Dear DC Super-Villains review

They’re some of the most conniving, vile masterminds on Earth.

They go toe to toe against the greatest heroes in the world.

Their powers and skill sets are as varied and useful as they are deadly.

With the likes of Lex Luthor, Black Manta, Giganta, and Harley Quinn in their ranks, they are super villains… and even they have fans.

The Dear Justice League dream team of Michael Northrop, Gustavo Duarte, and Wes Abbott have reunited and are joined by colorist Cris Peter on the brand new, all-ages graphic novel Dear DC Super-Villains.  Following the same basic format as the earlier book, this is a delightful series of vignettes focusing on some of DC’s most notorious baddies, each of whom answer questions submitted by their fans.

Or kids who want to throw some shade.

Or maybe a hero fishing for some leads, wink wink.

Where Dear Justice League had a fairly clear overarching plot that tied all of the different stories together, Dear DC Super-Villains is a little looser and manic in its structure, which is… kind of fitting for the bad guys, really.  The League is a cohesive unit of heroes who have united to fight for truth, justice, and smacking bug aliens in the face, whereas the Legion of Doom and other such teams are bad guys coming together to do bad stuff.  Sure, “defeat the heroes” is a common goal, but when one member wants to steal jewels, another wants to control everyone through the power of fear, and yet another wants to control everyone through his advanced gorilla mind powers, there’s going to be some conflict.

And, I cannot stress this enough, gorillas.  That’s always a winning factor.

Shown: winning factor

Structurally, this book mirrors Dear Justice League pretty closely: there are nine different chapters, eight of which focus on a different villain, with the entire group coming together at the end for a “Dear DC Super-Villains” finale.  Each chapter sees its respective villain in a different situation, either highlighting their specific powers and skill-sets or just showing how bored and/or annoyed they are around other baddies, and then answering a letter or email from a fan.  Since these are bad guys we’re talking about here, some of the questions and responses have a little bit more of an edge to them, as opposed to the more reverent questions and respectful answers you’d expect from the Justice League.  That’s not to say this isn’t appropriate for kids at all, because all of the humor is pretty clean while still being genuinely funny.  It’s just that this time around you have kids poking fun at the villains for not being able to defeat the heroes, or the villains responding in turn with a bit of a sardonic answer.

It’s all in great fun, though, with some brilliant gags and funny sequences that make up for some of the lost earnestness.  And even then, this is still a pretty heartfelt book, lacking any real cynicism or even danger.  Northrop, Duarte, Peter, and Abbott are just here to have a great time, and they’ve invited us along for the ride.

As far as the cast of characters goes, none of the choices are that surprising, save for one.  They’re all A- and B-listers at the very least, with Catwoman, Lex Luthor, Harley Quinn, Gorilla Grodd, Giganta, Sinestro, Katana, and Black Manta making up the team.  Katana is the one that stood out the most to me, as she’s not typically a villain, even when she’s associated with ne’er-do-wells.  At most she’s morally grey, but that’s because she’s a more tragic figure than, say, a criminal mastermind like Lex Luthor or the sociopathic maniac that is the Joker.

Regardless, she gets a fun little story in here, and she doesn’t feel so out of place that it took me out of the action.

Northrop’s writing for each character is pretty strong, as he gives each villain a unique voice and personality.  As this is a straight-up comedy, he’s painting with a broader brush than you might get in more serious character studies, but I don’t mind.  It works for the story, and who doesn’t want to see Sinestro try his darndest to be the master of fear while also melting over a cute little kitty?  No one, that’s who.

Some of the stories are funnier than others, to be sure, but everything moves along at a breezy clip.  You’ll be able to finish this in under an hour, which also makes it appealing for multiple reads.  A lower time investment would make repeat visits easier to manage, which is always a good thing when you own a book.

Catwoman kicks things off with an energetic caper, where she steals some priceless artifacts.  Right from the start Duarte reminds us of just how brilliant a storyteller he is, with an art style that moves like crazy and is full of expression.  I loved his work on Bizarro, I loved that one Detective Chimp story he did with Heath Corson, I loved his work on Dear Justice League, and I love his work here.

Seriously.  Just look at it.  Amazing stuff.

Things get pretty silly pretty quickly, which is alright by me, even if it involves Batman subduing Catwoman with a laser pointer.  Easy joke?  Yes.  Funny just the same?  Absolutely.

The second chapter introduces the general, overarching plot, as we are introduced to Lex Luthor, who is serving time in Blackgate Penitentiary.  Why is he in prison in Gotham instead of Metropolis?  No idea.

What I do know is that it’s always funny to see someone dunk on Luthor’s massive ego, especially when he’s presented with a question like “if you’re so smart, why haven’t you cured baldness?”

Again, an easy joke, but it’s funny just the same.  In fact, each chapter uses the familiar and easily recognized aspects of each character to spin some really funny situations: Harley tries her hand at stand-up comedy, Gorilla Grodd flexes his mental (and gorilla) superiority, Giganta actually helps somebody by relating to a genuine personal issue, Sinestro tries to maintain his reputation while indulging in personal affections, Katana shows off her skills as an agent of espionage, and Black Manta’s single-minded obsession leaves him vulnerable to being easily fooled.  It all comes to a head when the villains join forces to spring Luthor from prison, but ultimately prove that they aren’t the best teammates when compared to the Justice League.

It’s that familiarity that makes this such an easy read, as Northrop isn’t looking to reinvent these characters.  No, he and Duarte, Peter, and Abbott are just here to give us a good time, and they succeed in spades.  As fun as the writing is, the book really excels on a visual level, with some brilliant background gags and wonderfully illustrated scenes.  Black Manta’s chapter has a wonderful one-two punch of inventiveness, as Manta puts on his helmet when he needs his reading glasses, and then responds to a “fan’s” question with a double-page spread that’s made to look like a treasure map.  Harley’s chapter has some great gags too, especially some of Abbott’s descriptive captions for each of the Legion’s members.  These in particular litter the entire book and offer some pretty big laughs, from a simple “P-U!” in the Legion’s refrigerator to Batman going in for a kick with a big “BUH-BOOT!” effect that’s followed up by a “MUH-MISS!” when he, well, muh-misses.

That the comedy isn’t from one member of the creative team, but due to everyone’s contributions makes the book that much better.  It feels like a truly collaborative effort.

This book only falls slightly short of its predecessor for some minor structural reasons, as the overall story could have been a little more cohesive.  Still, it’s great fun from beginning to end, a quick read, and a great showcase for the talents of the entire creative team.  I’d personally give this another read or two at least, just to pick up all of the background gags, and to enjoy an engaging book that’s more than suitable for fans of all-ages.  Those are few and far between, and Dear DC Super-Villains definitely delivers.

Recommended if:

  • You enjoy a good, all-ages book that appeals to kids and adults alike.
  • You need some laughs.
  • You enjoyed Dear Justice League, as you should.
  • You’re curious to see what kind of animal really tugs at Sinestro’s heartstrings.
  • Gorillas.

Overall: It doesn’t quite have the same heartfelt sincerity of its predecessor, but it’s still plenty touching, entertaining, and funny.  Northrop, Duarte, Peter, and Abbott are an unparalleled team, and some of the strongest voices in the “all-ages” comics game.  Even if they don’t do another book in this format, I would love to see more stories from this exact creative team in the future.  What better praise can be given than that?

SCORE: 8.5/10