Review: Secret Six Vol. 2: The Gauntlet trade paperback (DC Comics)

Gail Simone’s Secret Six, in all its iterations, has been the story of mercenaries for hire, loyal — almost always to a fault — only to each other. Whether helping grieving relatives get justice for a murdered child or protecting a slave trader’s dark fortune, the morality of a Six job hardly matters — until it does.

Should a job get too personal, a Six-er or their family threatened, or even one member’s own interests too far piqued, Six jobs can (and usually do) go wrong. But no matter how many times the Six betray or otherwise try to murder one another, they always come back together in the end, these personalities — often nontraditional in gender or sexuality — knowing where they fit in most is with one another.

By these definitions, Simone’s second Secret Six, which comes to its conclusion in the DC You-era Secret Six Vol. 2: The Gauntlet, is no less valid than the first. Certainly insofar as Simone’s first Secret Six gained members like Black Alice and King Shark, to the point that it was hardly a “Six” by the time it finished anyway, new members like Porcelain and Strix are no less worthy of membership in the Six team than the original-originals.

And yet, despite what seem like two viable, Six-worthy storylines in The Gauntlet, there’s no mistaking that Simone’s second, short-lived Secret Six series has been no match for its first. As I mentioned in my review of Secret Six Vol. 1: Friends in Low Places, I have no special insight into how marching orders for the DC You series might’ve been different than the first, but assuredly the second series is lesser in terms of wisely used violence and sex, nor did the second series ever put the Six in quite the moral quandaries of the first.

I’m pleased to think, long after Flashpoint and the New 52 excised the Six’s original connections, that somewhere out there (and into Rebirth now, who knows?) Scandal Savage, Ragdoll, Jeanette, and the rest still made mayhem together, but I’d hardly tell fans of the original to go seek out the relaunch.

[Review contains spoilers]

To be sure, Simone’s first storyline of the book (of two, each four issues long) is not small, and with quite a bit of art by Dale Eaglesham. In the absence at that moment of a dedicated Justice League Dark, Simone’s story is something of a Justice League Dark/Secret Six crossover, or at least with a generous who’s who of DC’s magic characters in the background (plus cameos by the Superman and Aquaman of the time). The magicians want to kill Black Alice lest she steal all their magic and release an ancient horror (borrowed from classic Swamp Thing); the Six, good-heartedly but misguidedly, look to release the horror at least far enough as to take the focus off Alice; and meanwhile young Alice seeks to be killed such to spare her friends and the world.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Again, the ingredients are there for a Six story. Somewhere in leader Catman’s twisted planning is the idea that the Six could halfway release a dark god to save Alice, the veritable doing bad for the purpose of doing good. At the same time another Six faction takes matters into their own hands, with Scandal at first refusing and then finally agreeing to murder Alice. We’ve got loyalty, we’ve got dark morality, we’ve got questionable choices galore. (And hilarity, I should add, in the form of Etrigan the Demon in golf shorts and a reoccurring gag about tofu pigs in a blanket, among other things.)

But none of it ever quite reaches the level of tension that the best original Secret Six adventures did, for instance Secret Six: Cats in the Cradle. Perhaps it’s because we haven’t been with this Six all that long (we’re about a dozen issues in here, versus nearly two dozen by that example), or perhaps because the stakes, while personal, aren’t all that personal. Black Alice wants Scandal to kill her, and while Scandal is hesitant, of all the characters here Scandal and Black Alice know each other about the least (in this continuity) and so there is no great emotional struggle at play. What the effect of Catman releasing the dark god will be, we don’t really know, and the story has nowhere near the level of horrible build-up that we saw, for instance, when the monstrous Junior stalked our heroes across the country in Secret Six: Unhinged.

The same is true for the second four-parter. Again, Strix condemning herself to life with the League of Assassins to save her friends, and the Six going off half-cocked to rescue her, has the fine makings of a Six story. But Simone noodles about a bit, as in a too-long, pointless tussle between Catman and Batgirl (from which you’d expect more given it’s Simone and two of the characters she’s best known for) and all the Elongated Man Ralph Dibny material that never amounts to much. If you’re in the know, the fact that Lady Shiva is the Secret Six’s ultimate “big bad” should tell you everything — a villain who, if once unique, is wholly overused and generic at this point, an indication Secret Six needed someone for the characters fight and it didn’t really matter who. Neither did I think secondary artist Tom Derenick’s standard figures and rictus faces added much.



Certainly Secret Six Vol. 2: The Gauntlet’s late-book image of the original Six (including Knockout!) jumping to the rescue was a thrill, but the difficulties hearken back to my general criticisms of the New 52. If you know who these characters are (and were), this is a lagniappe that reminds you of other times that were better. If you don’t, then this is a lot of fanfare over a bunch of characters secondary to the plot about whom much is made but little is explained, and that robs the story of its emotion. Again, I’m happy to imagine the Six find their way to one another, no matter the continuity, but whatever happened here never recaptured the spirit of the original.

[Includes original covers]


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