Gail Simone, with her crew of D-list villains turned super-sort-of-heroes, has hit on a winning series — she’s turning out some of the best multi-layered, post-Dark Knight adventure stories going, with enough plot twists and quirky — and sometimes downright twisted — psychology to keep anyone happy.
Cats in the Cradle, written by Simone, with art by J. Calafiore, begins with the Six (who are actually now the Seven, with the addition of Black Alice) on a rescue mission: the heir of a Mr. McQuarrie, who is — how shall I put it? One of the .1% — has been seduced — or kidnapped — by a bizarre cult in the wilds of Washington State. The mission is unsuccessful — the boy has been used in an “Atonement” ritual as the sacrifice — but the cult is history by the time the Six are done with them.
In the meantime, Mr. McQuarrie, for reasons at this point known only to himself, has decided that the Secret Six need to be done away with. His means are as convoluted as anything else about him: he has Thomas Blake’s (Catman) young son kidnapped from his mother, Jade Cheshire (who sustains no small damage herself). Blake’s son will get one year of life for each member of the team that Blake kills, this information delivered to him via a phone call while the group are in McQuarrie’s office. They forgot something: you don’t threaten Thomas Blake, and he’s an expert tracker: he’s picked up enough from the background noise on the phone to know where to start looking.
So Blake starts his search, but the team is split: Scandal Savage, Deadshot, Ragdoll (whom Deadshot has taken to calling “Merkin”), and Alice take off after Catman. Bane, who has turned out to be a real upstanding pain in the fundament, and Jeannette start putting together a new team to fulfill their existing contracts.
Events take the course one might expect, and it’s not pretty, but now the group is split. Bane and Jeannette have filled in with Giganta, Dwarfstar, Lady Vic and King Shark. The separate story lines are interwoven, along with Blake’s flashbacks to his childhood with his abusive asshole of a father, to give a multifaceted narrative that is more coherent than one might expect.
There are two side stories in this volume. The first is “Predators,” written by John Ostrander, drawn by RB Silva and Alexandre Palamaro. An island in the Caribbean has been turned into a very special game reserve, at which those who can pay for it hunt very special game. The owner, who goes by the name “Nero,” makes the mistake of enlisting the Six as quarry under the pretext of hiring them for a mission.
The second, “Unforgivable,” sets the team in the Old West, on opposite sides of the law — Scandal Savage is the sheriff, with the rest of the team cast in the roles of the appropriate archetypes.
The Reptile Brain continues with the Secret Six split into the scratch team headed by Bane and Jeannette, while the break-off group is still trailing Blake, who is running loose. The center of this one is a power struggle between Amanda Waller, who runs the Suicide Squad (who happen to be in really bad odor right now with the powers-that-be) and Katarina Armstrong, who wants to take her place and has fewer scruples than normal even for this bunch. Part of this struggle is played out in an alternate universe: Waller, posing as Mockingbird, has enlisted the Six (that is, the team headed by Bane and Jeannette) to take over this world; Armstrong has hired the spin-off team to oppose them. Of course, no one is being honest about what’s what. Needless to say, there are complications.
There’s a side story at the end of this volume as well, “What Luthor Has Wrought,” a crossover that sees the Secret Six on a mission to rescue Lex Luthor (the original Mockingbird) in a struggle with Vandal Savage. Scandal’s father issues play a role here, and it’s all complicated by the fact that none of the Six actually like Luthor. But they seem to like Savage even less.
This is straight-up action adventure, with enough of the Six’s tangled psychology to keep it interesting on more than one level. Catman, in particular, points up just how close these characters are to running loose at the best of times. The script is perfectly on target, dialogue sharp, and characterizations revealing, to say the least.
Jim Calafiore, who drew the main stories in these collections, has also got it down. His style provides a nice continuity with previous artists.
OK, I admit it — I’m a not-so-secret Secret Six fan. There’s nothing in these two volumes to make me reconsider.
(DC Comics, 2011) Cats in the Cradle includes Secret Six 19-24; The Reptile Brain includes Secret Six 25-29 and Action Comics 896.