Justice League, Vol. 5: Forever Heroes? A more appropriate name would have been “Forever Evil: The Supplemental Material.”
Volume 5 doesn’t really feature the Justice League at all. These chapters fall smack-dab in the middle of Forever Evil and that means that almost all of our heroes are being held captive somewhere and the evil-doers from another dimension are running things. So with no good guys to talk about, writer Geoff Johns employs the villainous robot Grid to narrate a few insightful vignettes on The Crime Syndicate. You’ll learn about who they are and how they came to be for about half of the book before the story shifts its focus back to a newly recovered Cyborg and a plot thread that leads us to a fun New 52 origin for The Metal Men.
Justice League, Vol. 5: Forever Heroes by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Doug Mahnke includes issues #24-29 of the New 52 Justice League series. It unfortunately does not include any of the Justice League title’s Villains Month books, which is a real travesty. I just don’t understand how Batman/Superman Vol. 1 can get a Justice League Villains Month comic thrown into its TPB but Justice League can’t. Issue #23.4 better known as “Secret Society #1” would’ve been a perfect fit for this collection since it had more to do with Owlman’s back story than The Secret Society’s.
Where Are The Corrections?
I hate it when comics have obvious mistakes and the publisher doesn’t try to correct those errors in a collected edition. A breathtaking two-page reveal of The Red Room is ruined by a lettering flub in which Victor Stone’s father dramatically says “This it, Victor.”
And then there’s the most laughable mistake, a scene in which a character gloats about how strong his laboratory door is by saying it would take two millijoules of force to break it. Why is that funny? Because if it only takes two millijoules of force, you could probably cause the door to explode just by knocking.
I’ll break this book up into its three main components: The Crime Syndicate origins, Cyborg’s return, and the introduction to The Metal Men.
The first half of the book is almost entirely made up of flashbacks. Occasionally we’ll see a brief glimpse at stuff that got cut out of Forever Evil like the bulk of the fight between Black Adam and Ultraman (You’ll see some of Joe Prado & Ivan Reis’ finest visuals here) or the strange bonding that happened between Owlman and a confined Dick Grayson, but mostly this section of the graphic novel is about learning who the “Mirror, Mirror” Justice League are. To do this we first meet Grid, a stray digital anomaly who took over Cyborg’s robot parts and now just wants to “feel.” To learn about feelings he goes over the data regarding every Crime Syndicate member’s past. It’s a cool concept that did wonders to flesh-out these characters and it was definitely entertaining. However, not everybody got equal time.
Ultraman, Johnny Quick, Power Ring, and Owl Man get a fair amount of screen time, but Deathstorm earns only a couple of quick panels and Superwoman’s history isn’t explained at all beyond a bit of dialogue that mentions she’s a sinister Lois Lane and an Amazon. Each short story is a twisted take on the classic Superman, Batman, etc. origin set within a corrupt universe. It’s wild and often quite funny and, in case you were wondering, none of the tales are copied and pasted from Grant Morrison’s JLA: Earth 2 so those who skipped out on this material out of fear of a retread should reconsider giving these chapters a chance. It’s a quick, crazy read with breathtaking imagery. I just wish that it had been more complete and featured a better look at Superwoman, Sea King, Deathstorm, and anyone else I’m forgetting.
He got better.
The image above is from the end of Justice League: Trinity War. That’s how things ended for Cyborg. Not. Very. Good. Thankfully, with three issues of bad guy origin stories to buy him some time, Cyborg managed not only to recuperate, but he got some upgrades as well. And with the rest of the Justice League out of commission, this was Cyborg’s time to shine. However, his strategy of bringing the Crime Syndicate down is a bit of a double-edged sword. You see, he needs to enlist the Metal Men. On one side, the Metal Men are cool, they bring a lot of great energy to the comic, and they have terrific chemistry with Cyborg. In fact, I wish Cyborg’s upcoming solo series were a “Cyborg & The Metal Men” title because it would probably be a blast judging by what we see in this tale. On the opposite side, however, it sort of cheapens Cyborg’s resurrection because instead of him rising up like a phoenix and saving the day himself, he comes back and immediately seeks out another team because he still can’t do anything on his own.
