I mentioned at the end of my review of two of Gail Simone’s Secret Six collections that I was “going to lay hands on a copy of Villains United — I want the back story on this bunch.” Well, I did it.
Lex Luthor, at this point the former president of the United States and pretty much in hiding, has decided that it’s time to deal with the Justice League of America once and for all. He’s going to put together his own secret society of supervillains. Recruitment is easy — all he needs to do is pass on the news that the JLA has been tampering with the minds of captured villains. There are six holdouts, but Luthor is not inclined to worry about them overly much: with the exception of Deadshot and Cheshire, this bunch is just barely D-list. The six, however, including Scandal Savage, daughter of the immortal Vandal Savage, who becomes the group’s leader; Ragdoll, who gives the word “limber” a whole new meaning; Parademon, a refugee from Darkseid’s Apokolips army; and Catman, an old adversary of Batman who became a laughingstock but has managed to turn himself around, and who is recruited early on to replace the Fiddler, are recruited by a mysterious patron calling himself “Mockingbird.” While the Society could ignore the six while they were just isolated individuals, now that they’re operating as a team (more or less) the leadership (Luthor, Talia al Ghul, Black Adam, Dr. Psycho, Deathstroke, and the Calculator) has to consider them a potential threat. It gets worse after the Six are captured and tortured, and still manage not only to escape but to inflict a fair amount of damage on their guards.
The first part of this volume, concerned with the recruitment for the Society, is a little jumpy, being that it consists of scenes lifted from the associated comics. Once Simone takes control of the story line, however, it gains focus and, while it’s still episodic, it’s lot more coherent. Characterizations are key here — we really get the feeling that this is a bunch of not-good-guys who have to work together if they’re going to survive at all. And they really do come to life — Simone does an excellent job of building character through dialogue — including the characters’ takes on each other. These are not your grandfather’s superheroes — or villains, or whatever: they’re multidimensional and very, very human. And the story’s got that Simone edge.
There’s a scene at the end of this collection that points up something I’ve noticed about superhero comics lately: “right” and “wrong” are not really very clear-cut any more. As Catman tells Green Arrow, “Good guys don’t lobotomize people who are already in handcuffs. . . . People are going to die, because you took the shortcut.” That moral gray area is implicit in Deadshot’s response to Catman’s comment that they have to decide if they’re going to be saints or sinners: “Aw, hell. Let’s just flip a coin.”
The drawing by Dale Eaglesham and Val Semeiks is at a high level — it’s the kind of cartoon realism that works with the color (in this case by Sno-Cone) to produce a rich, deep visual field. The narrative flow is clear, and while the layouts aren’t particularly adventurous, they break the rigid frame-follows-frame format and do a good job of carrying a share of the story. And one other thing I’ve noticed about more recent superhero comics — not only are we given the usual voluptuous heroines and villainesses, but we are treated to equally enticing heroes and villains. It seems to have become a cardinal rule that everyone, good guys and bad, must be a knockout (and I’m not talking about the Apokolips warrior.) (Note that Semeiks did the pencils for the third number in this series, but his style blends very well with Eaglesham’s.)
So, I’m glad I went back to the beginning on this series. Another one to add to my “to follow” list. (Sigh. So many comics, so little time.)
(DC Comics, 2005) Collects Villains United #1-6, Secret Six #1-6, Villains United: Infinite Crisis Special #1