Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Secret Society Of Super-Villains!

Let's set the scene. It's the winter of 1975 and Jack "King" Kirby has finished his contract with DC Comics which he started when he famously jumped from Marvel at the turn of the decade. His tenure at DC had ups and downs but there's no doubt it left a mark. His epic saga of the New Gods had been cancelled some years before because of apparent low sales.

But it's odd that the moment when Kirby left DC to return to Marvel for a time, that the powers at DC immediately brought the Fourth World concepts back, first in the pages of the final issue of 1st Issue Special which featured the "Return of the New Gods" and the next month in the pages of The Secret Society of Super-Villains, which hails from the brief but potent "Conway's Corner".

Gerry Conway is the writer and Pablo Marcos is the artist. The story also brings back Manhunter created by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson, that is it almost brings him back. It seems that Paul Kirk had some surviving clones and this Manhunter is one of those. The premise is simple enough, Manhunter gathers together some of DC's super-villains to work for a mysterious benefactor. They gather at a San Francisco office building dubbed the Sinister Citadel and immediately find themselves battling robot versions of the Justice League. The original gang consists of Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Grodd, Sinestro, Star Sapphire, the Wizard, Shadow-Thief, and Copperhead. After their initiation, they are offered the proposition by Manhunter to work together for booty and power down the line and they agree for the moment. Grodd and Copperhead are the first two to act together to steal some plutonium and they fail and Copperhead is caught by the authorities.

In the second issue by new scribe David Anthony Kraft with Marcos staying on art, the status quo set up in the first issue if upset when injected into the team is vintage hero Captain Comet. Comet has been in space for many years and has been out of touch with modern Earth doings so when he lands on Earth in the city of San Francisco and finds the villains Grodd and Hi-Jack under attack by Green Lantern, he assumes the former are the victims and intercedes on their behalf. The villains seek to continue the ruse and bring him to the Citadel where he is inducted into the Secret Society as something of a potential pawn. While Comet is visiting his long dead relatives in a graveyard he is met by Manhunter who reveals that he is actually using the Society to bring down the Benefactor and that the villains are his pawns. Suddenly Mantis attacks and the two fend him off  before the Society is gathered (Grodd, Captain Cold, and Star Sapphire) to find a secret lab full of weird biological experiments. The Benefactor is revealed to be Darkseid and Mantis returns and the two forces fight.

In the third issue by Conway, Kraft and Marcos the battle picks up. While the Society battles Mantis and his forces Darkseid watches and sends his son Kalibak to check into matters.

Captain Cold, Captain Comet, and Grodd are captured and Manhunter and Star Sapphire escape while in a prison some distance away Copperhead escapes with help from the outside. Meanwhile at the Citadel Captain Boomerang, Mirror Master, Sinestro, Wizard, and Hi-Jack wait for word. Manhunter appears, tells them of the threat and they head off to battle the forces of Mantis and rescue their comrades-in-arms. Star Sapphire on the other hand goes to Green Lantern for help. The Society attacks the secret lab and appear to be winning, but Darkseid watches and orders Kalibak to enter the fray.

Things get really confusing in the fourth issue by Conway, Kraft and Marcos with Vince Colleta stepping in as inker, when after having won a momentary battle two of the Society decide to pull out. Sinestro and Wizard decide they don't want anymore to do with it and leave while Star Sapphire and Green Lantern discover Mantis and a fight breaks out. Sinestro and Wizard return to the Citadel and discover Funky Flashman who offers them a new deal. Back at the secret base Kalibak arrives and Manhunter, Grodd, Star Stapphire, and Captain Cold face him as Darkseid decides to show up too. Grodd and Kalibak battle in the streets and under water with both exhausted. As Darkseid confronts the defeated Mantis the mysterious harbinger of death, the Black Racer appears.

In the fifth issue it all changes. Gerry Conway, David Anthony Kraft, and Pablo Marcos are gone and Bob Rozakis and Rich Buckler are in as the status quo of the Secret Society is utterly changed. "Endgame" begins as Darkseid orders the Black Racer to leave the scene and the Society (Manhunter, Captain Comet, Star Sapphire, Mirror Master, Captain Cold, and Captain Boomerang confront Darkseid and Mantis. Darkseid gets somewhat disgusted with the whole thing and attempts to leave the scene using a Boom Tube but Manhunter in a desperate gambit jumps into the Boom Tube after him and reveals he is in fact a living bomb. There is a terrific explosion, the Boom Tube collapses and that's all we see of Darkseid and Manhunter. Then in a series of epilogues we meet Funky Flashman trying ot make a deal with Sinestro and getting rebuffed, Captain Comet rescuing Green Lantern and meeting the JLA and getting his head on straight about good guys and bad guys in the 70's. While he's doing that, Sinestro appears at the Secret Citadel to destroy it and Comet goes to try and save it. Hawkman helps him and the two heroes defeat Sinestro as Captain Comet contemplates his future.

The Secret Society of Super-Villains becomes a somewhat different comic after that as Rozakis and Buckler feature more different villains and leave the Fourth World elements behind. Only Funky Flashman remains as he develops an odd relationship with the Wizard who becomes an increasingly critical part of the comic.

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  1. Whoa,this sounds really terrible on so many levels, not the least of which are the repeated acts of necrophilia on Kirby's ideas, which served to reduce his innovative visions to soulless mulch.

    I'm sure I saw the first few issues of this. I always liked the idea of a villain-centric series. The pulps featuring the Octopus and the Scorpion were pretty mind-blowing, but they were essentially hero pulps with the name changed. Comics hardly ever seemed to get it right. I don't know if the Comics Code was a factor, or if it was just writers who were so limited in their thinking they had to turn the villains into heroes in order to come up with plots. An exception to this may have been Kobra, another Kirby character tossed off almost casually as he was walking out the door.

    1. I somehow had mot realized until I researched this post how immediate the move was to take Kirby's characters and attempt to showcase them once the King had moved on. He was barely out the door when they started in on it.

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