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Gail Simone's Secret Six
There are some comic books that sit on my coffee table for a few days before I pick them up. Then, there are books like Secret Six, which I open up before even getting home. I'm a big proponent for idolizing heroes over villains but Secret Six makes me a hypocrite. Gail Simone wrote her characters as smart, funny and horrible and I loved every second of it.
Back in 2005, DC Comics was starting their soon-to-be epic Infinite Crisis, which would all but blow up the DC Universe. I wasn't a reader of DC books at the time, being a strict Marvel fan. However, the event caught my eye and I began following the book. In order to feel like I knew what was going on, I picked up a few of the miniseries that started the main story, including Villains United.
Written by Gail Simone, this miniseries told the story of what all of DC's villains were doing before the event, mainly uniting together to face the heroes. Calling themselves the Secret Society, these villains start recruiting from all over. However, there are a few who reject the offer, including Catman, a character who seems to have been considered a joke beforehand. When Catman joins up with other villains who reject the Society, they begin their fight to survive against the collective might of the world's most wanted.
I'm not going to ruin all the twist and turns of this miniseries as it was the most fun to come out of the Infinite Crisis saga. The team is made up of canon characters Catman, Deadshot, Cheshire and new creations Scandal Savage, Ragdoll and Parademon. This series was exciting, with big action and spectacle, and full of humor. Catman and Deadshot became buddies that could carry their own book while new characters like Ragdoll and Scandal leave as new favorites.
After Infinite Crisis, the response to Simone's new team was positive enough to keep them together. The six issue miniseries Secret Six continued the story of the team as they began setting into a new life of teaming together. With Doctor Psycho after them for revenge, the team also comes across the Doom Patrol and the Mad Hatter.
This series wasn't great and failed to live up to the standard of the previous book. Part of the problem was that it wanted to be an ongoing series but was only a mini, giving it a lack of direction. Simone's writing is never bad, but it isn't the same quality as her other work. Scandal's girlfriend, Knockout, joins the team, but aside from her being Scandal's love interest she's not a very dynamic character.
The team would also star together again in Birds of Prey, now with Harley Quinn. Her time on the team wouldn't last long and the team members went in different directions. That is, until September 2008.
Simone's team was finally given it's own ongoing series, appropriately titled Secret Six. This team was made up of members of the old team; Catman, Scandal, Deadshot and Ragdoll. Joining them were new creation Jeannette and Batman villain Bane. Now the team was on regular hire for jobs on both sides of the law. While Villains United was a whole bunch of fun, Simone tops all previous efforts with this series.
Dysfunction is the name of the game with this series, as the series starts with the team trying to kill each other over a "Get Out of Hell Free" card. Stories continue this theme, with the group freeing slaves from a tropical resort and fighting off Ragdoll's deranged family.
Each character is given their time to shine, both in action and character. Deadshot never comes across as much more than an apathetic killer but we see sides of his self-loathing as well. Catman's road starts with him on top but he suffers quite a bit later on. Ragdoll is nonsensical and insane most of the time, but he's also responsible for most of the laughs, one's that are too naughty to write here.
Bane becomes a much more active character as the series progresses, looking for redemption and purpose. His relationship with Scandal is one of the most humanizing elements of this series and his self-appointed role as her surrogate father opens up the character like never before. Bane also takes control of the team and you can see the rivalry between him and Catman building each issue.
The team also gains a few other members along the way. Black Alice, the young magician who falls for Ragdoll, and Superboy villain King Shark. While Black Alice was interesting enough, especially when she turns into a female version of Etrigan, I never thought I would come to love King Shark. He seemed like a one-note character, a creature who only reacts to his basic instincts and urges. But Simone writes him just like that and it's hilarious. From his shark pride to his desire to be included, King Shark is the right kind of annoying and weird.
The series was cancelled in 2011, thanks in part to Flashpoint and "the New 52". Knowing this, Simone sends her characters off with a bang, leaving readers sad, yet satisfied. Bane's plan to finally break the Bat bring the team to a final mission and there's no going back. The final panels are intense and I was reminded how attached I had become to this group of crooks.
The series only lasted thirty six issues, but in this day and age, three years is a blessing for niche title. Secret Six never outgrew it's welcome and it left on top. Would I have loved another fifty issues? Sure, but what Simone wrote was great enough to make up for the cancellation. Moments like Bane and Catman arguing about who will take the mantle of the Batman during his disappearance were fun. Scandal fighting against her heritage and taking it out on Bane was sad and slightly heartwarming. The stand alone western tale was perfect and the team's trip to Hell was pleasantly dark and twisted.
Now that series is over, I'm not ashamed to admit that there's a Secret Six sized hole in my reading. Only Usagi Yojimbo seems to have that same "read it now!" appeal to me and nothing makes me laugh as much as Simone's writing did. The "New 52"' has a rendition of the Suicide Squad, but it doesn't seem to be doing the trick. It would awesome if this team ever made it to the movies, but with DC's track record, I doubt it. Without the name recognition, I don't think it will ever make it into the DC Animation slot for direct-to-DVD adventure.
If you've read it, you know how I feel. If you haven't, you're lucky. You still have the ability to read this series for the first time. While the dark and often time bloody nature of the book might turn some off, for those that are looking for something a bit more in the shadows, Secret Six is the perfect escape. The might not be heroes, but these character are no less worth reading.