Best Shots review: Crime Syndicate #1 is a frictionless series of unfortunate events

Crime Syndicate #1 panel
(Image credit: DC)

The 'Infinite Frontier' reaches Earth-3, and this wretched corner of the DC Universe is just as bleak as ever. In an opposite world where all allegiances are flipped, Clark Kent rules over Metropolis with an iron fist. Brash and stupid, the self-proclaimed Ultraman rails against fake news and rushes head-first into Starro. Meanwhile, Owlman and Alfred are happily cracking necks in Gotham, Superwoman is busy dominating U.S. President Ollie Queen and John Stewart carries out the brutal judgement of the malevolent voices inside his power ring. Writer Andy Schmidt neatly establishes each members' modus operandi in Crime Syndicate #1 but struggles to find a reason for us to care about this hostile world.

Crime Syndicate #1 credits

Written by Andy Schmidt
Art by Kieran McKeown, Dexter Vines, Steve Oliff, Bryan Hitch, and Alex Sinclair
Lettering by Rob Leigh
Published by DC
'Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

This is a comic book about horrible people in a horrible world doing horrible things. Now, immoral characters are a perfectly legitimate narrative choice and this reviewer realizes the fun factor in cheering the slasher in a cheap horror movie. The problem here is that a horror movie sets up its pins before knocking them down. Love or hate them, you feel something for the disposable group of teenagers before the machete starts swinging. In Crime Syndicate #1, we get very little flavor for the people suffering under the Supers. In the back-up, it's revealed that Earth-3's Ma and Pa Kent were also awful. It's a fatiguing read.

(Image credit: DC)

There's a quick reference here to a virtuous Alexander Luthor, and the book really suffers from his absence. Without a force of good to fight against the evil, Crime Syndicate #1 is just a frictionless series of unfortunate events. It's mildly fun to see Johnny Quick plowing through citizens with a grin on his face, but when all you see is the red mist left in the wake of the event, the impact is lessened. Cat Grant, the bold editor of The Daily Planet, is the closest thing to a relatable protagonist and she's far from the focal point. She's defiant, rightly furious at her world, and wielding the only power she has with as much impact as she can. A ray of light in the short time we spend with her, an expansion of her role in future issues should balance the story out and give us somebody to root for.

Writer Andy Schmidt's script juggles the team's introduction effectively, using the tight 17 pages to their full potential. Schmidt has a lot of ground to cover establishing the main members of the Syndicate and he manages it tidily. The four-page back-up, titled ‘The Paranoid Titan,' is equally efficient in its storytelling. Shedding light on Ultraman's children, it's a cautionary tale of parental attitudes.

Kieran McKeown's pencils are generally solid. His characters are caricatures, often sliding into a purposeful ugliness to match the issue's events and his sequential storytelling is very readable. Dexter Vines' inkwork is a weighty beast, thickly highlighting figures and finding huge gulfs of black space to fill. Bryan Hitch takes point on Ultraman's four-page origin story at the issue's end, his strong emphasis on realism highlighting the human cruelty on show. Still, it's not his best work, and a few panels feel a little rushed.

Colorist Steve Oliff really knows how to poke the nostalgia gland. His work here is unique by the standards of 2021, using a bright yellow for the sky and a porcine pink for the citizens of Earth-3. Oliff's approach intensifies the childish and irreverent approach of the issue, elevating the issue's artwork for a larger-than-life tone. Alex Sinclair's colors on Hitch's art are more classically atmospheric, bathing the page in hazy red and blue light.

Crime Syndicate #1 is an irreverently ribald and mean-spirited comic book that ultimately struggles for a hook. We've seen this basic concept done enough times that there's very little novelty left in the opposite world concept, and Andy Schmidt's laser focus on bad guys doing bad stuff leaves a narrative without a conflict. While this first chapter doesn't quite land, there's potential here in the form of Earth-3's Cat Grant as well as the promised future debut of a rebooted Alexander Luthor.

Oscar Maltby

Oscar Maltby has been writing about comics since 2015. He has also written comic book scripts for the British small press and short fiction for Ahoy Comics. He resides on the South Coast of England but lives in the longbox.