‘Forever Evil’: Geoff Johns, David Finch conspire on Crime Syndicate

Sept. 04, 2013 | 6:00 a.m.

David Finch's cover for "Forever Evil" No. 1, the first of a seven-part series, shows Lex Luthor at the forefront of a legion of supervillains. (DC Comics)

The gatefold pages 19-22 of "Forever Evil" No. 1 show the Crime Syndicate (Johnny Quick, left, Superwoman, Ultraman, Owlman, Deathstorm and Power Ring), recently arrived from Earth-3, standing before Earth-1's villains. (David Finch / DC Comics)

Superman, Wonder Woman and the rest of the Justice League are out of the picture, and in their place are their villainous counterparts from a parallel universe, the Crime Syndicate.

That group leads the charge as darkness descends and rogues rise in “Forever Evil,” the seven-issue limited series by bestselling writer Geoff Johns and artist David Finch (“Batman: The Dark Knight,” “New Avengers”) that marks the first universe-wide event in DC Comics since Johns’ “Flashpoint” reset reality and launched the New 52 two years ago.

The double-length “Forever Evil” No. 1 arrives in stores today, the centerpiece of the first week of Villains Month, in which all of DC’s September releases have heels headlining instead of the usual heroes. (See larger versions of the regular cover by David Finch, the pages 19-22 gatefold and three variant covers by Ivan Reis by clicking on the links below.)

Cover | Pages 19-22 | Ultraman variant | Superwoman variant | Owlman variant

It follows the events of “Trinity War,” the summer Justice Leagues titles crossover that ended with the New 52 debut of the Crime Syndicate as it emerged from a freshly opened gateway to  Earth-3, where, it’s suggested, the evils of the familiar world originated. In this first issue, Johns says, the dangerous visitors — Ultraman (in place of Superman), Superwoman (Wonder Woman), Owlman (Batman), Power Ring (Green Lantern), Johnny Quick (the Flash) and Deathstorm (Firestorm), minus Sea King (Aquaman), who died crossing over — will try to rally this new-to-them Earth’s villains together to rule the planet.

But don’t expect everyone to march in lockstep, especially not Lex Luthor. Superman’s nemesis fighting evil might strike some as unlikely, but longtime DC readers will recall that with some past versions of the Crime Syndicate, the first of which debuted in 1964, a major foe was a heroic Earth-3 Luthor.

David Finch's cover for "Forever Evil" No. 1, the first of a seven-part series, shows Lex Luthor at the forefront of a legion of supervillains. (DC Comics)

David Finch’s cover for “Forever Evil” No. 1, the first of a seven-part series, shows Lex Luthor at the forefront of a legion of supervillains, including, directly behind him, Bizarro. (DC Comics)

Johns provided insight into Luthor’s thinking – and detailed why as a writer he’s fascinated by Power Ring (he did script Green Lantern books for almost a decade) – and Finch explained why, after having used 3-D to render characters for the “Justice League of America” launch earlier this year, he returned to paper for “Forever Evil,” in a phone interview with Hero Complex.

Hero Complex: A heroic Lex Luthor has been a problem for past versions of the Crime Syndicate. What can you say about what makes him a fitting foe for them?

Geoff Johns: I think in a lot of ways Luthor, in this scenario, there’s something inside him that says he was born to do this. He knew when people could fly and throw buildings through the air that one day someone would have to stop them.

And, for me, Luthor has always been about being humanity’s hero. I think in a way he sees himself as humanity’s hero and savior, and in a lot of ways the appearance of Superman, the appearance of superhumans and people with these strange abilities changed humanity’s course of evolution. I think part of him says, “Now that these heroes exist [people are] relying on them too much…. They’re looking to them to save us, and they’re looking to them to lead us, and they’re looking to them to do everything, and humanity is losing its role.” I think part of that is he truly believes that, and part of it is, “I want to be that guy. I want to be the person that everyone is looking up to.” And when a man can fly, it’s very hard to do that. I think the arrival of superheroes really destroyed everything he had planned out for his life and his eventual role in the world. And this is a chance to take it back.

HC: The Crime Syndicate has a long history in DC Comics but doesn’t seem to have ever had quite this much success and power. Is there a sense in telling this story of having these characters play to their full potential?

GJ: One of the things this story gives us, especially with “Justice League,” which ties directly into it, it gives us a chance to really explore these characters. And the Crime Syndicate, for me, each one has a different reason for being there. Each one has a history and a story and a mission and a goal and a desire and a need. Those will be explored throughout this story line. Just because they’re together doesn’t mean they’re necessarily a well-oiled machine.

There’s some characters I find fascinating — like Power Ring, this Hal Jordan from Earth-3, this absolute coward who’s terrified by everything, and the ring is really the thing that’s controlling him, and it’s kind of eaten into his hand. If you look closely at his hand, the skin’s growing around the ring and there’s veins of energy starting to stretch through his arm and up his neck. When his power ring starts to run out of juice a little later in the story, he starts to panic because he doesn’t want to charge it because the experience of charging it is such a horrible thing for him. And then you delve further into who is he, why was he chosen, what’s he all about, and also what does he want, why’s he on Earth and what’s his connection to the syndicate.

