This article was originally published at DC Comics News on February 6, 2014.
The biggest event in the New 52 thus far marches on as Forever Evil moves into its second half. Unfortunately, very little actually occurs in the fifth issue. Besides the creation of a team that seemed obvious based on the conclusion of the previous issues, very little is actually accomplished. What is shown to the reader is equal parts confusion and frustration.
The characterization of Lex Luthor has been a highlight in almost every issue of Forever Evil. Johns is bringing life to the character like no writer since Cornell wrote The Black Ring. He is still clearly a villain, obsessed with his superiority and image. Yet these problems are made to make sense as part of a complicated character, rather than being perfunctory components of Superman’s arch-nemesis. His stories of childhood allow the audience to sympathize, without devolving into a melodramatic mess. Luthor may once have cared for his sister, but his pride prevented him from helping even that one person. It strikes an excellent balance that makes his evil still feel human.
There is also some genuine humor in this issue. Bizarro continues to highlight an Of Mice and Men-type relationship with Luthor. The funniest beat of Forever Evil #5 is when Batman is shown to have less sense than Superman’s imperfect clone. Surrounded by old enemies, he still tries to give orders until Catwoman points out the reality of his situation. Luthor’s team does not even bother to speak to Batman’s stupidity, highlighting the silliness of this moment.
Fourteen of twenty-one pages in Forever Evil #5 are comprised of a single scene, an extended battle sequence between two teams of super-villains. It is poorly executed, at best. At no point does David Finch provide an establishing shot for the scene. The closest he comes is a splash panel on pages two and three. Even here, the background can be best described as a generic warehouse, with no distinctive size or shape. The two squads of villains hurtle at one another, but are mysteriously separated into nicely matched pairs in subsequent panels. These battles occur within the relatively limited confines of a warehouse, but there is never a sign of the obvious chaos that must be occurring. Every fight occurs in a pocket dimension where other characters may only enter to serve the purposes of plot. At no point in these fourteen pages doe Finch attempt to establish any sense of geography. This makes it impossible to establish any cause-and-effect relationships during the fight short of two distinct characters punching one another. Sinestro and Power Ring’s fight makes more sense spatially, but it still borders upon confusion in what should be an easily blocked combat: two characters situated in a tunnel. The entire sequence is confusing with no concern for basic visual storytelling elements.
Finch does little more than attempt to make the visuals look cool. He fails at this as well. Finch tends to be the best inker for his own work, as seen in Moon Knight. Dave Friends does him no favors. Black splotches drape the characters in unnecessary shadows. It’s unclear if Finch or Friend spends more time focusing on the definition of muscles, but little else. Faces are rarely a concern.
Although Finch’s artwork is the story’s greatest detriment, John’s writing does this issue no favors. Two-thirds of the issue is devoted to an action sequence, leaving only seven pages to move the narrative forward. Instead, it refocuses on one of the two “mystery boxes” of Forever Evil, the mysterious threat that destroyed Earth-3. Said threat has existed since the first issue and nothing new is added here. There is little accomplished in these pages that could not have been compressed into other scenes, making Forever Evil #5 an entirely unnecessary issue.
Forever Evil #5 turns what could be a genuinely exciting action sequence into a disappointing mess. The issue relies entirely on previous momentum as it slowly plods to the actual events which will compose its climax. If it were not for a handful of funny and well-characterized moments from Johns narration, it would be entirely dismissible.