Gail Simone’s Secret Six is actually the third superhero team under that name. The first two were really, truly heroes; this group, not so much. They are, in fact, all bad guys from the DC Universe, some recycled from other stories, some created for this series, and brought together for the first time in Villains United. As Six Degrees of Devastation opens, the group is composed of Deadshot (Floyd Lawton); Scandal Savage, daughter of the immortal Vandal Savage, who has a particular use for her; Knockout, a warrior from Apokolips and Scandal’s lover; Catman (Thomas Blake); and Ragdoll, who gives new meaning to the word “flexible.” Their sixth member, Parademon, has been killed, and Catman, on the group’s decision, invites the Mad Hatter to join them.
In the first of these volumes, someone is out to eliminate the Six. (This is going to become a very familiar sort of thing.) Whoever it is (and although the evidence available to the Six points in several directions, we get it from the horse’s mouth fairly early on) is only successful with Knockout — sort of. She’s not really all that easy to kill.
Unhinged gives us another adventure and some changes in the group. In the interim between these two volumes, Knockout actually has been killed and replaced by Bane, like Catman another old adversary of Batman, who also makes an appearance. The Mad Hatter, who was kicked out of the group by Ragdoll — quite literally — has now joined the throng out to get the Six. He is replaced, as the story progresses, by Jeanette, a friend of Scandal’s who has some remarkable abilities of her own. And in this installment, everyone is out to get them.
The job this time is to rescue Tarantula from a revamped, souped-up, high-tech Alcatraz and get her and something in her possession to Gotham. The thing of interest is a card created by the devil himself, and it’s something that this group and pretty much everyone they know could use: Get Out of Hell Free. Of course it’s a set-up: Tarantula has run afoul of Junior, a mysterious creature whom no one has seen but who has villains across the country quaking in their boots — even the Arkham Asylum crowd doesn’t want to tangle with Junior. And, there’s a $10 million bounty on the heads of the Six — each.
These two collections are really DC in top form. Gail Simone’s stories are complex and twisty enough to keep us engaged and although they run to formula, they’re fresh enough that we don’t really notice. And, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, the “heroes” of this series aren’t really. They are not good guys, but they are, living in that morally murky world that most of us inhabit, although not on their life-or-death scale, and ours is not so sharply defined. On that basis, these are definitely comics for grown ups, even without the violence and almost-prurient content: the moral choices are there, and choices are made, almost always on the side of self-interest, but Simone avoids the dark, broody, self-absorbed cast of so many comic anti-heroes. In fact, these two series are almost light-hearted.
The drawing in both collections is as near ideal as makes no difference. Even taking personal preferences into account, I don’t know that I could make a choice between Brad Walker (pencils), Jimmy Palmiotti (inks) and Paul Mounts (color) in Six Degrees of Devastation and Nicola Scott (pencils), Doug Hazlewood (inks, with additional work by Rodney Ramos), and Jason Wright (color) in Unhinged (with additional art by Pete Woods and Javi Pina which melds seamlessly into the main style). Each team has strengths, and nothing that I would call a “weakness,” although there are sequences in Six Degrees that are a bit more adventurously laid out. Both volumes manage to avoid the claustrophobic feel that I’ve found too often in American comics.
If you like your superhero anti-heroes with a little less introspection and more action, Secret Six is probably right up your alley.
(DC Comics, 2007)
(DC Comics, 2009)