Everything happens for a reason. That’s not a maxim automatically associated with villains and their villainous ways. The miniseries “Villains United”, written by Gail Simone with art by Dale Eaglesham (and Val Semeiks on issue three), has villains battling villains in an intelligent and calculating way, with a grand scheme that will leave the reader shocked once they reach the end. When the story opens, Lex Luthor has dastardly cohorts, such as Calculator, going to various baddies in order to recruit them as members of the villainous Secret Society. Luthor believes that, when they are all united, they can be a much more powerful force. Most of the people they approach sign on to Luthor’s mission, but the first individual we encounter that emphatically says “No” is Catman. Instead, he, along with five other recruits, agree to be a part of a group dubbed the Secret Six that has a mysterious benefactor who goes by the name of Mockingbird. Besides Catman, the rest of the members include Scandal (daughter of Vandal Savage), Deadshot, Cheshire, Parademon, and Ragdoll. Each have compelling personal histories that Mockingbird uses to his advantage: he demands they belong to his group or he will destroy someone close to each of them. In order to control the group, he gets personal.
Underhanded schemes, treachery, and action abound alongside loyalty and love between the rogue members of the Secret Six (as well, at times, with the Society). Seeds are planted throughout the story that are revisited in shocking ways, demonstrating the prowess and intricacy of Simone’s writing. She makes it seems easy by writing a story that flows naturally, being able to juggle multiple characters and making us care about (some) bad guys. Humor is sprinkled throughout each issue, showing that a book about evil machinations doesn’t have to be completely dank and dour. The classically simple and clean style of Eaglesham and Semeiks’ art (with the help of Wade Von Grawbadger’s inks and Sno Cone’s colors) complements Simone’s writing style. This is an old-fashioned yarn of villainy that includes themes of deception, intrigue, and mystery that are used to great effect by the marriage of witty, quick-paced writing and larger than life art.
Simone convinces the reader to care about the characters that make up the Secret Six, even though they are considered villains. They have back stories with resonance, making it easy to feel sympathy for them. Early on in the story, Scandal is shown emailing her “beloved” and, at the end, is reunited with her paramore in a tender scene. Eaglesham, through body language and facial expressions (especially utilizing the eyes, as he does expertly here and throughout the miniseries), conveys the tenderness that is felt between the two characters. In one scene played out in the third issue (which is the sole issue with pencils by Val Semeiks), the backstories of Ragdoll and Parademon make one feel sympathy for these two characters who truly understand and deeply care for each other. Ragdoll is shown to have gone to gruesome lengths in order to fit in with a family that still will not accept him, even though he now physically resembles them. Ragdoll, as he looks at his friend with compassion, says of Parademon: “His upbringing…It was troubled.” A flashback of Parademon, which is known only to Ragdoll, has Parademon being tortured by Granny Goodness and saying to her, “I feel loved.” Both of these characters, without the reader being explicitly told, can deduce that both of these sympathetic characters have been warped by a family that never loved or accepted them, yet they still yearn for that approval and acceptance despite their horrid pasts. Throughout the story, the love Parademon has for Ragdoll is humorously and touchingly displayed when Parademon constantly tells his compatriots to watch out for his friend and not to let any harm come to him…or else. Loyalty is a vital theme of their story and the story of “Villains United.”
Dale Eaglesham’s art (as well as Val Semeiks) conveys imposing figures, yet shows depth of expression through these characters’ bodies, eyes, and faces. When Catman first appears, he is standing stoically on a large boulder at the Medikwe Game Preserve and emphatically saying the word “No” to joining the Secret Society. Judging by the way he’s drawn, with bare chest, tattered clothing, and a knife and container of what appears to be water says to the reader through the art that Catman is living off the land in the wild among the lions and tigers he considers his family. In the subsequent two pages, his body language suggests he belongs in the wild and the wild cats surrounding him bring out an animalistic side to him that befits his name. His eyes have a darkness and resigned look to them, as if he is a tortured soul with much on his mind. The inking and coloring add shadow and darkness to the proceedings, making Catman’s body look strong and defined. The shadows around the trees and wilderness add a haunting quality, with the brightness of the blue sky and the white of the clouds adding a clear contrast that makes the scene more stark. Another excellent scene depicts Cheshire coldly revealing a particularly dastardly scheme with a grin that seems to go past her lips and up her cheeks to become a truly cheshire cat grin. Her eyes have a coldness to them that brings a chill down to the reader’s core. Character, through art, aids in Simone’s story to make it a truly seamless package of pure villainy.
It wouldn’t be a story of villainy without great fight scenes and this story has many excellent ones that are usually tinged with humorous banter and expressed through the art by Eaglesham and Semeiks in fun and, at times, grotesque ways. Toward the end of the last issue, Giganta, who is a towering giant of a woman, rips the roof of the Secret Six’s base with both her hands and smashes a fist that barely misses Parademon. Before being saved by Ragdoll, Parademon hilariously exclaims, “By Darkseid’s bile, that’s a large female! I could lose myself in her bosoms!” This is just a taste of the humor that permeates this book and adds personality and fun to the overall proceedings of the story.
Simone juggles subplots and scenes in expert fashion, never leaving a character’s growth or resolution of plot points dangling or unresolved. She can write, as she demonstrates in this book, a large cast of characters without sacrificing the quality and humanity of every one of them. The story is seamless, with scenes seguing from one to another that isn’t jarring and keeps the story moving at a clipped pace. Simone can go from a scene of battle, then to a scene of dastardly deeds being hatched by Luthor, and back again to the scene of battle. There is a reason for every scene that occurs and every plot thread is revisited and resolved in expert fashion, whether they be small intimate moments of friendship between characters or big reveals that evoke shock.
Character, as well as natural, well thought out plotting, make this a story that demonstrates the strength that Simone has in writing villainous personages that have a humanity, intelligence, and even vulnerability that isn’t expected of most comic book evildoers. Each character has a unique voice that adds nice depth to a truly fun romp. This tale, simply stated, is fun. It’s a great feat when a writer can create a story that features only villains and add humor and fun to the proceedings without making it campy and eye-roll inducing to the reader. Simone and the artists involved have created a well-crafted story and are a team that any villain would die to have as the tellers of their villainous tales.
Written by Gail Simone
Pencils by Dale Eaglesham and Val Semeiks
Inks by Wade Von Grawbadger and Prentis Rollins
Colors by Sno Cone
Letters by Jared K. Fletcher, Pat Brosseau, and Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics
Originally published in 2005