the surface, whether this be the loss of a loved one, a cruel betrayal or pure egomania. They cause a fracture in the group, which is then manipulated and used as the instrument of their destruction. Earth’s villains unite quite wonderfully with each hero being used to their strengths together, such as Sinestro fixing Black Adam’s jaw. Beneath this newfound coherence is the amazing Lex Luthor, who is quite simply breathtakingly courageous and arrogant at the same time. His genius plans see the Syndicate fall and reveal an exciting finale with his doppelganger Alexander. Johns develops his story as he has done on many a crossover before, with a philosophical ending that fits his protagonist perfectly. Luthor mocks Ultraman because of his inane pursuit of power, that only result in his demise. Lex realises that learning from your mistakes and combatting your weaknesses is where true victory can be found. Ultraman, and Superman for that matter, never had a strategy against their vulnerabilities but Lex is a simple human with many weaknesses. He had to learn to fight a powerful alien in the form of a Kryptonian, which has seen him make giant strides in almost defeating him. It’s a fantastic tale of deliverance and one that continues into Justice League, as Lex makes his campaign to become a member. His motivations are certainly megalomaniac in nature but he appreciates he is unable to combat the threat that lies ahead and needs to pool his resources, working together with people he once despised. In fact there is no bigger testament to this than his final acts in saving Superman’s life, who he now views as less of a threat to the planet. Whatever you may infer about Luthor’s character, you cannot call him selfish because he is working towards a unified ultimate goal, one that makes him sacrifice his old ways. Villains are never simply villains, there is often a deep and damaged core to their origin, one that often blurs moralistic lines. I do not think that anyone can argue that Lex is not a hero in Forever Evil, despite his motivations or deceptive declarations. His story is the true story of Forever Evil, and for that reason it will be remembered for a long time to come.