Year of the Villain Special #1

It’s the Year of the Villain. Again. We’ve had New Year’s Evil, we’ve had Underworld Unleashed, we’ve had lots of events focused on the bad guys… so here’s another. They must sell well, though you might want to get into the spirit of things and just nick ‘em. DC would surely approve, because they’re forever pushing the antagonists forward, fleshing them out, urging us to sympathise with them, or at least get on board with their wicked, wicked ways.

The man with the plan in the first story in this 25c special (OK, that is cheap, give the nice vendor your shekels) is Lex Luthor. He goes public as a supervillain during a visit to the White House he once occupied on an official basis.

Someone’s not going to be invited on Celebrity Apprentice any time soon. Anyway, Luthor and friends – the latest incarnation of the Legion of Doom – apparently face no super-powered resistance because the shaven-headed Satan is soon back in Metropolis. He gives newly bespectacled bodyguard Mercy Graves a suitably grave memo to cascade to staff…

… then tells Brainiac his cunning plan.

He’s going to give his fellow bad guys seed money! Yessiree, the superheroes won’t know what’s hit ’em. Mind, any villain with any sense will likely take their bag of moolah and bugger off to Aruba. After all, it’s not like DC foes are short of a bob or two, they’re forever showing up in bespoke outfits with cutting edge death rays. There has to be more to Lex’s plan – and apparently there is, as by the close of the story he’s liquified more than just his fortune.

This is a bit of a ho-hum short from writer Scott Snyder, just more of Lex Luthor and the LoD, currently overexposed in the fortnightly Justice League comic. It’s tough to get excited about what seems to be a re-run of Neron’s plan from Underworld Unleashed – offer the baddies a strings-attached upgrade – without the spooky candles. And while Luthor is recognisably Luthor, I can’t believe in a Brainiac this emotional, with his ‘My God’ and general acquiescing with Lex’s plans.

Pencilling and inking, Jim Cheung produces the strongest art I’ve seen since he began working with DC – good storytelling choices, strong emotions, sharp finishes – with one outstanding page, a pin-up of Batman’s current bad guys. He’s helped by Tomeu Morey, whose colours amp up the drama nicely. There is one thing I hate. The Cheetah… those pendulous breasts look really freaky on a human-cat. Still, it’s not Cheung’s design.

The second story looks even better, as Alex Maleev makes his DC debut. For ‘even better’, read ‘sensational’. I enjoyed Maleev’s work on Marvel’s street level heroes and I like his full-colour art on their DC equivalents even more – Batgirl and Green Arrow look amazing.

I love how the splash page logos are incorporated into the art. Extra points for de-emphasising/hiding Babs’ mask ears throughout so that her new costume looks a little less tacky. I also appreciate that his version of Merlin is reminiscent of TV’s John Barrowman without being a lookalike – the evil archer has been around a long time and doesn’t need an entirely new head.

Maleev also does a fine job when a decidedly non-street level element enters the story. His version of the being that’s been blowing up things over in Action Comics appears only as a vague presence, but a powerful one. And Lordy, does Maleev do a great Batcave.

There’s great dialogue from frequent collaborator and Action Ace Brian Michael Bendis.

Intriguing. Someone who knows as much about Batgirl as Leviathan – I assume this is Leviathan – would know that the only way she’s going to accept their offer is to spy on them. So what’s Leviathan’s real plan? Roll on the Event Leviathan 80pp giant later this month.

Chapter Three of the issue is a Justice League short, with the gang evacuating a world in the way of the Source Wall energy that’s EATING EVERYTHING IN ITS PATH and is TERRIFYING and UNSTOPPABLE and REALLY RATHER SLOW AS IT’S BEEN COMING TO GET US ALL FOR ABOUT A YEAR. Seriously, I’m sure anyone in the way of the thing could calmly step to one side.

While making a cocktail.

There are loads of good moments in the current Justice League book but the constant amping up of threats with no pay-off makes a guy long for a nice two-issue tussle with the Royal Flush Gang. The biggest threat to the heroes is being bored to death by all the exposition – at times Justice League reads less like a comic than a Mayfair Sourcebook. We get more here from writer James Tynion IV, who’s actually pretty blameless – he’s been tasked with grabbing readers who haven’t been following the Justice League comic so has to recap. And there’s a lot to tell.

And I do like Super Gorilla Grodd with baby Turtle Man or whoever that tot with the stupid ‘Still Force’ is.

