Review: Villains United trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

One more Countdown to Infinite Crisis miniseries down, and the quality has remained consistently high. Though there was little doubt that Gail Simone could write a enjoyable rip-roaring villain-filled adventure full of one-liners and snappy comebacks, Villains United is truly a lot of fun. It reads like Reservoir Dogs with capes -- most of the protagonists are just as ready to turn on each other at the slightest rumor of betrayal, as they are prepared to die as long as it's in a blaze of glory.

The story makes a good point -- that, if the villains are going to start "going good" or teaming up, the heroes need to be that much better -- though I'm still puzzling over some of the book's revelations, even after Infinite Crisis.

[Review contains spoilers for Villains United and Infinite Crisis]

Simone gives Geoff Johns a run for his money here in terms of resurrecting old and forgotten villains, and creating dynamic, powerful new ones. Simone makes Catman this year's breakout character, as he nearly shines on the page with brains and bravado -- it's no coincidence that, dressed in a shadowy black costume with pointed ears, Catman resembles a certain Dark Knight -- and the brilliance is that Catman's slovenly prior appearances remain firmly in continuity.

I felt tepid about a new character, Scandal, in the beginning, but the revelation that's she's Vandal Savage's daughter promises more interesting stories to come; not to mention, Simone gives Knockout, one of my old favorites, a great part to play. But more than that, Simone resurrects "Mike" the Parademon from the three-part Total Justice mini-series, written by Christopher Priest, that was really only meant to launch a Mattel toy line -- and here I thought I was the only person who read it. Simone obviously loves the characters about which she's writing, and it makes the story all that more fun.

At the end of the story, we learn that Mockingbird chose the various villains for the Secret Six based on their knowledge of the respective villains of Batman, the JSA, the Suicide Squad, the Teen Titans, the JSA and others (though not, oddly, the JLA). This has a lot of potential -- six unlikely villains hold the key between them to defeating all the heroes -- and I was disappointed once it was pointed out that it hadn't been used more. Though the Secret Six do their best to defeat their enemies (with more than a few suicide runs), I never saw any specialized knowledge of the villains shared between them -- perhaps that's something for the sequel.

There were a couple other times I felt a little lost while reading this story -- at one point, Catman's being torn apart by a villain, and then magically appears at the fallen Deadshot's side -- but in a way it just adds to the fascinating breakneck, mayhem pace of the story.

What I still can't puzzle out, however, is which Luthor is which? Most of us know by now that the Alexander Luthor of Earth-Three served as the Lex Luthor that lead the Secret Society, while our Earth's Lex Luthor, missing since Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, worked behind the scenes as Mockingbird. We tell them apart, as we see at the end of Villains United, because our Lex Luthor wears the green-and-purple battlesuit, while Alexander Luthor leads the Society.

The problem comes at the end of Teen Titans #20, where a Lex Luthor has paid various villains to retrieve his battlesuit, and then discusses the job with the Calculator; this Lex goes on to team with Brainiac in Teen Titans/Outsiders: The Insiders. I think this is our Lex, in that he's been plaguing Superboy since the beginning of Teen Titans, and it's our Lex who created Superboy from his own genetic material -- making him Alexander Luthor just wouldn't have as much emotional depth.

At the same time, that conversation with the Calculator is very misleading, and then Luthor talks about a mysterious "partner"; I originally thought he meant Deathstroke or Superboy-Prime, but I see that it could just as easily be Brainiac. Insights?

[Contains full covers (including reprints), extensive prelude excerpts from other comics.]

Now I'm on to Green Lantern and Hawkman in preparation for Rann/Thanagar War. I took a quick look at that trade, and it's too bad it doesn't contain the same preview excerpts as the beginning of Villains United; this was an excellent addition to the Villains United trade, and DC's collection team gets a gold star for doing it. Stick around; more reviews to come!
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2 comments:

  1. Great trade, though I wish it contained the Villains United Special. DC really made some poor decisions w/ the Infinite Crisis lead in mini series trades by not collecting the specials for each in the trades. Also as great as this book is you don't really need the credits to tell the change in art, going from Dale Eaglesham's gorgeous pencils to Val Semeiks' bland generic art is quite the letdown, good thing Eaglesham was back after that 1 issue fill in.

    All in all a fantastic read & a great lead in to the Secret Six series.

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  2. I thought the art change was especially noticeable for this one, too. I understand wanting the Villains United special in here, too, though it didn't as much follow from the Villains United miniseries as it did from Infinite Crisis; I was satisfied with it being in the Infinite Crisis Companion, though with the new omnibus, everyone can get what they want now!

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