The Secret Society of Super-Villains

The Secret Society of Super-Villains

(pop culture)
“You are cordially invited to attend the first bimonthly meeting of the Secret Society of Super-Villains … Attend or Die!” How could any hero-hating festooned felon refuse a first-issue summons like that? Teams of supervillains had been around almost as long as their superheroic enemies, but DC Comics' The Secret Society of Super-Villains (SSOSV), running fifteen issues from 1976 to 1978, was the first major attempt to assemble costumed criminals into an ongoing series with a villainous brand name. A product of “Conway's Corner,” the tag given the titles launched by writer/editor Gerry Conway during a company-wide expansion called “the DC Explosion,” SSOSV #1, by Conway and penciler Pablo Marcos, gathers a criminal confederacy: Captains Boomerang and Cold, Copperhead, Gorilla Grodd, Mirror Master, Shadow-Thief, Sinestro, Star Sapphire, and the Wizard, most of whom are subpoenaed by a mysterious invitation, others liberated from imprisonment. At the fully equipped headquarters the Sinister Citadel, Manhunter appears as team leader, representing a behind-the-scenes organizer he refuses to name. (A different version of SSOSV #1 was originally produced by Conway, penciler Ric Estrada, and inker Marcos, featuring a story direction contrary to the vision of then-publisher Carmine Infantino. That tale was shelved but later published in black-and-white in DC's house fanzine, The Amazing World of DC Comics #11, 1976.) It didn't take long for the organizer to reveal himself—the iron hand of Darkseid, overlord of Apokolips, was strongly hinted at in issue #2 and fully disclosed in #3. Nor did it take long for Conway to divest himself of the series, grooming David A. Kraft as co-writer with #2 (Kraft took over with #3), followed by Bob Rozakis (with #5) and then the return of Conway (with #8). Similarly, a variety of cover and interior artists zipped through the book. The team itself was also unstable—Black Racer, Kalibak, Mantis, Felix Faust, Chronos, Cheetah, the Floronic Man, Hi-Jack (of the Royal Flush Gang), Sinestro, the Reverse-Flash, Bizarro, Captain Stingaree, the Trickster, Lex Luthor, Matter Master, Stan Lee parody Funky Flashman, the Crime Syndicate, Angle Man, Poison Ivy, and Blockbuster were among the characters that appeared, with rancor and treachery common among members. Superhero Captain Comet was added in SSOSV #2 as the title's continuing good guy, after DC realized that readers needed someone to root for, and Superman, Kid Flash, and the Justice Society were among the heroes stopping by. This chaotic, revolving-door roster provided much of the series' excitement—readers could not anticipate just who might appear, or whether “the world's weirdest hero,” the Creeper, who guest-starred in #9 (1977), would side with the good guys or the bad. Market oversaturation led to 1978's title-axing “DC Implosion,” and SSOSV was abruptly canceled with issue #15, denying readers the conclusion of a two-part tale (although part two was published in Xerox form in Cancelled Comic Cavalcade #2, the second of two compilations of Implosion material issued in extremely limited numbers). Conway resolved the aborted storyline by including the SSOSV in Justice League of America #166–#168 (1979), and the Secret Society regrouped again in issues #195–#197 (1981). Nostalgia triggered the SSOSV's revival in “The Secret Society,” a two-part 2003 episode of the Cartoon Network's animated Justice League (2001–2004), with Grodd, Sinestro, the Shade, Clayface, and the Parasite appearing. But retribution was behind the group's return in 2005's five-part “Crisis of Conscience” storyline in DC's JLA. Incensed over the supervillain “mindwiping” (memory alteration) sanctioned by some Justice Leaguers, Star Sapphire, Chronos, Felix Faust, Floronic Man, and the Wizard, their stolen memories restored by Despero, reunited to assault both the JLA and their loved ones. The “Society” was also the name used by Lex Luthor in the miniseries Villains United (2005) to describe his vision of a criminal-controlled world.
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