Back in 2001, I was an avid comic book reader. I bought almost every major title DC Comics published and read them eagerly. My wife and I would make a weekly trip to the local comic store, returning with armloads of entertainment, which we would usually read at some fast food place or another while eating french fries. But then came “Our Worlds at War.” Over thirty comics and two months of my life dedicated to an alleged “war” involving our favorite comic book heroes.
Do you know what happens in wars, though? People die. Nations are devastated or sometimes stop existing at all. In short, things change.
Not in “Our Worlds At War,” though. No, three months of overblown action and alleged devastation later, the only heroes to die were Maxima and Strange Visitor. If you weren’t reading a lot of ’90s comics, those names probably mean nothing to you because they were really obscure characters. As far as the bombarded, beleaguered planet Earth? I think there was some lip service about Lex Luthor building stuff that ended within a year. Long and the short – nothing happened. Not a goddamn thing. By the end of that year I had sworn off of comics entirely, enraged at the pointlessness of it all.
I briefly resumed reading comics after “Identity Crisis,” up until there was an “Infinite Crisis.” It wasn’t really all that bad but before it was even over I was hearing hints of an “Final Crisis,” which meant another super-event was just on the horizon. I’m old enough to have read some of the original “Crisis” in the ’80s, so I was already a little bored with revisiting “Crisis,” especially with Superboy as some sort of super-duper villain who decapitates super heroes with punches. I read the original “52” and enjoyed it but when it turned to “Countdown to Final Crisis” I dropped it. Why even bother having a crossover that just launches another crossover? Why?
Unfortunately, I moved last year, and the local game shop is also the local comic shop. When I found out DC’s mystic heroes were rebooting and even getting their own Justice League, Justice League Dark, I got excited and started buying again. Within about three months I was back on the crossover event train, of course; not only a crossover, which I hate, but a really sucky crossover that sucks John P Henry Sucking’s sweaty balls.
Basically DC, I fucking hate you, and I fucking hate “Forever Evil” and/or the subset of it Justice League Dark has been sucked into, which is sometimes called “Blight” even though that doesn’t make sense anymore. Here are ten reasons why!
1. Where the Hell Is the Justice League Dark?
There they are! For one panel. Out of 3 issues. So far.
Justice League Dark is a team book, but apparently DC seems content to constantly scramble their membership. When we start this crossover, some arbitrary number (just a little less than “all”) of the world’s mystic heroes have been kidnapped along with the regular Justice League. The leftovers decide to go save the world or, at least, John Constantine really wants to save Zatanna, who he has decided is his One True Pairing (as the kids say). As far as DC Universe history goes, Zatanna as a character predates Constantine by 20 years and she predates him as magical-advisor-to-the-superheroes, since she joined the Justice League in the late ’70s and Constantine has only recently even joined the main DC Universe (back from twenty years under Vertigo).
None of that matters to the writers, though, as they prefer to make Zatanna the Princess Toadstool of this adventure with Constantine obsessively searching for her; more on that later, but it sucks. Black Orchid? Madame Xanadu? Frankenstein? They’re gone too; forget about them. Justice League Dark’s apparently just a subset of the Constantine title now. With the exception of Black Orchid, who is new, these are characters that have played key points in other crossovers before and saved the universe in their own ways; not this time, though. This time they’re being put aside so we can see Night Nurse and a strangely belligerent and grouchy Swamp Thing. Night Nurse isn’t a stripper, though, she’s a superhero…or maybe both. I’m just saying. She is pretty stripper-y.
At least, I think it’s a strangely belligerent Swamp Thing, because this is all “New 52” stuff anyway.
2. It Reminds Me how Much I Hate “The New 52”
“The New 52” is the worst kind of reboot; the “have your cake and eat it too” reboot where whatever the writers feel like happened still happened and whatever they don’t like didn’t happen. There’s no particular guide or briefing that helps you understand what actually did happen; you just have to stumble along. For instance, I’ve been reading Superman Unchained and took a look at Superman/Wonder Woman out of morbid curiosity. Superman looks completely clueless in Superman/Wonder Woman but seems competent in Unchained. By the way, unlike Justice League Dark, neither of these titles seems even vaguely aware that “Forever Evil” is going on, nor do the core Batman books. Why are they so lucky?
