Reprints Villains United #1-6, Special
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Dale Eaglesham and Val Semekis
The march towards Infinite Crisis continues with more fallout from the events of Identity Crisis. Once it was revealed that a contingent of Justice League members was actively using their powers to mindwipe villains, this became a rallying point for those baddies seeking to amass power. The Society was formed, led by Lex Luthor, Talia al Ghul, The Calculator, Deathstroke, Doctor Psycho, and Black Adam. The group is splitting up to hit all corners of the planet in a recruitment drive. If you don’t submit to their campaign to pull off a massive attack on the superheroes, then you’re left for dead as a message to any future dissenters. Writer Gail Simone cleverly makes these mini-series not about the top tier villains in power, but in a small group who aren’t willing to go along with the ultimatum.
This is my favorite of all the Countdown to Infinite Crisis mini-series because I’ve always had a soft spot for the eccentric and elaborate villains of the DC Universe. I love a comic book world where a simple evil genius like Luthor stands next to an ancient Egyptian warrior (Black Adam) and a perverted telepath dwarf (Dr. Psycho). When I would watch Superfriends reruns as a kid, my favorite part was when the Legion of Doom came on screen because I found them so visually and conceptually interesting. Gail Simone does an excellent job of throwing hordes of villains at the reader while keeping her story focused on a group of six specific ones, The Secret Six.
Brought together by the mysterious Mockingbird, the Secret Six are Cat-Man, Scandal, Cheshire, Deadshot, Rag Doll, and Parademon. Simone brings some of the best characterizations out of any book during this period of DC Comics, and this mini led to one of the more successful and perennial ongoing series. When you are highlighting characters that lack the cultural baggage of Batman or Superman, then you have a lot more freedom to make those characters the best fit for the story you are telling. Mark Waid wasn’t following strict guidelines about who Wally West was in the Flash; he invented the character. Here Simone takes a C-tier villain like Cat-Man and, building on his reinvention in Green Arrow, fleshes out and develops the character into someone brand new. He’s the perfect central protagonist for this story, the last recruit for the Secret Six who is trying to parse the relationships that are already established.
Even better is the character work being done with Rag Doll and Parademon, two of the wilder figures taking center stage in Villains United. Rag Doll, the child of the original Golden Age villain and brother of the current bearer of that moniker, is portrayed as appropriately creepy. The concept of the character is that he comes from a family with a deeply disturbing multiple joint mutations allowing him to bend and shape himself to get out of and into bad situations. Simone gives Rag Doll a quiet, twisted demeanor and leaves the reader unsettled. Parademon is a character who doesn’t get the depth of exploration I wanted, but what we do get is fantastic. He was one of Darkseid’s many minions stranded at some point on Earth and has begun to develop an individual personality. If you think of the way Drax is written in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, Parademon is a version of that fish out of water strongman. He’s appropriately villainous and heroic, a perfect example of what an anti-hero should be.
Villains United is almost a perfect stand-alone series up until the third act reveals about Mockingbird. The story beats that are hit in the closing issues do tie it directly into Infinite Crisis, but I almost think it’s to the detriment of Simone’s overall work. While most of the story is focused on the Secret Six, the reveal of Mockingbird’s identity shifts the spotlight to characters who weren’t why we kept reading. Thankfully, the Secret Six lived on in an ongoing series that lasted for three years with a follow-up in the New 52 era.