“And Empires in Their Purpose”
Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: Dale Eaglesham (p), Wade von Grawbadger (i)
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: The Calculator sends an envoy of Talia al Ghul and Dr. Psycho to make as many villains they can think of an offer they can’t refuse. Only Catman does. Catman? Meanwhile, Mockingbird is running her own counter-villain villain team. Confused yet? You may still be, even after I’ve sorted it all out below.
What’s interesting: Perhaps this is the place to ask the big question: What’s the point of having a united, focused team of uber-villains who actually are a serious threat to DC’s uber-powerful heroes? Can DC’s sometimes wonky, corny, clownish stable of characters survive the darker tone? To judge from this issue…, No. So the next question is: should they?
Obviously, the answer to part one is that the current PTB/crop of hot writers thinks this is the way to tell better stories. The villains are smarting over the “betrayal” worked upon Dr. Light by the JLA, and thus their chants of hypocrisy and unfairness towards the big blowhards everyone loves actually have more resonance than usual. These dangerous criminals, often already able to work up quite a wrathful fright, now can cop a semi righteous tone as they struggle to get their way. The “cops” who keep them in line have been revealed as not better, just bigger and stronger and even sneakier. It’s clear that the 5 months we have left till Infinite Crisis will continue to winnow the ranks of DC’s heroes and villains, leaving us with a universe-wide version of Bendis’s New Avengers for Marvel (where his House of M looks set to perform the same function for DC). Both companies seem to feel there was cast bloat and a lack of focus in recent years, and so now when all the crises are over we’re going to have leaner, meaner more battle-ready characters suitable to the action-packed high-stakes stories fans now crave. A newly streamlined continuity any reasonably competent writer can use to spin out monthly installments.
Now let’s see if that addresses my second question.
Not as interesting: The Fiddler is the sacrificial victim to the new époque this time, and Cheshire verbalizes the contempt everyone feels for the old fuddy duddy when she calls him a “useless fossilized hack.” He fails, and then Deadshot just shoots him in the face. Very Sopranos Season One, but it makes me wonder. A fiddle that confuses men’s minds may seem like a pretty useless, fossilized weapon to DC 2005. But how do we know there’s not a Gaiman or Moore out there, who next year or ten years from now could have crafted a haunting, lyrical mood masterpiece where the Fiddler’s corrupt music seemed to lift off the page, a haunting melody that contributed to a classic story that would one day grace some DC Archives edition and give us brilliant insight into Batman or Flash or Black Canary or whomever is judged still worthy enough to still be around at that point along the way?
In other words, when making these sweeping changes in the name of currency, how do TPTB know what they’re losing that they may later regret, or if they’re being not wise but merely trendy and, all too soon, horribly dated as well?
Sexism Watch: I’m not one to opine that female writers write better female characters, or that men do better action scenes. I like what Simone does with Talia here, giving us insight into how Catman of all people can suddenly remind Talia (who knows her charismatic men) of a cross between Batman and Tarzan. But shame on Jones for her butt-shine appearance on the cover (is that the reason she’s the team’s girl mascot?), which isn’t nearly as bad as Cheshire’s “bend over and say hello” pose we’re promised next issue.
Writing notes: Simone has a way with humor, but Dr. Psycho’s ranting about the hubris of refuseniks here doesn’t really work any better than Fiddler’s doomed mumbling, as we’d have to care about the little tyrant’s desires to have any sympathy when they’re stymied. She has much better luck with the chilling courtesy of the Rag Doll, and with the foliage-fearing Parademon. That said, I’m mystified by the motivations of the second team of villains (another warring tribe against Luthor’s crew, or good guys by default?), as well as by some of their identities. And I’ve really grown tired of Lian being used to manipulate either Cheshire or Arsenal. Is there any chance at all anymore that kid will group up normal?
Art notes: Eaglesham’s work is serviceable, but only really shows inspiration on the under-villains lair, and in Rag Doll’s fight with the bee-men. All in all, this is a competent but underwhelming issue with troubling implications for the future.
Strange that a gathering of the DCU’s vilest bad guys should most readily evoke an image of Morrissey… Is there anybody else who hears the Smiths’ “Shoplifters of the World Unite” while reading this issue?
