Secret Six has an incredibly strong pedigree stretching back to the Villains United tie-in series that launched as part of Infinite Crisis. From those humble beginnings, a radical new take on the all-villain team was born, with a more comedic flare than Suicide Squad and a diverse cast full of deep characterisation, it quickly established itself as a cult classic. Gail Simone’s exhilarating take on Thomas Blake aka Catman, Ragdoll, Scandal Savage etc, would spawn a limited series and an ongoing before the New 52 came and wiped it from existence. Rumours began to spread of Secret Six‘s return as everyone began to ask themselves the question; “what is the secret?”. The relaunched Secret Six was a different animal from it’s predecessors, with more of a sitcom-vibe, but still managed to include thoroughly engaging characters and fantastic artwork. This is in spite of the book facing numerous Convergence-fuelled delays and a shaky opening arc that wasn’t helped by the third and fourth issues being bizarrely released out of sequence. It’s taken a while, but it’s to DC credit that the room has been given the opportunity to grow. Issue 12 continues the trend of extremely strong issues, full of humour and emotionally gripping moments.
Picking up where we left off last time, Lady Shiva acting as chief recruitment officer for the League of Assassins has tracked down Strix, a former Talon for the Court of Owls, in hopes of bringing her into the fold. The Six, along with Batgirl, attempt to fend off Shiva, but it goes about as well as you might expect. In the end, in order to save her new-found family, Strix agrees to join the League. Of course, the Six aren’t the kind to leave one of their own behind and the issues ends with them preparing to take on the League as Ralph Dibny finally gets his groove back.
This issue is probably one of the more emotional issues of the run so far as our characters losing somethings and regaining others. It isn’t played up for the sake of drama alone. It isn’t part of a wider marketing strategy. It’s just engaging characters coming to gripes with things outside of their control. There is a really poignant moment between Catman and Batgirl late in the comics that epitomises what is great about Thomas Blake as a character and Gail Simone. These characters may be deemed “bad guys” in the grand scheme of things, but that label doesn’t really mean anything. They are just people trying to make their way in the world and their makeshift family is what matters most to them. This dysfunctional crew shouldn’t have come to care for each other to the extent they have, but there is beauty to that relationship. There is still humour to be found in this issue, but less so than before. Simone’s humour ranges from the subtle to the crude, but nearly always hits its mark. It’s also nice to see Simone writing Barbara Gordon again post-soft reboot with the Batgirl of Burnside storyline. She and Catman play off each other well and it would be a shame if we didn’t get to see more interactions between Blake and the Bat-Family in the future.
It’s worth noting that the opening page contains a brief charming insight into a polyamorous relationship and there most importantly presents it in a matter of fact manner. It’s just like any other other relationship and that openness is something this run on Secret Six has excelled at, particularly with the trans-character; Porcelain. Their gender isn’t a something to build a story-line around, but rather a fact of their life that their teammates accept and move on from without any questions. Gender and Sexuality are not things that should be exploited for marketing purposes, but are integral parts of characters which they can emphasis or de-emphasis according to their desire. Comics should be an inclusive medium and it’s always great to see Simone doing what she can to create positive normative impacts through her work.
Artists Dale Eaglesham and Tom Derenick have an amazing synergy that blends their pages seamlessly. Some books with dual-artists, like The Immortal Iron Fist, would have used different styles to demonstrate a change in setting or tone. To see two different artists work panel-to-panel and have their work nearly indistinguishable from each others is a rare gift indeed. The sheer talent involved in such an endeavour is astonishing. They bring a dynamism to each action scenes and heart to each tear-jerking moment. There is something inherently funny in the near slapstick imagery of Catman getting his ass handed to him while in his jogging gear. I’m still not overly found of Shiva’s New 52 design due to it’s similarity with Chesire’s, but the two do an excellent job at redeeming it.
Secret Six is unique among superhero comics by focusing less on the action and more on the comedy-drama that emerges when you put a number of interesting, but admittedly low-tier characters together and have them bounce of each other. If you don’t come out of this series with a new-found respect for the likes of Ralph Dibny, Catman and Strix, then clearly you been reading the wrong book. This is one of the best comics on the racks and that’s no secret.