By now a favorite title of mine, when the next issue of SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS appeared at the 7-11, there was no hesitation on my part to make it mine. Editor Gerry Conway’s strange melange of DC villains, Manhunter and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters was an exciting stew, for all that it was simultaneously also something of a mess. This was my first exposure to the New Gods such as the Black Racer depicted on the cover, and while they didn’t possess Kirby’s grandeur, they were all pretty fascinating characters who obviously had some extensive backstory of which I was only minimally aware. It made me want to know more.

Conway had passed the writing reins to David Anthony Kraft in the previous issue. This time out, trouble is clearly in the wind, as Ernie Chan (credited as Ernie Chua) is drafted in to help regular artist Pablo Marcos complete the issue. The haphazard inks of Vinnie Colletta do neither artist any favors. The art throughout this issue (and on the cover) is particularly shaky, almost amateurish in places. It’s clear that something was going wrong on this series, which would be overhauled completely in the very next issue. Still, the war against Darkseid wasn’t going to wait.

The issue opens with a Marvel-style action sequence as Manhunter and his fellow Secret Society members confront Sinestro and the Wizard, both of whom abstained from the battle against Mantis in the previous issue. As neither Sinestro nor the Wizard have any particular loyalty to any of these guys, a skirmish breaks out, resulting in the two more powerful super-villains departing the team. The Wizard, in fact, banishes Hijack to limbo, but he would turn up alive again in a few issues without any particular explanation.

Elsewhere, Star Sapphire has sought out the aid of Green Lantern in the battle against Mantis. The Emerald Crusader attacks his godly opponent, only to have all of the energy of his Power Ring sucked away by the energy vampire. Drunk on his newfound might, Mantis declares that his power may even surpass that of Darksied himself. Unfortunately for him, Darkseid picks that very moment to arrive, and the two villains from Apokolips face off.

Meanwhile, avoiding Sinestro’s old adversary Green Lantern, Sin and the Wizard return tot he Sinister Citadel, intending to betray the others to Darkseid and throw in with the Lord of Aopkolips. But instead, they find Funky Flashman hanging around the place as though he owns it. I wasn’t familiar with Funky, so I didn’t get the allusion to Stan lee in his appearance–this disconnect is aided by the fact that he’s drawn quite differently here than any incarnation of Stan, something tat would change without comment in the next issue. Funky says that he’s there to offer HIS services to the villains as a Public Relations man–what Sinestro and the Wizard need with a P.R. hack will be seen next issue.

Elsewhere, Darkseid’s loyal son Kalibak has followed Star Sapphire to the hidden lair where the Secret Society is hanging out, and he attacks them in force. This begins an epic battle between him and Gorilla Grodd that rages through the city. While this is going on, Mantis unloads on Darkseid, who is singularly unimpressed with the power he has absorbed from Green lantern, and who stands there, cross-armed and unmolested, and smiles. Mantis is in deep doo-doo.

The massive fight between Kalibak and Grodd winds up with one of my favorite moments from the series. After a punishing bout, Grodd surrenders to his opponent, throwing in the towel. But the instant Kalibak turns his back on the Super-Gorilla, Grodd brains him with a huge chunk of rock. He’s not interested in niceties, he came to win, by any means necessary. Unfortunately, the fight proves to have been too punishing for him, and he promptly passes out as well. I loved the fact that Grodd cheated here–it really separated SSoSV from the other books I was reading, and seemed like something that a villain would realistically do. Plus it was just cool.

With all of the disparate threads going on, we still haven’t gotten to the Black Racer who’s depicted on the cover–but here he comes now, right in time for the very last panel! He answers Darkseid’s summons, indicating that Mantis is done for. Again, I had no idea who the Black Racer was, or even quite what the “New Gods” who are referenced were. But I was keen to know more. Unbeknownst to me (but foreshadowed on the letters page this issue), SSoSV was about to undergo a change of editors and a complete overhaul of direction–but Id be around for that, too, as it turned out.

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