Doom: A Brief History on Super-Villain Team-Ups

Doom: A Brief History on Super-Villain Team-Ups by Jerry Whitworth

In the pages of Scott Snyder’s Justice League series, the proper Legion of Doom is finally making its way to the primary continuity of DC Comics. Finding its start in 1978’s Challenge of the Super Friends, the Legion of Doom is likely the most iconic and best-known super-villain team that interestingly enough never translated into the comics quite like its animated counterpart until now. Of course, the Legion of Doom was not the first super-villain team to combat the Justice League. The precursor to the Justice League of America in the Justice Society of America faced a team of foes known as the Injustice Society in 1947. Later, some of those villains teamed with Justice League enemies to form the Crime Champions in 1963. Earth-Two’s Wizard, Icicle, and Fiddler aligned with Earth-One’s Felix Faust, Dr. Alchemy, and Chronos to exchange identities and foes to get the better of the other world’s superhero team. This prompted the first team-up between the League and Society to defeat their assembled enemies. In time, the League would face an organized threat from their own cast of rogues but in a rather bizarre manner.

A reoccurring threat to the Justice League emerged in the Demons Three Abnegazar, Ghast, and Rath. The accursed trio of brothers concocted a scheme of animating the costumes of the individual League members’ foes in a bid to possess the heroes themselves. In 1965, a phantom troupe of Dr. Polaris, Killer Moth, Pied Piper, Dagon, and the Mask were defeated by the Leaguers leaving the authorities with pairs of the villains to account toward. It wouldn’t be until 1974 that the Justice League gained a proper team of enemies working against them that became the model of all such groups to follow. The mysterious villain known simply as Libra recruited Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Mirror Master, Tattooed Man, Chronos, and Shadow-Thief in his bid, unbeknownst to them, to become a god. The group returned several times after that, first by the Construct (minus Shadow-Thief) and then Abra Kadabra. A 1999 story retroactively told of an incarnation of the Gang featuring Ocean Master, Captain Boomerang, Shark, and IQ. A modern version of the Gang arrived in 1997.

In very much the same way the Legion of Doom was formed in the cartoon by Lex Luthor as a direct response to the Justice League, the post-Crisis Luthor formed the Injustice Gang as part of his escalating tensions with Superman and his new super-team. Luthor’s Gang was very much more in the mold of the Legion and counted the Joker, Circe, Mirror Master, Dr. Light, Ocean Master, and the enslaved Saturnian Jemm in his service. Something of an anti-Justice League, the group failed and the ancient weapon of the Old Gods Mageddon manipulated Luthor into forming a second Gang of individual League threats in Queen Bee, Prometheus, and the General. The Injustice Gang has been adapted across several television series and video games. Some months after the Gang debuted, another League villain founded her own team of criminals.

In the pages of Action Comics in 1975, Justice League foe Queen Bee assembled a group of villains to topple her hated enemies. Brainiac, Clayface, Gorilla Grodd, Sinestro, Ocean Master, Chronos, Merlyn, and the Harpy captured most of the Justice League but failed to bring in Superman. This oversight on their part lead to their undoing as the group fell into relative obscurity considering what other villain teams emerged soon after. But before we discuss them, a brief aside. The same year the Anti-Justice League made its appearance, Carmine Infantino drew a gorgeous two-page spread in the pages of Limited Collectors’ Edition #C-39: Secret Origins Super-Villains (which itself had a beautiful cover by Dick Giordano of DC heroes and villains racing toward each other). Featuring a large assortment of foes of Superman, Batman, Flash, and Captain Marvel (with Sinestro as the sole Green Lantern villain), the Flash rogues centerpiece (Infantino having co-created them) has been reprinted with the other characters cropped out over the years. 1975 also saw the start of the Super DC Calendar series as the 1976 and 1977 editions featured Neal Adams’ drawn super-villain groupshots, the latter upon its cover (which may have been an influence on the Legion of Doom). 1976 saw the next major advent in super-villain teams.

There existed a desire to make a comic book series that featured a team of super-villains in the mold of the Mission: Impossible television show. The original version of this book was the Brotherhood of Crime which featured Clayface, Gorilla Grodd, Captain Cold, Star Sapphire, and Manhunter manipulated by Darkseid in his bid to conquer Earth. Editors called for massive revisions of the story and it was published as a one-off in Amazing World of DC Comics #11. The core story with significant changes went on to become the Secret Society of Super-Villains as Clayface was dropped and in his stead arose Copperhead, Captain Boomerang, Mirror Master, Sinestro, Shadow-Thief, and the Wizard. When the group realized they were pawns for Darkseid, they exorcised him and developed into a rotating cast as several teams under different leaders. The likes of Lex Luthor, Funky Flashman, Grodd, Wizard, and Ultra-Humanite lead incarnations of the Society. The already massive affiliation grew many times over in the modern era.

