“I propose we remain a team — a secret society of the super-villain elite!”
The 70’s were a good time to be a criminal.
Where popular media in the 1930’s saw a fascination in crime, comics in the 1970’s saw crime’s renaissance as a genre.
Marvel experimented with two different Dr. Doom series and when monsters became a fad, two series were launched starring Spider-Man villains — Morbius and Man-Wolf.
DC launched The Joker, Man-Bat and Kobra into their own series. But DC hit jackpot, IMHO, when they launched the “Anti-Justice League”… The Secret Society of Super-Villains.
Part of what made the series interesting was, much like The Defenders, they were a sort-of “non-team” — the members and guest stars changed nearly every issue. Also like the Defenders but moreso, the way DC’s editorial fiefdom worked, the SSOSV had to rely on very few “marquee” characters. But that just made things that much more interesting.
Another part was that the book’s direction changed several times as the Society’s fortunes (and creative teams) changed, creating a roller coaster ride of plot turns.
The original idea was simple: a legion of villains are gathered together by Darkseid to work as his agents. But conflicts ensue amongst themselves and against Darkseid — culminating in the seeming end of the team and the death of one of their members.
Then former member, Captain Comet, became the star of the book. Each issue, he would team up with a different hero to take on the villains.
During this time, the Society became “villains for hire”, and in the process, steal back the spotlight in their own book. And then the pace really picks up.
The frequency of the book goes from bi-monthly to 8 times a year (both of which were common publishing schedules at the time — frequency being an indication of sales), they got a double-sized special and crossed-over with other books.
Then things changed again.
As to be expected, the reason many of the villains stayed with the team wasn’t just money but as a stepping stone to their own secret “Master Plans”.
When one of the villains’ plans work out, the next stage of those plans is begun and a new team forms.
The new team journey to Earth-2 but with an unplanned detour to Earth-3 where they have to fight the Crime Syndicate. Continuing to Earth-2, they take on the Justice Society — capturing Dr. Mid-Nite and The Atom.
Back on Earth-1, former members arrive at headquarters and form a new team of villains for hire. Two teams simultaneously. Awesome.
Or it would have been. The book was cancelled suddenly and it was many months before DC confirmed to the readers that it had been cancelled (this was another artifact of the times — comics distribution could be spotty so I was never sure if I missed an issue or if a given book was cancelled).
There were little obscure gems that floated out there such as the 16th and unfinished 17th issue, published in Cancelled Comics Calvacade (only 35 copies made) or the original first issue, published in Amazing World of DC (available by mail order only). A script for the 18th issue exists but it looks like it will never see daylight. A finished first issue for a spin-off Grodd series exists but was never published.
Much later, in a sleepy issue of JLA, just when the reader is past bored — abruptly the Society is back from Earth-2 and have taken over the JLA satellite. This was their last hurrah but they went out on a high note.
Other teams with the same name later appeared but it was never the same in my mind. The craziness, the flawed characters (DC was still the home of the perfect, unconflicted heroes for the most part), the unusual set-ups of plot.
I understand that there were a lot of challenges for the people putting out this book but it didn’t read that way at the time. It was an odd book but I loved it. I think a lot of other people did too.