Now, this was a series that I truly loved as a kid. I can recall coming upon this issue of SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS on the spinner rack at my local 7-11. I was a big Green Lantern fan based on his back-ups in FLASH and appearances in JUSTICE LEAGUE, and Dick Giordano’s cover was enough to make me pick up the issue based on his appearance alone. It was still relatively rare in these days to see different super heroes in unexpected places like this.
Like ALL-STAR COMICS, SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS was a product of “Conway’s Corner”, Gerry Conway’s new editorial office within DC. And Like ALL-STAR, SSoSV tapped into my fannish love for the DC universe while treating it more like the Marvel Universe. Taking the approaches he learned while working over at Marvel, Conway pulled together all sorts of different elements from throughout DC’s publishing line into a single series, bringing a sense of larger continuity to DC than it had evidenced before.
To start with, needing a regular heroic character for the Society to contend with, Conway brings back Captain Comet, formerly a feature in Julie Schwartz’s STRANGE ADVENTURES series, and last seen in a story something like 15 years previous to this. Conway recasts Comet more as a traditional super hero (he’d been more of a science fiction crusader before this), adding in a dollop of Captain America by making him a Man Out Of Time, as he returns to Earth decades after he left it.
So when the ill-informed Comet happens across Green Lantern in combat with two members of the Secret Society, Hi-Jack and Gorilla Grodd, he weighs in on the side of the villains due to their being the underdogs. (Apparently, for all that he just spent two decades roaming the skyways, Comet never encountered any other Green Lanterns out there.) Impressed by his aid, the duo takes him back to their Sinister Citadel, where they propose him for membership in the group, despite the fact that he clearly isn’t a card-carrying villain like them.
In building his Secret Society cast, Conway drew from all of the best and most recent developments within the DC line as well, one of which was Manhunter, the strip done by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson. Despite the fact that their Manhunter had perished at the end of their run, Conway brought a clone of him into SSoSV as a trojan horse among the villains. And so, at the first opportunity, Manhunter seeks Captain Comet out to give him te real skinny on the Society–one that Comet is already aware of thanks to his mind-reading talents.
But before things can become too talky, the pair is attacked by Mantis, a creation of Jack Kirby who had previously appeared in FOREVER PEOPLE. Conway was making Kirby’s Fourth World a centerpiece of his SSoSV plot, and this was the first time I got to encounter Darkseid or any of his minions. Again, Conway was knitting together the assorted strands of the nascent DCU in the manner of Roy Thomas at Marvel. Special note should also be given to the artwork of Pablo Marcos here. Marcos most often worked in the States as an inker, as super heroes weren’t particularly his forte, but I really liked the job he did all through this issue.
Anyway, Comet and Manhunter fight off Mantis, and the next day they bring the other Society members to a hidden base where they are introduced to the machinations of their secret benefactor on Earth, Darkseid. Manhunter wants to recruit them to fight against Darkseid–but before he can complete his sales pitch, the crew is once again attacked by Mantis and his minions.
And after a brief struggle, the issue ends on a cliffhanger of sorts when the page count expires. Will the Society serve Darkseid, or stand against him? It must be said, if you were a kid who bought this comic for Captain Cold or Grodd or the other villains, you probably went away disappointed, as they were nothing but background players in the issue. But for me, this was heady stuff. You can see that Conway used a plotting style more akin to that of Marvel in this period, with an emphasis on fights and characterization rather than complex plotting. But I dug it.
Conway also took a page from Marvel’s book by adding a Stan’s Soapbox-like column to his various letters pages, soliciting feedback from his readership and addressing them directly. This manner of direct outreach and personality-building was a new thing at DC which had always maintained a professional distance from its audience.