A survivor of the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Alexander Luthor had a desire to recreate the multiverse in order to build his idea of the perfect universe from its pieces. As part of this plan, he manipulated Talia, Dr. Psycho, Black Adam, Deathstroke, and the Calculator into forming the Society, a union of villainy with a distinct no scabs rule. Essentially, every supervillain was forced to join under threat of death (though, the Joker was purposely left out and Alexander assumed the guise of Lex Luthor who actively worked against him with the Secret Six). Intended as a distraction for Earth’s heroes, the ruse culminated in the Battle of Metropolis which included a freed Doomsday to wreak destruction. With Alexander Luthor murdered by the Joker following these events, Libra re-emerged as an agent of Darkseid re-assembling the Society for his bidding. Following the events of Flashpoint, the Society was retroactively founded by the Outsider as servants for the Crime Syndicate. When this came to light, Luthor assembled Bizarro, Captain Cold, Sinestro, Black Manta, Black Adam, and Deathstroke to form the Injustice League to oppose them. While the Society was a major development in 1976, the year was full of supervillain team-ups.

The Crime Champions storyline gave rise to an annual team-up of the Justice League and Justice Society that seemingly only grew over the years. By 1976, the Squadron of Justice of Earth-S joined in as Captain Marvel’s foe King Kull united Brainiac, Joker, Penguin, Blockbuster, Queen Clea, Ibac, Mr. Atom, Dr. Light, Shade, and the Weeper to conquer the three Earths. Around the same time in the pages of the Super Friends comic, an anti-Super Friends group in the Super Foes was formed. Featuring Toyman, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Cheetah, and the Human Flying Fish, the group also took on junior members in the vein of Wendy Harris and Marvin White in Toyboy, Chick, Honeysuckle, Kitten, and Sardine. The year also provided the gem “The Great Super-Star Game” in DC Super Stars #10 where the Sportsmaster assembled Luthor, Joker, Weather Wizard, Dr. Polaris, Tattooed Man, Amazo, Felix Faust, Chronos, and Matter Master to play against a team of superheroes in a game of baseball to prove to his wife the Huntress that evil could at least triumph over good at something. Likely, these three examples of super-villain teams within the same year seemed fairly silly which hurt the prominence of such groups for a time. Fortunately, the Legion of Doom would save them.

When the 1978 season of the Super Friends was being developed, the creators had hoped to introduce Captain Marvel to the series in a big way. Entitled Battle of the Superheroes, the season would feature Marvel joining the Justice League as his nemesis Dr. Sivana formed the League of Evil in response. The Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Cheetah, Gorilla Grodd, Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Abra Kadabra, Sinestro, King Kull, Mr. Atom, and Beautia Sivana rounded out the thirteen members of the nefarious group. However, the concept ran into a snag as part of the ongoing struggles between Hanna-Barbera and Filmation over the television rights of DC’s properties. Filmation had secured Captain Marvel and Batman with Batman and Robin having an exemption for the purposes of Super Friends. While Hanna-Barbera managed to negotiate the use of the Riddler and Scarecrow, Captain Marvel and his characters were off the table forcing the creators to revamp the entire idea.

This latest installment of Super Friends then became Challenge of the Super Friends as Lex Luthor formed the Legion of Doom in response to Superman’s Justice League. Cheetah, Grodd, Cold, and Sinestro along with Riddler and Scarecrow remained but now counted among its number Brainiac, Bizarro, Toyman, Solomon Grundy, Giganta, and Black Manta for an alternate villainous thirteen. The concept and series were remarkably popular as well as enduring, the Legion’s headquarters in the Hall of Doom was an obvious homage to Darth Vader’s helmet which became an iconic symbol of the group. While Challenge only existed for a single season before the franchise moved in a different direction, the Legion returned for three later episodes in the brand. Hanna-Barbera eventually was able to produce a version of their original concept with the two-part Legends of the Superheroes in 1979 featuring a live action Justice League and Legion of Doom. Bringing back Adam West, Burt Ward, and Frank Gorshin of the 1966 Batman television series in their iconic roles, the Legion trimmed its membership down to seven adding Sivana and Weather Wizard as the Legion of Super-Heroes villain Mordru assumed leadership. The Legion of Doom, however, would endure beyond Hanna-Barbera.

