(USA TODAY) - DC Comics is breaking bad this fall
With Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and other superheroes mysteriously gone from the world, the DC Universe's greatest ne'er-do-wells take the spotlight hostage in "Villains Month."
Beginning Wednesday and going through the end of the month, all 52 superhero titles, fromJustice LeaguetoBatman,get a bad-guy makeover. Iconic villains Lex Luthor, Catwoman, the Riddler, Harley Quinn and the Flash's Rogues Gallery each get an issue (available digitally and in comic shops), as do newer and lesser-known baddies such as the Joker's Daughter, Relic and the female Ventriloquist.
Also launching this week isForever Evil,an event series by writer Geoff Johns and artist David Finch. The book centers on the arrival of the Crime Syndicate of America, a villainous version of the Justice League from the parallel world of Earth 3 - deemed "the birthplace of evil."
And if that isn't enough malevolence for this fall, DC Entertainment is releasing the documentaryNecessary Evil: Villains of DC Comicson Oct. 25 on Blu-ray and DVD. The movie is narrated by Christopher Lee and features insights from comic-book creators, celebrities and filmmakers such asMan of Steeldirector Zack Snyder and theHellboyseries' Guillermo del Toro.
"One of the things that makes us stand out from others is our depth and breadth of our villains," says DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee. "Sometimes our villains are even more infamous than some of our heroes, and we are able to explore that side of the universe in a way very few other companies can."
The issues of "Villains Month" have the baddest of bad guys and girls driving the stories - from origin tales to those crafted to find the character's individual motivations. Plus, each comes with a 3-D motion lenticular cover.
DC's evildoers "have awesome names, they've always been the yin to the heroes' yang, and they've all made the heroes richer and more interesting because of the reflections they cast," Lee explains.
"When you look at a character as determined and obsessed as Batman, and you look at the flip side of that and see a horrifying villain in Joker, you see why Batman's a hero. You see the line that separates him from the dark side."
There was only one rule for the writers and artists, says DC co-publisher Dan DiDio: No evildoer should be sympathetic. "If they're villains, we want them to be villainous through and through."
Nobody's worse, however, than the Crime Syndicate, which appeared at the end of the recentJustice League"Trinity War" story line. The vicious group includes Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Johnny Quick, Power Ring and Deathstorm - alternate-universe analogues, respectively, of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern and Firestorm.
"I love the Justice League, and this is an even better Justice League for me because they're dark and evil and scary. They're more extreme in every way," Finch says.
Adds Johns: "We get to hold up this twisted mirror at the world's great heroes and see what they could have been."
Among the story lines fans can expect: A couple of the Syndicate members target Batman's fellow Gotham City hero Nightwing; Ultraman and Superwoman hold some deep, dark secrets; a mysterious prisoner is brought from Earth 3; and most of the supervillains fall in line with the Syndicate's power trip.
Lex Luthor is not so easily swayed: He's building his own army to combat the Syndicate.
"With the Justice League gone, he feels like he can do this, and in a weird way, Lex feels he's born to do it," Johns says. "For the last five years, he's been challenged with Superman showing up, and it's all been in preparation for this moment."
Evil is relative, Johns says, and readers will even see some notorious characters actually doing something heroic through the series.
"They're all extremely different," he says. "Some of them want to survive the day. Some of them want to take over the world. Some of them want to kill their enemies. Some of them want to blow things up. Some of them want to just be left alone. Some of them want to be cured of the curse of their powers."
Moral ambiguity is key to the overall story line, and so is the idea of there not being one absolute good or evil.
"Our characters are more complex than that,'' Johns says. "In order for us to wrap our head around a world full of superpowers, people start categorizing heroes and villains. But the lines are pretty blurry with some of these characters."