Monday, June 06, 2005


The thing about villain based comics is that you are never quite sure who to root for. Usually, you end up getting behind whoever the writer tells you to, who also happens to be the lesser of two (or more) evils. If this tendency remains in effect for the duration of VILLAINS UNITED, chances are that ‘lesser evil’ is going to be Richard Blake, aka Catman. And even if its not the case, the fact is that writer Gail Simon has managed to turn at least one third rate Batman wannabe and, in a mere two issues, made him an interesting character. The strength of VILLAINS UNITED #2 very much lies in Simone’s writing. That isn’t to say that Eaglesham and von Grawbadger don’t do an excellent job on the art chores -- they do -- but when you are talking about a group of protagonists as low every meter in the DCU as these guys, it takes one hell of a writer to make the book fun. And VILLAINS UNITED #2 is nothing if not fun, in a twisted, guilt-inducing way at least.

VILAINS UNITED #2 opens in the House of Secrets -- a mystical DCU location that suggests at least loose ties to another INFINITE CRISIS tie-in mini-series, DAY OF VENGEANCE -- with Deadshot -- the DCU’s cold stone killer -- and Catman -- the aforementioned Batman wanna-be -- discussing the identity of their employer, “Mockingbird” over blades, bullets and breakfast. It is a nice touch that even as we, the reader, wonder about Mockingbird’s identity , the characters do too. Meanwhile, Cheshsire is skulking about (which in any other title would suggest something nefarious, but this is a villain title after all --everything is nefarious) and Scandal -- about which little is known -- is writing love letters to an unknown -- Mockingbird? -- and accepting the reason she was “formed” and her possible death in the “coming war”. While this is all very interesting, it distracts us from the true mystery of VILLAINS UNITED: how the hell did Catman go from loser to, well, not since he last appeared in GREEN ARROW? The good news is that we get the questioned asked -- by Deadshot, who himself went through something a transformation recently in his own mini-series. The bad news is that it doesn’t get answered.

And before you know it, the team is off on a mission for Mockingbird. They are going to Gotham to intercept a shipment of Thanagarian weapons ultimately intended for the Society -- and thus ultimately intended to be pointed and fired at the Six. It isn’t much but it is a nice nod to the RANN/THANAGAR WAR mini -- after all, the weapons could have been from anywhere. Little things like this remind us that this is all part of a larger plan. Of course, if we were Luthor and his Society, we’d know this already, since Calculator has managed to bug the plane and is monitoring the Six as they close in on Gotham. Luthor has a plan, indeed, and once the Six find that the shipment is nowhere to be found, they discover what it is: the capture and torture of the Six.

Now this is a surprise. I expected somewhere down the line that the Six would have to face the music, at least the first few notes, but not so early. But when they are duped and jumped by no less than 16 Society villains -- including Flash-rogue powerhouse Weather Wizard and “who the hell is that? Nazi Man?” -- the Six don’t stand much of a chance. Luthor doesn’t lave much to chance, after all. He may not have super powers -- Kryptonite mixed with Venom notwithstanding -- but that doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous. This is something to keep in mind as things progress.

Anyway, Catman leaps in head first while the rest of the Six attempt to bail, but it doesn’t matter. They all go down, though not without a fight. Unfortunately for Blake, that isn’t the end. He wakes up in the care of the Crime Doctor, who promises that life is going to be both long and excruciating before asking for one piece of information it doesn’t seem that Catman knows: the identity of Mockingbird. It makes for a tense little cliffhanger, especially if you assume that the question is a real one: if Luthor doesn’t know who Mockingbird is, then it isn’t part of some contingency plan of his, which suggests that there is a player that we’ve discounted, or there is a traitor in the Society. I still vote for Talia -- she has the smarts, the means, and the motivation.

VILLAINS UNITED #2 is a great read and deepens an already fine mystery. It is fun without being light, and it portrays the villains of the DCU, both the protagonists and the antagonists, as competent and even a little likable, without necessarily compromising their villain status. I give this a 9 out of 10 and am eagerly awaiting issue #3.


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