Sunday, March 11, 2007

COMICS | Villains United

Villains United

Villains United (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
Written by Gail Simone, with art by Dale Eaglesham and Val Semeiks

The DC: Infinite Crisis series has ended and I'm just catching up with some of the backstory. I almost gave this title a miss though - Villains United - hullo? Can anyone take this title seriously? There's a lot of talented people working for DC Comics and they can't come up with anything more decent? The only thing that could convince me to give this title a try is Gail Simone. Her work on Birds of Prey has earned my upmost respect for her writing.

The story take place before the action in the DC: Infinite Crisis. After it was revealed that some of the Justice League superheroes mindwiped a villain, Dr Light, the ethics of the so-called superheroes are put into question.

Lex Luthor is organising his Society of villains in a bid to declare war against these superheroes. Of course his recruitment method leaves much to be desired, and it involves a lot cajoling and threats. Doesn't help that a lot of these villains are just plain psychos. Oh fun.

Meanwhile, another group of B-grade villains are organised by a mysterious mastermind (known only as Mockingbird) to work against Luthor's Society of Villains. There are six of them, and they are of course named: the Secret Six (somebody is really lazy with the names here) The Secret Six is made up of Catman, Deadshot, Chesire, Scandal Savage, Ragdoll and Parademon. All B-list villains that usually serves only as supporting cast.

And you know what? In spite of my complaints about the cheesy names, this comic don't suck. In fact, it's GREAT. It made me a fan of the Secret Six and just proves once again how Gail Simone is one of the most brilliant writer working in the comic scene today. She illustrates how a writer with enough talent and effort can take the bare bones of something and work it into something complicated and interesting. Her greatest success have to be the reinvention of Catman. The character was a loser that was bullied by Oliver Queen in his previous comic appearance. But Simone took this "B-list never-been" and remade him into greatness.

Earlier in the comics, Dr Psycho and Talia Al Ghul were sent by the Society of Villains to recruit Catman (aka Thomas Blake.) As the story goes, Catman has been in Africa these past few years finding himself among the lions. He has remade himself as a warrior among the great cats. The Society of Villains were not prepared for the new Catman, and they did not take well to being rejected. So they try threats:

Talia Al Ghul: Mr Blake. It's clear that you've been through a transformative event. Perhaps we were too brusque for a man of your...stature. But if we leave here with a "no", or if we don't return...You will suffer. For a time.

Catman: Noted. Please understand that I don't care, Talia Al Ghul. The sun still rises if I'm breathing or not. By the way, if you see any poachers on your way back to civilization...Do me a favor. Skin and neuter them, would you? Good day.

This pride, this defiance and lack of concern for self-preservation - it is so Zen. I think I am in love with this new Catman. Talia Al Ghul alludes later to Catman's Will-to-power that is similar to another DC caped crusader. There were moments when Catman's costume looks suspiciously like Batman's. The cape, the little pointy hood, the non-killing. Suspicious. Even the name: Catman. Batman.

But most of all, I love how Gail Simone explores the tenuous demarcation of Heroes versus Villains. Her Catman could almost be a hero - but only almost. He recognises in himself his weaknesses, and therefore has no claims to any moral superiority. Yet he has that self-awareness that sets him apart from Luthor's gang. A character that stands somewhat in moral ambiguity. One of my favourite bit is at the end, when Catman punches Green Arrow and tells him:

Catman: Good guys don't lobotomize people who are already in handcuffs. Every stinking thing that's happened because of it is on your heads. Remember that. People are going to die, because you took the shortcut.

... ...

Catman: You were all great once. You can be that way again...But you'd better hurry. Before the line between you and us gets too damn blurry to see.

Comic books are filled with superheroes - because no matter how the world evolves, we still want to believe in heroes that are better than us. Comic book is part of popular culture, but it is not any less deserving of respect - because popular culture has a finger on the pulse of the Everyman.

These days, the good guys are getting harder to find. The "Good Guys" are calling their enemies "Terrorists" - but their own methods and motives are disgusting. The "Good Guys" are not supposed to torture captives and then try to bury the evidence. When the "Good Guys" fail to act morally, no wonder we start looking towards the opposition. There is no heroism by default or birthright. Heroes and villains are made by their actions and their choices. Fallen heroes can rise again, but only if they recognise the mistake and make the right choices.

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