In order to shift his reader's sympathies from the side of the traditionally noble super-gals'n'guys to that of their typically abhorrent opponents, Millar makes sure to avoid presenting most of the various members of the Secret Society as the entirely murderous and often flat-out psychopathic creatures they really are. It's not that they're mischaracterised, but rather that Millar carefully chooses the moments at which we encounter them. They're shown functioning as a community of ill-conforming individualists, characterised by relatively friendly bickering and telling bursts of sociable good humour, as well as by an entirely understandable air of uncertainty and fear. As such, Millar makes it hard for the reader not to empathise just a touch with the intense anxiety shared by each of the super-villains, while being careful not to mention that the same super-villains wouldn't ever empathise with the fear that they themselves inspire in the typical inhabitants of the DCU.
In their responses to the reunification of the League and its new pro-active policies, the super-villains put forward the same political arguments that you or I might in response to the unlimited power wielded by this new super-national crime-fighting agency operating outside the bounds of any national code of law. "Is the President going to argue with the fastest man alive, or a kid with the most powerful weapon in the cosmos on his fingers?" they ask each other, and though they're only thinking of themselves, they're also expressing the fears which anyone with even mildly democratic sensibilities might express. As the Martian Manhunter announces while masquerading as the super-villain Brainwave; "I think we all agree such awesome power in the hands of the few is undesirable ..". And of course, that's true, just as the possession of such power by the likes of the Secret Society Of Super-Villains would be an even more terrifying prospect. Superhero comics work on the premise that the politics of their worlds would be pretty much the same as ours, and yet it's obvious that nothing of the sort could ever be true. A world where the Justice League could travel anywhere and detain anyone they chose to would be an entirely different globe to ours, and the causes of super-villains and adherents of civil liberties alike might just happen to coincide there
In the end, the effectiveness of Millar's script for The Secret Society Of Super-Villains lies in its capacity to make us frightened of the folks that Alan Moore called "the over-people". The superhero narrative typically relies upon the collective delusion on the reader's part that power rarely corrupts where the sheriffs in the white hats are concerned, and that that's true even when so many of the over-people are showing consistently behaving in appalling ways . But even if the reader's happy to accept the premise that Morrison's JLA is both entirely trustworthy and perpetually incorruptible, it's obvious that somewhere down the line, as the Justice League evolves and new members join, Lord Acton's Dictum is going to apply, and absolute power will corrupt absolutely.
|The Martian Manhunter, disguised as Brainwave, makes a profoundly dangerous suggestion to a room full of super-villains ...|
We do know that Millar made a serious attempt to pitch The Secret Society Of Super-Villains as a limited series to DC Comics in the years leading up to the turn of the century, although whether the story which was printed in the first JLA 80 Page Giant #1 was anything more than a one-off tale eludes us. Millar has said that little remains of his original proposal for the Secret Society in the pages of Wanted, despite his explaining that the first very much led to the second project. And yet, there are clear connections between the only Secret Society story of Millar's that ever saw print and Wanted. In particular, the super-villains in Secret Society accept the Martian Manhunter's bait of a plan to join together into a great army to slaughter their right-serving costumed opponents, which is exactly how the world of Wanted ended up entirely denuded of super-heroes.
|While in the first issue of "Wanted", we discover that the same strategy as J'onn J'onzz proposed to the Society has been adopted to wipe a planet free of super-heroes.|
To the Justice League, the suggestion that the various super-villainsof their world might subsume their individual interests in a war upon the JLA is nothing but a scheme to fool the Society into gathering together in a convenient trap. Yet Wanted shows us a world in which such a design was adopted and did result in the extinction of the more benevolent super-people. Over time, the Justice League and their various allies had succeeding in convincing their various opponents that the combined likes of Superman and Batman couldn't ever be overwhelmed by force of numbers, for, as the Wizard says to Brain-Wave/Martian Manhunter when the plan to "finish these clowns once and for all" is announced; "Odds of five to one haven't made any difference to our fortunes in the past." What an irony it would be, if the obliteration of the costumed crimefighter class in the world of Wanted had been the result of a similar ruse that the super-heroes there had once arrogantly spun.
|Having given the Society a plan for the extermination of the DCU's super-heroes, the JLA then proceed to terrify, mock and assault their opponents. Not, it might be suggested, the most prudent of policies.|
We don't know the details of Millar's proposal for The Secret Society Of Super-Villains, but unless he'd suggested an Elseworld tale, there's of course no possibility that his original story could have ended with the deaths of all of the DCU's super-heroes. But it's hard not to believe that the small, and yet wholly enjoyable, 10 page story printed in 1998 isn't intimately connected to the notorious Wanted. Doing so means presuming a through-line between short feature, series pitch, and limited series, but Millar is well-known for never wasting a promising idea. In The Secret Society Of Super-Villains, the super-heroes surrender to hubris and create a united, fearful and murderously committed opponent out of a previously loosely-affiliated network of largely intimidated antagonists. In Wanted, versions of the same Justice Leaguers are defeated by a well-marshaled army of super-villains, before being mind-wiped and reduced to tortured, helpless amnesiacs. The line from the product of one publisher to that of another, from 1998 to 2003, may be an illusion created by hindsight, but it's a convincing illusion all the same.