Mentioned prior, the Legion of Doom became transitive entering into the pop culture lexicon and transcended Super Friends. Animated films such as Justice League: Doom (2012), JLA Adventures: Trapped In Time (2014), Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League: Attack of the Legion of Doom (2015), and Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016), television series such as Smallville, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Robot Chicken, and Legends of Tomorrow, video games such as DC Universe Online, and even a live action show at Six Flags Amusement Park featured the Legion. In the comics, drastically different versions of the Legion emerged in Extreme Justice and Teen Titans while a more faithful adaptation appeared in the out-of-continuity Justice series. It’s not until the current arc of Justice League that a faithful Legion has developed in continuity with Luthor, Joker, Cheetah, Grodd, Sinestro, and Black Manta forming the villain team. While the Legion of Doom proved to be a powerful, everlasting depiction of DC’s supervillains formed in opposition of the Justice League, DC Comics chose to not strike upon this development until recently.

Following the creation of the Legion of Doom, an issue of The Best of DC published “Secret Origins of Super-Villains” featuring the Parasite, Penguin, Captain Boomerang, Shark, Ocean Master, Red Dart, and Shadow Thief on the cover wherein the comic reprinted their origins as well as published a poem called “Villainous Double Dactyls” written by E. Nelson Bridwell that starred various villains. José Luis García-López depicted supervillain group shots for his DC Comics Style Guides starting in 1982. By the time of the Super Powers toyline (or, more accurately, multimedia explosion), some of this art found its way onto various merchandise most notably onto jigsaw puzzles and the 1988 Super Powers calendar. Jack Kirby produced a poster to promote DC’s Super Powers comic book adaptation depicting several villains from the toyline taking on the Justice League (in the third and final Super Powers comic mini-series, Tyr and Mr. Freeze aligned to work for Darkseid). Arguably the greatest supervillain team-up ever took place during the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths when virtually every villain in the multiverse aligned with Lex Luthor to take advantage of the chaos caused by the Anti-Monitor only to then try and aid in saving the multiverse. To a degree, the next major supervillain group emerged in the pages of the Justice League comic called the Injustice League.

When Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis took over Justice League in the wake of the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, there’s was a League decidedly not as super as past versions. Gone was Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern Hal Jordan… its been joked that they were allowed to use Batman because his editors felt sorry for the creators. So, it would come as no surprise their Injustice League suffered similar issues. No Luthor, Joker, Cheetah, Grodd, Sinestro, or Black Manta. Instead, there’s was Major Disaster leading Cluemaster, Big Sir, Clock King, and Multi-Man. Embracing the humor in what they had to work with, the series became known for laughs and in time the so-called Injustice League became Justice League Antarctica. However, the name was one too good to leave to lovable losers and so in 2000, Mark Waid retroactively made the Injustice League an earlier supervillain group to combat the Justice League lead by alien conqueror Agamemno and featured Luthor, Penguin, Catwoman, Mr. Element, Sinestro, Black Manta, Chronos, Dr. Light, and Felix Faust. By 2007, Injustice League Unlimited emerged with a massive presence lead by Luthor, Joker, and Cheetah. As noted, post-Flashpoint Luthor formed the League to combat the Crime Syndicate. The Injustice League was adapted for Smallville, Young Justice, and the upcoming game Lego DC Super-Villains (pitting Darkseid and the Crime Syndicate against Earth’s villains united as the Injustice League).

Beyond the Injustice Gang, Secret Society of Super-Villains, Legion of Doom, and Injustice League, few DC super-villain teams can compete. 1996’s Kingdom Come offered up the Mankind Liberation Front where Lex Luthor lead Vandal Savage, Catwoman, Riddler, King of the Royal Flush Gang, and an undercover Ibn al Xu’ffasch with a brainwashed Captain Marvel as Luthor’s slave. The animated series Young Justice featured the Light as its primary antagonist which seems to borrow from the MLF and Marvel’s Cabal with a nod to the Society. Vandal Savage, who was a member of the Injustice Society, formed villain groups to combat the Justice League and Teen Titans. For the former, he assembled Clayface, Solomon Grundy, Eclipso, and the Thorn for 1998’s JLA: Year One series. Savage founded the Legion of Doom in Justice League: Doom and the Light in Young Justice while in the current arc of Justice League, the Legion target Savage in their first act. I would be remiss if I did not mention that many heroes and hero groups have villain teams they contend with. The Superman Revenge Squad, United Underworld, Villainy Inc, Rogues, Sinestro Corps, Longbow Hunters, Monster Society of Evil, Legion of Super-Villains, Fearsome Five, Brotherhood of Evil, Masters of Disaster, Gas Gang, League of Challenge-Haters, Ravens, Pentacle… for every hero, there are scores of foes united to oppose them.

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