Friday, May 06, 2005


Writer Gail Simone and artists Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger bring us the inaugural issue of the third mini-series leading up to INFINITE CRISIS, VILLAINS UNITED. Loyal DC readers have seen this coming ever since IDENTITY CRISIS, and perhaps before. For ages now, Lex Luthor, former president and all around bad guy, has been manipulating circumstances and people to create a “society” of super villains. With VILLAINS UNITED #1, we get a glimpse into that society -- or, at least, its early membership.

For those that haven’t been keeping up, Lex Luthor, finally tired of putting on a public smile, has gone all bad. While his motivations have shifted over the years, from “bwa-ha-ha” evil to merely “misguided”, one thing has remained the same: his hatred of super-heroes and Superman in particular. Luthor is a humanists in the same way the Nazi’s were nationalists, and though he is forced to align himself with powerful met humans such as Black Adam and Deathstroke, we’ve seen previously that he would happily kill them all and leave humans in charge of the destiny of humanity -- namely himself. Luthor disappeared way back in Batman/Superman #6, threatening a coming “Crisis“ no less. His name was mentioned pretty blatantly in IDENTITY CRISIS, the prologue to the prologue of INFINITE CRISIS, and by the time COUNTDOWN came out he was essentially chairman of the board of the new Society of Supervillains. He is joined by Calculator (the villainous version of Oracle, Batman’s info dump), Black Adam (the ‘evil’ version of Captain Marvel, though his portrayal of late has been that of nobility and cruelty directed toward the greater good ), Death stroke (the world’s best mercenary and perennial enemy of current and former Teen Titans), Talia al Ghul (daughter of Ra’s al Ghul and former CEO of Lexcorp while Luthor was President), and finally Doctor Psycho (a psychic dominator of short stature and huge ego; he is the only cardboard villain on the ‘board’ and one wonders why he is there at all). These six villains, under Luthor’s direction, off the rank and file villains of the DCU something that they never had: organization and a clear goal.

Very early on in VILLAINS UNITED #1 something becomes clear. The story isn’t about the Society, or even the membership drive. It is about what happens when you say “No” to the Society, and how short you can expect your life to be upon doing so. And the villain bold enough, skilled enough, and powerful enough to stand up to the Society?

(Go ahead, read it again, just to be sure. Yup. Catman.)

For those not in the know, Catman is Thomas Blake, a perennial loser who happens to both a poor man’s, cat-themed Batman as well as the DCU’s third rate answer to Marvel’s second rate Kraven the Hunter. Here, however, he has been remade as a confident, apparently skilled huntsman. And the change isn’t just from the reader’s perspective: the other villains of the DCU, including Doctor Psycho and Talia who are sent to recruit Blake, are surprised by his demeanor. Talia even goes so far as to compare his presence to that of Batman, albeit without actually saying that. When Blake turns the Society down, most of the board believes he should be killed as an example (most of all Psycho, who is insulted that someone like Catman, rather than Darkseid, turned him down). Luthor, for reasons not yet clear, decides to “be gracious” and leave Blake alone. Something tells me that Luthor is playing any number of sides here.

We are then introduced to the group of villains that will defy the Society throughout this series: Cheshire (an assassin and terrorist, as well as the mother of ex-Green Arrow sidekick Arsenal), Deadshot (best shot in the DCU, recently off his own mini-series that showed he might have a feeling or two left in his cold heart), the “new” Rag doll (a new version of an old Flash and Starman villain, I think), Scandal (who?), and Mike the Para demon (bwuh?). The Fiddler is also a part of the original lineup of this Secret Six, but a failure to be an effective member of the team earns him a bullet between the eyes by Deadshot. The villains are apparently on a mission to… do something nefarious (it isn’t quite clear what their goal is, other than to set up some sort of evil machinery) for a mysterious benefactor (malefactor?) named Mockingbird and wind up unsettling a “nest” of H.I.V.E agents (one of many Bond-esque evil organizations in the DCU -- power armor and jet packs must come in Cracker jack boxes in the DCU). It is the Fiddler’s inability to use his musical abilities against the H.I.V.E. agents that earns him an extra eye socket and thereby opens up a spot on the team for Catman. Catman agrees almost immediately. However, before leaving Africa, he gives an apparently trusted ally a note to be forwarded to Green Arrow.

Once Catman has agreed to leave Africa and sign up with the Secret Six, he is brought back to their HQ -- a big, dilapidated mansion, the location of which is never revealed. There, all six villains are greeted virtually by Mockingbird, told their losers and that even the other villains are going to be hunting them. When Cheshire gets uppity, mockingbird reveals that she(?) has chosen to use both the “whip” and the “carrot” to motivate this team: Mockingbird has something over each villain (in Cheshire’s case it is the life of her daughter) and at the same time offers them each a continent. What exactly it is they are supposed to do (other than “eradicate this Society”) and how that is going to give them dominion over the world is unknown.

Simone’s writing is good, with only a few places where the dialogue doesn’t necessarily match what we know about the characters (Black Adam doesn’t make threats -- he kills people when he wants them dead). The story is paced well, never lingering too long on one scene and providing enough information to pull you along. My only real complaint is that anyone new to the DCU is going to have trouble identifying who the players are. Sure, their names are spoken for the most part, but their backgrounds and even which hero’s rogues gallery they belong to is stated for none of them. I like the art: it isn’t hyper realistic, but it is fun and Eaglesham’s storytelling is smooth and carried you easily from panel to panel. The coloring is better in this book than in THE OMAC PROJECT -- it doesn’t get muddy on the slick paper.

I give VILLAINS UNITED #1 an 7 out of 10. It would have been a 9 had we gotten a little more identification of our key players. Hopefully, for the sake of those that don’t obsess over DC Comics and create blogs for big events, that is rectified in coming issues.

One final note: I am going to call it right now -- Mockingbird is in some way linked to Luthor and he is using the Secret Six to do his dirty work, probably so that he can eliminate all the ‘big guns’ he has on in Society board. Luthor is smart enough to know that some villains just wouldn’t take the deal, and also smart enough to turn that to his advantage. If it turns out Mockingbird is really Oracle, and the Secret Six were set up by Batman -- make mine Marvel.


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