03rd Mar2021

‘Crime Syndicate #1’ Review (DC Comics)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Andy Schmidt | Art by Kieran McKeown, Dexter Vines | Published by DC Comics

I’ve always loved the Crime Syndicate characters. They first appeared on the scene in Justice League of America #29 way back in 1964, created by Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky. They were from Earth-3, a sort of Mirror Universe bad version of ‘our’ JLA, just without the Star Trek goatees. It was essentially a ‘what if our heroes came from a bad planet?’ What would they be like. Well, Ultraman (Superman), Owlman (Batman), Superwoman (Wonder Woman), Johnny Quick (The Flash), and Power Ring (Green Lantern) sure showed us. They were bad to the bone. They were also entertaining villains, and I collected all their appearances all the way up to their heroic sacrifice in Crisis on Infinite Earths. They have of course returned many times since, in various new incarnations post-Crisis, post Zero Hour, post Infinite Crisis, post New 52 etc. You get the picture. Time for an Infinite Frontier reboot I guess…

So, DC’s big new publishing push is Infinite Frontier, and this book is part of that. Written by Andy Schmidt and drawn by Kieran McKeown and Dexter Vines, this promises a post-Death Metal return to a new, yet strangely familiar Earth-3. A world where Benedict Arnold was a Founding Father of Amerika, and where a young Ultraman assassinated a tyrannical JFK with his heat vision. Modern day Metropolis, and Ultraman is essentially a PG version of Homelander from The Boys. Ever-present, threatening, always watching, and yet the people grow restless. A recent Daily Planet headline sees him throw a truck through its windows.

We meet Superwoman Donna Troy, essentially torturing President Oliver Queen. John Stewart is Emerald Knight (rather than Power Ring), a seemingly decent guy being corrupted by his power ring, forever pushing him to be nastier and nastier. Johnny Quick is a speed junkie, doing what he wants to who he wants because he can. Individuals all who are essentially super-powered spoilt brats. Still, the apple cart gets upended when Starro comes a-callin’, and manages to get Ultraman under his spell. Very bad news. This Starro invasion is happening all over the world, with baby Starro’s attaching themselves to people and then controlling them. Everywhere except Gotham. Owlman (Thomas Wayne) doesn’t know why, but is happy to exploit it while the world burns.

A short back-up, ‘The Paranoid Titan’, by Andy Schmidt and Bryan Hitch, gives us a Man of Steel/Brightburn style origin story for this version of Ultraman. Rocketed from Krypton and discovered by the Kents, this Clark Kent had the same beginnings to ours, but this is where the similarities seemingly end. Ma and Pa Kent on this Earth use Clark’s powers for themselves, getting him to do all the work on the farm while they kick back, all while he endures the jibes and ridicule of Smallville’s residents. He grows up angry, feels betrayed, and leaves before he’s tempted to kill them. So, like some other alternate versions of Superman, both DC and non, he grows up powerful but with no moral centre , no compass. But then, this is Earth-3, where most are selfish. They get the hero they deserve.

Firstly, this did all feel very derivative. I know the Crime Syndicate concept dates back to the 1960’s, but so many people have had fun with this type of thing it just seems like we’ve seen it all before. Notably Homelander in The Boys, and the film Brightburn, as I referenced above. These, of course, were in turn inspired first by the comics, so we have a coming full circle thing going on right here. All that being said, I like what Andy Schmidt did with it all. He took what worked from before, built on it, added some nice little nods to DC history, and had fun with the whole thing. His Crime Syndicate have not even met yet its seems, though I’m guessing Starro will end that isolation pretty quickly. I like the world-building, or perhaps world-rearranging Schmidt does here. The art is excellent on both stories, with some great individual panels dotted through the main story. Ultraman and Owlman never looked better.

I really enjoyed this. It was fun, interesting, gave you some nice glimpses into things but promised a whole lot more. You know the creators are drip-feeding you that goodness.
Imagine the Justice League on a bad day. Then imagine them as bad people living bad lives to the full extent of their powers. Welcome to Earth-3.

Fun to visit once a month, but you wouldn’t want to live there

**** 4/5

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