Robot 6

Grumpy Old Fan | Farewell to the role models of Secret Six

The Secret Six hit the road

With last week’s final issue of Secret Six, the curious journey of a fan-favorite title came to an end. It began as Villains United, a six-issue miniseries (with subsequent special) which tied into 2005-06′s Big Event, Infinite Crisis. The characters proved popular enough to warrant their own six-issue sequel, called simply Secret Six (and collected as Six Degrees Of Devastation); and that in turn earned them a respectable 36-issue regular-series run. I suspect Secret Six could probably have gone as long as writer Gail Simone wanted, but the New-52 relaunch seems to have gotten in the way.

Now Simone is moving on, co-writing Fury Of Firestorm and writing the Barbara-Gordon-centered Batgirl — but before that, she and penciller Jim Calafiore gave the Sixers an eminently appropriate sendoff.

(SPOILERS FOLLOW for some parts of the Sixers’ sordid past….)

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Of course, for Secret Six the most appropriate course of action was often the most inappropriate. The first issue of the current series centered around the group cheering up leader Scandal Savage by finding an exotic dancer who looked eerily like her murdered lover. When your colleagues include a random Parademon and a triple-jointed sociopath with the demeanor of Niles Crane, “normal” tends to slide out of your vocabulary. DC had done bad-guy-specific series before, from the venerable Secret Society of Super-Villains and the ‘80s revival of Suicide Squad to the recent run of Luthor stories in Action Comics, but Secret Six carved out its own eclectic niche. Simone and her artistic collaborators (including Dale Eaglesham, Val Semeiks, Brad Walker, and Nicola Scott) combined semi-moral characters with anything-goes plotting and the darkest of black humor to create a book which wasn’t so much about villains as it was about horribly damaged people. The Sixers chose to stay together as long as it suited them, and more often than not it suited each of them to create some sort of camaraderie. No doubt DC wants to continue Secret Six’s cheerfully fatalistic tone with the New-52′s anti-heroes in books like Suicide Squad and Red Robin and the Outlaws. However, it’s not that simple. Secret Six has a lot to teach — but DC must first look for the right lessons.

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Of the four miniseries billed as Infinite Crisis lead-ins, three got follow-ups almost immediately. Besides the S6 mini, a Shadowpact series followed Day Of Vengeance and a Checkmate ongoing followed The OMAC Project. Ironically, although Secret Six got the least immediate commitment (a miniseries versus the other two ongoings), it lasted a good bit longer. Part of this was simple timing — the Secret Six ongoing didn’t start until after Shadowpact was cancelled and Checkmate was on its last two issues — and part of it was probably the convenience of a 2007 guest-shot in Simone and Scott’s Birds Of Prey. In these ways Secret Six found and built an audience gradually. Six months passed between the end of Villains United and the VU Infinite Crisis Special, and the next month the S6 miniseries debuted. Five months after the mini ended, the Sixers guest-starred in BOP, but it took fourteen months after that for the S6 ongoing to appear. Again, I would argue that much of Secret Six’s audience is Gail Simone’s audience, following her from book to book and glomming onto Secret Six after she and Nicola Scott left BOP.

This is not to say that Secret Six was a BOP clone. The latter centered around a trio of characters (Black Canary, Oracle, and the Huntress) over which DC probably exerted significant control, or at least veto power. By contrast, Simone appeared free to put the Sixers through all kinds of wringers, regardless of how “established” they were, or how much history they’d already accumulated. Heck, in Villains United #1 she killed the Fiddler, a Golden Age Flash villain (perhaps seen most famously in “Flash Of Two Worlds”), to free up a spot for Catman.

