Summary: In these tales from JUSTICE LEAGUE #24-29, the Crime Syndicate hunts down the few heroes foolish enough to challenge them – including Dick Grayson! But Owlman has other plans for Nightwing…and Ultraman, too! Also, Cyborg is one of the last Justice League members left to fight against the villains that have taken over. How can he possibly find a way to defeat them? Who can he turn to? Two words: Metal Men!
Justice League, vol. 5: Forever Heroes, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke 7.25
I haven’t been following DC Comics since they rebooted their whole universe a few years ago and gave us “The New 52”.
Honestly, as a former comic book junkie, I’m sick and tired of new iterations/reboots of characters. It’s bad enough that comics are often like soap operas with superhero action in them, but I hate that my understanding of characters and comic book history becomes outdated time and time again.
You just can’t catch up. And, when you do, it changes up all over again.
But I picked up this book because it popped up in the “recommended” section of my local library’s website. I didn’t pay attention to the fact that it was “Volume 5”. Given that Justice League comics have been around since 1960, the only way this book can be an early volume is if it’s a rebooted edition.
I should have known.
But I was mostly intrigued by the cover art, which suggested alternate versions of some of the most famous DC heroes, including Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and others (but not, unsurprisingly, Aquaman). I wondered what that was all about and wanted to find out.
It turns out that they were all members of the Crime Syndicate of America, characters that have existed since 1964, but that I was only vaguely aware of (hence why I didn’t recognize them at first glance). They’re from an alternate, flipped around universe where all of our familiar heroes are actually villains.
So, instead of Superman, we get Ultraman, Batman becomes Owlman, Wonder Woman is Superwoman, The Flash is called Johnny Quick and Green Lantern is turned into Power Ring. For The New 52, Firestorm is Deathstorm, Atom is Atomica, and Cyborg’s old body is infected by a virus called Grid.
It all could be very interesting, but this collection is extremely uneven: It begins with origin tales for Ultraman in the first volume, and Owlman in the second volume, but, by the third volume, it zips through the origins of Power Ring, Johnny Quick, Atomica and Deathstorm all in one go.
From that point onward, the focus shifts from the villains to Cyborg, who’s been torn away from his robot body by Grid, who sought to become less dependent on human frailty. Cyborg then has to convince his father to build him a new cybernetic body so that he may go out and stop Grid.
This leads him to Dr. Magnus, the inventor of The Metal Men, asking him for his help. Since The Metal Men are not connected online, Grid cannot control them. Cyborg sees them as his only hope, since the rest of the Justice League have been utterly decimated (killed?) by the Crime Syndicate.
Why the book shifts so dramatically midway is beyond me. The most interesting part was reading these alternate takes on familiar characters, and yet we get jipped; Cyborg’s plight wasn’t exactly underwhelming, but it paled in comparison. If they’d spread it out more it would have been better.
Further to that, the Cyborg parts of the book were a bit sloppy: Dr. Magnus wept for The Metal Men even though they’d existed for a split second, and Cyborg somehow got the upper hand over Grid in a virtual battleground. Since that’s Grid’s sphere of influence and he’s omnipotent, there’s no way.
And, to make matters worse, the book doesn’t even conclude any of it parts: We never find out the outcome of Ultraman vs Black Adam, never discover in what way Owlman will twist Dick Grayson into becoming his sidekick, and even Cyborg’s story doesn’t wrap-up by the book’s end.
It just sets up another conflict – just like any good soap opera would.
At least the art is really good. While I found it a bit too slick for my taste in some areas, I found Leis’ style quite pleasing to the eye and it certainly didn’t lack in detail – especially when he got down to the spreads. His character designs were nice, too, often being an improvement over the originals.
But, ultimately, ‘Justice League: Forever Heroes’ left me wanting. It doesn’t tie up any of its loose ends, and its shifts are far too dramatic to be satisfying. When your alternate origin stories are more interesting than the core plot, you know there’s a problem – and it’s hard to shake when you’re done.
I doubt I’ll track down this collection’s follow-up.
Post scriptum: For those who are interested, here are quick rundowns on each villain’s origins:
1. Ultraman comes from an alternate Krypton where his father, Jor-il, looked down upon frailty with absolute contempt and trained Kal-il to repress all weaknesses. He sent him to alternate Earth with the intention that he someday rule it. What’s interesting is that everything is backwards: Jonathan and Martha Kent are white trash city folk who have moved to Smallville with the hope of making it rich in mining, but he’s a drunk and she’s abusive. Naturally, Kal-il will not stand for this and makes use of them until he’s seven, after which he disposes of them. Permanently. And then sets out to conquer the world.
2. Owlman isn’t Bruce Wayne, but his older brother, Tommy. Wanting to take over his family fortune before his parents squander it all, he plans with Bruce to murder them at the theatre. But it goes poorly and Tommy must rely on Alfred’s assistance. Unfortunately, Bruce also gets killed in the process. Later, as Owlman, he basically controls the underworld. One of his greatest desires is to rebuild his family, and thus he picks Richard Grayson – the real one, from our Earth, and plans to break him and get him to take his side.
3. Grid is a virus that’s taken over Cyborg’s former body and ripped him out of it. He wants to feel, but can’t, and so he is on a desperate quest to experience feelings.
4. Harold Jordan is a coward who does everything out of fear. Abin Sur, an alien, has come to trick him into taking his cursed ring, telling him he’s being entrusted with a great power. Jordan naively takes it and is enslaved by the power of the ring.
5. Jonathan Allen and Rhonda Pineda are basically a modern Bonnie and Clyde, on a criminal rampage. After she rescues Allen out of jail, the pair try to escape the police and, due to a mishap, become Johnny Quick and Atomica.
6. Martin Stein was a scientific genius, a groundbreaking theoretical biologist. He paid a homeless young man to partake in his experiments and, after killing him, tried to merge with his corpse. Somehow this created Deathstorm.
7. Superwoman remains a mystery, for some reason (but it’s hinted at that she is the other Earth’s Lois Lane… not sure, though.)