For my final review in my Cannonball read, I wanted write about the Secret Six comic series I’ve been obsessively working through this year. This is going to be a very spoilery, squee-heavy, fan-girly post, so I’m sticking it under a cut.
I discovered the Secret Six run going bass-ackwards, suffering a Gail Simone Wonder Woman withdrawal I picked up a copy of The Reptile Brain TPB. It opens with a Doom Squad cross over which makes little to no sense out of context (although I did appreciate what I choose to read as a swipe at Mark Millar’s noxious Wanted).
After The Dark Knight Rises, which I bloody loved, I ended up tracking down the entire comic run. By this point I was all about Bane, who doesn’t even start off in the original line-up. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
This Secret Six is the third incarnation in DC history, orginally a Silver Age creation it was relaunched in 2008 with an all-villain line up. Unlike the old S6, this is a team of mercenaries, who don’t trust each other, regularly try to kill the other team members, double- and triple-cross each other, and work on behalf of the scum of the earth.
I adore them.
Around the time I saw TDKR started reading S6, plus anything I could get my hands on regarding Bane, I was having a bit of a rough personal time. My dedication to the comic and resolution to read the whole 36 issues in order began when I was laid up in bed post-surgery, with no energy and the desire to find something to absorb my brain, something fannish and inconsequential that I didn’t have to be good at or try hard doing. As well as reading and re-reading the comics, I started a Bane fan tumblr, and gave it a title that revealed just why I love his character so much: Bane Endures.
But it’s not just his endurance I admire, it’s what Gail Simone (my favourite comics writer) introduced to his character – his relationship with the Six’s leader, the fierce Scandal Savage, the estranged heir of the immortal Vandal Savage, one of the best queer characters in comic books, and completely unprepared for being adopted by Bane. But as he says: “Love is complex.”
Oh, that sasspot in the final frame? That’s Deadshot. Guess I should drag myself away from Scandal + Bane for a moment to discuss the other team members. There’s more than four of them (the Six isn’t very often actually Six).
The classic line up is Catman, a character Simone has done wonders with, rehabilitating his old joke status and turning him into a morally complex would-be hero (he’s the closest the team gets to an actual hero), Deadshot, the world’s best sniper, his paramour Jeannette, a banshee and Scandal’s BFF (we don’t know the whole story of their relationship, but they spent some time in a gulag together, which had to be some kind of intense bonding experience), King Shark (HE’S A SHARK), and Ragdoll. For all my love of Bane and Scandal, Ragdoll is probably the greatest member of the team in terms of sheer imaginative skills – and certainly the one with the most extreme story and emotional arcs. Which testifies to the power of this series: the joke character, the throwaway one who no one takes seriously, he’s the one who drags them to hell. Literally.
But there are also appearances from Black Alice, Harley Quinn, a Parademon who takes a shine to Ragdoll, Knockout – who is Scandal’s lover and spies on her behalf, Giganta, Dwarfstar, and a few other ringers from DC’s back cupboard.
Recently on her tumblr, Simone mentioned that she considered the ‘secret’ part of the Six to mean ‘personal’, not ‘covert‘, which is reflected in dark, twisted, often horrific storylines which take the reader through the limits the character’s moral, emotional, and physical endurance.
I should mention the brilliant artwork, particularly by Nicola Scott and Dan Luvisi, that’s featured in the run.
After 36 brilliant issues, DC canned the Six, ending it with a Shakespearian finale in which the whole team was taken to pieces by the ‘heroes’ of the Universe. But there’s a final suggestion that this isn’t the end. If I was running DC – oh to dream – I’d instantly kickstart the Six again. Re-reading them I keep discovering new layers, new revelations. It’s been a hell of a trip, and I’m so happy I got the chance to take it.