This is my last Comic Effect Weekly column for 2004. A week from now my girlfriend and I will be hitting the road and traveling to southern Utah to spend a few days at Bryce Canyon, and then we’ll be taking the back roads across northern Arizona, dropping into vast desert landscapes and up into cold forested terrain just south of the Grand Canyon. At night in the motels I’ll be jotting down my overall thoughts on Identity Crisis (the last issue of the series is scheduled to come out the day before we leave), kicking back with classic issues of The Brave and the Bold (I highly recommend Michael Eury’s terrific look back on the series in Back Issue #7) and other comics I’ve chosen for the trip, and studying maps of Utah and Arizona in search of serene yet majestic natural wonders. Not a bad way to wrap up the year, huh?
But before I go, I’d like to leave you with some commentary on a long-time favorite comic:
Secret Society of Super-Villains #11
“A Changing of the Guard.”
Writer: Gerry Conway.
Artists: Mike Vosburg and Joe Orlando.
Editor: Jack C. Harris.
For the life of me, it’s impossible to thumb through my complete collection of Secret Society of Super-Villains without each issue sparking a classic rock song in my head. While reading issue 11, Queen’s “We Are The Champions” just started playing in the jukebox of my mind. I reached for SSOSV #5 and by the time I was on page three I was humming Boston’s “More Than A Feeling.” Issue 9 prompted Heart’s “Barracuda.” And so on, right on to issue 15’s kicking into gear Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.” Ah-woooo! Hey, no comic can be bad if it inspires the mental play of a Zevon tune.
C’mon, let’s all admit it, Secret Society of Super-Villains is every long-time DC comics fan’s guilty reading pleasure from the mid-1970s (Freedom Fighters is right up there, too, but I’m not gonna push it)! Writers Gerry Conway, David Anthony Kraft and Bob Rozakis packed the stories with numerous villains, intricate plots, lots of action, a few superheroes, and the return of a practically forgotten space-hero from the 1950s, Captain Comet. There was also a great wealth of solid artists on the series, including Pablo Marcos, Rich Buckler, and Mike Vosburg.
Issue 11 weighs in at the then standard seventeen pages, and originally cost 35 cents. You can say a lot of nasty things about SSOSV, and most people would agree (although every loyal SSOSV fan read each book a gazillion times), but you could never accuse the series of muddling along. Every issue has a lot going on.
Our story opens inside the hidden Gorilla City, located deep in the heart of equatorial Africa. In captivity, Gorilla Grodd ponders recent events. After more than a page of Groddian flashbacks that recap villainous exploits that also tie into DC Special Series #6 and Super-Team Family #14 (and doesn’t feel the least bit like a distraction), we shift scenes to the Secret Society’s Sinister Citadel in San Francisco. Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing Grodd again this issue, but his presence continues to be felt throughout the story.
In the Citadel, the new Star Sapphire and Jason Woodrue, the Plant Master, are in the process of taking over the Secret Society from Stan Lee, er, Funky Flashman. Meanwhile, the Wizard (late of Earth-2) has been arrested, and Captain Comet flies to Earth and dozens of people from a derailed BART train. After escaping the maddening crowd, Comet, in his civilian identity of Adam Blake, meets up with his lady friend, Debbie, and they go out on a date together.
Outside of San Francisco at a place called Vulcan Industries, the Plant Master kills a night watchman with the deadly quills of a poison cactus and then steals various chemicals that he will use to replace mankind with floronic men! Once his concoction is in sufficient quantity he will ditch the Secret Society and change the world!
We again shift scenes to a nearby prison where the Wizard acquires some new duds and magical items that increase his diminished powers, allowing him to escape. A brief flashback ties in his remarkable recovery to the past three issues of SSOSV (ah, the good old days, when flashbacks, references, and footnotes helped the reader with the big picture).
Meanwhile, Adam’s date with Debbie (hey, wasn’t that a DC book from way back?) is going extremely well. After sharing a warm kiss good night and setting another rendezvous, our resident superhero gets to whistle a happy tune all the way home. (Isn’t it great? A book devoted entirely to villains where the superhero gets to have a good time! No wonder Comet never wanted his own book!)
Meanwhile, Plant Master has returned to the Citadel and is well on his way to perfecting his formula. Unfortunately for him, the newly rejuvenated Wizard arrives and destroys Woodrue’s plants. The enraged Plant Master hardly has a chance to fight back before the Wizard swiftly subdues him. Time passes, and the Wizard keeps a silent vigil. Funky Flashman and Star Sapphire return to find the Wizard waiting for them. The Wizard announces he has taken over leadership of the Secret Society. Sapphire is good with that, until his leadership’s been tested. But Funky is beside himself, because he feels that he is the SSOSV’s leader! The Wizard pummels Funky with some flashy burn spells and transports him away.
Our story has climaxed with the changing of the villainous guard, concluding with a homeless and singed Flashman on the cold, dark, early morning streets of San Francisco, vowing vengeance!
Vosburg and Orlando make an interesting artistic combination. Grodd’s hateful expression on page one, panel three is a little odd (he looks more like a hairy Creature from the Black Lagoon), but there are still some nice touches throughout the story. Page nine’s multi-panel sequence of Plant Master raiding Vulcan Industries is very well-paced. On page 12, panel 3, Debbie looks a lot like Linda Ronstadt, circa 1977. The Wizard’s new costume is a little too much, but he still comes across as an imposing menace on page 14, panel 2. And you really feel Flashman’s rage at being dethroned in the last panel of page 17.
For those of us living the comic book life in the Fall of 1977 the advertisements could either be a reflection or a distraction. In SSOSV #11 I would turn past ads for Hostess Fruit Pies, Crosman BB and Pellet Guns, Slim Jim meat snacks, drafting kits, a host of Clark Bars, the obligatory Fun Factory items, strong arms for $3.98, Sea-Monkeys, TV posters (Lynda Carter, Farrah Fawcett, Starsky and Hutch, Rocky Balboa), and Snap-Tite Emergency Rescue Vehicles. I didn’t buy or order any of those items (I had a sweet tooth for the Hostess chocolate pie, for shame, for shame), but I always enjoyed the DC in-house ads. The December books all carried a nice full-page spread for Doorway to Nightmare #1.
Secret Society of Super-Villains lasted fifteen issues (plus the DC Special Series one-shot), beginning in February of 1976 (just the thought of issue 1 sets off Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell In Love”) and concluding with an abrupt cancellation just before the DC Explosion of 1978. The book’s loose ends were wrapped up in the pages of Justice League of America #166 about a year later in a multi-part storyline that was alluded to in DC’s current Identity Crisis. Whether the Secret Society could make a comeback in today’s comics marketplace is hard to say, but I think it would be worth a try. Anything to get Funky Flashman off the streets.
Merry Christmas everyone, and a happy New Year! I’ll be back the first week of 2005!