Thus, Simone pulled off a pretty neat (and enviable) trick: giving new life (well, Fiddler notwithstanding) to a set of old characters. Either DC didn’t care anymore about Deadshot, Catman, et al., or they trusted that Simone would make ‘em viable once more. Moreover, many of these folks had already been revamped at least once already. Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers revived Deadshot in their mid-‘70s Detective Comics run before John Ostrander made him an integral part of the ‘80s Suicide Squad. Like Deadshot, Catman was a ‘50s Bat-villain, but he’d become a tubby punchline thanks to Brad Meltzer and Phil Hester’s 2002 Green Arrow arc; and Simone had to bring him back from that humiliation. Simone introduced readers to Catman’s harrowing childhood, and gave him a certain uneasy closure; just as under Simone, the Mad Hatter’s off-putting tendencies were ramped up to a truly disquieting degree. King Shark and Knockout each appeared in the ‘90s Superboy series, and were used by Simone as a rampaging lout and an honor-driven warrior. Bane had a little more depth than fellow event-comics-villain Doomsday, but he drifted around the Bat-books before becoming a reluctant ally in a Gotham Knights arc. Simone not only reawakened his alpha-warlord mojo, she got him into a brief-but-successful dating relationship.

Simone’s own creations were no less fascinating. I’ve mentioned Ragdoll’s anarchic wackiness, but not his odd, sweet relationship with the nameless Parademon, whose stuffed corpse he later kept in his bedroom. The teenaged Black Alice vacillated between lashing out at the group and wanting it to accept her. Jeanette, a banshee, exuded a regal air of menace.

However, the glue holding the group together was Scandal Savage, daughter of the immortal villain and one of Simone’s most fully-realized characters. At times, Scandal was the group’s mother, confidant, best girlfriend, unrequited crush, and unquestioned leader. When Bane took over, it shifted the book’s tone noticeably. Nevertheless, Scandal remained the title’s spiritual center, and her relationship with Knockout helped drive much of the group’s adventures. It was fitting that the book’s final issue found a way to reconcile Scandal’s love for both Knockout and Liana, the lookalike dancer.

On a more macro level, it was appropriate (in the more conventional sense) that Secret Six end in an epic battle with dozens of superheroes. The metatextual implications were clear, as the Huntress narrated:

These people fought for each other. They protected each other. They would fight to the death, no question. [...]

In the end, we won. Of course we did. We always win. Because we’re heroes. Right? It’s because we’re heroes.

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As the stakes grew higher, and (in what I assume was a deliberate echo of similar battles with other baddies in Villains United and elsewhere) the army of superheroes grew, until finally the Superman and Batman families joined the likes of the Birds of Prey and Teen Titans and Justice Society and Justice League, I couldn’t help but think that Secret Six was itself being overwhelmed by the more familiar, more upstanding, more marketable avatars of the New 52.

And that, I think, is the most significant lesson to be learned from the quiet success of Secret Six: that an allegedly-impenetrable shared superhero universe can become accessible through a book like this which opens a window onto it. While Secret Six was a darker window whose angles didn’t quite add up right, it knew how to show off the DC Universe to a readership which might be seeing it for the first time. Secret Six featured guest appearances from Batman and Wonder Woman, but it also took readers to the House of Secrets, the lost world of Skartaris, and back into the black-ops world of Amanda Waller.

Simone and company could do these things in no small part because their team was built around castoffs and oddballs. In this respect Secret Six is a close relative of Agents Of Atlas, Nextwave, James Robinson’s Starman, the heroes of “Architecture & Mortality,” and 52. We worry that books like these won’t find an audience because supposedly they are aimed at fans with DC Ph.Ds, or they rely too heavily on esoteric points of continuity. Inevitably, though, we find that those sorts of titles have in common memorable characters which convey clearly their creators’ distinct voices. If the New-52 books are designed around a “less-used” universe, then books like Secret Six will be in short supply. More to the point, an antisocial attitude will only take the New-52′s edgier offerings so far.

Now, maybe I’m wrong about this. In fact, maybe I’m wrong in a few respects. Maybe the new takes on Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and King Shark will do right by their recent portrayals. Maybe the New-52 books will have enough old-school references (Roy Raymond, TV Detective! Abnegazar, Rath, & Ghast! Harvey Harris!) to satisfy us lifers; and maybe the kids today really do want a super-milieu which feels showroom-fresh. I’m just afraid DC is cutting off a practical conduit into its considerable history. Whether it’s Wally West, Scandal Savage, or Stephanie Brown, characters who can offer such insights tend to produce dedicated fans; and those fans can then branch out into other books and different areas of the DCU. Obviously that’s been part of DC’s playbook for a while, but perhaps now the strategy is changing. Here’s hoping it hasn’t rendered Secret Six and its ilk prematurely obsolete.

