Review: Justice League Vol. 5: Forever Heroes hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

There's a bunch for long-time DC Comics fans to like in Geoff Johns's Justice League Vol. 5: Forever Heroes, though it makes for kind of strange reading as a trade. Despite the "Forever" moniker before each chapter's title, there's essentially two different stories here only tangentially related, so that what you begin to suspect Forever Heroes is about in the beginning is not what it ends up being about in the end. Combine that with at least one issue that's told almost entirely in flashback and mostly unrelated to the book's forward action, and you have a book that might maybe read better in single issues than under the banner of a "collection."

That said, Forever Heroes nicely weaves in and out of the Forever Evil event story, coinciding well and telling a story that compliments Forever Evil without being obligatory, and at the same time having some relevance on its own (especially the second story). It is in part a Cyborg spotlight, which is always welcome (I wouldn't sneeze at a Geoff Johns-penned Cyborg series). And again, a handful of eccentric, fan-favorite DC Comics concepts make their first major New 52 appearances here. Taken as a whole story, Forever Heroes reads a little off, but there's plenty to recommend the stories within.

[Review contains spoilers]

The lasting legacy of Forever Heroes will be the hat trick of New 52 origins Johns offers here: Plastic Man, the Doom Patrol, and the Metal Men. That Doug Mahnke draws the Plastic Man origin is hopefully a sign of things to come, with Mahnke's at times absurd renderings depicting perfectly the melting Eel O'Brien. The Plastic Man origin is indicative of Johns bringing these characters into the New 52 well -- we don't lose an issue devoted to the "all-new Plastic Man," but rather Plastic Man's creation is incidental, a side-story, part of Justice League's overarching tapestry.

It's the same with how Johns brings in the Doom Patrol, making the team's introduction quick and neat rather than long and drawn-out. I am not completely up on my Doom Patrol lore, but I'm fairly sure Johns introduces and kills a certain historical line-up of the Doom Patrol team, whom I believe met an unfortunate end once before to make room for the original line-up. I only hope that when Johns brings the Doom Patrol back a couple issues hence, he's able to reconcile the Niles Caulder we see here in Justice League with the one introduced in Ravagers a year or so back.

But the clear stars of the book are the Metal Men, getting two issues to everyone else's one. Artist Ivan Reis is no slouch (especially in his depiction of Cyborg), but Mahnke equally steals the show drawing the Metal Men. What we get here is a flashback "origin" issue of the Metal Men, leading to a fight against Chemo, that to be honest is really just a Metal Men story in a Justice League/Forever Evil frame. There's nothing wrong with that -- indeed what the New 52 probably needs is more Metal Men stories -- but if you're not a fan, you might be impatient for Justice League to return to its regularly scheduled program.

I think it's wise that Johns doesn't mess with what works all that much, and the Metal Men generally retain their classic appearances and personalities (there's no "kewl" death-metal Metal Man, thankfully). The most changed is really Will Magnus himself, classically a pipe-smoking gentleman, now a young absent-minded techie in a T-shirt. If Johns continues to tell Metal Men stories (and based on the Chemo issue, I hope he does), perhaps the greatest challenge will be to make Magnus relevant; the Metal Men are the heroes and we know what they do, but I think Magnus needs a purpose in the New 52 other than wringing his hands and worrying about the Metal Men's responsometers. (I wouldn't mind Veridium coming back, but that's just me.)

Johns has played a long game with the Cyborg character, the benefits of which begin to pay off in this book. Johns started out Cyborg in that boxy, tank-like suit of armor, showing Vic Stone struggling and failing to retain his humanity as recently as Throne of Atlantis, where he had to give up his lungs. With Forever Evil, Vic's body has been almost completely decimated -- and with what would seem to be some great planning, Johns uses the Forever Evil event to turn this around to build Vic a stronger, slimmer, and more human body. It's a great development for the character and an unexpected, positive payoff after Vic has hit so many setbacks.

Johns also establishes well the villain Grid as an arch-nemesis for Cyborg, perhaps the first time we could say that Cyborg has a "rogue" of his own. This, too, makes me eager for a Cyborg series, or at least a miniseries. As the sole Justice Leaguer without his own series, Vic has seen some good spotlights in Justice League (including in the aforementioned Throne of Atlantis and also in Johns's Flashpoint) but I still feel there's a lot we don't know about the character. In the five-year gap between Justice League: Origin and the present day, did Vic just sit up in the Justice League Watchtower the whole time (do we even know where the Watchtower came from)? Does he still put on "people clothes," walk around Central Park, and mentor children with prosthetics, a la New Teen Titans? Johns writes a good Cyborg; now I'd like to see that pointed toward revealing more about him.

The book's first three issues regard the origins of Forever Evil's Crime Syndicate. These are done well, especially Ultraman's frightening torture of the Daily Planet staff drawn by Reis, and Nightwing's encounter with the delusional Owlman as drawn by Mahnke (plus the Plastic Man appearance). This only goes south a bit in the third issue, which speeds through the origins of Power Ring, Johnny Quick, Atomica, and Deathstorm all in the span of one issue (where one might expect, from the outset, that each Syndicate member would get their own issue). These origins are largely unsurprising (Krypton still explodes, the Waynes still die, Abin Sur still crash-lands on Earth, and so on), and the one that might really be interesting -- how Lois Lane became Powerwoman -- is the very one that Johns doesn't tell. The stories are entertaining but I'm unsure we really needed these issues, and if it weren't for the Cyborg/Metal Men story at the end, I might have a lesser opinion of this collection overall.

Again, Justice League Vol. 5: Forever Heroes coincides with Forever Evil well; we get background on events, but I never felt the Forever Heroes story overtook Forever Evil the same way Green Lantern did occasionally with Blackest Night. Equally, when Cyborg "suddenly appears" at the end of Forever Evil, I figured this was a story Johns would just tell later on in Justice League -- but here in the midst of things is good, too. Forever Heroes is by no means essential, but it is pleasantly additive, and especially if you're a Metal Men fan. So far, the Forever Evil event continues to come together well.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketchbook section]

Next up, more Forever Evil with Justice League of America Vol. 2: Survivors of Evil. Be there!
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2 comments:

  1. If DC ever decides to give Forever Evil the Absolute treatment, it would be a good idea to include these Justice League tie-in issues interspersed with the main mini series, just like they did with the Green Lantern tie-in issues in Absolute Blackest Night. They're a great complement to the main narrative, although people who haven't read the Black Adam Villains Month issue by Johns and Gates (only collected in the New 52 Villains Omnibus, apparently) might wonder how the character came back after his apparent demise at the end of the Shazam serial.

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    1. Reading the two books interspersed might be interesting, though I feel Forever Evil was so seamless that to add in the Cyborg issues especially, every other chapter, might break up the flow. Maybe they could put in all the Cyborg chapters between Forever Evil #6-7, or something.

      My only "huh?" moment in the whole thing, as you mentioned, was Black Adam's sudden reappearance. When the inevitable Shazam! series comes along, I hope that issue is included. I was disappointed that it was only collected in the Villains Omnibus and that the Villains Omnibus isn't available digital.

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