The big Revelation here is that Ma Perpetua is growing herself a Lex Luthor, I do hope someone remembers that he should have hair, old Lex’s baldness being circumstantial rather than genetic. The big So What? is the news that the League will expand – hasn’t an Unlimited version of the team been around since the last big event, the one with the silly space trees? The big Please God No! is the teasing of a major role for the supremely tiresome Batman Who Laughs.

The full-colour art by Francis Manapul is almost edible, just lovely – with the exception of that Batman Who Bores page, which looks as if it’s been drawn by someone else.

This issue is meant to get me excited for DC’s numerous Year of the Villain stories and specials, with backmatter going into some detail. With the exception of Event Leviathan, it hasn’t. I’m already buying Justice League, for the odd cool moment and the Jorge Jimenez art, but I just want all the Source Wall/Dark Metal business to stop. It’s too convoluted, too self-consciously ‘epic’. DC’s cosmic history works when someone puts little bits of story from down the decades together, not when they present a massive wodge of ‘new’ background information.

The just-announced Batman/Superman book sounds truly horrible, with its ‘who are the Secret Six Agents of the Batman Who Bores?’ conceit and promise of ‘unspeakable horror for the DCU’. I will never buy a book starring the Batman Who Bores, he’s just the New 52 Joker’s Daughter in drag.

Batman #75 is touted as the one where ’the numerous and connected threads of writer Tom King’s Batman run begin to come together’ Begin? No thanks, I jumped off a while back due to the rambling storyline and extra-depressing presentation of the Caped Crusader.

The shred of hope comes from a podcast I listened to this week Wait, what? co-host Graeme, a proper professional comics journalist and everything, mentions that he’s talked to lots of people involved in Year of the Villain and they know we’re expecting Year of the Same Old, Same Old. Apparently there will be zags where we expect zigs. I love a good zag. Certainly we need something more interesting than the supposedly amped-up villains in the backmatter here. Bizarro with CHAINS! Solomon Grundy with blood nod his shirt and HIS BRAIN SHOWING! HORRIFIC TERRIFICS! And Mirror Master wearing a TELESCOPIC SHAVING MIRROR.

Give me a break.

So, this is a very well-crafted comic, but it doesn’t have me hugely excited. I’d rather each title went its own way than bowed before one massive storyline. The big news for me is the arrival of Maleev. How about you?

18 thoughts on “Year of the Villain Special #1

  1. I’m with you — it’s well done overall, but I don’t have any real interest in the various JLA/Source Wall/Legion of Doom shenanigans. But Event Leviathan? It’s practically all I can think about. More, please, and quick!

    The Secret Six idea — otherwise known as Millennium’s Manhunter sleeper agents — would be interesting to me if the BWL weren’t involved. But he is, so that’s another hard pass.

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      1. We’re probably just traveling in different circles. I was never a Venom or Carnage fan either — but those characters certainly had their fans, and Batman Who Laughs seems right in line with those. Some of it, I suspect, is that we’re too old — I want to say mature, but let’s call a spade a spade — to “get” it.

        Which is honestly great! When people say they want to make comics for kids, people think of Scooby Doo and the Star Comics line. But it’s important to remember that slightly older kids love dark, “edgy” stuff that’s shallow as hell but speaks to their feelings right on the surface. They’re a market that definitely deserves to be served. (And if he shows up in a title just to goose the sales for an issue or two, well, that’s a trick that “edgy” characters have been doing ever since Wolverine met Power Pack.)

        And also, Snyder and Capullo made no bones about making Metal into a comic with heavy-metal style sensibilities. And Batman Who Laughs seems to me the epitome of that experiment — basically Iron Maiden’s “Eddie” character come to life on the comics page.

        And at the bottom line, I have *very* limited patience for heavy metal. A song or two, and then I’m out. It all seems like bad-boy posturing to me. But some people love it, and I wonder if they’re the same people Batman Who Headbangs appeals to. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to steer clear. It’s nice of DC to help me make these difficult buying decisions.