Here’s a relevant example. Phantom Stranger, who was revealed in pre-New 52 to choose the rarely-trod path of neutrality during the whole Lucifer uprising thing back in the day, is apparently now Judas Iscariot. Thing is, a semi-fallen angel from the beginning of time is just a lot more interesting and has more history than Judas Iscariot, who is a comparative baby to most of the cosmic creatures of the DCU. It also seems to have prompted a vastly more emo sensibility on the part of the Stranger, who once viewed things with a cosmic detachment. At one point, someone reads his mind, and we are treated to this purple prose: “such pain… such guilt… such suffering… and sorrow … I’ve never known a Hell like the one you live every second of every minute of every day.”
That’s a demon saying that, by the way. So apparently the Stranger’s angst is literally worse than Hell itself. Pretty deep, huh? Maybe he should write a song.
Speaking of angst:
3. Constantine and Zatanna are Neo and Trinity and Other Stolen Ideas
It’s like this except if Keanu was playing… Wait…
Holy crap it’s all starting to make sense.
Constantine hates the whole world; except he’s decided that he loves Zatanna and NOTHING ELSE, man. Sort of exactly like what the Architect tells Neo in Matrix Reloaded (What? The second one was still good! Really!); most of the human Messiahs care about people but you only care about this one girl. Whoa, that’s deep, man. That’s where we start. That is, until we get into the main plot of this crossover, the reason why it’s called “Forever Evil: Blight”: Blight itself, an incarnation of everything dark and evil in the world! It’s an incarnation of evil that takes advantage of a cosmic event to try and take over. Gee, that sounds strangely familiar. It’s pretty much the exact plot of the mystic hero sub-story to the original Crisis, in fact, which also involved an incarnation of evil trying to wreck anything along with John Constantine and Swamp Thing.
The League go and fight Blight, the namesake of this whole thing, with the help of Zauriel, the angel, and, just like in Swamp Thing #50, things end peacefully when the heroes realize God had a plan all along, which is just like when Asmodel attacked Heaven and Zauriel tried to stop Asmodel only to realize it was planned all along. It turns out that the whole Blight thing was just training wheels for a new Spirit of Redemption to come into being. It will be a counterpoint to the Spectre, and not at all like that time the Spectre underwent a retcon and its human host realized it was really secretly a Spirit of Redemption, I’m sure.
That’s that, right? Surely with Blight now being subsumed into a Spirit of Redemption, this long crossover is over. But wait, there’s more!
4. The Whole Thing Is Long and Stupid and Barely Makes Sense
So, after having their asses handed to them off screen, the Justice League Dark substitute version shows up to handle Blight and then gets their asses kicked again. By the way, it turns out Blight has absolutely nothing to do with the only thing Constantine cares about, which is Zatanna and their love stuff. Good news: after Constantine spends half an issue angst-ing and dealing with after effects of a really powerful spell he cast to save Zatanna (except she wasn’t there), their psychic connection is restored (because somehow it was blocked before) and he realizes that she’s hooked up into a giant evil science machine.
Yes, the League is apparently about to confront Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. God have mercy on their souls. (Did I mention God is a small dog that angels carry around in this series? Sorry, I’m not writing a novel, I only have so much space!)
Because Morgan Freeman was busy?
I guess in this series Superman got replaced by an evil Superman who snorts kryptonite like cocaine. He came over with an evil Justice League, except their evil Aquaman, the Sea King, sucks so bad he died on the way between the universes. Fortunately, Constantine found his body and, when his body-possessing ghost pal Deadman is inside it, Constantine seals him in. By the way, the sealing in is necessary because apparently Deadman does not see the utility of a super-powered body that looks like one of the bad guys and new rulers of the planet. Maybe some of Deadman’s brain is still dead. They attack the Thaumaton (the machine is called the Thaumaton; it has a fiendish plan to lower the reader’s IQ) and, well, get their asses kicked again. Hooray?
Don’t worry, though; Phantom Stranger escapes and goes to Las Vegas, apparently to build the third version of the Justice League Dark we’ve seen in this crossover and attack again. Hopefully not to get his ass kicked, like what happens every other time so far. Fortunately, he has one trick up his sleeve.
