I was extremely unimpressed with this issue, which is a real shame because it started out with so much promise. The book starts off with Belle Reve Supermax Penitentiary being invaded by the Crime Syndicate. Just as Black Manta is being offered a new “purpose” from Amanda Waller, all of the prisoners are set free and told “the world is yours.”
There’s a beautiful moment here where Black Manta goes to get his gear from the Personal Effects storage room and Ocean Master has arrived at the same time, getting his own gear. He and Black Manta both grab their effects and go their separate ways in silence, without ever mentioning their connection this connection between that that really only exists to us as the readers. Really great scene.
This juxtaposes with a moment right after where Black Manta shows up at the villains rally we saw in Forever Evil #1. After Ultraman makes his claim that the Justice League is dead, Scavenger (who is drawn extremely poorly – more on that later) has a pseudo-“wink-nudge” moment that is just downright cheesy. It nearly undoes the brilliant interaction just pages before with Ocean Master. The rally plays out word-for-word from the first chapter of the event, only showing a slightly different perspective, which is a serious problem I have with the latter half of this issue. It’s just a different perspective on something we’ve already read (unless you haven’t been reading Forever Evil), but not different enough to remain interesting. The issue ends without really ending, in fact the entire Black Manta story is left up in the air with the big questions that should’ve been tackled in this issue left to be resolved in Forever Evil. That’s a real cop-out in my opinion and really left a bad taste in my mouth, to the point where I’m no longer expecting much out of the Ocean Master issue either.
The art is decent except for a few flubs. Claude St. Aubin does a fine job overall but he has some real trouble drawing some other established characters. Two that particularly stand out were Scavenger and Grodd. Grodd was only in the issue for about three panels but I honestly couldn’t tell which character it was until someone called him by name. He looked less like a gorilla and more like a generic beast-man. Scavenger was more of an issue. He looked downright ridiculous – not menacing at all. This is something I’ve noticed with David Finch’s rendition of Black Manta. It seems that all the work done on Johns’ Aquaman to beef up the old-school villains is being undone by artists outside the series. Other than that, the end of the issue starts to get a little sloppy. It feels as if the ending was rushed, not only in the writing department. It was enjoyable overall.
I have to say this was a let-down. Geoff Johns and Tony Bedard really delivered a dud here. It feels as if the real story is in Forever Evil and this was just a cash-in to fill up the Villains Month 52-issue requirement. If they didn’t have a real story to tell, than this shouldn’t have been published. The worst part remains that it began with such great momentum and the end simply fizzled out. We’ll see if the Ocean Master installment suffers the same woes.