Throwing readers a change-up, artist Doug Mahnke joins writer Geoff Johns for "Justice League" #25, which would be a little more accurate if it were titled "Forever Evil" #3.5, as there are no members of the Justice League present in this issue. While Nightwing does endure some significant panel appearances in this comic book, I'm fairly certain he is not yet a member of the Justice League in any of its current incarnations: "Dark," plain or "of America."
That minor detail does not pre-empt Johns from telling an engaging and entertaining tale of the origin of Crime Syndicate's Owlman. "Justice League" #25 is all about Owlman, including the details of his interest in Nightwing. As with all things related to the Crime Syndicate, there is an amount of familiarity that gets twisted, manipulated and reflected through a dark mirror. Bruce Wayne and his parents are present on the fateful day that changes Owlman's life and defines his purpose. Owlman's mission is clear, just as Batman's is, but the two are not necessarily parallel tracks. The tense, dramatic flashback origin of Thomas Wayne's independence is worth the price of admission, but gets trumped by the New 52 debut of a gangster named Eel who winds up in a chemical bath most people wouldn't dare endure. Johns is still world building here and longtime readers will find more than one reason to feel hopeful as they read this comic book about the dire straits the world finds itself in at the hands of the Crime Syndicate. Johns does an admirable job of defining Owlman for the near future and he has some solid help from his artistic collaborator.
Mahnke's art is spot-on as always. Truly one of the more underappreciated modern comic book artists, Mahnke excels in delivering art for stories with dark edges or alien subtext to them. The origin of Owlman has both, and after reading this issue with Mahnke's brilliant art telling the tale, I'd be hard-pressed to imagine anyone else providing the visuals for this occasion. The inks get rougher as the story progresses, leaving the final pages and the brutal confrontation between Nightwing and Owlman edgy and raw, perfectly fitting the tone of the action. Despite the trio of colorists, the visuals for "Justice League" #25 hold together quite nicely, further helping to make this a strong installment in the "Forever Evil" saga.
"Justice League" #25 suffers from a lack of Justice League and a tiny bit from the absence of Ivan Reis and company on art, but if Reis and friends aren't available, Mahnke and crew are the next best thing, especially for a story as dark as this one. With the origins of two of the Crime Syndicate delivered in this series already, I'm ready to see "Justice League" move forward a bit, possibly even bringing the League (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) into conflict with the Syndicate. After this issue, I find myself wondering if maybe that conflict is going to be centered on Owlman and his actions.