Ganging Up On The Good Guys
Secret Society of Super-villains
by Kent "Cheeks" Orlando
(It's a "super-villain" thing. You wouldn't understand.)
On paper, at least... they were all but unbeatable. ;-))
THE SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS was one of a small flotilla of short-lived titles initiated by long-time comics scribe Gerry Conway, during his brief tenure as a DC Comics editor-in-residence. Along with such instantly forgettable fare as MAN-BAT (two issues) and the Jack Kirby-less KAMANDI (among others), it was part and parcel of the brace of books known as "Conway's Corner."
Whereas the others of these have long since faded away into the mists of four-color obscurity... the SSOSV (no way in heck am I typing out that full title each and every time, from here on out) has maintained a small but vocal cadre of hard core fan partisans, from its 70's inception to this very day.
Even though the series was never entirely a successful one -- not from a creative standpoint, nor (obviously; unless I've just, y'know, missed that 100th anniversary issue of SSOSV, a few months back) from a sales one -- a cursory examination of the published canon may help to elucidate the whys and wherefores of this phenomenon.
The original ten members of the SSOSV were: Captain Boomerang (FLASH villain); Captain Cold (ditto); Copperhead (BATMAN nemesis); Gorilla Grodd (yet another FLASH nemesis); Mirror Master (FLASH baddies were going for a dime per gross that week, apparently); The Shadow Thief (regular HAWKMAN sparring partner); inestro (GREEN LANTERN arch-foe); Star Sapphire (GL, again); and The Wizard (strayed "Earth-2" mega-stinker).
The team had been assembled by what appeared to be a "rogue" clone of the Archie Goodwin/Walt Simonson MANHUNTER character, who had gone on to his ultimate reward -- or so we'd been led to believe, at any rate -- within the penultimate pages of his award-winning (and fondly- remembered) series in the DETECTIVE COMICS series of the same era.
Now: even granting that one or two of the aforementioned recidivist renegades (I mean: Captain friggin' Boomerang...?) wouldn't make anyone's "short list" of Super-Villains Whose Very Names Inspire Wordless Awe and Trembling... the anti-social assemblage, overall, was a potent one. Several of its members (Grodd; Sinestro; Star Sapphire; etc.) were full-fledged DC powerhouses, and even its lesser "hangers-on" (he threw boomerangs, man! BOOMERANGS -- !!) made for -- at the very least -- invaluable cannon fodder. This was, God wot, no room full of easy "pushovers." ;-)) Which, of course, promptly begged the question: assuming that DC didn't allow Conway (who was also the series' scripter, initially) to bump off The Justice League of America, entire, as its opening act...
... who was going to mud-wrassle with these here bad boys on an ongoing basis? ;-))
Conway made a shrewd choice in Designated Sacrificial Lamb by dredging up the all-but-forgotten (and not entirely without cause, in all honesty) space-faring DC hero of the 50's: Captain Comet.
I believe (although I'm by no means certain; I mean, I wouldn't want to swear to it under oath, or anything like that) that the aforementioned Captain -- i.e., "Adam Blake" -- was the first ongoing comics hero to actually be designated as a "mutant." In his case, said mutation manifested itself as a tres formidable psycho-kinetic array of super-powers (flight; telepathy; etc.), squarely placing the character up in the ranks of -- if not quite Superman -- than, at the very least, the Martian Manhunter.
The upside of this decision, of course, was that -- the stalwart (if somewhat stodgy) Captain having nowhere else to regularly hang his hat -- Conway (as well as later SSOSV scribes) had free and unlimited reign over the character's explication and development.
The downside, in turn: said "character development" -- what with all of thefrantic rushing to and fro of so many spandexed characters each and every month, within the labyrinthine constraints of plots revolving around various attempts by the assorted super-villains to double-, triple- and even quadruple-cross one another, between occasional "master plans" to Destroy All Super-Heroes, NOW -- never really... ummmm... happened.
Well: one only has so many pages to decently work with, month-in and month-out, after all. ;-))
Eventually, the dictates of both storytelling logic (the Captain was out-numbered by a factor of ten or twelve, after all) and waning interest on the part of the readership, re: the series' ostensible protagonist -- my God, but the man was d-u-l-l dull -- mandated that a bevy of "guest-stars" be stirred into the pot on an ongoing basis; ranging from (then-)former TEEN TITAN, Kid Flash...