5. Wild Power Level Fluctuations Make It Even More Confusing
Early on in the series the League goes to Heaven to gather information. They are stopped by Zauriel, who casually drops that he has the power to wipe people entirely from existence. When the Justice League Dark gets in their magic house and flies away there’s a thrilling chase sequence where Zauriel dives after the magic house and the League prepares for a massive fight! Fortunately for all involved, Zauriel is actually chasing them to tell them he wants to join up because Constantine is fighting for love, which Zauriel thinks is awesome! You’re thinking this Zauriel guy/angel is pretty damn metal! Unfortunately, he later runs afoul of a hoary old Justice League villain named Felix Faust who smacks him around and pulls his wings off. Ouch. I guess Zauriel forgot his “wipe you from existence” power in his gym locker.
Nightmare Nurse is also a little mysterious. When she and Constantine unleash their demon selves in an impressive, but utterly useless display of dark magic, she’s up and about the next morning while Constantine seems ready for a padded cell; but then when the fight gets serious with the Thaumaton (every time I type that word, a manly tear dribbles down into my beard) suddenly she turns out to not really be the Nurse. She seemed cool, but got replaced off screen somehow, which makes her look not so cool. All of that pales beside the really big switcheroo in the Phantom Stranger comic.
We are led to be nervous about the Spectre, the incarnation of the wrath of God, showing up to smack the Stranger around, but all of a sudden the Phantom Stranger grows up into a giant and punches Spectre. Phantom Stranger basically takes him out of the fight with one hit, with the help of “sipping from the wellsprings of the Phantom Stranger’s near-infinite power”. Where’s this near-infinite power been during all of the ass-kicking the team has received, and why is he referring to himself in the third person all of a sudden?
6. It’s Just so Fucking Tiring
Oh God! Make it stop!
Back before I had started seriously reading DC again, there was a crossover called “Trinity War,” which involved three Justice Leagues and Pandora’s Box. Like, the mythic one; this isn’t a porn thing. Apparently she’s wandering around, trying to find someone to open it and other stuff happens during a crossover which I haven’t read. Long story short, one of humanity’s most ancient myths is revealed to actually be a super science dimensional portal to the evil dimension where the evil Justice League lives. Which I will vaguely hope made sense in context but sounds like complete and utter bullshit to me right now due to questions about why it used to hold deadly sins and why it’s thousands of years old.
Regardless of logic, the evil Justice League pops right out and instantly kicks the ass of the current Justice League despite the exact opposite happening in their last fight (though, in fairness, this is the New 52 so god knows if that applies). My point is this whole crossover apparently existed only to launch this new crossover, which – although only vaguely related to the mess I am reading now – is still the primum movens getting it all started. I’ve also seen some images promising something called “After Forever,” which may or not be a THIRD crossover following immediately after these two. This is too much crossover and I’m sick of it. Especially since “Forever Evil” is supposed to basically be over but “Forever Evil: Blight,” which somehow failed to end with Blight no longer being around still seems to have a long way to go.
7. These Crossovers Are Bad for the Readers
Shown here: exactly nothing that happens in this issue
First of all, I have an implied social contract with DC wherein I give them money every month and they provide me with entertainment and stories. Thing is, when these crossovers start, DC doesn’t always make good on their side of the bargain. You can’t read just one comic and have it make sense anymore. Instead you have to start reading other titles. Not only did I have to read Forever Evil #1 to at least start to understand the framing story, but Justice League Dark is crossing over with Constantine, and both Trinity of Sin titles in order to make a quasi-cohesive story. Quasi-cohesive is best way of putting it, since I’m not sure even the creative teams understand this story. The cover of the last Phantom Stranger shows him screaming while demons pull of Zauriel’s wings. Except it was an evil mage who maimed Zauriel, Phantom Stranger wasn’t there, and not only did it happen earlier in the series but no mention of the event happens in the entire issue that I remember.
