Every Thursday, mightygodking.com returns to the pages of Who’s Who, the classic 1980s DC comic book encyclopedia of their characters. Every week, a character shall be judged on the only scale scientific enough that matters: the Rex The Wonder Dog scale of fantasticosity.
The DC Universe is not, let us be honest, one that is famed particularly for international criminal/terrorist groups. Marvel Comics has HYDRA, AIM, the Hand, the Maggia, Roxxon, and of course all the splinter groups that come along with those big, important evil ones – so that whenever a Marvel comics writer needs a villainous terrorist with a psycho-death gorillabot, he can just invent Radically Advanced Ideas in Destruction or Maliciously Advanced Ideas in Larceny or Transformative Realizations Of Advanced Ideas in Nanorobotics and the reader will instantly know “oh, it’s just AIM again, except not.” And this is fine, although they never really explain why the guys in AIM dress up like evil beekeepers.
Meanwhile, DC has tried time and again to invent their own equivalents of these same groups, and almost universally they fail. With the exception of the League of Assassins – which mostly gets by on Ra’s Al Ghul’s cred; I mean, I like Merlyn and all, but come on – they almost always end up sucking pipe. We have Kobra (“just like Cobra in “G.I. Joe,” except completely different and even less impressive”). We’ve got Intergang (“hey, are you a common criminal deluded enough to believe that sheer numbers can beat Superman? Then sign up today”). There’s The 1,000 (“like Intergang, but with a less interesting name”).
And those are the good ones. There are more terrible failed shadowy organizations in the DC universe then there are Green Lanterns, frankly. A short and not comprehensive list: the 2000 Committee, ASP, the Assassination Bureau, the Battalion of Doom, Black Ops, Cell Six, The Council, H.I.V.E., The DMT, Eurocrime, Locus, Les Mille Yeux, MAZE, the Oblivion Front, Scorpio, Shadowspire, SPIDER, The Veil, VULTURE, and no less than three separate unrelated outfits known as the Network.
Honestly, it’s kind of amazing that all these organizations manage to co-exist. Do they have their own human-resources divisions?
“So, Mr. Kelly. I see here you worked for three years at SPIDER as an arson specialist. How do you think you could help VULTURE’s accounts payable division?”
“Well, I could set the people we owe money on fire.”
“Interesting, interesting… You are aware that the health plan requires a buy-in if you want optical coverage, right?”
And then there is SKULL. If there is one saving grace to DC’s horde of indistinguishable villainous cartels, it is that they are homogenous; the same vaguely pan-Hispanarabic terrorists and criminals in every one (ah, the good old DC universe, where dusky-but-not-black skin almost always equals “evil”). But not SKULL. Simple swarthy looks are not enough for the likes of SKULL.
SKULL makes you dress up.
Now, unlike a lot of these criminal organizations, SKULL did not arise out of a shared interest in power and money. Rather, it arose because the Atomic Skull needed a lot of flunkies. Perhaps you’re thinking “but wait, the Atomic Skull is mostly a nobody.” And this is true. SKULL is an organization founded to serve the whims of a second-rate Superman villain. Okay, by itself it’s not that bad. For example, Kobra is pretty lame, but he’s got his own army. Which is also pretty lame, come to think. But he had his own comic! Which… you know, Kobra probably isn’t a good reason to justify the Atomic Skull having a terrorist army.
But it’s even sadder than that, because one day the Atomic Skull just said “oh, fuck this,” and left SKULL. But that didn’t stop the members of SKULL from continuing to do evil… stuff. It also didn’t stop them from keeping their original name. SKULL is like a Milli Vanilli cover band that chose to carry on after everybody found out that Rob and Fab weren’t actually doing any of the singing.
But they still have the uniforms with the skulls on them, so what are they supposed to do, huh? I mean, they’re already cutting costs. Every third meal is ramen, and when it’s not ramen they’re buying off-brand food, and they had to sell the Skullships for money so now everybody has to make do with bus passes, and Brenda cancelled the maid service so now they keep the evil headquarters clean via a chore rota. Getting new uniforms and coming up with a new name would be expensive, and everybody likes the skull motif anyway, so…
Yes, I know somebody’s going to say “but you can use them for a comedic riff on evil comic-book terrorist armies,” but the thing is that you don’t need SKULL to do that. You can just use a witless member of a GOOD evil comic-book terrorist army and it’ll be more effective (and funnier).