Review: Secret Six: Danse Macabre trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, September 19, 2011

I consider the first volume of the ongoing Secret Six series, Unhinged, about as close to perfect as any trade paperback (and well-deserving a hardcover omnibus collection); the follow up, Depths, is nearly as good. As such, this series was bound to take a tumble, and Secret Six: Danse Macbre is that tumble. Blame it on any number of factors -- a Blackest Night crossover that just gets in the way, a new character less interesting than the one she replaces, an art team change that robs the book of some of its dynamism. Either way, Danse Macabre isn't the series's finest volume.

[Contains spoilers]

Danse Macabre pits the Secret Six against the Suicide Squad of the present, and then the two teams against the resurrected Suicide Squad of the past, with beloved Squad writer John Ostrander assisting Six writer Gail Simone. This would seem a recipe not just for a great Six story, but also for some key nostalgic moments among the Squad, especially given that this story crossed over into the Blackest Night "resurrected issue" Suicide Squad #67.

As was true of a number of other Blackest Night crossovers (Blackest Night: Batman immediately comes to mind), however, the enjoyment of a horde of resurrected characters on the screen is lost in the lack of space to do anything with them. The Black Lanterns seem something of an afterthought -- they don't really become a threat until the last chapter -- and their emotional conflicts with the Squad factor almost not at all. By my count, the only Black Lantern identified by their superhero name is Atom Adam Cray, and this only warrants a panel.

The Six themselves have no emotional ties to the Black Lanterns, and further, the living characters are aware throughout the story that the dead characters are Black Lantern derivatives of their hosts and not the hosts themselves. We wouldn't expect the Six nor the Squad to hesitate to kill an attacking former friend, but it was the sense that the identities of the Black Lanterns didn't really matter that made this feel like a missed opportunity. The Black Lanterns, to second-guess, might've been Scandal Savage's former lover Knockout, or Deadshot's brother, or Bane's parents, or the people Catman wishes he hadn't killed; instead, the Six emerge from Danse Macabre relatively unscathed, which after the betrayals in Unhinged and Depths seems like something of a letdown.

As well, Black Alice is a Gail Simone staple, and I liked seeing her here just as I did Yasemin Soze, late of Birds of Prey, and Artemis as tied to Simone's Wonder Woman series. With the lone exception of the fact that Alice finds Ragdoll attractive -- which is hilarious every time it comes up -- I just couldn't get excited about having Alice on the team. She replaces Scandal, which is intended to be a letdown, but I find Scandal's dysfunctional relationship with Bane far more interesting on the screen than Alice's brattiness.

Much as Alice herself might protest, it's obvious she doesn't have the bloodthirstiness of the Six, and as such that makes her like a sidekick, someone who's going to pull the Six away from the brink rather than over it (unlike, for instance, new-er member Jeannette). My annoyance with Black Alice is similar to my annoyance with Misfit in Birds of Prey; I would rather see the heroes undone through their own failings or the machinations of their enemies than due to the predictable inexperience of their junior member.

Danse Macabre marks the departure of artist Nicola Scott from Secret Six, and the arrival of J. Calafiore. I rather liked Calafiore's work on Batman: Gotham Underground, and otherwise I would have said Calafiore's rather angular art would be appropriate for a villains' tale, associating it as I do with the gangs of Gotham. It almost goes without saying, however, that Calafiore's pencils lack Scott's realism, and while the scene of a bereaved father about to torture his daughter's killer was certainly shocking, I felt it lacked some of the impact of Scott's depiction of Bane biting through a henchman's neck in Unhinged, for instance. Under other circumstances, Danse Macabre might be another welcome Six tale -- including a detailed spotlight on Deadshot and the always-welcome inclusion of Amanda Waller -- but all told it lacked the specific punch of the previous volumes.

Again, whereas the two previous Secret Six volumes left the reader concerned whether the Six could continue together after the book's events, Secret Six: Danse Macabre contains no such shocks. The best moment is really the last page, in which we learn Waller is the team's new Mockingbird. It's not clear to me how the team perceives Mockingbird -- I believe they know the former Mockingbird was Lex Luthor, without their best interests at heart, and yet they've followed this Mockingbird on two missions with no real misgivings.

That Waller is Mockingbird suggests she sent the Six on their mission in Depths specifically to free the Amazons and destroy the prison island (or maybe so Waller could take control of it), a reinterpretation of Depths I'm eager to see explored. This shock, however, comes at the end, and to an extent I do believe it's too little, too late.

[Includes original covers]

Ragdoll is as much fun as always here, to be sure, and Scandal's girlfriend Liana faces a wonderfully awkward pre-date grilling from the paternal Bane, but this volume of Secret Six didn't challenge me as much as the books that preceded it did. Hopefully the series gets its stride back with the next volume, Cats in the Cradle. And speaking of which, a review of Secret Six: Cats in the Cradle and more ... coming up from Collected Editions.
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