If Crisis on Infinite Earths was the Big Bang of comic book events, Forever Evil is the whimper, making little impact on the commercial and critical landscape. Just seven issues long, it feels interminable, with the 'main event' series unfocussed and tie-ins such as the JLA Martian Manhunter/Stargirl story an unashamed waste of space.
Forever Evil: ARGUS, though, has bucked the trend. Writer Sterling Gates, artist Neil Edwards and colleagues have given us five months of DC Universe-building and character development. Here's the finale, and while the nature of side-books means there are loose ends, there are also story threads I'm happy to see stretched out.
The first part of the issue sees Etta Candy and her charge, Barack Obama, told the secret history of ARGUS by the mysterious Green Man, who claims to be the organisation's first agent. Like Marvel's SHIELD as reinterpreted by Jonathan Hickman, the ARGUS acronym has stood for different things over time. At the moment it's the Advanced Research Group Uniting Superhumans, but that's only for now.
One thing it has always stood for is protecting the United States from the likes of the recently resurfaced Crimson cult. The Green Man offers Etta a promotion to Keeper of the Keys, with knowledge of all ARGUS secrets and one specific task: protecting her boss Steve Trevor, who's key to defending the Earth.
As the focus shifts to him, Steve is in no fit state to defend anyone - he's apparently dead, and having to deal with the Morai - the Fates of Greek legend, who have come to collect on a bargain he made earlier in the series. What they take has scary implications for Steve.
Soon though, he's back in the real world, and hoping it was all a hallucination. His immediate concern is to help villain-turned-ally Killer Frost survive the reborn Dr Light and use Wonder Woman's magic lasso to free the imprisoned Justice League from the Firestorm matrix.
After a fun, intelligent few pages of action, the issue ends on a note of foreboding, one I can't see being picked up in Forever Evil. I can, though, imagine it carrying through to whatever DC launches to replace the soon-to-end Suicide Squad, and I hope Gates and Edwards are running that show. They've proved a strong pairing, exploring the hidden corners of the DCU, enriching the mythos and characters. Trevor and Candy have both been built up in the course of this mini, and they need a regular spotlight. And Killer Frost has progressed from mad murderess to nascent heroine, having Steve's back every step of the way. I'd buy a Steve and Frosty Team-Up book any day of the week.
I do have one quibble, and that's the silence of the President of the United States; yes, the Green Man's narrative is surprising, but he might have said something in five pages.
The narrative shifts from omniscient to a back-and-forth between Steve and Killer Frost, and the changing perspectives work well. Steve making parenthetical asides to himself is odd, but they're at least funny. Gates is full of ideas - there's a suggested link to the numerous DC Crises I like a lot - and he's truly made this book feel worth the time and money I've invested in it.
And Edwards, sharply inked by Jay Leisten and Jason Paz, and nicely coloured by Nathan Eyring, delivers more strong storytelling. Vitally for a superhero comic, his fight sequences are dynamic, and he's also great with faces - a 'Steve then and now' panel is excellent. Plus, he's adept at hiding a naked character's boy-bits. Credit, too, to Taylor Esposito for smart lettering choices - I especially like the Green Man's font.
So that's it. One of the best superhero series of the past three years is over. I want more Gates and Edwards, preferably together, and preferably continuing this story, whether in the inevitable Suicide Squad sequel, or a special or two. A big story has begun, and its creators deserve a chance to end it.