Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What Makes a Good Super Villain Story?

All Star 37Editor's Note: Today I present a guest column by Pop Box creator Clayton Neal. Clayton describes Pop Box as an automatically home delivered comic fix that is designed to let the fans have a say in the comics. He is hoping to launch Pop Box soon but is currently working on content and looking for creators. People interested in hearing more about Pop Box or in submitting work can contact Clayton at

~ Jim

To paraphrase an American great: Last night I had a dream! Not so much about the civil rights movement, but interestingly enough, it did take place in the courtroom. I can't tell you much about it (mainly because I don't remember) but I can tell you that I was standing in front of the judge saying:

“...after all, your Honor, what exactly makes a good super villain story?”

OK, I admit to little sleep and too much research can put me in a very interesting mind set. As I woke up laughing to myself and after the initial “What was that?” line I give, I thought that it was a very interesting question. Not only what makes a good super villain, but also what makes a good super villain team?

Back in the Golden age of comics it was simple, because the characterization was much simpler than today or even in the Bronze Age of comics. For example, When the Injustice Society was first formed by the Wizard (All-Star Comics #37, 1940) the villains actually seemed to form a bond, and had a great cooperation in working together to defeat the Justice Society of America.

In the Bronze Age, it was a different story. The individual villain characteristics started to surface. Marvel Comics showed us that even the most bonded team of villains wasn't immune to a sudden back stabbing. Avengers #72 (Jan.,1970) started a story arc with the Zodiac Gang where the leader of the citadel at the time betrayed his team and blasted them off into space as well as the Avengers. Roy Thomas did a great job in scripting this memorable classic.

JLA 111 Over at DC Comics, Len Wein and artist Dick Dillon went one step farther. In Justice League of America #111 (Sept. 1974) they created the Injustice Gang of the World. A new “master villain” was introduced and gathered together the likes of Mirror Master, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, the Tattooed Man, and Chronos (The seemingly staple of almost every villain team DC came up with at that time). Libra not only betrayed his team, but beat them and left them for the authorities to pick up. Strangely, this both disappointed me and excited me at the time. Maybe that is what they were aiming for. This was now offically the formula for super villain teams that seemed to work. This is what was making a great super villain team: Who will betray who?

It was only a few years later when Gerry Conway took this theme a little farther, and Created a gem with the Secret Society of Super Villains! I thought it was interesting when I found out that in order to pitch the idea to the big guys at DC Comics, he actually wrote and had Rich Buckler draw up a small sample mock up of what he had planed for the series. He knew this was the only way he might be able to get them to rise up and take notice, since the sales on other Super Villain solo books like the Joker didn't sell so well. I for one am very glad that DC gave the go ahead for the comic. From the very first issue, they started to stretch the betrayal theme to new lengths!

A few examples being:

Secret Society of Supervillains 01Issue one had Gorilla Grodd not only leaving an injured Copperhead behind for the authorities, but in order to serve his own purpose, he actually told the Society that it was Copperhead who was the backstabber, And to think they had just been told that the Secret Society was to be a kind of brotherhood of injustice.

Issue two reintroduced the 50's hero Captain Comet, who recently came back to earth after a long impose exile in space. After he “saved” Star Sapphire from Green Lantern, the society thought to convince Comet that they were indeed the good guys, and the Justice League were the evil ones. (It turns out later that the good Captain didn't buy it, and he knew that the Secret Society's leader, Manhunter, was actually one of the good guys unlike the rest of the team)

Oh sure, the Secret Society bonded together, but the theme was still there. The Wizard and Sinestro not taking part in the big blow out between the SSOSV and Mantis, wanting to wait and side with the winners, The Trickster deciding to try and keep the loot for himself, only to be tossed out of the society, and then getting his first taste of heroism when he sided with Captain Comet and Kid Flash to try and take down the team because he felt betrayed by the society. Some of many examples.

In my humble opinion, the SSOSV was the book that really expanded the theme, and showed the world that what made a great super villain story. Who's going to stab who in the back and when?

Hey, you gotta love your villains, just don't turn your back on them.

- Clayton

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