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  2. If a crossover does nothing for me, IK won’t pick up anything I’m not already reading. You might get an incomplete story but that’s better than one you don’t care about/loathe. Year Of The Villain is in that category. Why is DC management so obsessed with their books starring super-villains or heroes acting in bad faith? They were the shining paragons once to contrast with Marvel’s heroes with feet of clay. Both were heroic fiction from differently pleasing directions. Now it’s mostly awful people doing awful things to awful people. Maybe it’s time DCE realized Didio’s making the DCU unrecognizable is never going to make DC consistently anywhere near #1…

    King brought me back to buying Batman on a regular basis for the first time in years. He lost me at the non-wedding. I just haven’t had the heart to read it since…

    Event Leviathon? All in, except maybe Fraction making Olsen a bigger moron than usual who somehow wins when you really can’t suspend belief enough to believe he can tie his shoes…

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      1. I’m a big fan of lovable goofball Jimmy. Jimmy’s intelligence doesn’t matter to me nearly as much as his heart. Let’s face it, he’s always been prone to drinking anything bubbling over a bunsen burner.

        I don’t know what Fraction has planned, but Steve Lieber’s cheery art is good signal that it’ll be going in a direction I’ll like.

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  3. I’ve never been a regular Superman reader so the whole Leviathan thing is passing me by; agree with Martin about Justice League just plodding on and on about the whole Source Wall thing – there are rare flashes that keep me interested, but Justice League Dark is a much better book in my opinion.

    This whole Year of the Villain – yeah, not interested. Been there, seen it, done it, with all the titles you mention, plus Forever Evil, the event where the bad guys save the day because the heroes are too easily defeated.

    I, too, remember when DC heroes were meant to be the good guys. It would be nice if we had books that gave them the chance more often.

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  4. I’m very tired! Scott Snyder was once good, but he’s become too full of himself and now sees everything he does as some kind of epic mind frack that, to be honest, is more boring than interesting. I am not sure what direction they’ve taken Wonder Woman in, and the only books I am really looking forward to these days are limited runs like The Wildstorm and Freedom Fighters. Shazam is, well, it’s just kind of silly. The Green Lantern is just more Grant Morrison BS, and The Flash… well, The Flash hasn’t been too bad, actually. At least it is still having some fun with itself.

    I am sick of the Source Wall stuff. I am tired of the Batman Who Laughs.

    I may have to stop buying their books altogether, except for two or three that are interesting.

    Right now the only regular books featuring big time DC supers I am enjoying at all are the Superman Books and Aquaman. The rest have become so dreary and pompous.

    Sorry for the negativity. You always strive to be positive, even when you dislike stuff, but OMG, I just can’t hold it in.

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    1. No apology necessary, it’s great to hear how you’re seeing DC. I’m enjoying GL, and while Shazam! Is my my Marvel Family, ims enjoying it anyway. The direction in which they’ve taken WW is Dullsville.

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  5. I have to admit that I am so amped for Leviathan that the rest of this issue kind of washed over me.

    The comparison of Lex’s Scheme to Underworld Unleashed is a great one. And Brainiac’s ‘My God’ is just awful.

    So I just concentrated on the Bendis/Maleev story and loved the issue.

    As you say, the Batman Who Laughs, The debauched 6, the grimmer redesigns … ho hum.

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  6. Thanks Rob, that’s the best theory as to the appeal of the BWL and his like that I’ve seen. That makes loads of sense, and the Eddie comparison is brilliant! Let’s stick with our Scooby-Doo Team-Up!

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    1. Ha, yep! As long as DC keeps publishing great books like that, I can’t begrudge them too much for also chasing a different audience with money in their hands!

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  7. Reading these reviews, and they’re very well done Martin even if the source material isn’t, makes it INCREDIBLY hard to not be overly-pessimistic about the current state of comics.
    Take this Year of the Villain business. Not an original idea at all, and looks and sounds too much like previous bad-guy-centric events that you listed. I’ll throw in one more but it’s from Marvel; Acts of Vengeance. Now no, it doesn’t look like the villains will be attacking their non-regular opponents like AoV, but it’s the same similar premise. I guess this love of the bad guys is probably a reaction to what’s currently going on in the world on a global scale; Trump’s single-handedly ruining America, wit his party making more and more excuses for every discovered treasonous deed he makes, Brexit, The Middle East, North Korea, Putin, the list goes on, so yeah, it’s a scary time right now, and maybe that’s the Year of the Villain is a thing. It just feels topical, even though I thought comics were supposed to be an escape from reality. Not so in recent years because the current crop of mainstream writers don’t think like that. Shaking my head at the endless rehashing of old ideas and the growing drought of new ones.

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    1. You’re right about the repetitive nature of these crossovers, Dale, I wish they’d give them a rest. Your thoughts on the villains obsession makes sense, that’s one more reason to hope it all ends soon – a better, safer-feeling world would be wonderful.

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