Let's make things clear here: this is a hate-like. I don’t actually like the comic where a malevolent, alternate reality version of Superman snorts remnants of a dead planet. But that scene is a tidy capsule of what’s ailing DC Comics nowadays.
Warning: Spoilers for Forever Evil #1 follow.
The scene above takes place in Forever Evil #1, the firs issue of DC’s new crossover event. It represents a new exhibit in the prevailing sensibility of DC superhero comics after the New 52 reboot, and much of what’s wrong with them.
Forever Evil is written by Geoff Johns, who has pretty much DC’s chief editorial architect been in terms of setting tone for the fictional universe. It’s a crossover happening after another crossover without so much as a few months’ breather between tentpoles. That’s the least of this endeavor’s stumbles, though.
Because it’s written by Johns, it’s oddly seated in continuity that no longer has weight, echoing iterations of killed plotlines that aren’t supposed to matter anymore. The big dramatic moment here happens when the Crime Syndicate—a backwards-mirror version of the Justice League that’s taken over the world—reveals the secret identity of Nightwing. Fans may remember that Nightwing was supposed to die in Infinite Crisis, another DC crossover from years ago.
But really, who is Dick Grayson in the New 52? A guy who used to be Robin, yes, but we haven’t seen his tenure as the Boy Wonder. Readers haven’t seen him become friends with Superman, Flash or Cyborg. They haven’t seen him grow up and assume his own superhero identity. That was all stuff from the continuity the DC powers-that-be jettisoned two years ago. In short, we don’t know why he matters or why this is such a Big Deal. He’s just another guy in a mask.
And the scene where Ultraman gets portrayed as, essentially, a cokehead? You can see the calculus as the panels play out: “Let’s see who’s an evil Superman that everyone remembers? The doppelgänger from Superman III! And he got really drunk, right? So let have this one snort Kryptonite!” It simultaneously has the sickly sheen of a shock moment while playing to the collective memory of the fanbase buying the book.
Ultimately, though, Forever Evil #1 highlights the diminishing returns of the reboot/crossover gambit. The history that would’ve made this opening issue significant is no more. And, you might even argue that the events here would play better in the old version of the DC Universe. It leaves you wondering how much DC has really gained from their big shake-up two years ago.