That’s a pretty pessimistic way of interpreting it, though, and I suggest not looking at it through that cynical lens. The fact is, seeking out the Metal Men is still his plan and when it comes time for him to stand up against the darkness he gets more than a few bad ass moments in which you sit back and go “Yeah, he really is an A-list superhero.”
A big part of what makes Cyborg so much more interesting in this volume is that he has what I believe to be prime arch-enemy material in Grid. Grid’s whole “I just want to feel” motivation is kind of cliche as far as evil AI villains go but his close connection to Cyborg, particularly the fact that he is literally the robot half of cyborg, makes their dynamic infinitely more compelling. I loved watching Cyborg rise up to this challenge and confront such a formidable enemy. What I didn’t like was just as things were reaching their exciting climax the action is cut short, all the momentum dissipates and you are told to go buy Forever Evil for the “real” ending. And what happens when you buy Forever Evil? You’ll see Cyborg show up, slosh a bucket-o-exposition in Batman’s face detailing what all happened in this Justice League book, and then he doesn’t really do anything else. Justice League: Forever Heroes makes you feel like Cyborg is the hero of Forever Evil. Forever Evil slaps you hard across the face and says “No, dummy, it’s Lex Luthor.”
Geoff Johns knows he has every DC fan’s attention since this is not only the Justice League title, but a chapter of a major DC Universe event. So what better time is there to show off who The Metal Men are and what kind of adventures they can have than now? After all, a Metal Men one-shot on its own isn’t exactly going to fly off the shelves.
The Metal Men are worked into the story seamlessly as an integral part of Cyborg’s plan to bring down Grid and attack The Crime Syndicate. But rather than use these characters as a means to an end, an entire issue was devoted to their origin story! That chapter marks a fine example of just how fun comics can be. It doesn’t try to be a dark and gritty reboot nor does it strive for some kind of campy silver age nostalgia, it’s just a quality showcase of energetic heroes that have a heck of a lot of potential for imaginative, action-packed stories. In under 30 pages you get a great feel for every member of the Metal Men squad and you really start to like them and care about them. So much so that when one of them is at risk of losing their life to Grid you start to panic a little.
The artwork throughout the book is stunning, but I was especially charmed by just how beautifully this colorful chapter was handled. There was a perfect balance of high-octane action with the whimsical nature of the material. Even without words, the body language and character design of the Metal Men says everything you need to know about these beings. Unfortunately, like the other two big components of this book, The Metal Men are indeed cut short. You want to see more from them, but at the same time we have to get back to Forever Evil, which means we have to put Cyborg back in the driver’s seat. And then soon after we put Cyborg in the driver’s seat he is kicked out of the car entirely by Lex Luthor in Forever Evil and you’re left feeling like what Cyborg and The Metal Men achieved really didn’t matter all that much. Still, it’s was a hell of a ride while it lasted.
If you want to check out even more detailed reviews of each individual issue, click the links below:
A variant cover gallery and five pages of pencil sketches by Ivan Reis. It’s not bad bonus material, but it definitely doesn’t have much “wow-factor” either. I wish one of these Forever Evil books had featured some kind of commentary about how the event came about.
Value: Sale Price
I teetered back and forth between giving this full price or sale price. If it had included the Secret Society or Black Adam issue from Villains Month I might consider picking this one up for the $23 cover cost. That’d be a good batch of Forever Evil bonus material right there. It’s definitely got the re-read value, too, especially for fans of Cyborg or The Metal Men. So basically, if you’re a fan of Cyborg or Metal Men $23 is worth it but the average DC fan could wait it out and try to find this one for around $15 bucks and feel good about it.
If you care at all about Forever Evil then this is required reading to fill in some important gaps in the main story. It’s also Cyborg’s finest hour and The Metal Men origin is a great deal of fun. But despite The Crime Syndicate, Cyborg, and The Metal Men being really engaging subjects, they also felt like they were each cut a tad short and the ending will also leave you slightly unsatisfied since you have to go pick up Forever Evil for closure with Cyborg. And although they were left in a very dangerous situation in the book’s final pages, you never get any explanation about what happened to The Metal Men. They were never shown in comics again until last November’s Swamp Thing #36.