Written by: Gail Simone
Art by: Nicola Scott/Jim Calafiore
Anyone who knows me likely will tell you that it was inevitable that I’d write about this book when I decided to do posts on trades and graphic novels. It’s a favourite of mine, a book that I rush to buy each month and then end up bemoaning the time I need to wait until the next issue. On top of that, I have a lovely little collection of Secret Six trades on my shelf, which will continue growing as each gets released. Enough about me, however, you’re here to read why it is I think you should pick up this book. I figure I’ll give you five reasons. If you aren’t convinced then, what else can I do?
1) It’s about nobody
Or rather, it’s about 6 fairly obscure and technically unimportant DC Villains. Yes Bane broke Batman, Blake framed Catwoman for some crimes decades ago (before retiring and getting fat and becoming the butt of jokes) and Deadshot was part of the Suicide Squad and a rather good Assassin. Still, none of the members are what anyone would refer to as a-list. Scandal Savage, Ragdoll, Jeanette and Black Alice are creations of Gail Simone, the writer and to my knowledge (correct me if I’m wrong) haven’t been used by anyone else.
What would be the point of this? Why would anyone want to read about these six? Why bother telling a story about six people no one cares about who banded together as mercenaries? The simple answer is that DC needed a group of ragtag misfits as part of a larger event (Infinite Crisis). But that should have been it. It should have been one miniseries, right? It shouldn’t have spawned another miniseries, an appearance in Birds of Prey and now their own ongoing series. Or should it have?
If anything, their obscurity is a strength rather than a weakness. Far away from the land of editorial mandate, it seems that Simone has more freedom with these characters because of their obscurity. There is no cumbersome history that must be adhered to, and there are possibilities for actual change – something rare in both heroes and villains.
2) Nothing is sacred
Not Batman, and not even the sanctity of the Robin uniform. Alright, I’ll admit, this title is misleading. What I should be telling you about in this section is Simone’s sense of humour that comes through in even the darkest of stories. Her sometimes total irreverance which is translated onto the page so well first by Scott and later by Calafiore. The characters sometimes sit on the edge of absurdity, and yet they manage to acknowledge that without ever seeming over the edge. Catman referring to his past, the strangfe conversations between him and Deadshot, nearly anything said by Ragdoll. These are characters that mock themselves, they are wry and witty and sometimes (especially in the case of Deadshot) far too amused by their own jokes. It isn’t a slapstick kind of humour, but a humour that highlights the darkness in the book. They sit comfortably side by side, complementing each other in a way that only a truly masterful writer could manage.
3) We aren’t talking Archie comics here
In fact, these books are so far away from being suitable for children as a mainstream book can get. By saying the book is adult, I don’t mean that it’s full of gore or sex or filthy talk. Yes there’s violence. Yes, people have ‘adult relations’ and there are people in various states of undress. At the same point, why wouldn’t there be? This is a book about mercenaries and they find themselves in unsavoury situations. What Simone, Scott & Calafiore have managed, though, is to leave more to the imagination.
Mostly, it’s that it is a book about people who aren’t very nice. They aren’t heroes, nor are they noble. Some of them have delusions to being something more whilst some others simply accept what they are. How this book about guns for hire can start dealing with the concepts of love and friendship, guilt and redemption, betrayal and addiction and death, and do so without seeming in any way contrived is beyond me. And yet Secret Six does just that. Beyond the violence, or blood, Six deals with adult concepts and ideas,and does it well.
Comics are dominated by the straight white male. It’s a simple fact, and it’s a legacy that has only really started to change the past few years. Secret Six doesn’t reflect this standard makeup. Take the queer characters – Scandal Savage, lesbian (who’s dating a sex-worker, something I do love); Jeanette, bisexual and a bisexual male Simone hasn’t identified yet. Bane is Hispanic and Scandal is Brazilian. Ragdoll is… Ragdoll. I think that’s the best category for him. It may not be the poster child for diversity, but the book is doing pretty damn well.
5) Pretty, pretty pictures.
So many times I’ve expounded on why I think Nicola Scott is one of the best artists in comics today. I really don’t mind doing it again. Her style suited this book so well. She manages to portray intensity in character and absurdity equally well. The level of detail she gives a page is amazing, and her composition is something I’m always a fan of. (also? Scott draws some of the best butts in comics, and by gods does she do good work in this book. Her Nightwing ass alone is worth reading the book for) When she left Six and Jim Calafiore took over, I’ll admit to being concerned. It took one issue, and that concern faded as quickly as it had come. He also has a style that’s well-suited to the book, and the recent western themed issue proved just how damn versatile the man is.
Simone does something amazing with these characters. Rather than presenting us with caricatures or poorly fleshed out stereotypes, she gives us fleshed out creations. We are shown characters that have flaws and strengths, doubts and hubris. That takes skill no matter what the medium, and to make this unlikely and at times unpleasant bunch so compelling and sympathetic takes something else. I don’t even know what that thing is, but Simone has it, and she makes this book work.
[There are two Secret Six miniseries Villains United and Six Degrees of Separation & a five issue Birds of Prey arc that pre-date the current ongoing series I’m writing about here. That being said, anyone picking up SS from the start of the new ongoing shouldn’t have any trouble following along]