MARC ALAN FISHMAN: The Secret to Secret Six? A Tablespoon of Talent
Welcome back to ComicMix’s resident snark machine. So far, I’d taken a nice big steaming load all over Barry Allen, Hal Jordon, and the X-Men. Last week, for those counting, I shilled for my own book. Based on the lack of comments, I realized ya’ll don’t care bout that. I figured I needed your love back, so I should turn my attention back to being a mean so-and-so.
I wanted to folks, I really did. But wouldn’t you know it, I’m still all fuzzy inside from last week. Since it’s rare I’m not completely bitter about something, it’s high time I send up some praise for something I’m reading. Simply put, of all the books I’ve read in the past four to five years, none have been more consistently good as Secret Six. Now that’s it’s over, this article is my way of uncapping the twist-off to my bottle of Old Milwaukee, and pouring it out on the street corner. My last week of cheerful glee is dedicated to you, Catman and company.
Let’s get the wiki-notes on the series here first, for those eternally late to the party: Secret Six used to be a hero book back in the late 60s. I didn’t read it. It was retconned/updated in the late 80s. Didn’t read that one either. In 2005 though, the team was brought back as a villainous mercenary team (by way of Gail Simone) in Villains United. I read it. I liked it. A year later, the team surfaced again, in a mini-series. Bought that one too. Loved it. And in 2008, the book was given on-going status. And into my subscription pile it went.
Oh, Secret Six… how I love you. Let me count the twisted ways. First and foremost? The characterization. The book has always followed a cast of ne’er-do-wells, and it knows that. They kill. They maim. They slaughter. But it’s never violence for violence sake. Unlike the bloated 90s where villainy became a trend, here it’s used to drive the book. I’ve never liked the idea of a mercenary book. It’s akin to playing D+D. Just because your character wants money, doesn’t make it interesting. Simone, with her cast of cretins keeps the book running on a near existential exploration of what bad is. But never is that drive just there to run the book through it’s paces. Only in a single set of issues did I ever find myself musing on if the book was on cruise control. But I digress. Gail Simone’s best asset throughout the three year run was never forgetting that a team book is best served through its characters.
The heart of the book began with Catman. Once nothing more than a complete joke (see Brad Meltzer’s run on Green Arrow), Simone put the claws back on, so-to-speak. Driven by a moral code, but knowing his own strengths… he rooted the book firmly as a natural leader. By the final stand of the Six in #36, one could picture him going toe to toe with any of the cape-and-cowled, and easily being top cat.
Over time, the focus of the book shifted to many others on the team. Simone never left a teammate as just a warm body. Ragdoll, Deadshot, Scandal Savage and badass banshee Jeanette all took turns in the limelight. More than any of them though, it was the treatment of Batman B-Lister, Bane, that stole the show for me.
Once relegated to his “oh, the guy who broke Batman’s back” status, and then a brief (and terrible) turn as an anti-hero left him as a carcass of a character. Placing him at first as just the “big guy who looks good standing in the back” on the team… it was a beautifully slow burn Simone lit under the character that ultimately ended the book. It was a thing of beauty. Spoiler alerts be damned. With the books cancelation upon them, Simone and her team (including the always fantastic, and forever underrated Jim Califiore) let Bane close the book. Driven by the idea that his own moral code would bring him 666 feet under heaven, Bane snapped.
In spite of his better efforts, Simone had hid his truly evil ways under layers of humor, sincerity, and near genial moments since his addition to the book. With literally nothing left to lose, the beast hands out viles of venom to the team for a last stand in Gotham. Ten years ago, it would have been fodder for “hulked-up villains” for an issue, devoid of depth. Here? Gail lets his heart bleed out on his sleeve; It was an emotional catharsis for a character I’d grown to honestly love reading every month. If someone at DC is reading this, I only pray they don’t let this get shuffled in the impending star-wipe.
For all I’ve bitched and moaned about in my column thus far, Secret Six represented every counter argument to my problems. Barry Allen? Milquetoast personified. Try out Ragdoll, who can’t deliver a single line in 36 issues that didn’t equally creep me out, make me laugh, or give a glimmer of depth when most writers would relegate him to just comic relief. Hal Jordan? Once a cocksure ring slinger turned “just another heroic white guy.” Give me Deadshot any day. In 36 issues, he was rarely without a quip, and a “I’m here for the fun, seriously” attitude. Brilliant.
And the X-Men? They change teams more than I change polo shirts. Secret Six has too, but somehow they never lost their core. And when new members entered the team, Gail hasn’t just thrown them into the background to fill out an action sequence. Hell, with the addition of King Shark (a mort if I ever saw one) just a handful of issues before their demise, she still managed to make him a hilarious and awesome addition. I think that bears repeating. She made king fucking shark a character I liked. While Johns, Lee, and DiDio continue to de-pants its women, Gail, Nicola Scott, and eventually Jim Califiore opted to display their women with class, grit, and nuance. Class. Grit. Nuance. Someone please pay attention. This is how books need to be written.
I tried to find a counter point to the love-in kiddos. I really did. But Secret Six for the last three years has been nothing short of wild entertainment. Simone and her excellent artists brought balance to a team book that focused its time and efforts in who they were as much as what they were. I for one will miss them, and honestly, because she’s not attached to the newly minted Suicide Squad (a sister concept to this one) I have little plan to return. They say go out with a bang. Gail went out with a nuclear explosion to the nads. Until her name (or maybe Ostrander’s…) graces a villainous page again, I’ll nurse my new-found cancer left in its wake. Ain’t that a shot of Tabasco in the eye.
Please note… I don’t actually have cancer. But there’s a hole in my soul where this book dug its claws in. Knowing that it’s replacement is a book with Harley Quinn dressed as a psychoslut is such that I cry myself to sleep at night.
SUNDAY: John Ostrander