New Year’s Evil #1 – Gabriel Hardman, Corrina Bechko, Kenny Porter, Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Jim Krieg, Dan Watters, Ram V., Christos Gage, Dave Weilgosz, Kurt Busiek, Vita Ayala, Writers; Gabriel Hardman, Ramon Villalobos, Sumit Kumar, Aneke, Alessandro Vitti, Karl Mostert, Cian Tormey, Dale Eaglesham, Elena Casagrande, Artists; Anthony Spay, Penciller; Jon Sibal, Inker; Matt Hollingsworth, Tamra Bonvillain, Romulo Fajardo Jr, Hi-Fi, Adriano Lucas, Jeromy Cox, Luis Guerrero, Dave McCaig, Mike Atiyeh, Jordie Bellaire, Colorists
Ray – 9/10
Corrina: Stories Even Villain Haters Can Enjoy
Ray: It’s time for another mega-sized anthology, with New Year’s Evil #1 themed to the holiday season and new year and starring ten of the DCU’s most iconic villains. Not exactly a usual combo, Christmas and evil, but DC has an amazing track record with these anthologies recently. Let’s see how they do this time, with an elite team of creators including one writer most associated with the competition and another making his return to DC Comics for the first time in years.
Corrina: I was going to avoid this one because I’m simply not the reader for villain stories. Then I saw the creator list and thought, heck, I’ll give it a whirl. I came away pleasantly surprised and very entertained.
Ray: First up is a story by husband-and-wife team Gabriel Hardman and Corrina Bechko of Green Lantern: Earth One, and it gets the volume off to a strong start. A Joker-gas attack has turned Gotham’s New Year’s celebration into chaos – but Joker is off at a hostage situation elsewhere, very confused. It’s a fascinating tale of what Joker’s reign of terror has inspired and how he feels about it, more timely than ever thanks to the movie. It’s also one of the more unique and human takes on the Joker I’ve seen in a while, playing on his inscrutable and often confusing nature.
Corrina: First, I hate Joker stories. But, second, I do love stories by Bechko and Hardman, which may have something to do with why I have an original Hardman commission of Jim Gordon hanging on my wall. Enjoyment of the creative team won out over hatred of a fictional character, so I read the story.
And…I kinda like it. This is the Joker that I’ve always thought worked, the one who’s off-kilter and unpredictable, rather than a simple sadist and murderer. He’s still a villain and the ending makes that clear. But that doesn’t mean he can’t also have some deeper characterization that’s not based on making him a figure of empathy.
Ray: Next up is a Toyman story by Kenny Porter and Ramon Villalobos, and it’s definitely more of a Christmas tale with a surprisingly good-natured tone. Toyman attacks a parade with life-sized action figures out of frustration that kids are so obsessed with cell phones. He’s prepared for Superman – but he hasn’t prepared for just how clever kids today are when it comes to technology. Without picking on any specific generation, it’s definitely a good opposite number to all those “Darn kids and their phones” memes we see today, and ends on a high note with Toyman foiled by getting a consolation prize.
Corrina: It’s a sweet story, almost a Silver Age-style throwback, though there is the point about modern-day kids and their phones. My eyebrows did raise at the use of Toyman, since the most prominent memory I have of that character is when he killed a child but, hopefully, almost everyone but me has forgotten that storyline.
Ray Sinestro isn’t a natural character for a holiday story, since he couldn’t be more foreign to human holidays. But Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Sumit Kumar do an excellent job adapting the format, as Sinestro returns to a planet he guarded as a Green Lantern and learns that he’s now worshipped as a God and a holiday celebrating him is being held. But his word is being twisted by powerful figures, and that won’t stand. Sinestro is a more complicated figure than he’s often portrayed, to the extent of almost being an antihero, and this story calls back to the work of Geoff Johns and Cullen Bunn.
Corrina: Sinestro has always had his own twisty logic about why and how things work. It’s usually rationalization of his despicable actions, allowing him to overlook his own flaws, one of which is that his selfish and superior attitude is catching to his followers. That’s nowhere more clear than in this story, though, at least, this time Sinestro uses his powers to save some people, not out of the non-existent goodness of his heart but because of his arrogance.
Ray: Jim Kreig and Aneke are the creative team on a Poison Ivy story, and this is definitely the most twisted tale so far. It follows Ivy at a New Year’s bash for supervillains, as she meets up with fellow villains Penguin, Orca, and obscure supervillain accountant Abacus as they vow to get their lives in order in the coming year. She decides to do a good deed and give them a push – but in one case it backfires in a twisted and violent way. If you want antihero Ivy, this doesn’t really feel like her – but I imagine the deserved explosion of violence in the last page will be pretty satisfying to those who have encountered a similar guy.
Corrina: I wouldn’t say it backfires, Ray, save that Ivy letting the self-loathing shy guy reveal himself as an awful creep, is a super-familiar tale to many women. Be nice to a guy and suddenly, instant creep/stalker. Good on Ivy for preventing another creep from ever getting away with it. And, hey, he was a bad guy, anyway. I felt this was a fairly strong Ivy story, showing her need to do the right thing and help people, though not at the expense of allowing more harm, to humans or plants. Ivy is a law unto herself.
