Villains Month, or, Owlman, Owlman, Owlman!

Spoilers ahead for Trinity War, Villains Months and Forever Evil #1

Look at all the evil.

Look at all the evil.

Well that was a rip-roaring good time. But now it’s over. And I am A-Okay with that.

For DC Comics, who two years ago rebooted their entire catalogue with The New 52, September has become a big month. Last year, to celebrate the anniversary of The New 52, DC went into Zero Month, wherein each of their titles, rather than continuing onward in their current story arcs, paused to release an issue #0, exploring their characters before the events of The New 52.

Batman readers got their first taste of Zero Year, Superman had his cape stolen by a little boy with an abusive father and a young Wonder Woman fought the Minotaur.

It was good stuff.

This year, to celebrate the second anniversary of The New 52, DC dubbed September Villains Month, wherein the heroic stars of their books were pushed aside in favor of their rogues. Only, where last year each title translated to one issue #0, this year each title spun off into between one and four Villains Month issues for a total of (a coincidence I’m sure) 52 issues.

Full disclosure: of the 52 Villains Month issues I only actually read 37. I have no interest in reading the 15 I missed and quite frankly I regret reading a handful of the 37 issues I did read.

Creatively it would be hard to argue that Villains Month was as much a success as Zero Month last year. But commercially I suspect DC is laughing all the way to the bank. Not only were their 52 comic books turned out in a single month, a limited quantity of each issue of Villains Month had a 3D cover. And wouldn’t you know it, just about every villain out there somehow looks cooler with a 3D cover. Couple this with the fact that shortly before the launch of Villains Month DC Comics informed vendors they would only be able to provide a fraction of the 3D covers they’d promised and you have the birth of an awesome, month-long black market of comic book fans battling to the death to snag a 3D Harley Quinn cover (for an issue that is by all accounts terrible) on sale for triple the price.

It was good stuff.

But you shouldn’t judge a book by its 3D cover or its perverse manipulation of supply and demand, and with that in mind – on to the content!

Despite all the commercial hoopla surrounding Villains Month it manage to hit a handful of genuine homeruns. Some writers got to flex their muscles to great effect, some second and third-tier characters starred in terrific standalone stories and for the first time in two years the DC Universe honestly felt like a singular, interoperating organism.

This world is ours, Willis.

This world is ours, Willis.

The aspect of Villains Month that will actually have lasting repercussions beyond readers’ wallets is the event surrounding it, Forever Evil. In the wake of Trinity War the various Justice Leagues are missing and the Crime Syndicate, villainous variations on Earth’s greatest heroes, have taken over. Forever Evil #1 established the Crime Syndicate’s spiffy catchphrase, “The Justice League is dead, this world is ours,” and set wheels in motion. Forever Evil #1 is a great comic book, but it’s a handful of books spread throughout Villains Month that really add weight and nuance to the unprotected new world order.

Issues like Ra’s al Ghul, The Rogues, Black Manta and Ocean Master fleshed out a burgeoning opposition to the Crime Syndicate, showing different villains’ takes on the new world order and giving them legitimate reasons to oppose it.

Meanwhile, Killer Croc, Bane, Scarecrow and The Court of Owls showed a Gotham sans-Batman divided up amongst the most infamous Arkham inmates as Bane prepares to take Gotham for himself using the prisoners of Blackgate penitentiary. All the while the Court of Owls have taken refuge in their own secret bunker weaving plots and machinations and Killer Croc has silently grown a cult following in the sewers beneath the city.

There’s also addition insight into the Justice League’s villainous counterparts. The Secret Society issue, which despite having a picture of the Secret Society on it and being called Secret Society, is an awesome Owlman story that delves into Earth 3, the world the Crime Syndicate left behind, and provides even more backstory and momentum to the events ahead.

HOOT HOOT

HOOT HOOT

Seriously though. It should have been called Owlman and it should have had Owlman on the 3D cover. Owlman is great. I love Owlman.