A "Forever Evil" No. 1 variant cover by Ivan Reis features Ultraman. (DC Comics)

A “Forever Evil” No. 1 variant cover by Ivan Reis features Ultraman. (DC Comics)

I think all these characters are really fascinating because they’re such twisted fun-house mirrors to our world’s greatest superheroes. So you see Ultraman, and “Justice League” 24 really focuses on Ultraman, his beginnings and his upraising and what he lives by and how he sees our world. Our world is as alien to them as they are to us. We see what slight change happened in his spiritual DNA, his moralistic DNA, what slight change happened that made him Ultraman instead of Superman. It’s not as simple as just, hey, this universe is evil, things are backward, it’s things are different but they operate on a different law of nature, a different law of evolution, a different law of culture that has created these twisted, bizarre versions of our heroes. And the fun thing about the Crime Syndicate is we get to witness a different world in a slightly different way. Who would Barry Allen be? Who would Batman be? Who would Wonder Woman be? That’s what this series really explores: It’s how close these characters are to ours in a strange, bizarre way.

HC: Can the two of you talk about designing this version of the Crime Syndicate? For instance, David, did you render them in 3-D?

David Finch: I did everything on paper. I didn’t really do any in 3-D. I’m using 3-D for backgrounds and that kind of thing still, but … I completely pulled back from it because I felt it was actually taking away from the spontaneity of the art. It’s taken me a little bit to get back up to speed and kind of find myself again. That’s how it is – it’s always a push and pull.

GJ: David’s super-modest, so I’m going to go on about him. First off, the designs are just absolutely brilliant on these characters. One of the things we talked about was having a slightly old-school feel to their costumes. But their mannerisms and their actions are definitely in contrast to that. And then what David illustrates – there’s a beautiful scene of Lex and the new Bizarro in [“Forever Evil”] No. 2 that the power of Bizarro and the atmosphere that he’s drawn, there’s just no one who can do this kind of grit. He’s just perfect for a world of supervillains. Even Page 1 [of No. 2] is just – there’s a rat on Page 1, and it’s one of the most beautiful pages I’ve ever seen. David is just knocking it out of the park. David, I think you were born to do a story like this. It’s really pretty amazing to watch it happen.

DF: Thank you. I feel very, very lucky to be doing this book, for sure. And I’m excited about Issue 1 coming out, but I’m really excited about Issue 2 because I really feel like it always takes a little bit to really get comfortable and get underway – and I feel like [Issue 2] is really, really working.

HC: On the old-school costumes, was there any chance of the old pointed shoulders for Ultraman?

GJ: [Laughs] No, we changed those.

The gatefold pages 19-22 of "Forever Evil" No. 1 show the Crime Syndicate (Johnny Quick, left, Superwoman, Ultraman, Owlman, Deathstorm and Power Ring), recently arrived from Earth-3, standing before Earth-1's villains. (David Finch / DC Comics)

The gatefold pages 19-22 of “Forever Evil” No. 1 show the Crime Syndicate (Johnny Quick, left, Superwoman, Ultraman, Owlman, Deathstorm and Power Ring), recently arrived from Earth-3, standing before Earth-1′s villains. (David Finch / DC Comics)

HC: David, this world of darkness, all these villains, really seems suited for your style. Are you doing anything technique-wise special this series? What’s your general approach?

DF: The script is always first and foremost, and I want to make absolutely sure that that comes across as well as it possibly can – and Geoff is making it easy for me to do that. I want to go a little over-the-top with it. I want it to be graphic and in your face wherever I can. I think there are so many great character moments that it offsets that well. And also, playing with a lot of shadow is something that the book really lends itself to.

HC: Could each of you pick an interaction between villains in this series that you’re especially pleased with?

GJ: I love Lex Luthor and Bizarro. It’s a bizarre relationship — and this stuff continues to get stranger as the series goes on — but those two together have been a lot of fun to write…. On the Crime Syndicate side, I absolutely love Ultraman and [pauses] every member of the Crime Syndicate because he’s just a tour de force. The way he interacts with everybody –  Ultraman is just interesting contrasting with anybody. I can write Ultraman and anyone on the syndicate all day long.

DF: I would say Lex Luthor and Bizarro too. Absolutely. It’s my favorite team that I’ve drawn in – I can’t even remember. And Johnny Quick I really, really like drawing right now, and I feel like he’s getting a little crazier-looking as I go along.

GJ: Johnny Quick is crazy. I love Johnny Quick. And he and Atomica are a lot of fun together. Essentially, the Atom, who we’ve learned is actually a member of the syndicate and has been trapped on this Earth five years away from her boyfriend, suddenly she’s reunited with him. We’ll see how it’s sort of Bonnie and Clyde with superpowers.

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex


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