Saturday, February 08, 2014

Meanwhile, at ComicsAlliance... (Some thoughts on Forever Evil so far)

Norm Breyfogle. Mark Buckingham. Greg Capullo. Cliff Chiang. Gary Frank. Patrick Gleason. Ig Guara. Chad Hardin. Dan Jurgens. Aaron Kuder. Jae Lee. Jim Lee. Doug Mahnke. Francis Manapul Inaki Miranda. Moritat. Sean Murphy. Peter Nguyen. Paul Pelletier. Nicola Scott. Thony Silas. Ethan Van Sciver.

These are some of the names that tend to pop into my head during the first reading of each issue of Forever Evil (I tend to read them about a half-dozen times or so, in preparation for these pieces at ComicsAlliance). Those are the names of some of the better artists doing work regularly for DC Comics these days, artists whose styles are at least within the conceivable spectrum for a mainstream, DCU/New 52 book.

Certainly some of them have trouble keeping up with their current commitments, some are no doubt loyal to the monthlies they're working on and some are working on books that may actually be higher-profile and, in the long-run, more profitable for them than an event series like Forever Evil might be. But one thing they all have in common is that they are far better artists than David Finch by most of the metrics in which superhero comic art can be measured, and I wonder about them because it's hard to look at the finished, printed art for the series and understand why the people who decide who-does-what for DC Comics wanted Finch on this particular project.

I was never the biggest fan of Finch' style, but he seems to have certainly declined quite a bit since Marvel pushed him as one of their "Young Guns" creators, back in 2004-2005 or so, when he helped Brian Michael Bendis remake The Avengers into Marvel's number one franchise. He seems to have trouble hitting deadlines, his work seems rushed when he does hit them, he's not very good with figure work, he's not very good at facial expressions, he's not very good at settings or filling up pages with cool stuff to look at (this was, by the way, pretty evident before this particular series was even solicited; Justice League of America, or at least the three issues he drew for the title launched as a Geoff Johns/David Finch book, were pretty poor).

A big superhero crossover series isn't the best place for an artist of Finch's particular skills, as the dozens of characters mean a lot of drawing, much of it very precise (For example, among the many characters in this narrative are ones who are supposed to look exactly like other characters in the book, including, for example, Superman, an evil Superman duplicate from an alternate dimension, and a failed cloning experiment of Superman; in this fifth issue, Sinestro regards Hal Jordan's Earth-3 doppleganger and remarks, "You're a strange creature, are you not? You look like Hal Jordan..." and you just have to take his word for it).

Johns also writes for the splash page, something he has always done—and, in fact, his writing for big "moments" within his stories are, I think, a component in his success—but if an artist isn't quite up to the challenge, those splashes only accentuate the artist's weakness.

For example, this splash page in which Power Ring decides to fight back against Sinestro, rather than fleeing. Not only is it not that big a moment—I, for example, might have OMG SPOILERS!!!! chosen to instead highlight the part where Sinestro creates a yellow light construct of a buzzsaw to cut off Power Ring's right arm, or the part where Sienstro completely incinerates Power Ring with a blast of yellow energy—but it only served to highlight, underline and advertise a pretty basic fuck-up Finch made in its drawing. (Also, it looks like Power Ring is totally grabbing Sinestro's dick in that picture.)

Or take pages two and three, a splash in which Deathstroke leads a a team of villains against Luthor, Batman and their allies; many of the "new" characters arriving on the scene are obscurbed by one another (Of Giganta, we only see her arm and face and, in fact, never see much more of her, except in an extreme long shot).

What's New 52 Copperhead look like? I know he has a snake head and what look like long, boneless, snake-y arms, but does he have legs, or a big snake tail, or legs and a tail? Does he wear clothes? I don't know; we never see him on-panel in way that let's us see him; he's never visually introduced, despite two pages (almost 1/10th) of the book devoted to a panel in which he and his allies arrive. This is the best look we get at the character—
—the other panels are just images of his arms or head reaching in from off-panel.

That same splash includes this awkward section:
After a few split-seconds of confusion, I figured out that the gun there is held in Captain Cold's right hand (half of which is obscured by Blockbuster's huge forearm), but at a glance it looks like it could just as easily be something mounted on Black Manta's shoulder, or being held by Bizarro or something on Blockbuster's forearm. You wouldn't take a photograph like that, because of how the flattening of the image would confuse where an object behind a figure fits, so why would you draw a picture like that, given that you are in 100% complete control of every element of it in a way that's difficult for a photographer to achieve?