It’s through interweaving narratives like these that Villains Month truly brought the DCU together in an organic and believable way. Whether the execution of Forever Evil will remain as entertaining as it continues to unfold is anyone’s guess, but the first act has proven exciting.

And Forever Evil isn’t the only event given nuance and resonance by Villains Month. Krypton was also masterfully revisited. Fans of the first 30 minutes of Man of Steel could do far worse than to look into the Braniac, Zod, Cyborg Superman and Doomsday issues. The four loosely connected narratives manage to cover substantial ground regarding Krypton’s last days. The sibling rivalry between Superman’s father Jor-El and his uncle Zor-El is explored to great effect as are the motivations of an up and coming lieutenant named Zod and the affection of Braniac for Jor-El.

Greg Pak, who penned Darkseid, Doomsday and Zod, was certainly a star of Villains Month, with Zod being arguably the best issue of the month. Pak’s take on Superman’s rogues is particularly exciting considering Pak is set to take over Action Comics in November, stealing the reigns back from the limbo Action Comics has been in since Grant Morrison’s departure.

Joining Pak in the spotlight was Charles Soule, who I had previously only been familiar with from Red Lanterns. Soule managed to leave his mark all over the DC Universe last month writing for characters ranging from Arcane to Lex Luthor to Black Hand. Soule’s issue of Arcane in particular shines bright as he manages to evoke the poetic prose of Alan Moore in a fascinating portrayal of a terrifying villain’s personal hell. Soule also handles the brilliance of Lex Luthor with aplomb, making the genius equal parts intellect and charm. While Soule’s portray of Black Hand is admirable, however, he essentially manages to bring a dead character back to life with no explanation while simultaneously completely resetting the events of Blackest Night.

Which brings me to Villains Month’s blunders. While there were a lot of great stories told last month there were undeniably too many. Black Hand is dead. He should have been covered in a flashback, if at all. The character raises the dead and when you bring him back you’re going to have to have him raise the dead, which are now raised and have to be dealt with despite having nothing to do with the events in the current Green Lantern books. But whatever, he’s a villain right? And villains + 3D = $.

This is the same equation that brought about Justice League issues focusing on Dial-E and Lobo that have nothing to do with anything and it’s the same equation that brought about the low point of not only Villains Month, but probably the entire New 52 run: Joker’s Daughter.

Who’s Joker’s Daughter? Literally a crazy lady that finds Joker’s severed face in a swimming pool. What does she have to do with anything? (Everybody now) Nothing. How many issues of Joker’s Daughter were on the shelf by the time I made it to my local comic book store? None. You’re killing me people.

IGN gave the series premiere of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a score of 8.5. They gave Joker’s Daughter a 2. And why wouldn’t they? In what incarnation would such a character be anything but a shameless cash grab? I can’t think of one and I don’t think Joss Whedon could either.

Reign in Brother Blood.

Reign in Brother Blood.

Of further annoyance is that while “characters” like Joker’s Daughter were given an issue in Villains Month, some legitimately awesome villains were left on the sidelines. Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man run is fantastic and the new villain he has introduced in recent months, Brother Blood, is a Slayer song made flesh. Where was he last month? Where was Atrocitus? Where was Black Mask? Where was Superboy Prime? Where was Larfleeze? Professor Pyg? Starro? Where was more Owlman? Where was anyone but Joker’s Daughter?

Today is the first Wednesday in a month that my comic book covers will be 2D and have heroes on them and I’m pretty pumped. Villains Month was fun enough but I’m ready to get back to my regularly scheduled programming. DC Comics can tell me the Riddler issue is a Zero Year tie-in all they want, but just saying the phrase “Zero Year” doesn’t make it so.

Diamond in the rough.

Diamond in the rough.

Villains Month had some impressive peaks. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my personal favorite issue, Jeff Lemire’s Count Vertigo, but even dizzying Canadian creepers with mommy issues can’t overshadow a month of depth-defying valleys. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how lackluster my personal favorite villain, Sinestro, fared.

Looking back on Villains Month it feels less like a celebration of two years of loyal readership and more like chum for wallets. In 3D.

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