Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

More Secret Origins Super Villains

This morning’s post features More Secret Origins Super Villains, from the summer of 1976.  In the July of that year, Tyroc’s second Legion adventure saw print and the JSA were fighting deranged, mutated astronaut Vulcan. I have precisely one DC comic from that Bicentennial month : an unmemorable post-Kirby issue of Kamandi with an Ernie Chan cover.

Meanwhile, Marvel published a bowdlerised, colour version of a Jim Starlin Conan story to counter the Dreaded Deadline Doom -and the premiere issue of Kirby’s Eternals. Mighty World of Marvel reached its 200th edition and the début of Wolverine was reprinted for the first time in the UK. But it was a month where US comics were very scarce. My only other purchase was the second-last McGregor-Russell Killraven.

So, this awkwardly-titled tabloid was bought last year on ebay. Like the previous collection, the format is 50s Batman, 50s Flash short,  a Kal-El tale and a Golden Age story. The cover is more dynamic with the villains rushing toward the reader but of the ten pictured, only four appear inside.

The Secret Life of the Catwoman: the best story in the collection is a melodrama in which the Princess of Plunder goes straight after recovering from amnesia. Daughter of a pet shop owner,  former air stewardess Selina Kyle lost her memory in a plane crash. Batman restores it with scenes from previous Catwoman stories. She becomes an undercover police agent to help nab masked crime lord Mr. X ( who resembles the Sportsmaster). He turns out to be “furtive little crook” Mousey. The story even features a giant cash register and is the usual dependable material from Batman’s Furious Fifties.

Obviously, Catwoman was too great a villainess to reform permanently- this was still years before her tv fame. This story does set a precedent for Selina’s role in the new Justice League of America but I feel she’s taking Vixen’s place there. The appeal of the Queen of Crime to Batman -and to us- is her Bad Girl status. Incidentally, DC Nation’s Shanghai Batman re-imagines Catwoman as a Manga character:

Shanghai catwoman

The Master of Mirrors: in his first appearance, Flash’s reflective rogue is known by the sobriquet in the title, rather than “Mirror Master”. The simplistic story is virtually identical to the origin of Captain Cold, featuring a giant mosquito image and a bullfight with an illusory Minotaur. Infantino’s art, inked by Giella is oddly stiff and unappealing.

Super Villain Wanted Posters: two pages of mini-bios, using the old Wanted logo. I would have loved this as a kid.Alongside high-profile villains like Penguin, Brainiac and Two-Face, there are also second or third-tier threats such as Vandal Savage, Matter Master, the Shark, Giganta, the Queen Bee and Sonar.

The Ghost of Jor-El: I first read this story in b/w in the pages of the monthly Super DC reprint comic of the very early 70s. It’s a whimsical tale of the boyhood feud of Mr. Mxyzptlk and Superboy.  The pop-eyed prankster looks like a vent act dummy in this story.  He also suffers from colour blindness: his scheme to “wreck Superboy’s career” with a vision of his Kryptonian pa is foiled because the ghost is dressed in red, instead of green. Most kids would probably know an attention-seeking pest  like this at school.

In the late 70s, when I first read a reference to the Adult Legion’s own Mxyzptlk, I immediately pictured this adolescent version ( I was wrong).

Wonder Woman and the Cheetah: the debut of the “treacherous relentless huntress” is a Jekyll and Hyde tale seething with psychosexual tension. Priscilla Rich, “loveliest, sweetest debutante of last season” is consumed by jealousy for WW and attempts to kill her during a wartime aid benefit.  The “ordeal of a thousand links” is a Houdini-style trap coincidentally using a leather mask from a French prison. Oh, Dr. Marston, you sick puppy.

Priscilla  then goes on to kiss her attempted victim but alone in her room her ” pent-up passions burst forth” Allegedly, “psychologists use mirrors to discover people’s real selves” and in her reflection, Priscilla meets her “secret self”- “the incarnation of jealousy and hate.”

This torrid parade of deviant behaviour even includes an accusation directed at WW: “She pinched a handful of the gal’s clothes- she must be turning kleptomaniac!” I was reminded of the origins of the Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman. Despite its fetishistic elements, this is probably one of the few Golden Age Wonder Woman stories I rate. The Cheetah is a more logical and interesting villain that WW’s cavalcade of gods and cross-dressers.

Doctor Light, Every Hero’s Enemy: an inside back cover feature using clip art, mostly from the Silver Age. Unfortunately, I can’t see the Lord of Luminescence without being reminded of Meltzer’s morbid, sensationalist Identity Crisis.

There’s a “table-top diorama” on the back cover for those crazy kids who cut up their comics- like I did, up until I was about 13.  This is one of the features that give the DC Tabloids their sense of being more juvenile than the Marvel Treasuries. I enjoyed this issue more than the previous Super Villains collection, however, because half the stories were new to me.

Coming soon : The Mystery Men of December

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners


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