"Honor Among Thieves Part 2"
Writer: Jen Van Meter
Artists: Patrick Olliffe (p), Ruy Jose and Drew Geraci (i)
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: The Icicle and his crew continue with their efforts to aid the Wizard in stealing the Cosmic Key from the JSA's headquarters. Through a series of diversions set up by the Thinker, the group is able to break in the headquarters and steal the Key but is met with a betrayal at the hands of the Society.
Commentary: What this story (and Villains United for that matter) proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that as long as the story is solid and the characters are fleshed out and likable, it doesn't matter if the cast is comprised of heroes or villains, I will still enjoy it. To me, this story is why the protagonist and antagonist you learn about in junior high school English class are not defined as the hero or the villain of the piece because the terms are so subjective.
In this case, the protagonists are a group of villains and under Jen Van Meter's care, they have come into their own as characters. Everyone has a different voice and different motivation, but they are bound together by a sense of community and whatever else that x-factor is that drives them. Icicle's narration and the dialogue of the other members of the cast provide a real sense of how these people relate to each other and to their fellow "villains." To me, the story is set up and executed as a caper with super-villains. If you replaced the JSA with the police, the Icicle's group with a hodgepodge of thieves and the Society as an organized crime family then you could still have the same story. This is not meant to be demeaning towards Jen Van Meter. As a matter of fact, I love it when writers think out of the super-hero (or in this case villain) box and try to mix genres for the sake of a fantastic read.
What makes this arc special is that we aren't dealing with normal people trying to do what comes naturally to them. We're dealing with a group of individuals who possess spectacular and deadly abilities, which ups the stakes considerably. A bunch of down-on-their-luck crooks stealing an item to bail out a friend is one thing; a bunch of super villains banding together to steal the Cosmic Key from the preeminent super-hero team and then getting betrayed by the greatest collection of super-villains the world has ever seen is something else. It elevates both genres and produces a book that is just fun to read.
The Icicle, Tigress, the Wizard, Gentleman Ghost, Rag Doll, the Thinker and even Solomon Grundy are all presented as likable. They're the bad guys. I'm not supposed to be pulling for them, but I am. This speaks to Van Meter's ability as a writer. The easy route would have been to make the villains Kevin Smith or Quentin Tarantino-like in dialogue and attitude and portray the heroes as two-dimensional cut outs, but that is not the case here. With the exception of Talia and the other Society members, everyone is played as doing the best they can under the circumstances. The JSA is not depicted as dimwitted or simple. When the Icicle's crew finally breaks in, they are defending their home and put up a pretty good fight. The problem is they were outmatched, but this fact didn't prevent Stargirl, Jakeem, Wildcat and even Ma Hunkle from going down swinging. Everyone is treated with respect, which I am glad to see as becoming more common in the comics DC publishes these days.
In The End: This is an excellent story arc. Jan Van Meter has come up with a wonderful plot that is executed with great flair and talent. The characters are written so vividly, and I believe Van Meter's treatment of the Golden-Age characters and their heirs is as impressive as Roy Thomas, James Robinson, David Goyer and Geoff Johns's. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Pat Olliffe, Roy Jose and Drew Geraci's art. The style is smooth, the characters look great and the action was paced out nicely. Most importantly, it meshed perfectly with the story being told. I try not to write the following assertion often, but I really hope more is down with these characters at Van Meter's hand after this arc is over.
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