Review: Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Secret Six joins a new breed of DC Comics post-Infinite Crisis that we've discussed here before, including Checkmate, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, and the one that started things off, Outsiders. It's interesting that while Infinite Crisis in the main lightened the tone of the DC Universe, reuniting the disjointed Big Three, it's spin-offs have indicated a darker trend in mainstream comics, featuring morally-gray heroes who kill when necessary. Many of these comics show more as their center the Authority than the Justice League.

Whether books like Secret Six and the Outsiders are good for comics -- even though I enjoy them -- is hard to say. In reviewing the Authority I suggested that the Wildstorm team was never really meant to be an ongoing series; what Warren Ellis created was groundbreaking, but the Mark Millar run that followed seemed to parody itself. In its wake we have books like Secret Six and Outsiders, where the teammates are somewhat sexually promiscuous, the violence is more explicitly bloody, and often the teams are heroes-for-hire.

Both of these books are intelligent and extremely well-written, but we have to acknowledge a sea-change in the way we look at comics when books like Secret Six, Outsiders, and Checkmate aren't set apart like Authority, but rather utilize familiar characters like Nightwing, Green Lantern, and the Mad Hatter. I'm curious to see what the new batch of DC comics will be after Final Crisis, whether the response to these series has been good enough to warrant more of the same, or if we'll see a shift in the tone of comics once again.

To be sure, Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation is a fun book, with Gail Simone's trademark humor and more sex and violence than she would otherwise get to use on Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman. Among the highlights here are Simone's use of the team's new temporary sixth member, the Mad Hatter. Though Simone plays fast and loose with Hatter's powers, he becomes a better villain for it, and the final battle between the diminutive Hatter and Dr. Psycho is creepy, bloody, and hilarious. I didn't expect Simone to jettison Hatter from the group in the end, though perhaps the sixth spot will remain open for a rotating guest villain -- based on Villains United, this offers plenty of possibilities.

A group of oddball villains, of course, deserve a group of oddball heroes, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the Doom Patrol appearing about halfway through this story. There's not much to their cameo, which could easily have been accomplished by the Power Company or Shadowpact, but I do find the new Doom Patrol -- with Mento, Beast Boy, Bumblebee, and Vox -- quite compelling. It doesn't look like a reappearance in Teen Titans is on the horizon for them, so let me be the first to suggest Simone keep them around in the new Secret Six series, perhaps as a reoccurring enemy for the team; I'd certainly like to see it.

This particular Secret Six story is almost a direct sequel to Villains United, as the Six face down a couple of foes with grudges. With that settled, it'll be interesting to see where Simone takes the group starting fresh in their forthcoming ongoing series. Six member Deadshot compares the group to the Suicide Squad, and the comparison is not that far off; it strikes me that Secret Six still needs to differentiate itself in some way -- is this a villains book, or a book about these particular characters (and if so, can they support a book on their own)? On one hand, I'd like to see a point to the Secret Six's missions beyond just profit, but on the other, the insular stories -- rescuing Scandal from her father, for instance -- make the book seem too "friendly"; I'm not sure I like the Six so chummy. All of these will be things to watch in the next collection.

[Contains full covers.]

Following this track, I'm on now to read Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter, with appearances by -- you guessed it -- the Secret Six. Join us here next time, won't you?
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