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“And the Justice League is dead,” announces Ultraman in the first issue of Geoff Johns and David Finch’s mini-series Forever Evil, the main book of the DC Comics event of the same name that resurrects the Crime Syndicate. “And Jesus wept,” John recalls as he tells the resurrection of Lazarus. If the DC Universe died when the New 52 initiative began, Forever Evil is a way of telling those bemoaning the reboot to stop weeping because that old universe has come back to life. The event certainly shook up the New 52, but has only left the universe stronger for it. Remember that Lazarus lived an additional 30 years after his resurrection and that was spent mostly signing autographs and trying not to laugh.

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Forever Evil tells a great threat to our world and features a lot of villains. The great threat is employed to expose the more intimate natures of DC Comics fan-favorite villains. The threat comes from the Crime Syndicate, an alternate and “evil” version of the Justice League, with a roster of villains that correspond to members of the Justice League.

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The Crime Syndicate comes from Earth-3, a parallel Earth that resembles Earth-1 but lives under the thumb of the Crime Syndicate. An over-simplified assessment could describe Earth-3 similarly to the original conception of Qward, a place where evil is law- right is wrong and wrong is right, but the narrative of Forever Evil shows the impossibility of such an idea by showing how the villains of Earth-1 themselves are beyond good and evil. Earth-3 is not the opposite of Earth-1, but rather an Earth where those in power care even less for the people than those in power in ours. While the spirit of the Crime Syndicate is nastily selfish and sadistic, the people of Earth-3 are quite aware of the boot stamping on their face- forever (evil).

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The Crime Syndicate hope to recruit the villains of Earth-1 but encounter some resistance. This resistance comes from major villains like Catwoman, Lex Luthor, Black Manta, Black Adam, and the Rogues. More minor villains like Blockbuster and Parasite have an easier time towing the line. The Crime Syndicate do a few things that irk the villains and it’s hard to say if these actions are even evil based on their motivations and the villain’s reactions. For Ultra-Man’s survival and strength, he blocks the sun with the moon, something that pisses off most Earth-1 residents and particularly Poison Ivy. Black Manta opposes them because they “killed” Aquaman and his anger does not come from grief for the “fallen” Atlantean, but because the Syndicate robbed him of the chance to kill him. It is the autocratic imposing of their will upon the nations and people of Earth-1 that angers both Lex Luthor and Black Adam- two individuals who pride themselves in their abilities to impose their will on others. The Rogues initially consider joining the Crime Syndicate until the Crime Syndicate orders them to destroy their own home towns, the Gem Cities. The Rogues, of course, have long been known to stick to a no-kill code and their motivations clearly financial, so their repulsion at the thought of decimating Central City and Keystone City makes perfect sense. Two-Face’s response is typically loyal to the outcome of his coin flip.

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The Forever Evil story has been published in trade form over the past five or six weeks. As with most big events, the choices made by DC Comics in publishing the collected event cause a Groundhog Day-like disruption of narrative. The action of Forever Evil can be found in many places throughout DC’s catalog. Events unfolded in the Forever Evil mini-series itself, Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S., Forever Evil: Arkham War, Forever Evil Aftermath: Batman Vs. Bane, Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, Trinity of Sin: Pandora, Constantine, many of the “Villains Month” titles, and a scattering of other titles. Some events and even panels repeat in different issues- the Rogues breaking Trickster out of Iron Heights, for example. What DC Comics generally does when there is a major event like this, they publish the trades based on the title rather than the timeline. This makes the reading experience for the trade reader (myself) distinct from the experience of the issue-reader who sees each piece of the story unfold simultaneously, much safer from spoilers. I’ve heard and read trade readers complain about this and admit some discontent myself. The phenomenon hits Green Lantern fans repeatedly. Another curse is that in collecting the trades, you end up with multiple printings of the same issue as experienced in Throne of Atlantis and Rotworld events. The Forever Evil: Blight trade contains issues that readers of Justice League Dark, Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger, Trinity of Sin: Pandora, and Constantine will find already in the collected trades of those individual series. It’s a bit of a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-dont-paradox that leaves comics readers either missing out on chunks of story or buying multiples printings of the same material. As DC has spaced out the release of each trade, there is an implied order to reading them. Forever Evil: Arkham War and Forever Evil: Blight actually works pretty well independent of the main Forever Evil series, but Forever Evil: A.R.G.U.S and Forever Evil: Rogues Rebellion are entirely dependent on the events of the main series.

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For those readers who are considering only one additional Forever Evil beyond the main series, here is a breakdown of what you can expect:

Arkham War is obviously written with Batman fans in mind despite having very little actual Batman in it. It’s written by one of my favorite writers Peter Tomasi and I believe they picked the worst possible picture for the cover. The art within is so much better than the close-up face-off of Bat-Bane and Batman. It is predominantly a Bane story, but features a whole slew of Batman’s enemies including Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Penguin, Killer Croc, Man-Bat, Pyg, and Clayface.

A.R.G.U.S. centers largely around Steve Trevor and Etta Candy, making it a book for Wonder-Woman fans despite the fact Steve Trevor hasn’t really appeared in the pages of Wonder Woman. It is more closely related to Justice League, Suicide Squad, Justice League of America, and the secret agent-y government-y titles. The major villains are Killer Frost, Cheetah, and Deathstroke. Among the lesser villains, Cheetah leads a cool-looking pack of anthropomorphic antagonists. While it tells the back story of an important plot point to the greater Forever Evil narrative, it is probably the weakest, in both story and art, of all the Forever Evil subplots.

