For those seeking a darker, drearier, and more morally opaque treatment of the DC Comics pantheon of costumed heroes, Zack Snyder’s epic restoration of Justice League was undoubtedly a moment of pure victory and adulation. If you’re like me, the end cap featuring a murderous Superman and a Batman leading a band of criminals was particularly tantalizing — there’s just something so satisfying about watching these mighty heroes break bad.
Crime Syndicate #2 is the latest book from DC that seeks to provide this same thrill by detailing the origin of Earth 3’s newest team of super-powered evildoers. While this series seems to be setting up an enjoyable and brisk adventure, there are still big questions as to whether this particular story will ever fully get off the ground in its four remaining installments.
The plot of this issue starts right where we left off, with Owlman riding into Metropolis to investigate an alien invasion of telepathic starfish that are brainwashing metahumans. The use of Starro as the villain in this story is a nice touch here — he was the first foe the Justice League ever faced in their 1960 debut, and his unique power set is an easy way to bring these (anti)heroes into conflict with one another quickly and directly.
Back in Washington, D.C., a mind-controlled Ultraman is engaged in an all-out super-powered brawl with Themysciran ambassador Donna Troy in an attempt to submit her to Starro’s control. Writer Andy Schmidt has great fun illuminating some evil character moments here, such as Ultraman gleefully declaring “I don’t mind hitting girls!” in the midst of battle. It isn’t long before the likes of Owlman, Johnny Quick, Emerald Knight and a host of other familiar metahumans descend upon the scene to set up a fairly stock cliffhanger into the next installment.
Beyond the self-contained team-up adventure, Schmidt and penciller Kieron Mckeown also aim to provide fresh origins for the members of the Crime Syndicate in the form of short backups at the end of each issue. These all proceed nearly identically to the origins of the characters’ Justice League counterparts, save for one subversive twist that places them on the road to villainy instead of heroism.
This issue highlights Owlman, who becomes a vigilante after the murder of his parents, but quickly abandons his moral code when he discovers that they were ultimately not who he thought them to be. Ultraman’s origin in the previous issue proceeded similarly, exploring the idea that the revelation of his alien heritage might lead to resentment for his human parents instead of gratitude. These twists are fun — if not obvious — but I wonder if there may have been more inventive ways to extract evil from these well-worn origin stories.
The art was one element that was a bit disappointing in the debut issue, and I’m happy to report that it has improved somewhat with issue #2. McKeown has a great sense of old-school dynamism with respect to the staging of his action, but some of the anatomical inconsistency in the first issue was enough to occasionally pull me out of the story. Facial expressions specifically had a wide range of variation, from somewhat cohesive, to downright strange in certain panels. Thankfully, this was less of a problem for me in issue #2, and much of the action was dynamic and engaging.
The coloring from Steve Oliff is also fairly old-fashioned in its use of lots of bold primary shades, and a sky that is highly stylized with smooth gradients of red and yellow. This evokes a somewhat ’90s JLA style and lends a classic feel to these evil characters in a way that’s interesting and novel. These characters may be villains shrouded in darkness on our world, but on Earth 3, it’s good to be bad.
Overall, the plot and story mechanics here still aren’t particularly compelling, but there are plenty of fun subversions of the Justice League mythos and smart stylistic choices to keep hardcore fans turning the pages.
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