REVIEW: ‘Crime Syndicate,’ Issue #1

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Crime Syndicate #1

Crime Syndicate #1 is published by DC Comics. Written by Andy Schmidt, pencils are by Kieran McKeown with inks by Dexter Vines, colours by Steve Oliff, and letters by Rob Leigh. There is a backup story that is also written by McKeown, with art by Bryan Hitch. Alex Sinclair is the colourist, and Leigh remains the letterer.

The Crime Syndicate is a superhero, or more precisely a supervillain team, based on Earth-3, where those that make up the team are violent and villainous opposites of their Earth-1 counterparts. However, after the events of Future State, this is a new Earth-3, where the characters have not encountered each other yet. In Metropolis, Ultraman is beginning to see those beneath him question him and his actions. The journalists and general public are beginning to falter in their faith in his brutal but efficient protection. Elsewhere, other “heroes” are present in their individual cities. But as an alien invasion descends upon Earth, all of them may be called into action. 

The plot is fantastic in its concept and structure. It feels like a true analog to the Justice League, with the first issue mimicking what is usually found in the first issues of the real heroes’ team-up. Some members appear not to be known just yet by the general public, slaughtering people in the shadows. Two of them, at least, are well-known, with Ultraman keeping Metropolis in control with a Kryptonian fist. The change in atmosphere when the invasion happens is exciting, and the initial skirmishes show that the fight scenes will be exhilarating within the series.

The backup story is a brilliant twist on Superman’s origin story. Clark Kent’s landing and discovery are very similar, but his viewpoint is massively changed. The Kents appear to want the young alien to consider himself as above the humans around him instead of among them. It bookmarks the beginning of the main story beautifully, and the alterations to the story clarify much of why this version of Man of Steel is so different from others on alternate Earths.

Schmidt sets up the personalities within Crime Syndicate #1 swiftly. The biggest alteration from this team’s past iterations is that Power Ring has changed hosts, with John Stewart now the ring’s wearer. The ring is the most important part of this character. It constantly belittles the person who uses it, endlessly degrading John as he attacks two corrupt cops. Superwoman is in Washington, D.C., torturing a familiar-looking president. Johnny Quick acts as a super speeding serial killer in Central City, an equally deranged Atomica on his shoulder. And Owlman is enacting his own form of justice in Gotham City.

The dialogue is fantastic; the writer seems to revel in the drama. Each voice of each member is different, stopping them from feeling repetitive. Johnny Quick’s snarkiness is clear as he runs away from a brutal murder. In contrast, Superwoman has unflinching confidence, demanding control.

Many of the people who will become part of the Crime Syndicate are actually protecting people within their cities. Not all of them, it should be clarified, as Superwoman and Johnny Quick seem to have their own agendas. But this brand of justice from Ultraman, Owlman, and Power Ring is brutal, unspecific, and twisted. These are not heroes. But Ultraman does seem to care slightly about his people, granting them some freedoms, as does Owlman. The old versions rarely saw this of the Crime Syndicate, who seemed completely, joyously evil.

The art is superb, perfectly fitting this parody of a traditional team book. McKeown matches the planetary scale that is needed in a Justice League comic. Each of the Crime Syndicate members looks fantastic. The details on their faces are based on the skill of both McKeown and Vines. The biggest changes from their Earth-1 counterparts are that they revel in their despotic actions. The upturned lip as Superwoman commits torture, or the enraged fury from Ultraman, or the sadistic glee as Johnny Quick brutalizes people with a crowbar, tells the readers that these aren’t your heroes of old. Speaking of Quick, he has the most noticeable redesign that separates him from his old costume. Bald and shirtless, with lightning scars or insignia on his torso, he more closely resembles Victor Zsasz than the Flash. 

The colours are astounding. The powers exhibited by each character are part of their trademark, and Oliff is influential in making them look as dynamic as they do. All of the costumes have excellent colours. Owlman has always appeared to have more grey and silver on his costume than Batman, which is made clear again in Crime Syndicate #1.

The backup story’s art is just as sensational, with Hitch’s style nothing short of iconic. The way that it is drawn makes it feel so similar to Superman’s own origin, which marks the contrast in their execution all the more striking. Sinclair’s colours also aid the small story’s resemblance to a classic tale. 

Leigh’s lettering is very dynamic, fitting the setting of the issue superbly. There are several custom word balloons for various characters, but they are all easy to read and don’t detract from the art at all. The SFX, scratchy and red, help make the Syndicate’s actions even more sickening.

Crime Syndicate #1 is an excellent first issue to a very different team book. Setting it up like a Justice League first issue is a clever move by Schmidt, as it presents the contrasts between the two teams as starkly as they can. While most of the members, currently solo operators, aren’t given huge introductions, their presence within the world and their differences with the characters they’re based on are obvious from each of their initial panels. The backup story fits nicely with the Ultraman-centric plot, and the art in both stories is terrific. It will be interesting to see how this band of villains… save the day?

Crime Syndicate #1 is available where comics are sold. 

Crime Syndicate #1
5

TL;DR

Crime Syndicate #1 is an excellent first issue to a very different team book. Setting it up like a Justice League first issue is a clever move by Schmidt, as it presents the contrasts between the two teams as starkly as they can… The backup story fits nicely with the Ultraman-centric plot, and the art in both stories is terrific.