In which the blogger beings to attempt to catch up with the season's crossover super-books, beginning with the first 2 titles he could find in the shop;
Even dedicated fanboy apologists have described Jonathan Hickman`and Jim Cheung's Infinity #1 as lacking emotion. But that's simply not true. The range of feelings on display may be constricted to a narrow and predominately negative range, but emotionless is something that Infinity most certainly isn't. In fact, it's saturated with anxiety and fear and dejection, resentment and anger and terror. Planets are shattered, terrified populations culled and extinguished, alien knight errants incinerated, and Earthly champions gathered in what might pass for stoicism if it wasn't for Cheung's delicate suggestion of beauty-lending worry lines. To suggest that Infinity lacks feeling is to grossly insult its creator's efficiency. For this is, despite its epic scale, ultimately miserabilism shading into misery porn. As such, it's surely engrossing only to those who regard the slightest sniff of character as a distraction from the grimful portentousness of it all. The intention appears to have been to strip out nearly everything of personality and warmth from the basic traditions of the crossover epic, with the presumed objective of focusing attention upon the monumental scale of the conflict. In short, character is reduced to cliche, and the bare-bones of plot nakedly raised to the forefront of the narrative. It's an exercise that's been meticulously planned and executed. Yet the Event book's narrative heritage just can't cope with being cut away from individual human concerns beyond flat-effect unease, confusion, horror, doughtiness and so on. In the absence of character, the universe-spanning breadth of Hickman's saga collapses under the weight of its over-familiarity and its excess of facile, negative emotions. All that's left is a cast of stereotypical heroes and villains and victims stapled to the obvious beats of a denuded-through-repetition plot.
So what's on the page for apostates longing for even the slightest seasoning of emotional warmth? Sadly, there's little that's cheering about the glee on the stone-chiseled face of dedicated apocalyptist Thanos upon receiving a casket of slaughtered alien's skulls. Nor does the single silent frame which features the cackling of the continuously faithless Maximus The Mad elicit any empathetically positive response. For wherever a brief burst of joy erupts in Infinity #1, it's always being experienced by some appallingly sadistic and conscienceless creature. As for the Marvel Universe's superpeople, there are but 2 panels in the 33 pages which feature them which present us with smiling protagonists. In one, Sunspot and Cannonball cheerfully attempt to assure the new Starbrand that space combat is nothing but a great knockabout cod-SF hoedown. (Quite why they're trying to gee up a character who was actually expressing a concern about possessing the authority to fight off-Earth isn't explained. Perhaps they're just helpful idiots.) In the other, Kitty Pryde is shown wordlessly beaming as a small gathering of X-Men is unknowing visited by an alien spy. It's the single most intriguing panel in the book, and that's true even given Cheung's insistence on presenting the greater number of his super-folks as barely twenty-somethings. For the contrast between the humanity suggested by Pryde's expression and the predatory intruder behind her immediately creates a shiversome sense of jeopardy. In all of the other almost-90 panels which directly feature the superpeople of Earth and her allies, there's not a lone sign of any emotion other than meaningful seriousness bleeding into glum disinterest. That those same panels often succeed in transmitting a limited but ever-present palate of unease and threat is undeniable. Yet emotional literary, if not emotion itself, is very much absent from Infinity. In truth, it's as flat as a sociopath's response to the rescue of a drowning child and a puppy dog by a passing group of brave paraplegic pensioners.