Ray Dan Watters and Alessandro Vitti follow that story up with one starring Ares. It’s the winter solstice and the God of War has celebrated it by creating a mini-war on the Greek Isles. Diana arrives to fight off her older brother (this still subscribes to the “Daughter of Zeus” origin, it seems) and discovers a tragic tale of why Ares has picked this site. The problem is, this tale seems to want to make us pity a monster who did something genuinely hideous out of a bad temper. It doesn’t really work as a holiday story and it doesn’t feel like Ares is the protagonist here.
Corrina: I feel like this is a great story, with some tremendous heart, especially the bleeding tree, and it brings in how different the gods look at mortals, a constant refrain in all the Greek and Roman legends. But it’s not a holiday story, however.
Ray: Thankfully, the bad taste of that story is quickly washed away with a brilliant Black Adam story by Ram V and Anthony Spay, as Adam discovers that the many orphans he’s taken into his kingdom miss one of the outside traditions – namely, Santa Claus. So, being a supervillain, he decides to track down an ancient wizard with a resemblance to the big man and draft him into service. It has just the right mix of absurdity to work as a holiday story, but also does an amazing job of emphasizing what makes Black Adam different. He loves his people, and is beloved by them. I wish more comics would work with this complex antihero.
Corrina: I’ve never felt warmly toward the Black Adam character and this story did not change my mind. However, it’s an effective tale about a king who wants to serve his new subjects. The fight with the wizard “Klaus” is just goofy enough to be in a Shazam-style Silve Age comic.
Ray: Christos Gage is one of Marvel’s most dependable writers and a frequent collaborator with Dan Slott, but his Calendar Man story with Karl Mostert here is a perfect segue into Gotham. Focusing on a new therapist in Arkham who believes he can cure inmates of his compulsions, he challenges Calendar Man to give up his old gimmick that makes him easier to catch. That tough love doesn’t go over well with Day, so he puts together an elaborate plot to trigger the other inmates and undo the doctor’s good work. It’s a dark story, but with a lot of twisted humor worked in and a perfect karmic ending. Could Gage be dipping his toe in the DCU pool? Based on this, we’d be lucky to have him.
Corrina: This one surprised me tremendously, in that it’s one of the best single-issue/short Batman stories I’ve read in quite some time. Less is more sometimes with Batman and Gage wisely keeps the Dark Knight away from the narrative of the story until the end. Instead, he concentrates on Calendar Man, with Mostert providing some wonderful close-ups of Cal’s face, showing off his dysfunction and obsession. Gage did the tie-in comic to the Batman: Telltales video game series and between that work and his story here, he’s someone I’d like to see write more of Gotham.
Ray: Dave Wielgosz and Cian Tormey deliver a tale focusing on the time-travelling villain Chronos, and it’s a gem that deserves to be a DC classic. Chronos was the son of an abusive, neglectful drunk, and as an adult he’s tried to scare his father straight through time travel multiple times. Nothing works, as the man makes clear he doesn’t care about his son or wife. Realizing that his turn into a supervillain is inevitable, Chronos makes a dark decision and visits his past self one last time. A lot of the stories in this book have tried to make villains sympathetic, but few succeed on this level in a fascinating look at what makes a monster.
Corrina: Dark, this story is. Perhaps that’s suitable for a villain and it definitely is the kind of story I expected when I opened this volumen. It’s incredibly effective as well, especially as Tormey closes in on the confrontations between father and son. You can practically feel Chronos gnashing his teeth at the hopeless task of making someone who’s incapable of love feel any love.
Ray: I was a little surprised to see both a Toyman and a Prankster story in the same volume, as they’re rather similar villains. But I should have known Kurt Busiek and Dale Eaglesham had something special planned for the latter, and they don’t let us down. This story is very Astro City-inspired, in that it’s a clever take on the minutae of a superhero world. Prankster has gotten out of the supervillain business per se, and now works as a distraction for hire for other supervillains – setting minor pranks for superheroes while his clients pull off bigger schemes. He and his team are celebrating their year-end party when all hell breaks loose as the heroes of Metropolis arrive – or do they? It’s easily the funniest and most clever story in the book.
Ray: Vita Ayala and Elena Casagrande wrap up the volume with a Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya story that ends things on a high note. After Harley is arrested on a bogus charge and Montoya makes sure to process her quickly so she gets out before the Christmas break, Harley becomes obsessed with paying her back. After finding out that Renee’s spending Christmas alone since her breakup with Kate, Harley goes to Sam-I-Am levels of obsessive to put Renee in the Christmas spirit. It’s a hilarious tale with an surprisingly strong emotional core that does justice to both its leads.
Corrina: Fun! This reminded me of the almost-forgotten/hidden gem Gotham Girls series which featured a team-up between Gotham’s anti-herores and heroes a while back. If you like this story (and there’s so much to like), also check out the Harley Quiinn & the Gotham Girls trade, which is up for pre-order and out in February.
Ray: And that’s a wrap, with all but one story being excellent. That makes this an unqualified win and one of the best recent anthologies DC has put out.
Corrina: Definitely recommended! But don’t expect too much holiday cheer. 🙂
To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.
Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.