by KC Carlson
Today marks the start of DC Comics’ controversial Villains Month, an event so poorly planned and executed that it probably shouldn’t even be talked about. So I won’t.
Let’s talk about other villain projects.
I’ve always loved villain groups, even more than I love teams of superheroes. There’s something basically absurd about bad guys teaming up (although many caper movies have exactly this same setup). With hero groups, you expect them to be forthright and conscientious and upstanding. You know — boring! With villains, it’s obviously a powder keg filled with super-dynamite. Every villain for themselves. All for one and none for all! And you never know when that hearty backslap will come with a knife in the hand!
I love the concept of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. The problem with them is that the execution of their stories is often so inconsistent and seemingly random. Oh, and I love Star Sapphire. Wait, this is not the same Star Sapphire that you’re thinking of. Who is she? We’ll get to that later. (But they never really do…) Every time that group gets together, it has an entirely different reason for existing. And a completely different membership. Some people like that. Especially creators. It cuts down on research. Me, I like the continuity and relative consistency. I really hate it when things get so complex that they just say, oh, let’s start everything over again from the beginning. Especially when they do it to complete universes.
So let’s talk about a smaller, more concise super-bad team. The Rogues. The guys that torment the Flash. Batman may have better individual bad guys, but they’re mostly anti-social. And psychotic. The Bat-Villains tend to only get together in giant comic books with numbers ending with 00. And not so much anymore. Mostly because nobody publishes series that get to issues that end with 00 anymore (unless they cheat)!
But the Flash guys — they’re kinda chummy. A couple of them may actually be rock-head stupid. But they have a cool little club going on, and they watch each other’s backs and have a code of sorts. A twisted, villainous code… but a code nonetheless. I kinda admire them for that. Especially these days, when most superhero teams seem more psychotic and back-stabbing than the worst villains.
I like the Rogues. Maybe because I have a childhood attachment to them…
The Rogues first appeared as a team in The Flash #155 (1965), although this is basically a Grodd (the big monkey, not an official Rogue) story, and the Rogues are just pawns in Grodd’s game of life. The classic original Rogues (Mirror Master, Captain Boomerang, Captain Cold, Heat Wave, the Top, and the Pied Piper) next appear in The Flash #174 (1967). Isn’t that an amazing cover? One of the best ever, by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson.
The Flash #174 also has a very personal connection for me, and for my 50-some years involved with comic books. It is the one issue that affected me so much that, after I read it a few times, I decided that I was going to collect every issue of the series. I was 11 years old at the time, and I didn’t really know what that was going to entail, but I did start buying every issue of The Flash (as well as all the associated titles over the years). I have done this for every issue since. But all things come to an end, as I recently dropped the New 52 version of The Flash (with the upcoming issue #24), as I was just not enjoying it anymore. So much for “promises” made when I was 11…
In retrospect, I’m surprised that I didn’t drop The Flash almost immediately after #174 back in 1967. Longtime Flash fans know this issue very well. It turned out that this Rogues story would be the last Flash story (for a long while) drawn by regular artist Carmine Infantino, who had drawn every solo adventure of the Barry Allen Flash since the first one in Showcase #4 in 1956. (Which probably went on sale just seven days after I was born. How’s that for a connection?) Carmine was stepping away from regularly drawing comic book stories, taking a staff job as DC’s Cover Editor, and eventually climbing the corporate ladder to becoming DC Comics’ Publisher. After that job and Carmine parted company, he did eventually return for another long run as artist on The Flash, most notably during the “Trial” issues of the book in the 1980s.
Back in 1967, the next regular artists on The Flash were the team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito (best known by me at this point for Wonder Woman and Metal Men). I didn’t like their art at all when I was a kid, but I stuck with the book because I really enjoyed the stories (mostly). When my art tastes eventually matured, I realized how good Andru really was.
THE VILLAINS’ PLOT
The Flash #174 (titled “The Stupendous Triumph of the Six Super-Villains” — “Rogues” still isn’t in common use yet) starts out as a Mirror Master story that only involves the other Rogues when Mirror Master comes up with a sure-fire plan to defeat the Flash and wants to share it with his colleagues. Ironically, there’s a footnote to the earlier Flash #155, but it doesn’t reference the first Rogues gathering — it comments on the weapon that was used by Grodd in the previous story. The sure-fire plan doesn’t work out, and the Flash nearly captures the Rogues by page 9, except for Captain Cold’s well-placed application of ice in the Flash’s path (with CC commenting that that trick always works! Hokey Smokes!).
As the Rogues re-group, much of the rest of this story revolves around the Mirror Master’s earlier discovery of a mirror-world, where he observes a heroic Mirror Master defeating a criminal Flash! MM travels to that world, is hailed as a hero, easily gets access to the prison cell where the criminal mirror-Flash is being held, and helps him break out of jail — by leaving the prison door unlocked! (Gotta love the Sixties!)
Next, the mirror versions of the Flash and MM make contact and battle, while “our” MM observes why the mirror trick didn’t work on “our” Flash earlier — there’s a “special way” (actually, a specific angle) the mirror is held that “our” MM didn’t notice before. Meanwhile, the mirror-MM quickly defeats mirror-Flash and drags him back to jail.
Back on Earth-One, the Rogues quickly lure the Flash to them — by Captain Cold making a floating message made out of ice on clouds in the sky (huh?). Of course, Flash comes running, and MM blasts him with the mirror (at the correct angle) causing the Flash to “blink” in and out for a second. Which is not the way that it’s supposed to work.
