PREVIEWS: "Civil War II," "Punisher" & More Marvel Comics on Sale June 1, 2016
Last week Secret Six #7 wrapped up the ongoing series’ first story arc with a big fight scene on a Gotham City bridge. (Charmingly quaint highway sign: “Welcome to GOTHAM CITY/Come as a stranger/Leave as a Friend!”) Amidst all the carnage, two characters met their fates in a shared blaze of glory, old alliances were re-forged, and old enmities were renewed. In short, it was a rockin’ good time.
I really can’t say enough positive things about Secret Six, which is one of DC’s best superhero titles. (Of course, I use the term “superhero” advisedly.) Therefore, if you’re not reading it already, for what are you waiting? Gail Simone, Nicola Scott, Doug Hazlewood, Jason Wright, Rob Clark Jr., and Sean Ryan are at the top of their game!
Well, that’s it for me. See you next Tues–
— what? 1100-odd words to go?
And no more vamping with this one-sided fake-dialogue?
I love Secret Six, but I wonder if DC appreciates what it’s got. In San Diego last year, Dan DiDio stated that the title was “our ‘villains’ book,” specifically to the exclusion of another Suicide Squad revival. Lately, however, San Diego might feel like a lifetime ago, what with Rogues’ Revenge, “Faces of Evil,” Terror Titans, and miniseries for Solomon Grundy and the Human Flame. While DC has been investing in its bad guys lately, it’s left Secret Six to its own devices.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the heck out of the fact that Simone, Scott, and the rest of the S6 team have been left free of big-crossover tangles. (Maybe being a sequel to/spinoff of a crossover-related miniseries was enough?) Actually, I’m wondering if DC can’t capitalize on the title’s goodwill and raise its profile at the same time.
How, you ask?
By bringing back the Secret Society of Super-Villains.
You probably know the SSoSV as an all-inclusive army of bad guys who (in the run-up to Infinite Crisis) were themselves recruited by evildoers Alex Luthor, Vandal Savage, Talia al Ghul, Deathstroke, and Doctor Psycho. That particular idea seems to have developed into the similarly all-inclusive “Injustice League Unlimited.” Either way, it strikes me as a lot of infantry led by a few masterminds; and not terribly interesting over the long haul.
Originally, though, the SSoSV had a fluid membership, relatively small in number and loose in affiliation. These were not all DC’s best and brightest, either. About halfway through its run, DC’s (short-lived) Secret Society of Super-Villains title starred the Wizard, Gorilla Grodd, a new Star Sapphire (who was eventually killed off in Infinite Crisis), the Trickster, and Copperhead. Still, the Secret Society lasted in various forms into the early 1980s, popping up only infrequently thereafter before being revived in earnest (as simply “the Society”) for Infinite Crisis.
Today, near as I can figure, the Society’s de facto leader is Lex Luthor, because he killed then-leader Libra in Final Crisis. Luthor had previously organized the Injustice League as a response to the (Grant-Morrison-era) JLA. However, I wouldn’t want Luthor heading up a new Secret Society. For one thing, he’s too high-profile, both in terms of editorial coordination and in-story visibility. Luthor seems better-suited to an all-star Injustice League.
No, what I have in mind is a return to the original rotating cast of B- and C-list villains pooling their talents against less familiar adversaries. This version of the Secret Society would be something between a beefed-up Birds of Prey and an evil Justice League Task Force, coordinated by the Calculator and featuring a few core members. (For some reason I like Bolt and Phobia. They were both part of the big scrum in Secret Six #7, and generally they are rather ubiquitous.) The rest would be picked for particular capers, which the book would then follow — anything from (yes) robbing a bank to destabilizing a government.