And then, of course, there's the final two page spread, posted at the top of this post (Yes, there are two two-page spreads in a 21-page comic). It's supposed to be a very big moment, and it was one of the two in this issue that really piqued my curiosity. According to the verbal component of the comic, it signals the arrival of the "creature" that destroyed Earth-3, something from somewhere in the Multiverse that evil Superman Ultraman was worried about, and was so worried about that he wanted to conquer this Earth and prepare it for the creature's coming.

This should be another moment for Finch to really show how, but in actuality, he only does about a half a page of drawing; just some cliffs, pine trees, and tiny little figures representing the Crime Syndicate. The colorists fill in the sky and the water and the red stuff.

It apparently looks like something from some TV shows and movies that comics readers would recognize, but I never saw any Star Trek or Doctor Who, as unusual as that might make me among comic book readers.

As a fan who would really like to give myself over to this story, I feel like I should care immensely about that last page, and pore over it for clues to what I imagine is meant to be a pretty shocking reveal, but Finch and the rest of the art team aren't really giving us anything to work with in that image.

Is that something stationary, glowing in the sky? Is it something streaking through the sky, leaving a light trail? Is it a bolt of lightning, appearing for only a moment, and the thing they all recognize is something off-page...?

No idea.

I've been trying to guess what it could be for most of the week now. As I noted in the CA piece, Deathstorm says "Look. Up in the sky." when he sees it, alluding to Superman...or, since this is something that destroyed Earth-3, something evil Superman of some kind. But then, that's Ultraman, the evil Superman of Earth-3. Is there a more evil Superman from a more evil alternate Earth? Is that Ultraman-Red, flying through the sky like a comment?

I wondered if maybe it was meant to be something Shazam-related, as lightning is the source and signifier of their power, and while it's usually golden or electric blue color, this being an alternate universe version, maybe their Shazam is red (I don't think there's ever been an Earth-3 version of Captain Marvel/Shazam in the comics*, as the character hailed from Earth-S pre-Crisis, and thus an evil, Earth-3 version might make for something new). But while it might make some sense to have something Shazam-y in the climax, with Black Adam a player in the story, Captain Marvel/Shazam a player in "Trinity War" (and currently exiled from Earth like all of the Justice Leaguers who aren't Batman, Catwoman or Cyborg) and the original wizard Shazam having some part to play in the vague story revolving around Pandora and the Trinity of Sin you would think DC might actually get around to telling one day, perhaps in the New 52's first event series, it should be noted that Ultraman made short work of Black Adam, and thus probably wouldn't be overly worried about another version of the character.

I also wondered if maybe it might be the Thunderbolt, as in the magical creature that used to pal around with Johnny Thunder in the Golden Age and then on Earth-2, a near-omnipotent creature that Grant Morrison posited was actually an entity from Mr. Mxyzptl's Fifth Dimension, a characterization that Johns and other writers kept through the end of the "old" DCU...and I don't think we've seen Johnny or a T-Bolt of any kind since the reboot (I'm a story arc or two behind in Earth 2, the title in which they'd be most likely to show up, though).

I know several folks have guessed it is Darkseid or an Apokalytpian threat, but given how relatively easy it is to defeat Darkseid—Cyborg did it by believing in himself five years ago, when there were only six superheroes fighting Darkseid and his army of Parademons—I can't imagine him having wiped out a world of more ruthless versions of the DCU's heroes, nor posing a threat to Earth-New 52 at this point, when it's chockfull of super-people.

I'm a little worried that whatever it is, it's not going to be something that gets dealt with by the end of the series. We're a good 100 pages into the story so far, and relatively little has actually happened in the 48-hours that this issue says has passed since Forever Evil #1.** The Crime Syndicate called a big meeting and said they were in charge of the world now, they captured Dick Grayson, Ultraman flew around looking for Kryptonite to snort and Superwoman told everyone she was pregnant with their baby. Meanwhile, Luthor and some disaffected villains teamed-up, and Batman and Catwoman dropped Cyborg's torso off at his dad's place and then went to a Wayne Enterprises basement to get something. That was the first five issues. Is their time to introduce a new threat and defeat it in just two more issues, as the rate they're going?

It seems more likely that the book might end as "Trinity War" ended, not with a conclusion so much as a lead-in to a different story, the main difference here being that Forever Evil was announced and solicited by the time "Trinity War" was playing out, whereas we've already seen solicitations for the month of comics following the conclusion of Forever Evil, and there's now Pandora War or Crisis On Earth-52 or New Crisis On Infinite Earths announced.

