I have a secret to share with you guys. I love alternate universes. No, I mean I LOVE alternate universes. As a kid, I would spend hours watching the Justice Lords episode of Justice League. The concepts of “what ifs” and endless possibilities of universes out there would consume my imagination for days on end. That’s not even mentioning the costumes. Oh, the costumes. The best part of any AU character is always seeing what cool designs the artists can come up with, usually ones thematically inappropriate or too daring for the regular appearances of a character. And of course, as we all know, the coolest costumes almost always go to the evil AU (see: the Justice Lords again).
Of the evil versions of the Justice League, of which there are (quite possibly too) many, my favorite probably has to be the Crime Syndicate. Sorry, Justice Lords stans, but there’s just something so appealing about a universe that’s evil for evil’s sake. These characters aren’t fallen versions of our heroes, there’s no tragic inciting incident that caused them to pursue a path of vengeance, they’re just… evil. Classic Disney villain just hits different after an oversaturation of people trying to darken heroes. That’s not to say that this book isn’t dark, of course, just that the overall tone manages to stay fun and whimsical while showing us the darkness of Earth-3.
Alright, enough gushing from me, let’s get into it.
Andy Schmidt heads this issue, and it’s a solid first outing for this team book, giving us a glimpse of a time briefly before they are the Crime Syndicate. It all begins with Ultraman, who’s already established his reign of terror across Metropolis from the ripe young age of what appears to be ten. Streets are littered with signs assuring citizens not to worry, for he is watching, and people gossip about other super-powered beings in other cities. All is not well in this paradise of security, however. Some newspaper, some… upstart rag known as the Daily Planet is daring to criticize him. This is used as a setup for the new, slightly different characterization of Ultraman, a paranoid authoritarian blinded by a warped idea of freedom and protection. He’s not just a mafia boss with a super coat of paint anymore, he can’t be. At least, not yet. This Ultraman is obsessed with being needed by the people of Metropolis, maintaining absolute control over people who cannot be trusted to take care of themselves. Schmidt does a very good job at introducing each of the members of the team individually, before bringing them all together to face… STARRO? Holy crap, this is awesome!
The ensuing battle is a great exercise in characterization, further reinforcing Ultraman’s obsessive need to be loved by the people of Metropolis as well as his territorial nature about it.
Something that may be noticeably missing for some, however, is Owlman. He’s in this book, don’t worry, just not with the rest of the Syndicate. He’s in Gotham, spreading the word about the Owl that stalks the night as well as his Talons, an unknown group that is implied to be working for him. My guess is that these are his Robins, as Talon used to be the name for Owlman’s sidekick pre-52 (though I think he was alluded to in Forever Evil). I’m looking forward to seeing more of what he does, but, as with everyone except Ultraman, he doesn’t get a lot of time to shine. I hope this will change going forward.
The book contains a mini-story at the end, a brief origin story for Ultraman also written by Schmidt. It’s okay. It’s decent enough setup for the paranoid characterization of Ultraman, the reason he craves attention and admiration that he feels he never got from his parents. There’s not much else to say there.
The art in this issue is fine. Kieran McKeown and Dexter Vines have done a very fine job here. Our heroes, and most named characters look good. Most of the time. Faces fluctuate in quality and detail for no apparent reason, bodies contort into weird positions for just a panel, and I don’t think it’s intentional. I can’t tell if it’s part of a style choice or rushing to put the book out or what. The colors are really where this book shines, however. Steve Oliff’s coloring is bright, campy, and evocative of the Bronze Age comics that I think the tone of this book is trying to emulate. All of this works tremendously to the book’s advantage.
I also couldn’t complete this article without mentioning this little nod, I found it very charming.
There is one specific part of the art that I will say I did not care for at all: Owlman. Owlman does not look, as the kids say, good in this book. I’ll just put a couple images down below before talking about it.
Scary, right? I do NOT like this cowl at all, it feels like a bargain bin Nite Owl, and doesn’t look nearly as good as the suit we see on the cover. I’m greatly disappointed by this look, and hope it’s just a this-issue problem. Other than that, everything is… fine? I don’t have a lot to say about the art, and that disappoints me.
- You’ve missed Earth-3
- The concept of an alt-Justice League origin that mirrors the original sounds cool
This is a decent enough start to what I hope will end up being a very good series. The book neglects most of the Syndicate to focus on Ultraman, but that time is spent developing a character that I like. His motives are understandable, but not in a sympathetic villain sort of way. I’m looking forward to where the Starro story is going, and VERY much looking forward to the Owlman plot. Hopefully the other members of the Syndicate get their times to shine soon.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.