Rogues Rebellion is a story for Flash fans, obviously. It features the usual lineup of Captain Cold, Trickster, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Heatwave, and Glider. Classic Flash baddies Pied Piper and Gorilla Grodd appear as well. Several character more normally associated with Batman makes appearances; the Rogues find themselves transported to Gotham where they encounter Victor Zsasz, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, and Black Mask.  In addition, there are quite a few second-stringers like Black Bison, Parasite, and the Royal Flush Gang making appearances. This book more than any of the others, including the main series, celebrates the community of villains operating in the DC Universe.

Blight is a Pandora story that stars John Constantine. It is readers who have been following the Dark family of titles and have familiarized themselves with the Trinity War event. This story is important to the entire plot mainly because Pandora’s box is what enables the Crime Syndicate to come over to Earth-1. It retains the feel of Justice League Dark and if you like that, you’ll like this book. If you’re expecting some Vertigo-eqsue tome, you will be disappointed and I recommend you read Rotworld for something closer to that experience.

All in all, I see Forever Evil and titles like World’s Finest and The Multiversity in the same way other comics speculators have already said: DC Comics is gearing up for an infinite crisis of infinite proportion. I’m excited. I feel I’m much better prepared to understand it than I am to understand Infinite Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is a book for its time. Will my generation’s crisis overdo the crises of the past? If Forever Evil is any indication, I believe it will.

 

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Upon the announcement that Jesse Eisenberg would play Lex Luthor in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel, I’ve felt a slight discomfort with the casting. I like Jesse Eisenberg, Lex Luthor is one of my favorite characters of all time, and more importantly, I think Eisenberg will do a great job as Lex Luthor. My discomfort comes from the difficulty is separating Eisenberg from his Jewish heritage. Eisenberg is not the first Jew to play Lex Luthor- Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum played an incredible Lex- but part of Eisenberg’s charm is how well he personifies many of the characteristics that pop culture finds endearing about the way Jews behave. He’s not Woody Allen, but he played him once in a movie. Does he play up to Jewish stereotypes? Sure, to some extent, but he’s also embraced roles that challenged popular conceptions of Jews, such as playing an Orthodox Jewish MDMA smuggler in Holy Rollers. Eisenberg is Jewish and deserves a certain amount of consideration when he portrays Jews positively or negatively as it is his own culture he’s representing. From Shakespeare to Star Wars, Jews has suffered negative portrayals by gentiles and while it is a generally accepted dramatic trope, negative Jewish stereotypes are usually identified by the Anti-Defamation League swiftly and often make news. As a person of Jewish heritage myself, I’ve come to tolerate the negative depiction of Jews as unavoidable symptom of a larger systemic social problem and rarely make a crusade about the way Jews are presented. As the husband of a Chinese woman, I’ve probably become more sensitive to the portrayal of Chinese people in Western media than I am to representations of Jews that reinforce stereotypes.

So……………………

what’s wrong with a Jewish Lex Luthor?

Lex Luthor plays to some very specific Jewish stereotypes

1) Lex Luthor is the smartest man in the world. This point may be argued by Michael Holt or Ray Palmer, but it is generally accepted in the DC Universe that Lex Luthor is the smartest man on Earth. When I was living in China, the most common reaction to the discovery of my Jewish heritage was: “This is why you are so clever.” or “The Jews are very clever.” While this is not really a negative stereotype, it is a stereotype and one that makes the lives of Jewish children with learning disabilities doubly difficult. Is unforgivable to portray Jews as intelligent? No. Is it racist to portray Jews as intelligent? I’m not sure if it is. The belief that Jews are somehow smarter than others is rooted in the Jewish tradition of revering scholarship. Many cultures place an emphasis on education, but there is something special about the role education plays in the development of Jewish identity, both communally and for the individual.

2) Lex Luthor is the richest man in the world. Lex is not only one of the richest people in the DC Universe, but he has obtained his wealth through the type of ruthless business behaviors that non-Jews have frequently accused Jews of engaging in. Of course, Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor won’t be as damaging as Bernie Madoff or any of the very Lex-Luthorian types of Jewish descent that the US government has an irrational fear of prosecuting. The stereotype that Jews have lots of money is hardly new. The phenomenon of Jewish wealth can largely be traced back to the limiting of opportunities for Jews by the gentile populatins in which they lived. The inability to own land and Christian opposition to usury can both be credited with encouraging a tradition of finance and trade in Jewish communities, making both finance and trade elemental to the Jewish economy and to Jewish social mobility.

3) Superman is Jesus. As we all know, Superman was created by a couple of nice Jewish boys from Ohio and the comic book industry itself was largely created by Jews, borrowing many of its production strategies from the garment industry where Jews were also prevalent. Why did these Jews make a caped Jesus? The Christ-like nature of Superman has always been there. While Superman’s origin story greatly mirrors the story of Moses, we should pay attention to some differences in the two stories. Moses liberates his people from the tyranny of the Egyptians while Superman liberates a foreign population from the tyranny of themselves and external forces of Darkness. Superman is Jor-El’s only son. Jor-El gives his only son to the people of Earth- people he largely look down upon while simultaneously adoring them (sounds like any god you’ve heard of?). The messianic nature of Superman is well-documented and generally accepted, so I won’t go into too much detail here and will assume that you accept that the idea of “Superman as Christ” has legitimacy. Lex Luthor hates Superman- perpetuating the idea that Jews hated Jesus or willfully contributed to his crucifixion is an irresponsible assessment of the relationship Jesus had he with members of his own community.

For these reasons, I’m a little uncomfortable with Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor, but as a comic fan, I have no doubt that he will do a better job than Kevin Spacey, the worst Lex Luthor of all time. My favorite Lex so far? Either Clancy Brown or Anthony LaPaglia.

Honestly, I might be more excited about the Son of Batman animated movie that was recently announced more than the Man of Steel sequel.

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