Review: Secret Six: Unhinged trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

[This review comes from Collected Editions contributor Derek Roper]

When we last left the Six, they were in tatters in Birds of Prey. Knockout had been killed in the events leading up to Final Crisis, Harley Quinn left because it got too dangerous, and the rest were imprisoned on a planet in Salvation Run. What was a group of mercenaries to do? Get an ongoing series, that’s what.

Catman, Deadshot, Scandal, and Ragdoll return to the House of Secrets in Secret Six: Unhinged (collects issues #1-7). But they are not alone: a certain A-List Batman villain, Bane, and a wealthy casino owner, Jeanette, join the group as they try to deliver a package that has every villain in the DC Universe -- and some heroes -- scrambling after them.

Simone once said that the plan was to have a Secret Six and Catman revolving miniseries but in the end the monthly is what we got. This gives her plenty of room to flesh out the characters and give them the long story arcs that are set up in this trade.
 The plot begins when brothers Aaron and Tig escort a very nervous man down to a basement in a gay bar called the Bear Trap. The man has lost something that belongs to the mysterious crime boss Junior. Junior sits in the basement in a trunk with nothing but a rotary phone and a notepad, and with that little apparently runs all the West Coast action and gives direction to the 100 and Intergang.

I must detour for a moment and say how scary this “Junior” is. The only glimpse we see are two black hands with long fingers. There is something about an unseen villain that strikes fear in characters and readers alike. The buildup is very horror movie-ish, reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, where one can just imagine how horrible it is going to be when the creature is unmasked. But unlike the buildup of The Village, Unhinged does not disappoint. The reveal on page 120 is so startling that it makes one wish someone would have prepared them.

OK, back to the plot. The Six are hired by a mysterious client (that pays in advance cash smelling of herring) to bust Tarantula Catalina Flores (of Nightwing fame) out of Alcatraz prison and escort her across the country to the eastern seaboard city of Gotham; along with Ms. Flores they have to stop and get a small card that was very precious to Junior. That is where the mayhem breaks out and the blood starts flying.
 A group of villains led by Cheshire and Lady Vic go after the item in question and manage to create some horrific moments. The best was a nod to the classic horror movies when the group goes to the house where the card is located and get surprised by Cheetah, who has such a serial killer presence it makes one glad that Bane is on the team—even if he does get smashed into a wall.


It was nice to see that the Origins and Omens story was included. It was rumored the upcoming volume DC Universe: Origins was going to house that material but it is nice to see them being collected with their respected story arcs. This O-and-O story was essential to the plot of the book because it gives background on who hired the Six.

Simone has a proclivity for character dialogue and each rogue has a unique voice, from Deadshot's colloquial “Go on, Killer. But do me a solid,” to Jeanette’s elitist “You look a proper shock.” Equally, Simone’s humor is dark and twisted. After the fight-fest on the Gotham Bridge, Jeanette had broken the top and bottom of King Shark’s mouth. She then proceeds to tell him “Why not send the silly little fish-man to swim about and find her?” To which the bandaged and wounded shark replies “Hmmf! Eye Ainff Noo Fiffmanff! Eye a Fark!” It is there that Simone shows how well she can poke fun at some of the most absurd characters of the DC Universe.

The art in Unhinged is superb. Nicola Scott’s introduction to the Six began during her tenure on the now cancelled Birds of Prey. Scott has a very good grasp on characters’ emotions. In the Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation trade, the art by Brad Walker wasn’t so clean. A lot of the lines that made up a characters' faces ran together and it was hard to tell if it was a wound or a frown line. The background art in this trade is so clean and crisp. The Gotham City skyline in issue two was absolutely breathtaking and shows that Scott has an eye for depth and scale.

However, I do have a quibble with one of the plot points in the story. Since the Six had to go to Alcatraz, they knew they had to keep the world’s greatest detective at bay. Catman confronts Batman to not only occupy him but to let him know that he is a force to be reckoned with. They fight each other and Catman manages to get a good shot. Batman has trained with Lady Shiva and trained Nightwing and Barbara Gordon and yet Catman gets a good shot at Batman? It makes sense that he has the gusto to fight the Bat, but Catman ought not stand a chance.

I also felt the ending was a bit of a bust in that characters that deserved some longevity were seemingly killed. Hopefully, since DC is a fan of characters coming back from the dead, said characters shouldn’t have too much of a wait. One of the Six walks away with Junior’s item and it will be interesting to see how it plays out in future collections.

Secret Six has always been a wild ride, from their days in Villains United to now. One never knows who is going to live and who is going to die, but they will be promised the three F’s; Filth, Fun, and Fiends.
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