The Calculator’s crew has begun strong-arming villains to join their crew for protection and organization, and they want everybody from Mr. Freeze to… Catman. But even as Faust, Prometheus, Grodd, Fatality, and others enlist, the group may be undone by the C-list talent who refuses to play. The inner circle of Deathstroke, Luthor, Black Adam, and Talia al Ghul debate the dissident’s fate, while a splinter group develops their own agenda for world domination.
“Shoplifters of the World, Unite and Take Over”
Simone’s story and pacing here are top-notch, and evoke just the kind of action and comedy one would expect when the world’s greatest killers get together for tea. Still, there are times it might have helped to provide a name for some of the players on the board, as not all of them are immediately recognizable and, unfortunately, many of them look remarkably similar, particularly the women. In other regards, Eaglesham’s art serves the story but does not stand out for any particular virtue.
“Shoplifters of the World, Hand it Over”
While this series has generated quite a lot of buzz for its admittedly intriguing subject matter, I can’t help but think the title detracts from some of the excitement. Villains United seems more like a tag line than a formal title, and this will particularly hurt it in when the inevitable trade paperback emerges. Buying a comic called Villains United is one thing, but I can’t see it standing as a book.
“…the bomb that will bring us together.”
Yes, that’s a different song. Appropriate though, as the only motivation strong enough to bring together a team of backstabbers is having their own wicked ways turned against them by the moral majority. With Dr. Light’s mindwiping as a rallying cry, the Secret Society hopes to protect their own interests and gain revenge through the victory over the heroes they could never achieve alone. This may not be enough to keep them together, but the mafia-like structure of the new organization should prevent any second thoughts. All in all, the first issue of Villains United provides both a solid introduction to the main conflicts, a useful summary of what has gone before, and a promise of danger and betrayal in the months ahead. Oh, and a Hero. This last bit is vital, since even in a story about villains a reader needs someone to root for. Ultimately, the success or failure of this story will fall on how well Simone develops this character into a compelling protagonist. She’s off to a good start, but she’s got a lot of work ahead. This looks to be a real fun comic, but long-term impression is still up in the air.
I enjoyed this issue, I really did, but what follows is a short rant about the current state of Lex Luthor and his role in the DC Universe.
Who the hell is he? Is he the Lex Luthor from Birthright? Is the Lex Luthor from the Man of Steel who died, was cloned, was dying again… made a deal with Neron and who was then President of the USA and was taken down by Bats and Supes? Is he the Lex Luthor from the Silverage? Does he have a daughter called Lena? What is going on?
Now I know I have probably answered my own question in the above rave of questions, and I do know the answer somewhere in the recess of my mind (I believe he is a former Businessman who is now believed dead), but really why do we have so many unanswered questions regarding Luthor?
Right. Onto the issue…, the art was fantastic – best thing about it. Artists Dale Eaglesham & Wade von Grawbadger have done a wonderful job of depicting all these villains. My only concern is I am not scared of them. These guys are meant to be villains, the scum of the DC Universe. I would have liked a little more of a moody atmosphere to go with the tone of the story. The Villains are uniting under the eye of Luthor – we should be worried about, and the art should reflect that. All that said, the pages were lovely to look at. Catman has never looked better. He doesn’t look so campy anymore. I do like the idea of the villains being out of costume more, and I would like to think the smart ones at least know the costumes are not what make the man.
Gail Simone writes an interesting story, and shows the villains as a force to be reckoned with. I am definitely interested in reading on, and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting very much of this series. I knew it would be worth reading, but I just didn’t expect to be intrigued by what was happening and the secret six villains that have been brought together by a mysterious third party. I had a few problems as to why Catman is now this dashing good looking guy, and why Talia al Ghul has once again sided with Luthor after turning on him in Superman/Batman, but that aside…
…this was a good read, not as good as The OMAC Project, but it sets itself up well for the next five issues. I loved the cover by J.G. Jones, but I would have liked to see a bit more of a background. I am definitely looking forward to Gail’s run on Action Comics, and after reading this, seeing her write threatening villains bodes well for the gallery of monsters available to her in the Superman titles.
What did you think of this book?
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