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Comments

39 Comments

clap, clap, clap.

Just great.
Going to miss S6 to pieces.

Couldn’t agree more, The end of a great series.

Thirty six fantastic issues.

Best series published by DC period and Gail SImone’s crowning achievement as a writer. This is the one title I will truly miss come September.

FYI, it’s Red Hood, not Red Robin. And yeah, Secret Six will be missed.

Also, Catman became a joke long belong his stint on Green Arrow. There was one story where — and I’m not kidding — he got chased up a tree by G’Nort. Who didn’t have a power ring. Now that’s pretty damn low.

Googam son of Goom

August 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Secret Six ” aimed at fans with DC Ph.Ds”. No. The exact opposite the fact it wasn’t deeply embedded into the rest of the comic stories is what made it both fun and accessible to someone like me who hadn’t read comics for twenty-some years. I didn’t worry how these characters fit into Superman or Batman’s worlds. I didn’t care if they had ‘esoteric’ histories. The stories had well written characters, plots and drama. that’s all i care about and why i don’t read Superman and all the big characters comics.

Googam son of Goom

August 11, 2011 at 4:42 pm

PS Dc is fooling itself if it thinks it’s going to bring in new readers with this renumbering scheme. Kids will read comics if they are available but they generally do not seek them out. At least this is what I see happening with my kids and there friends.

I’ve never read most of this title, but I can understand how much of an impact it has. I wish these guys got a chance to be in some other media, outside the usual guest appearances by only Bane, Catman, and Deadshot. Out of all of those, I’d say Henry Silva and Danny Trejo’s Bane were very spot-on, and Michael Rosenbaum did the best of the two Deadshots (the other being Tom Kenny’s in Batman: The Brave and the Bold). I would’ve liked to see how they’d tackle the Secret Six on a show like Justice League Unlimited. I thought Michael Rosenbaum’s Deadshot was pretty good, since he based it on Kevin Spacey. But how they would handle Scandal…..

Even made up a voice cast:

Scandal-Ana Ortiz (for those of you who’ve heard of her, opinions?)
Ragdoll-Andy Serkis
Deadshot-Rosenbaum in the role again
Jeanette-Juliet Landau
Catman/King Shark-Seth MacFarlane
Knockout-Dina Meyer
Bane-Danny Trejo again (he did great in Young Justice)

Dc won’t be losing money from me as I will be taking my Secret Six money and using it for Resurrection Man…..but still i think the “new 52″ is goign to annoy more fans than it’s going to bring in

“Maybe the new takes on Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and King Shark will do right by their recent portrayals.”

They won’t

One thing I loved about the Six was how Scandal was a *person* not a *token*. I loved the dysfunctional relationship with Bane, he really was a father/uncle figure.

When I read Catman in Red Robin I was like “Why is he so scared of CATMAN?” Then I got trades of the Six and realzied why.

I got on the bandwagon late, but it was a hell of a ride. Thank you Gail.

could not agree more. for the dc universe is not going to be the same without the secret six. not to mention gail also proved that family can mean different things with the secret six not to mention with ragdoll and his creepy sister junior there are bad guys in the dcu who could proably scare and teach the joker a few lessons in being totaly creepy and nuts. sad to see secret six end. at least till maybe dc gets smart and brings it back some day

Googam son of Goom

August 12, 2011 at 9:15 am

Secret Six: I will miss you but your fate was made when you decided to be secret.

What a great eulogy, Tom! A great summary of a great comic series.

For me, this month isn’t merely a farewell to the Secret Six, but a farewell to DC.

So sad. After 45 years.

Though, honestly, I do plan on buying the Shade mini-series. And I’ll still buy Silver Age back issues.

