Given how dramatically powerful the team’s members are, it’s no surprise that Justice League writers have often devised alternate versions of them to serve as capable antagonists. Enter the Crime Syndicate, probably the most notable such team and also the stars of a new miniseries. Issue #1 is out this week, and it kicks off an origin story for how these big bads ever agreed to put their self-importance aside and work together in the first place. Does Crime Syndicate #1 kick the series off to a good start?
From its onset, this issue is all about letting the reader know how dark and different of a reality the story takes place in. The problem, unfortunately, is that it doesn’t feel all that different from other dark timelines. The narration provides various details such as Benedict Arnold’s status as one of Amerika’s (the issue’s spelling) founding fathers, and the opening scene features an altered version of the Kennedy assassination. These “What If?” touchstones all feel very rudimentary, like the creative team pondered what the most obvious symbols of an alternate United States would be and then immediately slapped them on the page. There’s no time taken to develop these ideas and draw out any interesting or unexpected implications from them.
The visuals only further mar the presentation of this alternate reality. The opening splash page of the pseudo-Kennedy assassination fails to capture the horror of the moment to the point that it begs the question of if the scene is meant to be read as camp. There’s a cartoonish vibe to the way people and their expressions are drawn here, not to mention a near non-existence of actual physical evidence of the attack. One’s instinct might be to justify this by saying that the heat lasers involved just reduce human flesh to ashes, but that would be inconsistent with the page itself which shows the slightest bit of gore. The contrast between said gore and the otherwise disappearing nature of the body just makes the impact seem all the stranger and more inconsistent.
The faces in this issue are also frequently a problem. No one character stands out as having the worst expressions, in part because no character looks consistent unto themselves. Facial structures change across panels, while the amount of detail given to said faces varies significantly even when the faces are viewed from equal distances away and presented side-by-side. This sense of general aesthetic inconsistency extends to other anatomy as well. Ultraman’s muscles get outright unpleasantly unreal to look at in parts. There’s also not much sense of characters interacting meaningfully with the physical world around them. The most egregious example of this is a panel of Owlman jumping up on two men, wherein he almost looks like he’s been rendered on a separate Photoshop layer from the others.
The inking and coloration don’t do the issue many favors either. This isn’t to say that they’re outright bad or lacking in display of base technical ability. Nonetheless, there’s just no sense of stylistic cohesion to the various aspects of the artwork. The color palette used doesn’t pop off the inks and line-work effectively. Rather, it clashes just enough to reinforce the degree to which the art doesn’t imbue the dark reality with a similarly impactful and dark aesthetic.
The writing, meanwhile, fails to introduce the characters in ways that are memorable or which help flesh out their personalities beyond very basic archetypes. For all the time spent introducing the Crime Syndicate’s members one by one, all we learn is that they’re a bunch of bad guys. The one who comes closest to getting a sense of depth is probably Ultraman, thanks to a short side-story at the issue’s end depicting his adoption and childhood. With that said, he’s still very much just a morally bankrupt edgelord Superman. Perhaps this issue’s worst offense is that it’s a team book that doesn’t engender interest in any of its members. (Points to Owlman for having his own evil version of Alfred as an assistant, though.)
Overall, Crime Syndicate #1 disappoints on all fronts. Its visuals clash and even get unpleasant to look at due in large part to the inconsistency of facial structures and other anatomy. Add in flat characters and attempts at describing a dark world that only hit on the most obvious “What If?” questions and the issue just feels severely uninspired. I’m still not sure how this team will link up together, and frankly this issue doesn’t do much to make me care.
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