TITLE: Justice League, Vol. 5: Forever Heroes
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLERS: Doug Mahnke, Ivan Reis
COLLECTS: Justice League #24–29
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
RELEASE DATE: September 10, 2014
By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder
Books like Forever Heroes tend to frustrate me. They run alongside event comics like Blackest Night, Civil War, or in this case, Forever Evil, providing us with valuable insight into certain characters and their actions. But without the main plotline to follow, books like this are essentially useless. It’s like only watching the even numbered episodes of a TV drama. You continuously have to catch up with each new issue. The solution, of course, is to publish all the issues together, which we typically get in some sort of big omnibus. But for now, books like Forever Heroes stand as islands unto themselves. That’s a shame in this book’s case, as there’s some cool stuff here.
Set during the events of Forever Evil, Forever Heroes gives us an abbreviated backstory of almost every member of the Crime Syndicate of America. The plot thread that ties the issues together deals with Grid (essentially an evil version of Cyborg) and his quest to feel emotions. But when Cyborg returns, he’s out for justice. And he’s bringing back up: The Metal Men!
Indeed, Forever Heroes is tasked with introducing the Metal Men into the New 52. These heroes made up of various types of metal (Platinum, Mercury, Gold, etc.) have been a part of the DCU since the ’60s, but one can argue they haven’t been relevant in decades. I’ve been a regular DC reader for decades, and I’ve yet to receive a valid reason as to why I should care about the Metal Men, or their scientist creator Will Magnus.
Still, Johns gives us a decent start here. He establishes who the Metal Men are, and how they came to be. He also gives them a certain underdog appeal, by casting them as a failed government experiment, who now must return as one of the world’s last lines of defense. That’s a great role for them. They’re also selfless, which is obviously endearing. Cyborg also makes for a fitting partner for them. And Johns does get you to care about the romantic tension between Magnus and Platinum.
On the down side, there’s a certain awkward, corny factor to the Metal Men’s dialogue. For instance, this is one of Gold’s first lines in issue #28…
“Name’s Gold, bro. I’m one of the most malleable and conductible metals in existence. And I’m also the most desired throughout the globe — worth over $15 million by myself. I’m the Metal Men’s brilliant leader, literally speaking. Aren’t they lucky?”
Not with dialogue like that, they aren’t. That’s certainly not the only line in the book that’s needlessly clunky and expository. Some of this sounds like fiction written for grade schoolers. We know they’re made of metal, and everybody more or less knows that gold is valuable. So why not just leave it alone and let the characters be in a room together?
Metal Men dialogue notwithstanding, it’s not a bad introduction, per se. The Metal Men are an endearing concept. The question is, where do you take them from here? How do you make them a commodity in the DCU? The first Metal Men story of the New 52 is done, but hopefully the second one will give us a clue as far as that question goes.
In contrast to the selfless Metal Men, you of course have the entirely selfish Grid, an addition to the Crime Syndicate created by Johns in Trinity War, who essentially acts as an evil version of Cyborg. While the Metal Men actually feel too many emotions (according to Magnus), Grid is a lifeless robot desperately searching for a chance to feel any emotion. That’s a great juxtaposition. Forever Heroes sees Grid search through the Syndicate’s backstories looking for something to incite feeling. Johns does a nice job of keeping him unsympathetic and ruthless, and Grid manages to give Cyborg a nice character moment at the end of the book.
The Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Power Ring, and Johnny Quick characters aren’t new, but Johns mixed with bits and pieces of their pre-established history with his own work to give them some mostly cool backstories. Granted, they’re all essentially the classic DC mythos turned upside down. For instance, the New 52 Owlman is Thomas Wayne Jr., Bruce Wayne’s older brother, who killed his parents and brother with the help of Alfred. Power Ring, the Crime Syndicate’s version of Green Lantern is a cowardly janitor at Ferris Air who is terrified of the ring entity, Volthoom. Johnny Quick and Atomica are a sort of supervillain Bonnie and Clyde. The only backstory I wasn’t a fan of was Ultraman’s, which unfortunately starts out the book. In that instance, Johns and Ivan Reis went so far on the opposite end of the moral spectrum that it almost became funny.
Forever Heroes also allows us to dive into Owlman’s longing to connect with the Dick Grayson of our Earth. We’re not given a lot in terms of their interaction with one another, but I like the notion of Thomas Wayne Jr. wanting to make a connection with Dick, even though he’s not the same Dick he knew on Earth 3. And Johns tosses in a nice twist at the end of issue #25 that adds an extra dimension to their relationship.
Obviously Forever Heroes is supplemental material for Forever Evil. It’s not the best supplemental stuff I’ve ever seen. But Johns is definitely in his element here, working with frequent cohorts Ivan Reis and Doug Mahnke. And the book is noteworthy for introducing the Metal Men into the New 52, flaws and all. So all things considered, it’s not the worst thing you could spend money on at the comic shop. Just make sure you also have Forever Evil next to it on your shelf.
Image 1 from kingrexkidd.blogspot.com. Image 2 from tessatechaitea.blogspot.com.