Proceeding directly from Identity Crisis’ revelations while not relying on the reader’s knowledge of same, VU picks up with Lex Luthor organizing a mammoth new, hundreds-strong, Secret Society of Super-Villains. Luthor’s pitch is that the villains must, well, unite in order to avoid the Justice League mindwiping them like they did Dr. Light those many years ago. Opposed to Luthor, for reasons as yet unclear, is the mysterious Mockingbird, whose new Secret Six includes himself, undercover as one of the Sixers. At first the Six are Cheshire, Deadshot, a new Rag Doll, a random Parademon, Scandal (apparently new for this miniseries), and the Fiddler. However, when Fiddler botches his part of a mission, he’s executed by Deadshot and replaced with Cat-Man.
Cat-Man is therefore the reader’s guide to the DC underworld. Introduced in January 1963’s Detective Comics #311, he was a criminal amalgam of Batman and Catwoman, with a Batman-like costume and cat-themed crimes. His main gimmick was a magical orange cloth, incorporated into his costume, which gave him nine lives. VU hasn’t said anything about this so far, being content to make him as much like the strong, silent Bat-type as possible. In other words, his mad skilz belie his loser’s reputation. When armies of Secret Socialites attack the Sixers, Cat-Man takes out several single-handedly; and when the Sixers are eventually imprisoned and tortured, Cat-Man (somehow) breaks them out. If VU has a flaw, it’s in making Cat-Man a little too capable. I read the breakout scene a few times last night and still couldn’t figure out how he did it, short of simply being tough. It might go back to the magic cloth; I don’t know.
Cat-Man’s main relationships in VU are with Deadshot, his alpha-male antagonist, and Cheshire, who wants him to bear her child. As for the other Sixers, Rag Doll and Parademon have an odd, half-HoYay, half-Of Mice and Men bond, and nobody really trusts Scandal. Moreover, there’s a traitor in the group, so between looking for the traitor and looking for Mockingbird, there are a lot of shifty-eyed glances traded.
Simone pays a bit less attention to the Secret Society’s brain trust, which starts with Luthor and his former corporate colleague Talia al Ghul, and descends through Calculator, Deathstroke, Black Adam, and Dr. Psycho. Each of these folks gets a couple of thumbnail traits too — nobody trusts Luthor, Dr. Psycho is all id, Black Adam has some Klingon-like honor, and Talia still lusts after Batman. Basically, though, the Society wants to make an example of the Six, and so doesn’t go after them right away. Naturally, this ends up giving the Six the opening they need to defy the Society, and eventually they destroy the Society’s big weapon. As the penultimate issue ends, though, the traitor within the Six has been revealed, and has brought the Society down on the Sixers’ heads.
Maybe the best scene in the miniseries comes at the beginning of issue #4, when a small-time supervillain wannabe explains, in chilling detail, how the Society’s formation will mean the end of every prison on Earth. It’s a great couple of pages, executed flawlessly by Simone and Eaglesham, and it does more to heighten the stakes than any doomsday-device scenario Luthor could describe.
VU‘s potential lies in its paranoia. Most of the time the reader can tell which characters are “safe,” because those are the characters the companies need to sell toothpaste or underwear. With VU, though, those “name” characters are the bad guys — or, I should say, the really bad guys. DC’s not going to kill the Secret Society’s leaders, but it has no such need for Cat-Man.
This leaves a few basic outcomes. First, the Society could crush the Six in a kind of Grand Guignol, blaze-of-glory tragic ending. Second, the Six could survive, and continue to be a thorn in the Society’s side, probably coming to the heroes’ aid at some point in Infinite Crisis. Third — and perhaps most intriguing — would be the revelation that Mockingbird was somehow working with the Society to consolidate Luthor’s bid for power. Any one of these endings would be fine with me, because Simone has garnered a lot of goodwill along the way.