You can't talk about the 5th Column without talking about the Council because the two groups are almost the same. Of course, one is a lot more reprehensible than the other, which oddly makes them far more interesting. Put simply, it's a tangled web of subterfuge and backstabbing, and the two organizations are still struggling for dominance on the streets of Paragon City. They're like a slightly more accessible version of Nemesis for one another.
The 5th Column was originally formed during World War II, intended as a German deep-cover operation agency for wreaking havoc on the United States on its own soil. By all accounts, the group already had its three main members in place by the time that its members struck a visible blow against Paragon City's harbor in 1941, although not much of the group's formation is known. What's certain is that they were on American soil in 1941, and they rampaged up and down the coast until the war wound down and the heroes active at the time forced them into dissolution.
Unbeknownst to Statesman and the US authorities, the 5th Column persisted after the war, working in secret, recruiting from criminal groups and putting together an arsenal. Equally unknown to the Column's leader, Requiem, however, was that there were forces moving inside the Column itself, pulling together for a coup. Where exactly the leader of this coup came from is equally mysterious, but he may very well have been an outside force who simply saw an opportunity. Or, depending on whom you ask, the coup was in fact the real power behind the Column all along, and the Column was merely a branch that was useful to have on the front lines for a time.
In the wake of the Rikti War, the 5th Column made its push, recruiting openly on the streets of Paragon City and trying to establish a new fascist state in the place of the United States. Soon thereafter, however, a coup took place, with the organization being torn out from within by the forces that would come to be known as the Council. The Council kept many of the 5th Column's leading members, but the ideology was focused in a more... um... well, it's not clear what the Council actually hopes to achieve, other than presumably taking over governments and working with the Nictus aliens.
What is clear is that the Column's former leaders found themselves subjugated for a time, until Requiem led a counter-coup against the Council's leadership to reclaim his organization. The 5th Column was pretty accustomed to working behind the scenes, after all, and the group began using more underhanded methods such as working through various temporal anomalies to restore its strength. Following many years of plotting, Requiem and his loyal followers struck a blow against the Council to reclaim their rightful place. As it stands, the Council and the 5th Column are in a state of war, with the 5th Column steadily gaining an upper hand against its enemies.
If this all seems kind of confusing and unclear, that's because it is. The backstory is largely a case of real life writing the plot, with the 5th Column unceremoniously deposed presumably to avoid any potential references to their Nazi roots. What is known is that both organizations use many of the same resources and share several allies, but precise membership can sometimes be a bit blurry.
Group activities and powers
At the lowest levels, both groups are composed of normal human soldiers trained to perfection and armed with the best tech available. But there are numerous superhuman forces within both organizations, many of which is based upon the original work of the organization's founders. Both groups share access to the mechanical creations of Vandal, hovering weapon platforms and bipedal automata that are known by slightly different names depending on their source (Valkyries and Mek Men for the 5th Column, Zenith Hoverbots and Zenith Mech Men for the Council). Both groups also use Nosferatu's specialized Vampyri soldiers, although their ranks seem to be a bit thinner among the 5th Column these days.
The most mysterious soldiers in either group are the War Wolves, animal-human hybrids with superior strength and a savage demeanor. Unlike the Vampyri, the wolves don't appear to be scientific mutations; instead, they are created through other means. It's possible that they came about from Requiem's Nictus abilities in much the same way that the Council would later gain a unique group of soldiers, the Galaxy corps. These individuals are empowered with raw dark energy and seem to be among the elite members of the Council, probably the strongest weapon remaining in its arsenal.
Unlike several of our early spotlight subjects, the 5th Column and the Council are both replete with interesting and unique figures. The easiest one to consider in brief is the leader of the Council, known as The Center, who is either a completely ordinary man or a superhuman with no combat-worthy abilities. What is known is that he remains in the shadows whenever possible, preferring anonymity, and he is a master of manipulation and subterfuge. Given his relationship with the other loyal members of the Council, he seems to have brokered some sort of deal with the Nictus as a whole, unlike the more self-interested Requiem.
The Center's closest lieutenant is Arakhn, the leader of the Nictus race. Arakhn has her own agenda, one centered around the establishment of a new Nictus homeworld and the destruction of the Kheldians, one that apparently doesn't run counter to the Center's plans. She's apparently willing to be subservient to the Center, or perhaps she's plotting behind the scenes.
Requiem, the leader of the 5th Column, is also a Nictus, but one far less concerned with the well-being of his race as a whole by all appearances. It's also quite possible that Requiem's animosity toward Arakhn and the Center has nothing to do with divergent goals and everything to do with simply being the one in charge. Whatever the case, Requiem seems to hold on to a rather dedicated fascist philosophy and maintains his hold over the Column through sheer power, perhaps having moved beyond concerns of his species to the goal of global domination.
Requiem's two closest lieutenants, and the other leaders of the Column, are Nosferatu and Vandal, with the former developing the vampyri soldiers and the latter developing the machine hardware of the Column. Both of them are brilliant in their own right; Nosferatu turned himself into the ultimate expression of his vampyri, and Vandal encased himself in cybernetic armor to prolong his life. Vandal appears to have returned to the Column alongside Requiem, but Nosferatu appears to still be with the Council, preferring its methodology.
There are other unique individuals within the ranks of the organizations, but these five are the most pronounced leaders and the main movers and shakers.
Could I be one?
Quite easily. With an organization so sprawling, there's no reason you couldn't create a character to follow in either group's footsteps -- and with so many existing groups, you can tie a number of different character concepts in with relative ease. The Animal costume parts let you make a passable War Wolf; there are enough Dark-themed sets to put together a vampyri or Galaxy-type character; and of course you can always give yourself some tech gadgets and call yourself a rank-and-file member. And if you prefer to be a bit more unique in your power selection, there's always the option of being a unique super-powered freak among the ranks of either the Column or the Council.
I've said many times how much I like the 5th Column, but really, I don't think I would like it as much if not for the Council.
See, the Council is boring. It's got all the notes of the Column with none of the music or the real villainous punch that the 5th Column delivers. But it was hard to notice how much I actually liked the Column until it was gone for a long while and until its slow return became a major plot point. So in a way, the Council was responsible for making the 5th Column even stronger.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below or send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, it's time for the intersection of nemeses and making bad characters -- and I can only hope it's as interesting to read as the wait will have implied.
By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.