@Jake,

I’m in the same boat as you. I’ve no interest in the DCnU, and this is the last month for my DC books.

Great article.

Secret Six was of the few DC titles I followed religiously, sad to see it go.

When you mentioned the metatextual nature of the S6 ending that got me thinking about Batgirl 24 too. Steph’s acceptance of herself and the role she played reflected how she was received as Batgirl in the comic.

Booster Gold pulled off something similar despite being a tie-in comic, but it felt terribly mournful than bittersweet.

Great article! There’s always something to be said for a comic book that looks at the bigger picture and twists it – Simone, using the Six’s POV, managed to shed a new light on nearly every character that showed up in its pages. Even Wonder Woman in SS was more interesting than Wonder Woman in Simone’s own Wonder Woman title. And whenever the Six showed up in BoP, they breathed new life into the Huntress, as well. (Since she could have easily joined the team in her earlier days.)

I think the author is write on point at the end, though. These fallout side characters – Catman isn’t as neat if he wasn’t a bumbling fool for a while, Scandal without her father’s history, Bane as an event villain – make for a great view into DC’s universe. Without these types of characters – and I wholeheartedly agree with Stephanie Brown, too, whose Batgirl title was amazing nearly every issue and who has a POV no other Bat does – the DC universe is less than what it was before.

Part of the reason I love comics is the storylines that go back thirty years. The little nuggets writers bring up that change everything that has come before. Without that past, the future just isn’t as interesting.

As this final month of the familiar DCU has rolled out, I’ve gotten an interesting vibe from some of the final issues…It’s almost as if some of the creative teams are trying to say, “We don’t like this, either.” Batgirl #24 is a perfect example–we see all these flash-forwards to her long and happy life as Batgirl, which of course won’t happen because of the reboot. And then there’s Superman #714, where we see a discussion of how circumstances may have pulled Lois and Clark apart from time to time, but he always came back to her. Until next month, when she’s with another guy and they were never a couple.
Yeah, nothing could keep them apart–except three guys named Dan, Geoff and Jim.

August: 44 DCs on my pull list.
September: 18.

Thank you from the entire team of Secret Six collaborators for this amazing article and all the kind responses.

I may too close to it all, but I’m going to miss this book tremendously. In a way, I’m glad that we got to go out on a high note, still doing something that feels unique.

Thanks again, all.

Great capstone to a great series and possibly the most consistently entertaining read of its time published by the big 2.

To Gail Simone: Thanks for this series. First read of the batch every time it came out. It never failed to make me laugh out loud and feel uncomfortable while doing so.

The cancelation of this series coupled with DC’s dependency on stunts over story ( How many times can you hit CTL+ALT+DEL in a decade DD?) and the wholesale blasphemy that is the renumbering Detective and Action means that as of September I’m a Marvel guy by default. Congrats!

To echo Paul 1963
August: 30+ DCs on my pull list
September: 12

One of my favourite ever books.

Absolutely gutted that it’s finished.

With the end of Secret Six, I am done reading DCU books.

It was the last great book they made. It held on to the sense of a fun shared universe experience like no other.
I could never pick a favorite because all the characters were so incredibly charming and fun.
This was a book that had everything a good superhero romp should.

Now I am just down to Thunderbolts and Heroes for Hire to get my superhero fix.

I’ve heared so many great things about this series, I really hope DC puts out collected editions with maybe 10 or so issues per volume instead of me having to buy each individual trade, that would be really great.

I’d add Doom Patrol to this list of outcast books, most definitely.

One tragedy is that the Bane out to get to Batman through his friends & partners storyline had given me goosebumps with anticipation. The characters came straight out of hell with Bane front and centre heading towards an inevitable showdown with Batman.

That storyline was definitely going to be a dead cert classic.

However good we all know S6 was , all the signs were that it was going to get better!

Gail Simone is a extremely talented writer and I hope she will reach these heights again with Bat-girl & Firestorm.

i agree with everything said here. So sorry to see this book (and so many others) being tossed by DC in favor of DcNU. The only thing I can say is that I will be saving a lot of money in the coming months.

