Review: Crime Syndicate trade paperback (DC Comics)


With the advent of the Infinite Frontier era, it seems DC is finally getting serious about their multiverse as more than just window dressing. Andy Schmidt and Kieran McKeown’s Crime Syndicate is exactly the kind of thing I want, a miniseries (if not a series) focusing on alt-Earth characters as characters in their own right and not just in relation to the Earth-0 “mainstream” heroes.

This is just the start, of course, so it remains to be seen if this is actually something DC intends to pursue. Kicking things off with the Crime Syndicate on its own is concerning, given that this is the third or fourth iteration of these characters in recent memory and now they’ve been rebooted once again; the “Crime Syndicate” concept doesn’t really symbolize a cogent, stable multiverse. Add to it that Schmidt and McKeown’s violent comedy tone wasn’t what I was looking for from a Crime Syndicate comic, being neither particularly funny nor particularly moving.

I’m glad DC is releasing projects like Crime Syndicate and I think it’s interesting to see Crime Syndicate come out ahead of what is presumably these same characters' appearance in an upcoming crossover (else DC really has trouble with their different versions of Earth-3!). This is not a win out of the gate, but maybe the next try will be better.

[Review contains spoilers]

No small amount of dissatisfaction with any story set on DC’s evil opposite world may stem from it simply not being Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s JLA: Earth 2. Morrison’s concept of nothing good being able to triumph on the alt-Earth (because “good” is bad and “bad” is good) is rather seared into my brain; granted the “bad guys” do win in Crime Syndicate, but there’s enough of an ongoing resistance that the Crime Syndicate seems less the “bad” heroes of a “bad” world and more a dictatorial force. Sure, there’s worthwhile stories to be told in that framework, but it doesn’t distinguish Earth-3 all that much from any other reality with corrupt or overbearing heroes.1

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Schmidt’s is an origin story for the Crime Syndicate, something I don’t recall seeing before, and that aspect is interesting. There’s the requisite Starro attack, but I found myself wishing Schmidt had nodded even more to the parallel history of our Justice League. But the flip side is that most of the juicy interpersonal dynamics between the ill-mannered Syndicate members hasn’t been established yet.

We don’t get for instance the Ultraman/Superwoman/Owlman triangle that drove may recent stories. And despite Schmidt penning origins for each of the anti-heroes, drawn by Bryan Hitch, the characters' individual storylines are not very nuanced, short perhaps of Emerald Knight John Stewart. But even Schmidt’s Stewart being sniped at by his ring is no comparison to the horrific interplay between Geoff Johns' sniveling Power Ring and Volthoom or Johns' frenetic, drug-addicted Johnny Quick.

Schmidt largely goes for comedy in terms of outrageousness, like when Ultraman and Superwoman crash through a space station and nonchalantly leave two female astronauts suffocating in space, or bits like Lex Luthor grumbling when Ultraman throws him aside. It is funny in style — I think the author’s intention is for us to chuckle, not to recoil in horror — but neither is any of it very witty or clever.

Depending, McKeown is either the exact right or exact wrong artist for this book. For what it seems Schmidt is trying to do, McKeown suits perfectly, with big distorted faces, muscle-bound men, and obnoxiously buxom women. McKeown seems a comedy artist, not that there’s anything wrong with that, though his positioning could sometimes use refinement (as when Ultraman is giving himself a kryptonite drug by … making fists? Or something?). But if Schmidt had any intention of Crime Syndicate being taken seriously — if within we were supposed to see the fervent struggles of damaged heroes or some such — any number of artists in DC’s stable might have been a better choice.

What is funny within Crime Syndicate is a continuing gag where editor Marquis Draper supposedly makes callouts to other Earth-3 comics that never happened, a la “See Emerald Knight: It’s Not Easy Being Green #1.” These are cute, though again, if this were a story of President Superman’s Earth-23, would they do the same? Is it because this is an alt-Earth story that the book makes alt-Earth jokes, or is it specifically because it’s a story about the evil Earth-3? And if so, at what point did what could be a really compelling site for “evil Justice League” stories become instead a site for stories about an evil Justice League that’s ultimately kind of bumbling and silly?



The most recent depiction of the “Crime Syndicate” on Earth-3 was actually Robbie Thompson’s “Justice Squad” in Future State: Suicide Squad, in which Amanda Waller brought a team of Earth-0 villains to Earth-3 to be their apparent heroes. That’s perhaps more of the “Crime Syndicate” I’m looking for; in two issues versus Andy Schmidt’s six, notably, Thompson put morally ambiguous characters in a dire situation such that we actually cared for and were worried about them. In Crime Syndicate, the Crime Syndicate is kind of wooden; hopefully DC can do more with what is essentially their Mirror Universe should Earth-3 be gifted another spotlight.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]

  1. Except this Earth–3 has a Pantha analogue, which is always a redeeming quality.  ↩

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I should have read your review before I ordered this yesterday! Glad that DC are producing books like this which perhaps won't generate the sales of Batman, but will deepen the history of the multiverse and overall DCU in general. I don't know if a humorous approach is the approach I am really looking for with a Crime Syndicate tale.

    Let's how this one reads when I get it.

  2. Well, I read it and you were spot on (as always) with your review. Schmidt is not able to establish the right tone for the book. Either trying to be funny by hitting us on the proverbial head and throwing in some atrocities. In the end, it seemed more like a bad comedy, with the Crime Syndicate appearing more as buffoons than actual threats. It's interesting that the origin tales set a different tone (but that's mainly due to the art).

    While I chuckled at first at the "editor's comments", it became a bit tiresome as the series went on. I did enjoy the short origin takes that were drawn by Bryan Hitch - an artist whose work I believe set the tone better than McKeown....Don't get me wrong, I think McKeown is a good artist for certain kinds of books, but the Crime Syndicate is not that book.

    All in all, pales in comparison to John's take on the Crime Syndicate.....On the read it once and forget it pile for me.


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