The PopCult Comix Bookshelf
DCs Wanted: The Worlds Most Dangerous Super-Villains
by various writers and artists
$39.99 (discounted at Amazon)
Right off the bat, I love this book, but I can’t see any logical reason that it was released. I suppose the idea was that this would somehow tie in with DC’s “Year of the Villain” company-wide story arc, but it’s a real stretch to think that fans of DC’s current form of story-telling would have any interest in an archival volume in which 20 of the 25 stories date back to before 1960.
DC doesn’t have many comics in their library with the word “Villain” in the title, and one of those (Secret Society of Super-Villains) was collected into a trade paperback recently, so I guess they felt they were stuck with creating a nice hardback collection of an obscure reprint title from the early 1970s.
Wanted: The Worlds Most Dangerous Super-Villains collects all nine issues of the comic of the same name, which was one of the many reprint titles cooked up around that time when DC and Marvel were cranking out as many comics as possible in an effort to grab market share and crowd each other (and any smaller publishers) off the newsstands. Right before a paper shortage caused prices to rise and smaller publishers to fail, DC and Marvel were attempting to glut each other out of business.
Marvel had several titles, some dating back to the mid 1960s, that reprinted the earliest adventures of Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four, and DC had been reprinting stories from their vast libraries as “bonus” material when they expanded all the books to 48 pages and raised the price to 25 cents. Both publishers discovered that a decent amount of fans still bought reprint titles, and they had the added appeal to the publisher of already being paid for, so they cost almost nothing to produce back in those days before comics creators were given reprint fees.
DC created several themed all-reprint comics when they reverted to 32 page comics that sold for 20 cents (that is a long story that I don’t have room to tell you here), and Wanted was their all-villain book, published alongside other reprint titles like Secret Origins and Strange Sports Stories. These books were edited and curated by E. Nelson Bridwell, DC’s secret weapon when it came to his vast knowledge of comic book history and his impeccable taste in choosing which stories to reprint. Bridwell does not get enough credit for stoking the flames of comics fandom and instilling a love for Golden Age comics in a generation of comics creators and historians.
With Wanted, Bridwell didn’t take the easy route and just put Batman or Superman in every issue. He plumbed the depths of DC, reintroducing members of DC’s rogue’s gallery that hadn’t been seen in decades, and exposing a new generation to the formative works of such comics greats as Joe Kubert, Mort Meskin, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Carmine Infantion and more.
The thing is, Wanted was never really a best-seller. It existed to take up space on the spinner rack, with the intention of keeping that spot away from a rival company. That it turned out to be such a wonderful, if random, collection of terrific comic stories was a bonus.
While the book did cover-feature a few heavy-hitters in its original run–Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and The Flash are on some of the covers–more than equal time was given to more obscure DC heroes like Starman, Doctor Fate, The Vigilante, Wildcat and Hourman. They even cover-featured two really obscure characters that DC had purchased from Quality Comics, Doll Man and Kid Eternity.
Some of the Villains are pretty obscure, too. We do see Batman fight The Joker and The Penguin, but those two are teamed up in one story. We also see the Caped Crusader take on The Signalman, who at that point had only appeared twice since the one story reprinted here. Other Villains showcased in this book include The Prankster, Soloman Grundy, Clock King, The Mist, The Dummy and Mister Who (not to be confused any doctors who came later). This book will educate newer readers of the scope of colorful evil-doers in the DC Universe.
As I pointed out, the stories are drawn by a murderer’s row of iconic comic book artists. In addition to the artists listed above, we also get to see work by Gil Kane, H.G. Peter, Jack Burnley and Lee Elias and stories written by Robert Kanigher, Gardner Fox, Alfred Bester, William Woolfolk, Jerry Siegel, John Broome, Bill Finger, Ed Herron and more. Plus they included the beautiful split-scene covers for the original series by Nick Cardy and Murphy Anderson.
Like I said, I love this book. They even give us a hypothetical tenth issue with an all-female villain line-up. I don’t have this entire series in my collection, and it’s fantastic to finally have them all in one volume. I should mention that it’s also a collection of short-form stories. Most in this book run between seven and 13 pages, and they manage to cram in more plot than a year’s worth of today’s comics. In terms of pure comics glee, this book is a home run.
A curious omission is that they left out issues #8 and #14 of DC Special, which were the first comics that used the logo and the theme. Those must have sold well enough to inspire this series, but they aren’t included here and with no text features, aren’t even mentioned. It’s like this book was thrown together so quickly that nobody even thought to Google the title to see if there were any more issues to include.
One other thing that DC didn’t include is any context. There are no text features explaining why this book exists or why it’s historically relevant. There’s not even a fond remberance from a comics professional who was inspired by this series. They don’t even reprint the informative text features and letters pages, written and edited by Bridwell, that explain the background of each story and why it was chosen. As it is, the only mention of Bridwell is where he’s listed among the editors of the original stories, on the Indicia page.
That is a major disappointment. It’s like getting a deluxe Blu Ray disc of a classic movie and discovering that there no extras–not even a trailer. They could’ve just scanned the original text pages (and I’m not even sure they had them in every issue) and ran them in the appropriate place. That “tenth issue” they included is about five pages longer than it should have been, so they could have sacrificed one of those stories if the page-count was a problem.
Aside from that gripe, I can whole-heartedly recommend Wanted: The Worlds Most Dangerous Super-Villains for anybody who loves classic superhero comics with colorful villains, crisp storytelling and great art. It’s not a perfect collection, but it’s a lot of fun.
Also of note is that, while you can order this from any bookseller using the ISBN code, Amazon has it for almost half the suggested price.