I was already reading Constantine, but I don’t care that much about the Trinity of Sin; Phantom Stranger is interesting enough, though his New 52 version seems a downgrade, but Pandora is just sort of there. Ironically, the one Trinity of Sin book I would buy instantly would be the Question, but he wandered off very early on in this crossover and doesn’t seem to have a book. Making things worse is the glacial pacing; this all may very well read just fine in a trade paperback someday but right now the cycle of heroes assembling teams, failing, and then re-assembling and re-failing is unbearable with the long delays between issues.
8. Constantine Deserves Better
Take some notes NBC. There will be a quiz.
Hellblazer was an amazing series that helped define the generation I grew up in. Gritty, terrifying, and altogether horrifying, it was a dark mirror of the current condition. Constantine was someone who vaguely fought for good but did in such a way that his friends and associates constantly paid the price while he escaped. He was a mage so corrupt that when he actually managed a redemptive death, Satan stepped into bring him back to life so he could damn himself again. He also prevented the birth of a possible messiah/anti-Christ by seducing the intended virgin mother and intentionally defiling her with demon’s blood.
One thing I liked about Constantine was that the magic was creepy, hidden; it seemed like something that could be happening in the real world. Later issues of Constantine definitely felt like it was set in the real world, such as entire town that seems to be devoted to satanic ritual that turns out to just be a hotbed of bondage porn movies; the whole town runs on porn. Sounds like a good place for your average Topless Robot reader and also something a bit more topical than most comics. Another example is Constantine deciding to do some penance by letting himself be put in Federal prison before his natural instincts take over and he ends up taking the place over.
The new Constantine isn’t anything ground-breaking. He’s just another superhero caught in an endless mill of crossovers. One caught up in bizarre teenage drama plots, no less.
9. Nick Necro Is a Strong Argument for Gnosticism
You are not imagining things. That is the same 3 panels copy-pasted 4 times. Seriously.
The version of gnosticism with a malevolent demiurge that rules the world, staying between us and Heaven, I mean. Surely only an ancient being of eternal malevolence could take two of the most awesome comic book characters in the forms of Constantine and Zatanna and force them to treat Nick Necro as their main villain. Backstory: when they were young and stupid they thought Nick was awesome and they were all in a little magic clique. Then Nick changed, going dark-side, and Zatanna and Constantine ditched him, hooking up with each other instead. This sort of thing is usually called “growing up”.
Not to Nick Necro, though. No, he’s obsessed with this very maudlin betrayal and obsesses over it. He pleads with Zatanna and John to join him, Darth Vader style. They refuse, so he “detonates” them over and over again in the Thaumaton. He literally explodes them and brings them back to life over and over again because the Thaumaton makes people into “bio mystical explosives”, apparently. He does this for two whole pages until his partner shows up and bitch slaps him for wasting company resources while telling him he should get over Constantine and Zatanna. This literally makes Nick Necro cry. What’s hilarious is that the writers seem to hate him, too. Constantine calls him out on being a walking, talking clich?, and even his fellow super villain thinks he’s obsessive and sort of lame.
10. The Quality Sucks
I can’t even tell what’s supposed to be happening here.
Not only is the whole thing a naked money grab and barely coherent, it’s pretty shitty. At times there are almost as many word bubbles or little narrator windows as there are pictures. Comics are a visual medium, and although the long and rambling storyline has few fights or interesting splash panels to draw, crowding everything out with words is off-putting. Even when art is the focus, it often fails; bizarre and exaggerated facial expressions are everywhere and just plain ruin some scenes. Nothing ruins a dramatic moment like a spectator with the expression of a baby playing peekaboo for the first time.
The action is bad; figures are static even when doing dynamic things like beheading people. Felix Faust looks like a Muppet at times, and Phantom Stranger sometimes looks like the Spirit or Dick Tracy instead of a mysterious mystical type. Cassandra Craft is dressed conservatively in jeans in a button up shirt, except in the scenes where it looks like it’s shrunk a size and a half for some reason. When Constantine throws down with Nick Necro in the Thaumaton (ugh), lightning bolts fly everywhere and fill almost the whole page, making things even more incoherent and confusing. DC, stop it. Makers of the Constantine TV show, please avert your eyes and pick up a trade paperback of the original Hellblazer. Then, maybe, this can all be over.
Belial pretty much sums up my feelings about this whole thing.
Previously by David N. Scott