In that case, if it is just setting up the next storyline, then I suppose it could be the New 52 introduction to Harbinger, or The Monitor, or Anti-Monitor (although I feel like Johns might have written all the the Anti-Monitor stories he felt he needed to at this point, given that character's appearances in his his Lantern sagas). And this could be the first act in a New 52 equivalent of Crisis On Infinite Earths, perhaps finally getting around to explaining just what the hell happened at the end of Flashpoint, why—and how—Pandora mixed the WildStorm Universe with the DC Universe to create a new continuitiverse, what the threat she thought this new universe was needed in order to combat and the battle with that conflict.

Perhaps it's what I've been assuming will occur sooner or later—some sort of cosmic "crisis" in which time and space are in flux, resulting in a partial re-setting of DC's continuity, marrying the "good" parts of the New 52 (The Batman stuff, the Green Lantern stuff, maybe some of the Superman and Wonder Woman stuff) with the "good" parts of the old DCU (like timeline long-enough to allow for generations of heroes, reinstating the two generations of Titans and, more likely than not, the Golden Age characters).

But anything I could think of as being the threat behind the red streak of light in the sky has the same argument against it: There hasn't been anything in the story so far to suggest it might be any of those things, and as loose as Geoff Johns and DC Comics might play with some story-telling conventions, I would hope the ending wouldn't be completely out of left-field, as in a character that hasn't been mentioned or teased or foreshadowed in anyway suddenly becoming a surprise antagonist (I suppose the argument could be made that that is basically happened at the end of "Trinity War," but Johns did at least sprinkle some clues throughout the story, including in the title of the story, albeit it awkwardly).

As a critic, I don't think Forever Evil has been very good so far, mainly due to the terrible nature of the artwork (the story side is better if one is reading Johns' Justice League along with the main series). As a consumer, I find it sort of annoying to the point of galling, given the steep cover price and the lack of perceived value, given all the space wasted on bland, nothing-going-on splash pages...and that some important story beats are happening in another title (For example, Owlman's seemingly flipping Nightwing to his side in Forever Evil rang false, given that it went down in the space of like two panels, whereas a larger portion of an issue of Justice League presented a more compelling argument, and explained Owlman's motivation for even wanting to team with Nightwing). As a fan, I finally perked up a bit with this issue, as it at least proposed two mysteries to which I'm interested enough in the answers that I'm genuinely curious about what happens next.
The first, and biggest, is, of course, the identity of the "creature" that destroyed Earth-3 and has now come to Earth-New 52. And the second is where Power Ring's power ring will end up, since this ring, like the Green Lantern and Sinestro Corps rings, is apparently programmed to seek out a replacement host upon the death of its bearer.

*The direct-to-DVD cartoon movie Justice League: Crisis on Two Worlds did include evil opposites of The Marvel Family on the reversed-morality world that Owlman, Superwoman and their gang hailed from.

**It's only been two days?! Have you seen what happened to Gotham City, either in Forever Evil: Arkham War or the Scarecrow issue from Villains Month? Apparently, Gotham City is always just about ten hours away from being Planet of the Apes.


Eric Lee said...

"Also, it looks like Power Ring is totally grabbing Sinestro's dick in that picture"
Dammit, now I can't unsee that image!

SallyP said...

Forever Evil has been interminable. And...boring. And poorly drawn. And really really boring.

Did I mention boring?

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Caleb: I recall three teaser ads for FE. Nightwing and the bloody costume, the Teen Titans one where the CS are walking over their logo and the last was a female Green Lantern (or Power Ring, as it now seems). I buy very few DC books now, and if I recall correctly the Lantern had red skin and made me think of Katma Tui.

Caleb said...


Huh. Based on my memory, I thought that was an image of Catwoman stealing a glowing jewel or something.

It would be cool if the ring goes to an Earth female though, as I know there are some fans who would like a lady to finally join the ranks of the dudes from Earth with GL rings.

Also, I suppose Power Ring is probably in the running for a new ongoing spinning out of FE...

Thomas Speelman said...

Power Ring having an ongoing would be...interesting, but it'd work better as a mini. I like the idea of it going to an Earth female though.

I've avoided Forever Evil precisely because it seems, and your thoughts reinforce this, that it is poorly executed and scattershot, which is what I can't stand about modern crossovers.

Seriously, I just read the first issue of Millenium this morning, and I know that's a crossover that isn't held in high esteem, but I loved it because even though a whole bunch had happened to a bunch of characters, it was still clearly explained enough that one didn't feel the need to google everything to understand what had happened beforehand.

With THIS story? I would have had to have read Trinity War and all the tie-ins to fully comprehend everything. No thank you.