Turning the page, we discover that the evil mirror-Flash has also discovered the secret of the body-switching mirror, which he stole out of “our” Mirror Master’s back pocket when he wasn’t looking. (Rats! Thwarted by a pickpocket! That Flash IS bad!)
So what happens when “our” Flash blinks out for a second is actually him being body-swapped with the evil Flash in that split-second. Thoughtfully, the evil Flash has left the good Flash a note — foolishly telling him how much he’s disgusted by him using super-speed for good instead of evil — but inadvertently cluing the good Flash in as to what has happened.
Bad Flash now faces the fury of the combined Rogues and is quickly defeated by them (thus making the title of the story true). Meanwhile, Good Flash reads the note from Bad Flash and wastes no time in escaping from the prison cell (as well as through the dimensional barrier, using convenient energy trails as road markers). He arrives back on our Earth just in time to prevent the Rogues from blasting Bad Flash to Smithereens! (Yes, it actually says that!) Good Flash quickly defeats all the Rogues with a sonic boom, and they all go flying because he’s traveling so fast.
In the next panel, the Flash is shown taking the Rogues to the local Police Station. (He just lays the unconscious villains on the floor in front of the Desk Sergeant’s desk.) And in the next, he returns Bad Flash to the police station in the mirror dimension, keeping the body-switching mirror before depositing him. Another trophy for the Flash Museum!
Barry’s thankful he got this case wrapped up in time, so he can still be on-time to meet his wife Iris for a romantic late-night dinner, celebrating their first anniversary. Barry’s been agonizing for a year’s worth of stories because he vowed that he’d tell Iris that he was really the Flash on their wedding day, but that didn’t happen. He then vowed that he’d finally tell Iris on the night of their anniversary. And he finally does.
But Iris has a surprise for Barry! She already knew! Turns out that Barry talks in his sleep and has revealed the truth “scores of times” over the previous year, starting with their wedding night. Iris further says that she didn’t want to mention that, since Barry was so intent on keeping the secret. So Iris pretended not to know. Barry feels like he’s off the hook after all, because — technically — he “kept his vow.”
ROGUES THROUGH THE YEARS
Subsequent Rogues adventures would become more frequent — once the series went through various phases of not using the villains so prominently in the 1970s, 80s, and beyond — and would see the members fluctuate a bit. The original Mirror Master would die in the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths and be replaced by a completely different (and Scottish) character. The Top was thought dead for a long period, came back, and then really died. His lover, Golden Glider (who was also Captain Cold’s sister) replaced him in the group, until she was also killed. Captain Boomerang was killed during Identity Crisis and was eventually replaced by his son, Owen. In Blackest Night, Owen dies, and his father is brought back to life to resume being Captain Boomerang. Pied Piper and Heat Wave both reformed and left the Rogues for a time, but both returned. (Piper perhaps working undercover. We never found out.) Other characters also came in for stints, including the Trickster (and his son, after his father is killed in Countdown), Abra Kadabra, and relatively newer characters including Double Down and Tar Pit.
In Underworld Unleashed (1995), five of the main Rogues (Captain Boomerang, Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Mirror Master II, and Weather Wizard) are killed in the opening pages of the series. Writer Mark Waid soon recanted his decision to do this, in the Afterword to the trade paperback of the miniseries. All of these characters soon “got better” after Neron revived them in the pages of The Flash #127-129 (1997) by Waid (with Brian Augustyn) in the “Hell to Pay” storyline.
Of the major Rogues, Mirror Master, Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Captain Boomerang, and the Trickster were all also early members of the Secret Society of Super-Villains, the major villain group of the DC Universe (at least, the old one). They have since recanted their membership (except the Trickster, who died) and now prefer to just be Rogues. The Top (died) and Pied Piper (reformed) were never members of the SSoSV.
Of course, your mileage may vary in the New 52 DC.
ELSEWHERE IN NYC…
While I wanted to talk about DC super-villains (because Villains Month is a current DC stunt), and as much as I always love seeing either the Rogues or the SSoSV, I’d be remiss in not mentioning that I think that the ultimate super-villain story is Avengers: Under Siege by Roger Stern, John Buscema, and Tom Palmer, first appearing in Avengers #270-271 and #273-277, and now available in both hardcover and softcover. (The current hardcover also includes #272, an Avengers/Alpha Flight crossover where Namor takes a leave of absence from the Avengers, leaving them underpowered when the Masters of Evil attack.)
In Under Siege, the battle with the massive forces of the new Masters of Evil is calculated, fierce, and devastating, and the epilogue is heartbreaking.
I really need to write more about that story some day!
KC CARLSON SAYS: Remember, super-villains are bad people. They might want you to think that they’re just misunderstood, but they’re really not. (The writers just write them that way.) You can tell how evil a super-villain is by cutting him in half and counting the rings. The less messy way is to observe how they’re dressed. Older super-villains can be identified by the outlandish colors that they wear, often clashing with the heroes they battle. The good super-villains wear colors that are complementary with their heroes, almost as if they were specifically designed that way. Another tip-off is outlandish props. Like giant stilts. Or kites. Or giant wheels. Or guns larger than an elephant. Or costumes covered with body parts (like eyes or ears). Current super-villains frequently wear finely tailored three-piece suits. Often they look like politicians or cable news broadcasters. But don’t be fooled. Super-villains are generally smarter.
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. DC — do better!
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.