Original Sins : A Brief History of Super Villainy

vil·lain·y (vl-n)  
  n., pl. vil·lain·ies.  

          1.Baseness of mind or character.  
          2.Viciousness of conduct or action.  
          3.A treacherous or vicious act. 

crime (krm)  
  n.  
          1.An act committed or omitted in violation of a   
               law forbidding or commanding it and for 
               which punishment is imposed upon conviction.  
          2.Unlawful activity: statistics relating to violent crime.  
 
Definitions from the online references at Dictionary.Com

            Depending on one's definition, crime is as old as mankind himself. A serpent in a garden may have told the first lie, a jealous brother may have committed the first murder. Regardless of it's origin, the practice of crime and villainy runs hand-in-hand with human history. In Ancient Egypt, conquering Pharaohs enslaved generations of Hebrews and other minorities. The development of sea-worthy craft was closely followed by the rise of piracy. Criminals and oppressors have become legendary, their names inspiring awe and fear across the centuries; The Borgias, Caligula, Jack the Ripper and Jesse James.

            After the American Civil War, a new era in crime began. As the American West was laid open by U.S. Troops clearing the endogenous populations, refugees from the defeated confederacy fled west and made a new life for themselves in a new era of lawlessness. Often, these desperadoes became popular figures in contemporary folklore, robbing from the wealthy, thwarting the law and thumbing their collective noses at the intrusive federal government. Names such as Jesse James, Billy the Kid and the Dalton Gang still resonate across the American consciousness. These figures also inspired the second generation of crime. Kids growing up in turn of the century American idolized these free spirits and developed outlaw legends of their own. Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillenger and Pretty Boy Floyd were as beloved by the American public as feared by them. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Darrow developed a love affair in the public eye, with major papers publishing Bonnie's poetry. Pretty Boy Floyd took the time to burn the mortgages of Depression-Era homeowners whenever he robbed a bank. These men and women, while desperate criminals, become subjects of songs, poems and legends.

         On the fictional earths of the DC multiverse, crime took a different turn. In the early 1940's, the attention of the world was dominated by the imminent entry of most of the world's nations into the second World War. Megalomaniacs like Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini dominated world affairs with endless belligerance. On some DC worlds, such as Earth-2, this pivotal point in Earth's history was met by the rise of colorful figures with amazing powers. While the Axis powers recruited a few such figures from their homelands, the vast majority were devoted to the Allies. Guarding the Allied nations were intrepid groups such as the Justice Society of America and the All-Star Squadron. As the tide of war turned, these groups moved into Europe and Asia, supporting the advancing Allied forces until the War ended.

    With the surrender of the Axis forces in 1945, a new balance of power began to form. Some heroes went into a form of retirement. Others, like the Seven Soldiers of Victory, mysteriously disappeared. Many however, remained active and turned their attention on other forms of crime. Confronted with this new threat, criminals made an evolutionary advancement, meeting the high-flying heroes with technology of their own. By 1950, the newspapers of the time were filled with battles between bizarre characters like the Icicle, the Sportsmaster and the Fiddler and the heroes of the time. The ultimate resolution of these battles were decided by a turn of fate and a landmark event in American history.

    In the fall of 1951, the Justice Society of America was called before the House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC) to answer questions about their affiliations with possible criminal or communist elements in the United States. The only answer that would satisfy the committee was a complete disclosure of each member's true identity and private relations. Predictably, the JSA refused and disbanded, leaving the stage for years. The motivation of the HUAC in persecutig the heroes has never been fully revealed. Leading criminals such as Vandal Savage and Per Degaton have each claimed to have been a major influence in the outcome. The final truth may never be known.

    With the fall from grace of the JSA, the villains also took the oppurtunity to re-evaluate their roles in the world. Many, like the Monocle, moved to Europe or other nations to re-invent themselves as something more legitimate. Others, like Sportsmaster, were apprehended by new government agencies such as Argent or Task Force X.  Villains like the Thinker re-invented themselves as more modern criminals with new advanced methods of operations. With a few years, the work of the HUAC was complete and costumed vigilantes, both heroes and villains, were removed from the world's stage.

    In time, costumed characters re-emerged and a new generation of super-villains evolved to meet them. These criminals, either in spirit or in fact, owed their careers to a handful of pioneering criminals who established a new element in the criminal history of these alternate worlds: the role of the super-villain. It is to these legends that this work is devoted.

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