While Grodd, Two-Face, Deathstroke and pretty much any villain you can name are there, two of the world's most significant bad guys are absent - the Joker and Lex Luthor. The Joker, the Penguin suggests, is there, but undercover and planning to start trouble because 'that maniac hates structure'. Luthor isn't present because he'd just been released from prison.
It's Luthor who opens the issue, threatening an industrialist whose company he wants to buy - sell up, or you die and your family suffers. The poor man's answer goes unsaid as The Grid - Cyborg sans the human side - cuts the power in Metropolis, Luthor's helicopter crashes and Ultraman zooms by. The last we of the industrialist, he's falling to his death.
Nightwing, meanwhile, is captured by Superwoman as she's freeing the Arkham Asylum criminals. Soon he's being paraded before the mass gathering of villains, his real name revealed - the Syndicate are going to make an example of him, kill everyone he loves to demonstrate what happens to anyone who refuses to get on side.
The Syndicate further show they mean business by claiming to have offed the Justice League, throwing Aquaman's trident, Wonder Woman's lasso and Superman's cape into the crowd.
Watching the Syndicate's worldwide TV broadcast, Lex Luthor has only one thought - 'This is a job for Superman.'
Well, Superman's not in this issue. None of the League are - the expected battle between the League and the Syndicate that was sure to follow last week's Justice League #23 is denied us - like their massed enemies, we're asked to take the Earth 3 mob's word for it that they beat the heroes, and the heroes are dead. I expect writer Geoff Johns chose this approach because the current situation of the heroes is coming as a big revelation, a shock. That's fine, I've seen the two sides fight previously, and will again; meanwhile, there's a bit of suspense as to where the Leaguers are.
Johns delivers some excellent characterisation, from Luthor's memory of trying to save a cat from a tree to his closing realisation that there's actually a point to the hero he's spent years hating. It's obvious from the cover that he's going to realise that Superman isn't coming any time soon, so he's going to have to lead a revolution, save the population of the world from the Syndicate. That's one big cat and one very scary tree.
The Flash's Rogues Gallery also get a good scene, and for the first time ever I find myself rooting for Deathstroke (click on image to enlarge).
The issue lacks a big wow moment - possibly the Dick Grayson reveal is meant to be it, but in a world in which people regularly come back from the dead, a hero's exposure doesn't cut it. Heck, it's not as if Nightwing has any loved ones to threaten who aren't heroes themselves, the guy's a drifter. And after being the big bad for several issues of the Justice League titles, where's the Outsider? Has he gone back to buttling?
But there were enough incidental pleasures that I feel I got my money's worth from this $3.99 book - Sam Scudder back as Mirror Master, the JLA satellite HQ thrown to Earth yet again (and landing in Happy Harbor at that), the delightfully delinquent Atomic ('It's cray-cray time!' I had to look that up, thought it was a reference to former Atom Adam Cray) and a cameo by ancient Hawkman villain the Monocle.
Best of all, though, is the identity of the industrialist at the start of the issue - Tom Kord. And he has a son at college ... I'm betting that by the end of the series we'll meet Ted, and he'll take up a heroic identity to avenge his father - the Blue Beetle. It'd be nice if Johns returned Ted to the comics, having killed him off in an earlier event/stunt, Countdown to Infinite Crisis.
The art by David Finch and Richard Friend is fine, it's very much DC's Justice League house style - lots of posing, plenty of grimaces, a bit scratchy, a few odd-sized heads, but choreographing about 400 characters while handling the storytelling can't have been easy. The closest thing to a standout moment is the gathering of villains, but that's due to it being a four-page foldout as much as the actual artwork
It doesn't say so on the cover, but there are six more issues of this, with the storyline running through to April, both here and in dozens of DCU titles. It all sounds a little stretched out to me, and with loads of comics also tying into Batman's Zero Year, and a H'el storyline infecting the Superman Family titles too, I suspect I'll be longing for some self-contained stories.
Still, that's a worry for another day. For today. Forever Evil #1 is a good DCU event book, but one which could do with a bit of oomph. Let's see if the second issue delivers that.