Writer: Gail Simone
Penciller: Brad Walker
Inker: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colourist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Publisher: DC Comics
What's it about?
"Take half a dirty dozen...and you get the Secret Six"
Six villains in the DC Universe have ostracised themselves from the greater community. In so doing, they've made rather a lot of powerful enemies. Does this bother them? Not in the slightest. They know their skills, they know they can fight and they won't go down easily.
The book starts with the team carrying out a hit contract which takes them to the concentration camps of North Korea (in all their twisted nature), but soon changes to become a violent mystery story as each member of the team finds themselves attacked and then strive to discover who is behind it all. Betrayal, passion and fights ensue.
What's good about it?
For me, Knockoout and Scandal's relationship is the highlight of this book. They are deeply in love, passionate and romantic, albeit with a romanticism filtered through their specific moral compasses (see the art section below). Knockout is one of the few bisexual characters in fiction (comics and the written word) who just is who she is. Simone doesn't bother to look into the politics of sexuality, she just writes a couple who love each other and would do anything for each other. The drama comes from one of them being human and the other being a demi god from a hellish warworld.
The whole book is good at examining relationships. Within the Secret Six team we have a brother and sister, and all of them have some sort of familial bond that is situated outside their day to day criminal lives. The use of family bonds helps give the book emotional depth and provides a different perspective on the actions of each group member.
Simone is most definitely a character driven author. She writes detailed, wordy and intense comics. We sympathise with the characters even when they are doing something horrible.
What's bad about it?
As a superhero book, it is larger than life, with resolutions to problems magnified and dealt with in typically fantastic style. It's wish fulfillment in primary colours. This may not be for everyone.
As a supervillain book, there are silly costumes involved. Knockout's and Catman's are particularly daft. But if you can put this aside you will find a good emotionally driven story to enjoy.
What's the art like?
Mr Walker (the penciller) has a good sense of perspective and so is able to provide scenes from a less than ordinary angle. Ragdoll (him with the nearly bald head below) not only looks creepy as hell, but the font used for his dialogue adds to the unsettling feeling of the character.
It's passionate. Here is Knockout demonstrating why she's the right woman for Scandal:
Here is Scandal worrying about what has happened to Knockout. I think the layout and the pencils echo and reinforce the isolation and dread that Scandal is feeling:
Other parts of the art are grotesque and scary. Most examples of these relate to either Ragdoll or the Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter is a man obsessed by Alice in Wonderland, and hats. He is a gem of a character and the first time we see him he is surrounded by skulls and snakes. He has an eerie grin and resembles Heath Ledger's Joker. We also get to read a wonderful and surreal Alice in Wonderland inspired sequence. I don't want to spoil any of these moments so I am not posting any examples here, instead I shall leave you with this ridiculous example of the Hatter's behaviour:
At the start of the book there's a useful character biography and introduction about how the team formed, their background and position in the DC Universe.
To continue reading, here are all the Secret Six books, in correct reading order: Six degrees of devastation/ Unhinged / Depths / Danse Macabre / Cats in the Cradle / The Reptile Brain /The Darkest House
Information on each book listed here.
A word about Gail Simone:
A longtime fan of comics, she achieved notoriety when she published the Women in Refridgerators list online. It lists all those female superheroes who have been depowered, killed, maimed, cut up or otherwise had harm inflicted upon them, usually to progress the plot of a male character. It is so named because one superhero came home to find his girlfriend cut up and stuck in a fridge. It was as tasteless as it sounds. So, you will find no example of 'fridging' in Gail's books. Instead, you will find female and male characters treated with respect, and used for compelling storylines.