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

Thursday, May 06, 2010

[This review comes from Derek Roper]

I really, really like that Secret Six has always been a book with a great amount of action, sick humor, and easy-on-the-eyes-characters. Secret Six: Depths (collecting issues #8-14) has to be their quintessential story arc and takes the chains off of the characters. Unhinged was great, no doubt about it, in Depths, they actually come out lower than when they went in.

The book starts out with two issues that break from the larger story arc. The stripper from Scandal’s birthday in Unhinged pursues her for a "Double Date" (a nice nod to Simone’s Justice League Unlimited episode) with the Six’s newest member Jeanette and Deadshot. The four embark on a night of fighting and beating people to a pulp.

There is a treat for religious Simone followers: Simone connected friend Amanda Gould to DC after Simone saw Gould’s drawings of the Six in the style of Tiny Titans. This lead to a disturbingly cute back-up story, "Ragdoll Dreams," which follows the twisted and air-deprived mind of Peter Merkel.

The second self-contained issue ties in to Batman: Battle for the Cowl and finds Catman, Ragdoll, and Bane in the midst of Batman’s disappearance. It seems that Catman and Bane feel it is their duty to take care of Gotham (any way they please). They fail miserably (with Ragdoll hilariously in the role of Robin) and in an interesting conversation, Bane and Catman discuss how much they have in common with the Bat. It is interesting to see these two Batman villains behave this way and not try to burn the city or start a massive gang war.

The best part, however, is the "Depths" story itself, which has to be the bloodiest of all the Secret Six stories and shows new sides to the characters. As the saying goes, "You think you know, but you have no idea." Apparently Villains United’s Mockingbird is back and uses a wealthy man, Smyth, to hire the Six to watch over slaves that are building a massive prison on Devil’s Island. Automatically, the Six are in turmoil because half of them agree with the job and half think they should refuse it. The slaves, it turns out, are Amazons held captive after the events of Amazons Attack, bringing the Six not only in conflict with Wonder Woman character Artemis, but also Wonder Woman herself.

It’s at this point the characters cut loose, and we learn more about them as they do. Jeannette has appeared to be proper and elitist, but the reader learns she’s a banshee with power on par with Bane, having died by a tortuous beheading in the Victorian era (those familiar with John Byrne’s Silver Banshee will appreciate Jeannette’s transformation). We learn more about Scandal’s childhood, presented in flashbacks, and how she received the Lamentation Blades that she uses, in the present, to decapitate and rip the guards apart. (In another horrific scene, Ragdoll bashes in the man’s skull in with a monkey wrench. One of the things about Ragdoll is that he is always there for comedic relief and people can’t wait to see what he says next, but he is the most unstable of the group.)

As well, Catman has another in a string of changes of heart and decides to free the captive Amazons; he becomes more heroic every time he is given a choice. He only screws up when he is with the Six, leading me to believe that when he chooses his side, there will be great drama involved. As much as I like Catman, I’m starting to wonder how long before he and Deadshot actually try to kill one another; their bro-mance is funny, but I notice that they never stay on the same side for long.

The story aside, I appreciated all the background and allusions to classic literature that Simone includes. Smyth’s vision for the universal gulag is that of the nine circles of hell from Dante’s Inferno, and those familiar with it will see that Simone puts the characters through all the rings, from the slaves in the first circle to the Six betraying their employer in the ninth. The devil in the ninth circle turns out to be a version of Beowulf’s Grendel, whom Simone also used (in different form) in Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth.

Artist Nicola Scott, as usual, provides great art and draws sexy characters (except Ragdoll—he’s just creepy). Simone’s writing requires the characters to have detailed facial expression, as when one of the slave drivers says "You can’t kill every criminal, we lack that will these days," and the wordless dialogue that follows is just Scandal looking at Jeanette, and Jeanette raising one eyebrow (Sounds like Kevin Maguire on early Justice League International -- ed.). As well, Scott does a great job on a page where Wonder Woman and the Six are juxtaposed to show both the Six’s weapons and Wonder Woman’s defense.

Finally, Daniel Luvisi is the cover artist for Secret Six, and for someone who apparently never went to art school, he seems a prodigy. His renditions of the Six on the cover of the graphic novel look like real life actors. His covers are included with the book and the cover for issue #13 features Catman looking a whole lot like Brody Jenner. His realistic style gives the book a different and gritty appearance.

The ending of Secret Six: Depths is a major cliff hanger; one of the members is pushed off the team by another of the Six. This makes me wish that Danse Macabre, the next Secret Six trade, would be released that much sooner.
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4 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this book a lot, too. My only problem is that it requires a bit of knowledge of what happened in another book, in this case Gail Simone's WONDER WOMAN run. Gail's usually very good at keeping things accessible, better than most comics writers I feel, but I was a bit confused over the identity of the "devil"; it's like I was expected to know who he was. (I read WW: ENDS OF THE EARTH a few weeks after DEPTHS.)

    Other than that, though, SECRET SIX is probably DC's most consistently good book (haven't read BATMAN AND ROBIN yet).

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  2. @Jeffrey: Really? In part four, Smyth says, that it is Grendel. I don't read Wonder Woman at all and found this to be enough of an explanation. But it does pay off to follow all of Simone's work.
    The Six are a ton of fun. The next volume looks to be fun as well. http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Six-Vol-Danse-Macabre/dp/1401229042/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273159891&sr=8-4

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  3. That Battle for the Cowl story was probably the single best part of the entire Cowl event. It was definitely the funniest, especially given that Bane, Catman and Deadshot have all attempted to replace Batman at least once each...

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  4. @DocLoki: Ragdoll made a great boy/girl wonder. Haha.

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