Comics Ate My Brain

September 20, 2005

All Together Now: Villains United #s 1-5

Filed under: crisis — Tom Bondurant @ 6:29 pm
Villains United (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham and Val Semeiks) uses the same slobs-vs.-snobs premise as Day of Vengeance and does right by it. Not just a story about glib super-powered outcasts, it takes full advantage of its circumstances and weaves an anything-goes tale filled with manipulation, treachery, and degrees of evil.

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.


  1. I’m glad somebody’s writing a round-up of this series as it approaches completion. I recently reread the first five issues, trying to figure out if the fifth issue’s big revelations were a fair-play mystery and if the same could perhaps be said for Mockingbird’s identity. (Major spoilers follow, by the way, if anyone else is reading this.)I was disappointed with the revelation of how Blake was induced to join the Secret Six; it isn’t fair-play at all. In issue one Blake says Deathstroke killed his pride, and the script gives us no reason to assume he’s not certain of that. Issue four includes a flashback in which Blake sees Deathstroke departing, contradicting his account in issue five. None of the issues establish that Blake never actually saw Deathstroke, and nowhere does Simone set up the key clue that Deathstroke has given up smoking (or even that he’d ever started; Blake doesn’t mention the scent of cigarettes at the kill site until issue 5, although he is smelling the telltale smokes as early as issue 2). The revelation lacks the set-up that’s crucial to a truly great twist.The revelation of the traitor is much better, and the motivations are absolutely perfect, so there’s that. But the series also has a lot of clutter. What’s the deal with the lozenges the Secret Six are planting? Why was the Society using Firestorm as a power source? I assume some of these points will be answered in Infinite Crisis, but too many of the scenes revolve around ultimately meaningless Maguffins. The result is six issues chock full of action but strangely light on plot advancement.Finally, there’s the identity of Mockingbird. I like this issue’s implication that the Society has created the Secret Six as a threat to unify its members–that Luthor himself might be Mockingbird. Hope this revelation turns out to be set up better than Blake’s recruitment.

    Comment by Marc — September 22, 2005 @ 3:50 am

  2. Good eyes! I didn’t pick up on those details. When that revelation came out I was trying to work out a theory that Cat-Man was Mockingbird, so I had forgotten the flashback from #4.(Before I forget — in August Jim Roeg did an in-depth analysis of VU #s 1-4, which I only just read because I didn’t want my opinion influenced. Besides, Jim is much smarter than I.)Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if Luthor were Mockingbird. I do think Luthor’s “lozenge” speech to Black Adam was a setup designed to keep Adam in line.There is another mystery too — namely, who is Scandal’s lover? She wasn’t writing that steamy e-mail (can’t remember the issue offhand) to her dad!

    Comment by Tom Bondurant — September 22, 2005 @ 8:01 pm

  3. Yes, I hope it turns out the “lozenge” stuff is a plot by Luthor to keep Adam in line (which would almost require Luthor to be Mockingbird–which would make Cheshire’s treachery redundant, although not unbelievably so…) if only because it would alleviate Adam’s unsavory complicity with issue #3’s torture scene. The argument Luthor makes is exactly the same “ticking time bomb” scenario used to justify our government’s tortures in the real world, although such a scenario has never happened. It’d be nice if it turned out to be equally fictitious in the DC universe.

    Comment by Marc — September 22, 2005 @ 8:16 pm

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