It would be absurd to attempt to explain why stories tend to be improved by the presence of a broad range of characters and emotional responses. Why not also deal with why food ought not to be 90% plastic and wood chippings, or even work through the importance of avoiding diesel in petrol engines? Yet despite the obviousness of it all, Geoff Johns and David Finch's Forever Evil #2 is similarly bereft of vitally human qualities. Here the few noble crime-fighters on display are granted not a single slither of positivity, let alone individuality, between them. Police Commissioner Gordon brandishes his rifle with a determined air of defiance, and the various members of the Titans discuss fighting to their "dying breath". But no-one has a moment for a reassuring word, or an affectionate gestures, or a spirit-raising joke, or even the suggestion that there's anything but a terrible fate before them. All that's on display is the dullest of indistinguishable dread and defiance. When Superboy declares that he doesn't "want to be negative here", the palpable lack of self-awareness on Johns's part elicits not sniggers, but contempt. For this is most definitely a mix of threadbare cartoon low-jinks fused with misery porn, and it's far, far less measured and palatable than that of Hickman and Cheung. Where Infinity #1 undoubtedly suggests the virtues of high aspirations and hard work, Forever Evil #2 offers nothing but a desperate, slapdash race to catch the eye of the hardcore blokeish fan. Where both raid the past for form and subject matter, Hickman's efforts are respectful, thoughtful and carefully worked through. By contrast carelessly and cynically slammed together, Forever Evil: Rats lurches shamelessly from entirely predictable money-shot to money-shot with a pornographic disregard for anything but. The worst kind of post-Watchmen, post-Image crack-comic, it has nothing driving its contents but a cynical attention to next quarter's profits. In the worst possible sense, it's shameless. To try to imagine the conditions of its creation is to picture one writer, one pen, the back of a fag packet, a few letters in red and green ink from die-hard fans, and the length of a plane journey between convention hotels. By contrast, it's impossible to shift the suspicion that Hickman's intentions for Infinity involved painstaking, wall-covering, colour-coded and quite beautiful blueprints covering every single step of the crossover's progress.
In short, Forever Evil #2 is a heart-sinking example of the superbook as determined by the lowest common denominator and nothing else.
It's the contemptible obviousness of Forever Evil's DiDio-standard super-baddies that makes it such a tedious read. It is, after all, more than possible to create fascinating and deeply moving stories out of what seems to be the very worst of super-villains, as the likes of John Ostrander's Suicide Squad and Gail Simone's Secret Six will testify. But Johns's troop of Earth-conquering antagonists lack anything of personality or motivation beyond the most hackneyed of ill-distinguishing qualities. Put simply, some are grimmer or more prone to sadism, but none of them inspire the slightest of interest, let alone empathy. As such, Forever Evil #2 seems every bit as empty of human beings as Infinity #1 does. Few of the Crime Syndicate even seem up to enjoying the fruits of their fiendishness. Only the I'm-bad-me Johnny Quick and the masochistic Atom seem able to take the slightest pleasure from their unceasing evilness. Beyond the sight of Quick gleefully knocking about the Titans, only Lex Luthor is allowed even a single grin. (We're told that the Atom is aroused by the beating up of the Earth's defenders, but it's an idea that artist David Finch somehow fails to exploit.) The sign of Luthor's malicious-eyed smile as his Bizarro Superman murders a loyal employee is hardly a sign of inspired, or even conscientious, character-work. Yet it's a roast chicken dinner in the midst of a famine where the rest of Rats is concerned.
Infinity #1 reads as if the crossover book's most basic beats can in themselves, and in the absence of all other narrative content, be fascinating. Yet simply mapping out the progression from cliche A to cliche B with a cartographer's precision doesn't lend the raw material any more depth or freshness or feeling. In the absence of character, and for all its foreboding schemes and stouthearted defenders, Infinity #1 is little more than a beautifully produced diagram of worn-through, miserabilist, and enervating plot-beats. Striving to evoke the monumental virtues of epic space opera, it instead lays bare how rickety and banal the genre's big-book traditions can be. An honourable failure it undoubtedly is, but it's a failure for all of that. By contrast, Forever Evil #2 is nothing more than shockingly shoddy fan bait. That it lacks the ambition, and therefore the integrity, of Infinity is obvious. Even in its own terms, it has none of the joy of the best of exploitation titles, and none of their desire to knowingly mock as well as respect their inspirations. It's a throwaway, hackneyed, aim-low-hit-lower money-grab that quite literally has nothing at all to recommend it by. Content to regurgitate the most familiar and least imaginative of cliches, its only value is as an exemplar of how wretched the superhero book can be. For if Infinity radiates both commendable aspirations and a regrettable hollowness, then Forever Evil emanates little but contempt.