fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe DC Infinite Crisis and the “Old” 52 (part 4): Villains United by Gail Simone

I just reread Gail Simone’s Villains United for what must be the third time, and it wasn’t as good as I remembered it being. I think there are several reasons for this reaction. When I first read it, I was still fairly new to comics and was learning something new from almost everything I read. But with at least a thousand more comics read between then and now, I have to say that I don’t think this book will impress the seasoned comic book reader, though there are some great moments and it can be enjoyable if read only once. It just doesn’t hold up to multiple reads because it lacks the thematic depth of the previous arc and is a very violent story, including torture, for no real reason that I could tell. But what should I expect when villains fight villains?

And that’s what this story is about. Lex Luthor is uniting villains with the help of the Calculator, Doctor Psycho, Talia, Black Adam, and Deathstroke. He is able to unite a bunch of crazy, criminal individualists because all the DC villains are angry about an unethical action on the part of the JLA. Villains United lets you know what this post-Identity Crisis concern is, so I don’t need to give spoilers here (just read Identity Crisis!). The tension in this story comes from Luthor’s Society being unable to recruit a handful of villains, some of whom are decidedly second-rate, which happens to really anger the Society, Doctor Psycho in particular, who is perhaps the funniest character in the entire book.

villains united 1The villains who don’t like Luthor’s Society are brought into a group called “The Secret Six” to act in opposition to the Society. They are both bribed and blackmailed to stay together, which creates wonderful tension between the six individuals on the team: Catman, Deadshot, Parademon, Ragdoll, Cheshire, and Scandal. Catman has been down on his luck, but he’s remade himself and is attempting to do right in the world even though he’s found himself on the side of the villains. Deadshot is the best-known character on the team. He’s a tough, violent, cruel man who has a soft spot for his family only. Cheshire is the femme fatale of the group. Parademon is a demon that has escaped Darkseid’s Apokolips. He’s gained a great admiration and fondness for the extremely flexible Ragdoll, who keeps insisting that Parademon stop calling him “Clown.” And Scandal is the spokesperson for Mockingbird, the man who has brought them altogether and is forcing them to work against Luthor and company.

What do I like about the book? It’s got a great mystery at the heart of it: Who is Mockingbird and what are his motivations. The answer to that mystery will be of interest to some and anticlimatic to others, however. I think Gail Simone’s real strengths as a writer in this book are the dialogue and relationships. Watching the diminutive Doctor Psycho talk back to Luthor and even Black Adam is a riot, and all the ways in which members of the Society try to subtly and not-so-subtly take charge is very enjoyable to watch play out. Basically, the same dynamic is present in the Secret Six, and perhaps the lack of contrast between the two groups makes the book less interesting than it could be. But I still love that the brutish Parademon threatens all his other teammates if they try to hurt Ragdoll or try to put him in harm’s way. Also of interest is Cheshire and how Gail Simone used her to play off of the conventions of the classic femme fatale.

villains united 2The art’s more than solid, and it’s a fun story. But I thought the violence, though less than some books I’ve read, didn’t serve much of a thematic purpose. I suppose it was necessary to the plot of villains vs. villains, but I kept wanting more substance. I was also disappointed that Simone didn’t make more of Mockingbird’s headquarters for the Secret Six: The House of Secrets! What a great idea Simone had to use one of the two magical houses from DC’s continuity (the other is The House of Mystery). I kept waiting for the magical House of Secrets to come into the story in at least some amusing, or even creepy, minor way, but it didn’t have any impact on the story at all. What a missed opportunity.

So, we’ve gone downhill from Day of Vengeance to Villains United, but at least Gail Simone’s enough of a seasoned writer to make this story worth reading through once (for the most part, I’ll read anything by the excellent Gail Simone. This story is the worst I’ve ever read by her, and it’s still fun). If you’re reading this series, don’t skip this book, but it doesn’t hold up as a stand-alone.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

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