... to Steve Ditko-created superstar-in-waiting, the Creeper.
This all actually worked in the series' favor, believe it or not. After a time, the sheer, unholy number of costumed cut-ups frantically about -- each and every one complete with his (or her) own special "agenda"; and none of them trusting any of the others any farther than I could shot-put the Houston Astrodome -- lent the SSOSV title such a lunatic, Mad Hatter's- tea-party air, one was (ultimately) forced to simply toss up one's hands; smile resignedly; and chuckle: "... all right, then; surprise me." ;-))
... and, speaking of "agendas": the SSOSV, en masse, found themselves holding onto the fuzzy end of the lollipop a time or two there, as well, as various plots; sub-plots; and sub-sub-plots lumbered and crashed into one another like so many rogue elephants. (An occurrence, which -- manifestly -- never would have occurred in the first place, had they only been able to form a working, mutually non-treacherous alliance or two for longer than fifteen minutes at a stretch. I'm only sayin', here, is all.) ;-))
Case in point: the attempted "hostile takeover" of the SSOSV's nominal "chairmanship" by none other than DC's resident eeeeeevil geeeeenius, Lex Luthor.
As penned by Conway successor Bob Rozakis -- whose contributions to DC Comics lore, writing- wise, are sorely missed, incidentally -- Luthor's estimation of the SSOSV's scattershot shenanigans, at that juncture in the narrative, was best summed up as: "Nice panzer division. Now: all you clowns really need is someone to competently assume the role of Erwin Rommel." ;-))
This wholly selfless offer, however [Insert Frenzied Coughing Here], was rudely and roundly rejected by the SSOSVers, in favor of long-range plans being proffered by several other of the more intelligent (comparatively speaking, I mean) super-villains within the assemblage. (Yeah... and look where that got 'em, in the long run. Geez, but it's been one heck of a long time since I've seen an issue of SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER- VILLAINS show up on my monthly comics order form...) ;-))
That being said, however: one of those aforementioned plans was (in all actuality) a pretty darned clever one, as these things go. "Earth-2" renegade The Wizard (remember him?) -- aided and abetted by the Blockbuster (big, strong and almost incalculably brain-dead BATMAN villain); The Floronic Man (ATOM opponent); Professor Zoom (regular FLASH sparring partner); and the previously referenced Star Sapphire -- emigrated back to his own homeworld, with the express intent of utilizing his newfound "Secret Society: Mark II" to pick off the members of The Justice Society of America -- starting with that august organization's weakest members (The Atom and Dr. Mid-Nite), and moving up the "chain" from there -- ONE. AT. A. TIME.
Admit it, now: that, for chrissakes, showed some serious smarts on the Wizard's part. ;-))
(... 'course, now: at some point along the way... you've got the likes of The Spectre to deal with. I imagine that might be fairly counted as a "stumbling block." If you wanna get all, y'know, technical about it, and whatall.) ;-))
Sadly, however: even that audacious and cunning a scheme was brought low, in the end.
Not by Captain Comet, mind. Based upon his track record within the pages of SSOSV, the readers were left, ultimately, to wonder whether or not this guy could even catch a city bus, much less a card-carrying super-baddie. ;-))
No, no and no; when the Secret Society of Super-Villains fell in battle for the last time, within the pages of their own ongoing monthly... it was to the most implacable and unforgiving foeman of the all:
Low sales. [*choke*whimper*]
Given the present plethora of "dark"-style comics scribes working within the industry today (Warren Ellis; Garth Ennis; Paul Jenkins; etc.)... the time just might be "right" for a revival of the SSOSV concept once more. I, for one, certainly wouldn't mind seeing the series return once more, with a more calculatedly hard-edged, "playing for keepsies" approach on the part of its regular characters as a storytelling mandate.
Just... y'know... ditch the bozo with the boomerangs, first. ;-))
Kent G. Orlando a/k/a "Uncle Cheeks", had one of the most acclaimed comics-analysis sites on the web until he lost his free webspace. Several mirror sites are still online, and Fanzing is proud to help preserve some of his essays.
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This piece is © 2002 by Kent "Cheeks" Orlando
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