I am with the growing number of people who are giving up DC Comics come September, while I agree that one shouldn’t rush to judge a product that hasn’t been released yet what I have seen so far has been disappointing. I am a fan of continuity and see no need for the reboot, relaunch, whatever it is being called. I may eventually pick up some trades of the DCNu, but am not interested in following along right away. It sounds too confusing to follow and I am still enjoying the last issues of some of my favorite titles right now to even think about everything changing. Thanks DC, for nearly 25 years of fun comics, it was a pleasure! Make mine Marvel!

I’m just simply disgusted by how whiny and hypocritical everyone is about this relaunch. People have been reading DC for years and NOW continuity is important to them? DC has ruined Superman already by making him this depressed loser who doesn’t even know what he wants to be anymore. The Superman everyone remembers and loves has been gone for years. The Superman who exiled himself to space and brought with him great stories is gone. Long gone. Outside of your special series (like All Star) he hasn’t been enjoyable to read. A collective slap to the back of the head is in order.

Good heavens, what a terrific article about a terrific series! Nice association with some of the most important-through-quirky superhero works of the last little era. Kudos.

And dc wonders why fans are mad. You cancel you best books Secret Six, Booster Gold, Power Girl, Stephanie Brown as Batgirl but you gives us Batwing, Frankstein, Authority hidden within stormwatch.

Best book on the stands for three years.

My favorite comic book characters are Captain America and Superman. Suicide Squad by John Ostrander and company was one of my favorite comics back in the 80′s. Gail Simone and company made Secret Six one of my favorite series of the last few years. Those two writers made me root for characters that I had no business liking. PLUS they co-wrote a few issues for good measure! You’ll be missed Secret Six.

You know who I’m also gonna really miss ?

Insignificus.

I’d also argue against S6 being aimed for fans who have DC PhDs. Or if it was aimed to them, it definitely was not a requirement, for I definitely am not one. This was my first exposure for several characters in the series (including e.g. Bane. Yes, i really don’t read much DCU) and for many of them I have no idea if they were created specifically for the series or if they had a history in other titles.
But it worked. The characters were made understandable and relatable within the series, most of the stories stood by themselves and the drama pulled me the reader even if I didn’t always know all the exact details what was happening in the background or what was the history…
I have seen this done badly too, some other book featuring characters with lots of history I tried to read and could not get at all. “Well, it is great if you are familiar with the group” was the comment I got from fans of that series. Well, Secret Six was great, no ifs.
One of the good points was of course stepping outside the whole hero-villain-structure. They were no redeemed dark anti-heroes fighting villains because that’s what heroes do, or villains fighting heroes or trying to rule/destroy the world or whatever because that’s what villains do. They were people, often unusually nasty people but still characterised by other things than the colour of their hats. (Actually, I retract a bit the earlier statement: S6 benefits from the reader being familiar with conventions of superhero comics even if actual knowledge of DCU is not required)

Not ruling out DCU completely, because no doubt there will be new interesting series which I will like made at least some point in the future. Possibly something written by Gail Simone. But once again DC decides to gamble that this casual reader notices the existence of that book, which is not given when the few books I have been reading get cancelled.

I keep saying it, but GOD I’m going to miss this book!!!
36 issues, 2 mini series and not a clunker among ‘em.
Thank You Gail, Nicola, Jim and co. for a great ride. Cancelling this book is another nail in the DCnU coffin in my book….

I loved the Six. They went out like they came in; hopeless but screaming against the dark.
I would trade every new book I’m going to be perusing from this 52 relaunch for more Six.

I’ve read every issue since Villains United 1 and it’s been my favorite DC series ever since. Really going to miss it. I want to give a plug for the upcoming Resurrection Man 1. I was a huge fan of the original series and hope this will be as good. It has the original writers, who are very good though not SUPERSTARS, and the series doesn’t usually feature a lot of mainstream A-listers. But I think if people check it out, they’ll like it.

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