Review: Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Throughout his Flash work, Brian Buccellato has had big shoes to fill. For the most part, that's in following Geoff Johns after both his revival of Flash Barry Allen and, before that, a superlative run with Flash Wally West, itself following Mark Waid's equally legendary run. And among the challenges that Buccellato and co-writer/artist Francis Manapul undertook, for the most part successfully, was a Reverse-Flash story, daunting on the heels of Waid returning "Professor Zoom" to prominence and Johns making him downright scary.

But Buccellato still had one more hurdle to surmount. Captain Cold had been a major player in Johns's run, essentially supporting cast and a strong thematic foil for Wally West. Johns wrote a powerful series of Wally West/Rogues stories, completed them, and then came back for not one but two victory laps, the crossover event tie-ins Blackest Night: The Flash and Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge, two final, chilling exclamation points on the Rogues stories Johns had told thus far. So for Buccellato to channel the Rogues in Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion is to tell a story with an intimidating legacy behind it.

Rogues Rebellion ultimately succeeds on many fronts. Perhaps what's most key here is how Buccellato plays the changes; he starts out with Captain Cold as the perspective character, but after just two issues, Buccellato loses Cold to Johns's Forever Evil and must switch to Mirror Master in the lead instead. None of the Rogues outside Cold have been that well defined before, but Buccellato makes Mirror Master both sympathetic and convincing as the Rogues' leader, and ties the characters' arcs well into the overall themes of how the Rogues differ from the Crime Syndicate and other villains. Artist Scott Hepburn has a thin, stylized approach to the characters that works well in this villains-vs-villains story.

[Review contains spoilers]

As is to some degree appropriate, what the Rogues' story offers here is the "regular people" view of the events of Forever Evil. In traveling from Central City to Metropolis and Gotham and back again, Rogues Rebellion is something of a travelogue; in the locations they fight a Superman villain and a bevy of Bat-villains, before taking on the Syndicate and then one of their "own," Gorilla Grodd. The likelihood of someone otherwise unfamiliar with DC Comics picking up Rogues Rebellion is probably small, but the story could serve as an introduction to the DC Universe's villains for a new reader.

The story centers around the Rogues defying the Crime Syndicate's orders to raze Central City, causing the Syndicate to put a bounty on the Rogues' heads; also the Rogues' leader, (formerly "Golden") Glider (Captain Cold's sister and Mirror Master's girlfriend) has been left hospital-bound and unprotected. Arguably taking Glider out of the lead role in the Villains Month Flash #23.3: The Rogues issue collected here serves to return the Rogues to "classic" status, though sidelining the Rogues' sole, newly-prominent female character right from the start is a tad troublesome. Glider gets a moment to shine in the end, though it feels like a bit of a cheat for Glider to appear and entirely reverse the Rogues's fortunes nine pages before the end of the book.

Still, Cold remains a compelling protagonist, at least at the start. He is the moral compass of the Rogues, and it's up in the air, at least in the book's beginning, whether the Rogues would have their "all for one" and "all about the score" aesthetics without Cold. That's put to the test when Cold is waylaid in the mirror world and Mirror Master takes over as de facto team leader. Heatwave professes to only look out for himself, though after Mirror Master saves him, Heatwave returns the favor and seemingly sacrifices himself (I hope not only because I hate to think the Rogues will be Heatwave-less for the foreseeable future). Ironically, the Rogue least well-regarded by the others, the young Trickster, is probably the one most in line with Cold's philosophies, looking up to and wanting to join the Rogues as he does.

There's an awkward (but ultimately welcome) transition at the beginning of the final chapter, in which Buccellato begins narrating the story through Pied Piper. The book hasn't changed narrators previously aside from moving from Cold to Mirror Master, and so it reads a little funny when Piper starts narrating and then it's equally confusing when Mirror Master takes over again (the different-colored narration boxes not being enough of an indication). That said, in about three scant pages Buccellato tells a rather sweet coming out story against the backdrop of supervillainy, in which Piper found the Rogues accepted without issue his being gay -- and it was only that he was dating a police officer that mattered. Clearly, Piper's experiences go to the heart of what Buccellato tries to demonstrate about the Rogues here, that the Rogues value teamwork and loyalty to one another over all, and anything else is secondary.

To an extent Brian Buccellato's Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion is among the least consequential of the Forever Evil tie-ins, in that it doesn't ultimately double-back to the main story like ARGUS nor cameo the "resurrected" Justice League a la Arkham War. But, Buccellato does the tradition well with his Rogues tale, and that's a purpose all of its own. I appreciate that Buccellato spotlights some of the "second-tier" Rogues in this tale, though the incomplete Rogues gathering at the end of the book is bittersweet. Hopefully Geoff Johns lets Cold come back when Justice League is done with him and Heatwave makes his way back to life; Buccellato is leaving Flash, but I'd be pleased to see the next writer with a full complement of Rogues to work with.

[Includes original covers]
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1 comment:

  1. I really loved this trade, not much more to say than that.