Etta - still skinny, now black - is Steve's partner in this first issue, but it's strictly business between them, as they wander the remains of an A.R.G.U.S. building in the wake of an explosion caused by the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Etta is worried because someone has exposed their agents around the world, putting their lives at risk, but Steve seems interested only in finding the missing, supposedly dead, Justice League. Given that he's flashing back to his first meeting with Diana, and their early days together as sweethearts, I'd say his Wonder Woman obsession is getting in the way of his duty as head of A.R.G.U.S.
Still, Steve has no choice but to put the JLA on the backburner when reports come in of Deathstroke menacing the president at the White House. He gathers a team from the few operatives who survived the blast and is soon facing not just Deathstroke, but the Shadow Thief and Copperhead too.
So far, so filler. There's nothing here that progresses the Forever Evil storyline, it's just 'what's happening while more interesting things are happening elsewhere'. Sterling Gates does a very professional job with the script, jollying things along with a mix of exposition and action, and I like that Etta gets to show that her Justice League role of Steve's PA involves more than just bringing him coffee ... although she does that here too. Her 'bio-bracelet' which keeps tabs on microchipped A.R.G.U.S. agents is a nice callback to the Golden Age Diana's Omni Receiver bracelets. The exposure of the agents is a clever bit of near-topicality.
Wouldn't you know it, though, this issue's big bit of new information plugs directly into the New 52 Universe's mood of mistrust between the government and the superheroes - President Obama (for it was he) put Steve in at the top of A.R.G.U.S. post-Darkseid assault not to help the League so much as spy on it.
How very tedious. A bunch of super-powered strangers risk their lives to save your ass from interplanetary invasion, so you immediately assume they're bad news. Perhaps this book will see Steve subvert Obama's intentions, but at this point he's had five years already.
And if A.R.G.U.S. is fundamentally an anti-League organisation, why does Amanda Waller's operation need to exist?
Further evidence that this is very much a DC-Nu book comes with this piece of dialogue (click on image to enlarge).
There are three art teams on this story - three pencillers, two inkers and three colourists - which seems pretty cack-handed given that this comic was announced months ago; surely one team could handle 20 pages? The massive cast of creatives certainly nods towards the idea that DC views event tie-ins as simply filler shelf fodder, more product to be put out there by interchangeable creatives rather than stories that demand to be told by people itching to tell them. The obvious suspicion, given what we hear lately of DC editorial changing course midstream, is that the book was changed along the way, but that's not how Gates' script reads, it flows just fine. Maybe everyone kept getting sick.
Whatever the case, Philip Tan, Neil Edwards and Javier Pina, inked by Jason Paz, Jay Leisten and himself, Javier Pina, and coloured by Nathan Eyring, Romulo Fajardo Jr and Hi-Fi (phew) produce good-looking work. Steve changes a little throughout the issue, but as some scenes are set several years ago, there's a bit of leeway. One Steve reminds me of an actor, but I can't quite say who - Chris Evans? Michael Vartan?
The least attractive piece of art is Brett Booth, Mark Irwin and Andrew Dalhouse's cover, with two-gun, teeth-gritting Steve coming up short against the forces of Cliche. And I don't know if Booth thought his image would be printed smaller, within a box, otherwise why place the villainous faces right where the logo is guaranteed to obscure them? Some of the other agents have distinctive looks, so perhaps we've some new characters coming; I hope so, because a writer as talented as Gates deserves a chance to do some world building for DC rather than simply being assigned to tread water in Crossover Ocean.
If you're loving Forever Evil, this could be the comic for you. It's set within the storyline and has good guys vs bad guys, and is decently crafted. Everyone else can safely pass on by.