Speaking of destabilizing a government, the idea of applying traditional super-team tropes to an ongoing series about super-criminals obviously invites comparisons to John Ostrander and Kim Yale’s much-loved Suicide Squad. There, though, the villains did black-ops for the government under threat of dismemberment. Here, the villains would be free to be bad; although, like Suicide Squad, their schemes would be allowed to succeed or fail without interference from reader expectations. Likewise, if anyone were caught, killed, or otherwise incapacitated, he or she could be replaced — no lack of villains, after all. Of course, the book could go eventually where Suicide Squad never did. It could facilitate the ultimate line-wide crossover: the villains win, taking over the world (thus tying into everyone else’s books) for however long it would take to fill out a collection or two.
Now, none of this is meant to take anything away from Secret Six. Indeed, Secret Six could help launch, and/or cross over with, a new SSoSV. Furthermore, if the Secret Society ever did take over the world in that hypothetical line-wide event, I’d want the Secret Sixers right there. I’m not sure whether they’d all choose to dethrone their new evil overlords, but in Simone and Scott’s very capable hands it’d be a heck of a thing to read.
* * *
So … I’d been thinking about this for a few hours, off and on, and figured the best way to launch a new Secret Society book would be through backdoor tie-ins in DC’s otherwise-unaffiliated superhero titles. (I thought the A-list books would all be too busy with their own carefully-plotted mega-arcs.) However, there don’t seem to be too many of those in DC’s lineup of ongoing titles. In fact, I count eight: Booster Gold, The Brave and the Bold, Green Arrow/Black Canary, Outsiders, Power Girl, REBELS, Secret Six, and Vigilante.
(To be fair, this leaves out the big team books Justice Society, Teen Titans, and Titans. Including them would raise the total to eleven, which is about half of DC’s 25 ongoing titles for April and May. Also, not to get too far into the math, but that 25 also includes isolated issues of B&B and Detective Comics.)
Anyway, each of the books mentioned above (Booster Gold, Green Arrow, et al.) would feature a simple standalone story of a particular villain being thwarted by the book’s star(s), but subsequently recruited for the new Secret Society. The first crop of Secret Socialites would meet in the new SSoSV #1, they’d pull a caper together, and maybe Booster, Green Arrow, et al., would figure out what’s going on. (The Secret Sixers would know for sure.) Editorial coordination aside, it would be pretty straightforward.
Nevertheless, once again I was struck by the degree to which this tier of ongoing superhero titles has been squeezed, apparently to make room for more miniseries and event-related specials. As mentioned above, DCComics.com currently advertises issues of 25 ongoing series for April and May combined. That number also includes non-superhero titles (Jonah Hex and Warlord), as well as non-DCU books (The Spirit, The Mighty). I am all for a variety of series under the DC bullet, and I am not saying that the DCU needs to be expanded at the expense of that variety. However, I think it’s a valid question whether DC is best served at this point by things like four Final Crisis follow-ups, especially considering that the “Final Crisis brand” doesn’t appear to be in the best shape. Not too long ago DC’s lower superhero tier included ongoing series like The All New Atom, Blue Beetle, Checkmate, Manhunter, and Shadowpact. Maybe they weren’t powerhouse sellers, but with every issue they had a chance to build a relationship with readers. Are miniseries more cost-effective? Is DC really testing the waters for a Human Flame ongoing?
Look, I don’t expect DC to support any title past the point of common sense. Each of those now-cancelled titles from a few sentences back ran for at least twenty-five issues. More and more, though, I see DC top-loading its superhero line, perhaps looking to score higher on the sales charts, at the expense of books which can’t otherwise piggyback on a big name. Right now Secret Six is one of the best things DC has to offer, but I’m afraid that if DC has to choose between it and some event-related miniseries, the miniseries will win.
Of course, this is all just spitballing. I don’t have any illusions about a new Secret Society series, nor do I think that DC will be launching anything comparable in the near future. Still, everyone seems to respond to crossovers, regardless of scale, and what’s the harm? I doubt a regular reader of Booster Gold would forego a standalone issue just because it tied indirectly into Green Arrow. All in all, shoring up the line of lower-profile ongoings seems like a better deal than banking on scattershot miniseries.