The Secret Society of Super-Heroes
Howard Chaykin &
David Tischman, writers,
Mike McKone, penciller
(DC Comics, 2000)

The Secret Society of Super-Heroes is one of my favorite tales to come out of DC Comics' Elseworlds series. Published in two parts -- and easily deserving at least four -- the story by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman presents a world where the only costumed heroes are those with super powers (i.e., no Batman or Green Arrow), and those who do exist operate in total secrecy. There are only vague rumors about their existence, a possibility followed doggedly by tabloid reporter Lois Lane. Meanwhile, FBI profiler Bruce Wayne is pursuing reports of criminals -- hundreds of them -- who've gone missing. Obviously, these two will cross paths.

The Secret Society of Super-Heroes, we learn, feels no accountability to society. They do their best to catch criminals, true, but they pass judgment on them themselves, banishing the worst to the Phantom Zone, an other-dimensional world now peopled with an entire society of criminals and their descendants. There are rifts in the organization, however: some heroes want to go public, believing their methods are unjust, while others feel right and justified in their actions.

The leader of the band is Superman, in this case an aging Clark Kent who's just beginning to see his powers fade. Also in the group are Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (Kyle Raynor), the Flash (Wally West), the Atom, Hawkwoman, Metamorpho and Plastic Man. These aren't exactly the characters we're used to, either; all are reflections of their mainstream counterparts with significant portions of their appearance and personality altered. We also catch glimpses of other altered figures from the DC Universe, including a powerless Barry Allen, the fledgling speedster Bart Allen (Impulse), criminals such as the Joker, the Riddler and Catwoman, and, eventually, Batman.

The Secret Society of Super-Heroes is a treat to read. The heroes, while different from the norm, seem very real for this "what if?" scenario; Chaykin and Tischman are right on in their characterizations. I hope to see more from them in this vein in the future.

[ by Tom Knapp ]