It's the penultimate issue of Forever Evil and things are rather heating up. Batman and a bevy of super-baddies led by Lex Luthor break into the fallen JLA satellite and battle the Crime Syndicate. The kidnapped Nightwing is found and he's in a sticky position. And the mysterious Man in the Hood stands revealed.
The unattractive cover promises a 'final fate' deal so I was expecting Dick Grayson to lose his legs or something - this is a comic written by Geoff Johns. He doesn't. Someone else does, mind, quelle surprise. Dick, though, is simply tied to a giant bomb which begins a countdown when Batman tries to free him, and the only way to disarm it is to stop his friend's heart. Batman isn't going to do that, but Luthor may be up for the job.
I say 'may' because it's pretty apparent Luthor, with his massive mind, has an idea. Batman, though, thinks he's going to kill Dick and Luthor doesn't bother telling him otherwise. It's forced tension, putting off Dick's destiny until next month.
A continuity-boggling reference to Doomsday aside, this is the only real off-note in an issue which shows how adept Johns is at pacing - there's lots of back and forth, with cut-aways just as we're about to find something out. The reveals do come, with only the Nightwing business failing to live up to the build-up - characters react as if the most awful thing in the world has happened to Dick, when he's simply strapped to a machine they know nothing about.
The most enjoyable aspects of this issue are the character moments: Sinestro rubbing up against Luthor is delightful, while Lex himself makes an excellent point as regards the problem with super-heroes. Captain Cold, with a reference to one of his Silver Age appearances, shows just what he can do, while Batman gets to show some family feeling.
We've been waiting six months to learn just who the Syndicate brought from Earth 3 and it turns out most every guess I've seen is correct - Johns goes back to the Crisis on Infinite Earths well, but he does put an interesting twist on things. It's final page stuff, so I'm being careful, but I'm most curious as to why the Syndicate brought this guy across with them when they fear him so much.
The art by Finch, inker Richard Friend and colourist Sonia Oback is good, with clear storytelling and fine character choreography - there's never a problem following the flow. The final page is the standout, while earlier, the panic in Dick's eyes is especially well done. I would applaud the discretion of having one killing in silhouette, but as it's immediately followed by blood everywhere, perhaps not.
While I'm looking forward to the Forever Evil 'event' being over, so far as big, daft, loud stories go, this issue is pretty decent. And if that sounds like damning with faint praise, well, yes - this is DC Comics, where worlds live, worlds die and nothing will ever be the same again ... for at least three months. I hope that one day Johns and his fellow executives realise that while stories with massive stakes can be great, size isn't everything, and Forever Evil is simply comic book Viagra. This isn't an original thought, but it's true; constant events are wearying, and deliver diminishing returns in terms of excitement. Single-series tales filled with action and characterisation - such as Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder's current Superman-defining Action Comics run - can be far more satisfying. Certainly, they're more likely to be remembered fondly, as opposed to the Forever Evils of this world, which will surely elicit the question: which one was that?